Archive for the ‘Memoires w/my grandmother’ Category

Violin/clock sculpture   Leave a comment

Granddaddy playing his air violin

Granddaddy playing his air violin

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For as far back as I can remember, Tisolay and I have been playing music together, both on the victrola and on the piano to each other.  And for almost that long, there have been two records we could put on that would make my grandfather, regardless of what he was doing or where he was in the house, come into the livingroom with his arms waving in the air, bowing and fingering the neck of an imaginary violin; the Franck violin & piano sonata and Mendelssohn’s violin concerto.   It was a pretty safe bet, too, that before heading back to his study, he’d slowly growl, “Laura, did you know that your grandfather was the world’s worst violin student?

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One day in 2006, a box was delivered to my house from my step-father who, since the unexpected death of my mother the year before, was packing up to leave New Orleans.  It contained a bunch of small things that had belonged to Granddaddy, odd and broken tidbits that were left behind after most of her things had been donated to the university where she taught. It was a bittersweet delivery, coming on the heals of my mother’s one-two punch: first, her breaking my grandmother’s will in ’04, taking away my half of the estate, and then, after my mother’s unexpected death a year later, her will specifying that everything Tisolay had originally left to me was to go instead to the university.

A box of Granddaddy's things

A box of Granddaddy’s things

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But, coming 2 years after her death, time had lessoned both the shock and the heartbreak, and post-Katrina construction had come to monopolize a great deal of my attention.  So, after the initial moment reliving the loss, I took notice that the main item in the box was Granddaddy’s violin, broken, but both neck and body present.  Also in the box was the silk scarf, given to him by his mother, he used to pad his collar bone as his chin held the violin against it.  Another item that I loved more than my mother realized, I suppose, was a cow horn bugle that had hung over the fireplace by Granddaddy’s chair since before I was born.  Together with his box of chess pieces, an old rope with a clamp hook, his gold belt buckle, Granddaddy’s things began to reconfigure themselves in my artist’s eye, mostly thanks to the fact that the violin’s neck had already broken off.  I saw the body of the violin as a sailing ship, the neck as a mast, and Granddaddy’s scarf, which fell into sections at the barest touch, as sails.  The long handled opium pipe, cut in half (*cringe*, yeah, I know), would serve as crossbeams for the sails.  I saw a few chess pieces as people and horses standing on deck, a leather case of throwing dice as cargo, the curve of the horn as a wave beneath its prow, the rope coiled neatly in seaman’s fashion, and next thing I knew, I was thinking of all sorts of things from my life with my grandparents that lent themselves to a nautical theme, things Tisolay had been sending me home with for several years without my mother knowing about it.  I thought it was a healthy sign that I could find creativity and fun in things that had symbolized such betrayal and emotional gutting only a year before.

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Wynken, Blinken and Nod

Wynken, Blinken and Nod

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussycat

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There were illustrations having to do with the sea from the children’s books Ti used to read to me.

Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe

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"Laura in Belize" by Tisolay, ca. 1967

“Laura in Belize” by Tisolay, ca. 1967.

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There were drawings that she and I did together that were sea related, like her imaginings of my first trip to Belize when I was 9, drawn in ball-point pen in one of Granddaddy’s unused appointment books from a previous year . . .

Baccarat seahorse

Baccarat seahorse

. . . and my crayon drawing of a crystal seahorse figurine out of a Baccarat catalog, similarly drawn on one of G’s old notepads from his bank.

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Proteus krewe favors

Proteus krewe favors, Granddaddy’s tux and tails cufflinks

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Proteus silver doubloon, 1978, my year

Proteus silver doubloon, 1978, my year

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There were mementoes of their many Mardi Gras balls together, mostly Proteus.  Proteus is the Greek god of the Sea, and Proteus krewe favors usually took the form of either scallop shells or seahorses.

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Mementos of the SS Drance, 1959

Mementos of the SS France, 1959

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There were mementoes of Tisolay and Granddaddy’s trip to Europe on the SS France in 1959, the year after I was born . . . luggage tags and dinner/cabaret reservations, an SS France ribbon, and a map of Florence.

Ti adored Florence, and the 1966 flood broke her heart, especially the damage to the Cimabue crucifix.  She read to me everything she could find on the restoration, especially when National Geographics wrote about it.

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There was a  pamphlet and passenger list from the Munson Steamship Line which took Granddaddy to Brazil in 1928 for one of his first bank jobs, where he also got the aquamarine ring that scandalized his not-yet-mother-in-law, Tiwazzo.

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.Tisolay’s broken Wedgwood coffee saucers make for good rolling waves beneath two French Polynesian island stamps that Ti had squirreled away in a drawer.  The three pottery shards I found on Deer Island on the Gulf Coast, known to be a rich midden-site of Paleo-Indians about 10,000 years ago.  Before Katrina, anyway.

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.     ****  PLEASE FORGIVE THE DELAY.  SHOULD BE COMPLETE BY DEC. ****

.nautical clock

long-handled opium pipe

frame

turquoise jewelry

Chinese cookie form

silver figurehead

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Cicadas on a Train   Leave a comment

Cicadas on a Train

“ALL ABOARD” – dada-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da-deedle-deedle-deedle-deedle-dada-DA-da-DA-da-DA-da………. thank you, Ozzie.

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As far back as I can remember, I have loved the sound of cicadas.  Every summer, high up in the canopy of the big oak trees around my grandmother’s house, the air came alive with their raspy buzz and the shrill “reeee-ur-reeee-ur-reeee” that undulated back and forth between the trees, as they advertised for a mate.

watercoloring in Tisolay's garden

watercoloring in Tisolay’s garden

That sound meant that school was out and I would get to be with my grandmother for the next 3 months in her garden, watercoloring, listening to Chopin or Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals from a microphone Tisolay’d had installed outside under the roof eaves, maybe drinking fresh lemonade with crushed ice from that old hand-crank affair on the kitchen wall . . .

Waiting for the Red Wing ice cream truck,  . . or maybe waiting in the tree outside for the Red Wing ice cream man  to come by,

Waiting for the Red Wing ice cream truck . . .

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. . . or maybe waiting in the tree outside for the Red Wing ice cream man  to come by . . .

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Owl’s Pussycat

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. . . or just lying in the warm grass, eyes closed, with the sun shining red through my eyelids while Tisolay cut fresh flowers and greenery for the house (and took pictures of me).

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Tisolay's swinging arm wasn't half bad!

Tisolay’s swinging arm wasn’t half bad!

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That sound meant the interesting swing that Tisolay found and put up in the big Crepe Myrtle.  It came with several kinds of seats that slipped on and off, and cross bars that could make a ladder to get up into the tree.  My favorite part was that I could then pull it up after me and pretend that no one could get to me.

My tree fort

My tree fort

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I think there was something about this that brought out a jealousy in my father, and one day, on one of his blind drunks, he came and cut the whole thing down.  I never knew about this until years later when Tisolay told me how badly it had broken her heart that he would do that to me.

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Later, when my grandparents’ house became a refuge from the horror that was my parents’ marriage and my mother’s resentment over motherhood, that sound meant safety.  Now that she’s gone and I yearn for her so, that sound just means her.

But in those early years of innocence, the sound of cicadas meant that it was time for us to go treasure hunting for their shells in the English ivy that grew so thickly up the trunk of the big hackberry tree out front.  I collected them, and kept them in my grandfather’s steam engine cigarette lighter next to his chair in the library.  The mound of coal was really just a lid for a cavity which was made, of course, for storing cicada shells.   Well into my college years, to Tisolay’s amusement, I made sure Granddaddy’s train lighter stayed full of cicada shells.

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Not long after, though, a freeze killed the big hackberry tree, and we never got around to finding another place to look for cicada shells, content enough to listen to our neighbors’ cicadas.

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Fast forward 20 years.  I started dating a man whose house lay beneath no fewer than 3 giant live oaks, and that first summer, I saw my beloved cicada shells again.  But everywhere!  And their singing was like Tisolay purring in my ear.   So I married him! 😉

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Until last year, I had never seen a live cicada up close, only their shells.  I knew that nearly their whole 17 year life was spent underground; that only in their last weeks of life did they emerge, shed their skins and take wing up into the trees, where they mated and died soon after.  But still, with the thousands of cicada shells I’d found over the years, to never once find one with its bug still in it seemed strange.  Then last year, in our garden, there he was, my first, sitting eye to eye with me in a trumpet flower bush.  He sat for hours without moving, well into the night, as though he were waiting for something.  Was he about to shed his skin?  I watched him for hours to see, and checked a couple of times through the night, but the next morning, when I came poking around with my camera again, he just flew away.

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So this past summer (’13), I set about trying to find a cicada emerging from his shell, and, paying closer attention than I ever had, I began to see signs.  Evenly-shaped, round holes began to appear in the ground and between the bricks in the patio under our big oak.  Once, to my horror, I stepped on one of the poor little guys as he was walking across the patio, having just emerged from between two bricks.  One of Tisolay’s little winged angels… I felt so horrible, and couldn’t take another step in the garden for weeks without looking where every step was about to fall.

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But I didn’t see another one for weeks.  Finally it occurred to me that maybe all the action happened at night, so one night, I went outside with a flashlight around midnight, and stayed until 2, looking under every elephant ear, their favorite place to molt.  Bingo… and a spare.

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They stayed put for about 12 hours, letting their wings harden and dry, and then flew off to make their wonderful racket in the trees.

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Both of them were fully out of their shells by the time I found them, though, so I still had not seen the molt in progress.  Then, one day, I was hosing off grass clipping and saw in the clippings a cicada grub who must have just emerged from the ground, then gotten washed into the grass pile.  I scooped him up in a tupperware, put some wet mud over him, and kept him on the patio.  Sure enough, after sundown, I looked into the mud and saw an even round hole up from the bottom where he had come out.  He was only a few feet away, crawling slowly toward the elephant ears.  Not wanting to risk losing him,  I picked him up and put him on an elephant ear stalk.  He seemed quite content with the spot I’d picked for him, and stayed put.  I had no idea how beautiful their pastel colors were when they first came out.

A good spot

A good spot

All full of mud when he started, he came out a clean, sort of pearlized pastel, with little nubs where his wings were rolled up tight and folded over in half.  Big droplets of water came out with him to smooth the squeeze out

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When his wings were done unfolding, they were the most beautiful color of aquamarine.

Such brilliant

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Almost dry

Now go make babies, and I’ll see them in 17 years.

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So glad to have this lovely world for your last chapter of life.

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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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Another one, already mated and ready to die, let me say hello.  Stayed on my headrest for hours.  Thank you, little one, for your song, for being Tisolay’s messenger.

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“Tisolay’s Favorite Things” . . . . . . .   Leave a comment

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In 1998, I began the last drawing I would ever do for Tisolay.  I knew it at the time, too.  My sweet girl was finally, at the age of 93, starting to show her age.  Ever since Granddaddy died 12 years before, I had made it a point to involve her in all sorts of projects; initially, right after he died, to fight her desire to follow him, and to give her a reason to stay with me, and then later, just to keep her mind engaged.  Everything we ever did together was fun, so all this was was more of the same, just on a more ambitious scale.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but it wasn’t all for her.  Also around this time, out of the blue and for no reason in particular that I can remember, that I first felt in my gut and my heart, “Oh my God, she’s gonna die and I have no idea how to do life without her.”  I started actively appreciating ever minute with her and telling her so, and thanking her for everything she had meant to me for 40 years.  And I started preparing myself, like a slow goodbye that didn’t have to be acted on for a while, and used our projects toward that end.

"Tisolay's Favorite Things", 1999

“Tisolay’s Favorite Things”, 1999 – © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

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Ever since I was tiny, she’d loved to watch me draw.  We’d go out on the screen porch where she’d set me up at the glass table in my tiny white wicker rocking chair, a pad of paper, and a tin of watercolors.  When I got older, after Granddaddy died, I took over his blue canvas chaise lounge, with the lamp in the corner, and would spread out my Prismacolors across the glass table.  By then, my medium had become colored pencil.  So some time in 1997, I told her I felt like doing a big drawing project, a still life of her favorite things, set up on her piano.

A few things I knew she would pick; the porcelain figurine of the girl dancing in the waves that she always said was me on the beach in Belize, the aquamarine ring Granddaddy brought back from Brazil for her “before they were even engaged!”, much to Tiwazzo’s disapproval (her mother), and Papa Sitges’ incredible Meerschaum pipe, carved with a little boy and his hunting dogs in tow.  I also figured she’d pick a piece of her beloved cobalt Wedgwood, and Granddaddy’s gold pocket watch and chain, a central figure in our inside joke that Granddaddy was born bald, in a three-piece suit and watch chain, fully clad, like Minerva.  I was surprised, though, and charmed when she brought out Mama Sitges’ watch as well, so dainty and more delicately etched.  I hadn’t seen or thought about it for decades.

Papa Sitges' meerschaum pipe, front

Papa Sitges’ meerschaum pipe, front

 Also belonging to Mama Sitges were her little desk clock in its leather case and the mother-of-pearl opera glasses Mama Sitges had given Tisolay when she was still at the Conservatory and Granddaddy was inviting her to every concert and musical event in New Orleans “in furtherance of her studies”, lest any of her other suitors gain a toe-hold.

  Something else I hadn’t seen since I was little, out from a cedar box of her mother’s most fragile things, was Tiwazzo’s old French alphabet primmer, yellowed and crumbling, its disintegrating cover fortified by an old leftover square of blue-and-white toile from the library upholstery.  We held our breaths while we gingerly opened it to the page with “J for jardinier”, using her father’s gold nib pen and his massive gold pocket watch, the heaviest of the three, to hold it open.  Punctuating the gardening theme so central to Tisolay’s day-to-day life was a silver baby cup and saucer that we filled with flowers from the yard.   I don’t remember whose idea it was, but I added at the last minute a pair of Granddaddy’s black mother-of-pearl dress cufflinks from his Mardi Gras tails.

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Papa Sitges’ meerschaum pipe, back

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Adding height to one side was a crystal candlestick the wife of one of Granddaddy’s bank investors had given her, and above it, Mama Sitges’ black lacquer music stand.  And beneath the whole, rounding out the collection, went a whisper-fine, yellow Belgian-lace handkerchief that had been a wedding present from one of her piano students’ mother, Mathilde Gray, who became a Louisiana oil heiress and philanthropist.

A roll of film’s worth of photo studies, then several months of lazy afternoon visits in Granddaddy’s chaise lounge and innumerable pots of tea, and voila, “Tisolay’s Favorite Things” is what came of it.  I had never done an exercise in light before, let alone a piece of cut lead crystal, or done such detail work as with the lace, but the way I figured it, Granddaddy was sitting on my shoulder for this one.

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Like so many things, there is bitter with the sweet.  When we were done, Tisolay insisted that I take everything home with me, in a whisper, as if she were afraid of someone overhearing.   It was her veiled way of telling me that she worried about whether my mother would honor any bequests she made directly to me in her will.   My mother was a strange and complex creature with her father’s sense of duty and a warrior’s demeanor, who had never had the makings of motherhood, yet was forced into it by the expectations of a 1950s society that then turned on her, criticizing her every move as a mother.  After an idyllic childhood marked by an only-child’s limitless ambitions and a valedictorian’s success at everything she did, I became the symbol of her failure as a mother, and later, daughter, and Ti and I both understood that her gratitude and guilt over our relationship was tinged with bitterness and denial.    I never doubted that she knew how magical her mother was, but something in her early adult years put up a wall that shut her off from engaging in it.   Years later, I would be blindsided by how right Tisolay had been in her fears, but I still believe what I told her then, that the real treasure was something no one could take away from me, the wealth of experiences and memories she had given me, that for whatever reason my mother had closed herself off to.  And in this case, I would not only have a wonderful memory but a drawing of it as well.

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Thanks for letting me hand the memories of Tisolay over to you, to carry forward after I’m gone.     ______     © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

Color study in black and turquoise . . . . . .   Leave a comment

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My grandmother was a little Cajun girl fresh out of high school, studying in the big city at the New Orleans Conservatory of Music, when she met and befriended a young woman artist named Nell Pomeroy O’Brien.  Nell was the artist who painted the many small portraits I have of Tisolay that she was apparently fond of doing, and it was Nell’s husband, an engineering contractor, who had been the one to eventually declare to his bachelor banker friend, my grandfather, with his wife’s friend in mind, “Percy, I’m gonna marry you off.”

Tisoleil in Turquoise and Black

Tisolay in Turquoise and Black ……………………………. © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

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One of those portraits is on a bookshelf in my study, the centerpiece of a small still-life that serves as a divider between sections of books, a black and turquoise grouping of some of my grandmother’s things from my childhood with her, each with memories attached:  her peeking her Matahari eyes out at child me from behind a Chinese fan . . .  giving me a piano lesson, sitting next to me on the teacher’s chair with the lyre back . . . the white wedgwood cream pitcher that accompanied our afternoon tea breaks . . . and later, when she was too fragile to do it herself, my putting fresh sasanqua branches in the ceramic Chinese box vase for her that I think was a gift from one of Granddaddy’s banking friends, though it was just as likely to be a Mardi Gras krewe favor from one of the balls they were always going to.  Probably both.

J. Euclide Champagne and his racing trotter, and Tisolay's turquoise vermeil

J. Euclide Champagne and his racing trotter, and Tisolay’s turquoise vermeil

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There was her father’s gold nib pen, . . .

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. . . the vermeil and turquoise jewelry pieces, a set from China that she never told Granddaddy had been given to her when she was in high school by an enamored Swedish ship captain, . . .

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Tisoleil's shawl

Tisolay’s shawl ………………….. © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

 
. . . and  a daguerrotype of him at the reins of his horse, a racing trotter, taken from the porch of Tisolay’s grandfather’s house around 1900, on the sugar cane farm in Breaux Bridge that’s been in the family since 1763.  It was part of an original Spanish land grant given to his great-grandfather, an Acadian exile from Nova Scotia.   Bayou Teche is out of sight off to the left, but the little tree in the background is the towering giant pecan that is now as big around as a car, a branch of which was the source of two wooden chopsticks an old boyfriend carved for me to put my hair up with.

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There’s the shawl that Tisolay let me dance in, its long fringes twirling around my ankles

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. . . and the exquisite Belgian lace handkerchief that had belonged to Mama Sitges, her mother-in-law.  It was always in her hand on the rare occasions when she consented to leaving the enchanted little house she loved so, like Easter dinners at the Country Club, or a new exhibit at Granddaddy’s museum, or later, All Saint’s Day, when we would go visit Granddaddy at the cemetery and sit with a thermos of strong coffee and a tupperware of crawfish etouffee, a spoonfull of both pushed into the dirt in front of him, and tell him about our year.

Mama Sitges' handkerchief

Mama Sitges’ handkerchief …………………………………… © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

Shenanigans away from home were less frequent in those later years, but made up for it in intensity when it did happen, such as the time we got to the cemetery too late, our hands full of flowers we’d just picked from our gardens.  Rather than acquiesce to the padlocked chains, we hopped the iron-spike fence to the astonishment of the tourists who’d been taking pictures through the bars of the sculpted tombs beneath the magnolia trees.  They burst into an ovation when we finally made it down the other side.  She swept down into a dramatic curtsy, then, for their benefit, grabbed my elbow and skipped a few steps down the row of magnolias, but they probably didn’t see her raise her little 86-yr-old fist up to Granddaddy in the sky and say, “…and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

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Thanks for joining me.       ______________     © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

Color study in red and turquoise . . . . . . . . . .   Leave a comment

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In one corner of my study at home is a red velvet sofa, my reading spot, and in front of it a red Costa Rican snowball cart that serves as a coffee table.  Behind the sofa are two wall hangings, both turquoise with red accents, a Korean obi and a Haitian sequined flag.

The obi was brought home by my first husband around 1990, a professor setting up a college summer-school-abroad program there, a trip that got him in trouble with me when he let slip that he’d been served cat meat at an official banquet which he couldn’t turn down without his host losing face.  Next to the obi hangs the Haitian hanging that I bought at the Festival Internationale in Lafayette the year I went as a performer.  That was the year my marriage ended and I’d joined a local Brazilian Samba band as an inaugural stretching of my newly-freed wings.

Red and turquoise color study

red and turquoise color study ………………………………………….. © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved

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It has double significance for me since my dad grew up in Haiti on a sugar plantation outside of Port-au-Prince that was run by his dad, a sugar chemist from Cajun country around Bayou Teche.  My granddad was of great value to the New York company that was investing in 1920s Caribbean sugar interests as he was bilingual, much as he had been a few years earlier in WWI to General “Black Jack” Pershing, who made him his interpreter and motorcycle driver in France.  After he moved back to the States, though, he was just the retired knee I sat on, eating McKenzie’s brownies that he knew I loved and savoring the rich aroma of his ever-present Cuban cigar while he rocked in his chair and crooned in a goofy, off-key moan.  “I’m practicing for the Perry Como show.”   My daddy once told me that when he was little, sitting on the same knee while his father listened to the stock market report on the American radio station, he’d listen through the endless names of companies and wait for “any kinda copper”, the curious company with no name.   It was years before he found out it was Anaconda Copper.

day shot

© Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved

I’d always thought that that little reading corner of mine made a fine red and turquoise color study, but when I brought the cart and textile pieces into the livingroom and put them on the black piano in the bay window against the black of night, it spoke to me.

Tisolay’s piano.  It was the Steinway that Rubenstein played on during his 1949 concert with the New Orleans Symphony, and then autographed when he found out Tisolay was buying it.   Almost 70 years later, when the sound board needed to be rebuilt from the humidity damage of Katrina’s floodwaters being under the house for so long, the rebuilders told me that the autograph would be stripped away and that they’d be repairing the bare wood edges of the little shelf to the side where Tisolay’s flowers had pulled away the lacquer, as well as the little half-moons at the foot of the black notes where her fingernails had nibbled through the black.   I smiled and thanked him, but said no, he could leave the finish alone, just as it was.  The ob/gyn who delivered me, Granddaddy’s best friend, who used to write torrid mash notes to Tisolay on open post cards for God and everyone to see whenever he was away at a convention… causing Granddaddy to groan and chuckle before turning them over to Ti… always claimed that, out of jealousy, he too had etched his autograph inside the piano, but I have yet to find it.

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grouping 4

© Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved

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Thanks for joining me with my little photo experiment.     _________________________________________     © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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The Owl and the Pussycat   Leave a comment

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring.”  Said the piggy, “I will”.  So they took it away, and were married next day, by the turkey who lives on the hill.  They dined on mince and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon.  And hand in hand on the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon.  They danced by the light of the moon.  © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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When I was small, a friend of my grandmother’s who owned a book shop gave me a book for Christmas,  “The Owl and the Pussycat”, that came with a set of two stuffed animals.  It was in French, as most of the little baby books and records that she and Tisolay gave me were.  I loved them immediately.  At some point, during the time that the nuns of Sacred Heart were teaching us to write chancery script, they must have assigned my class a penmanship exercise where we could pick our own subject, because Tisolay and I found it, a loose-leaf  sheet with a drawing of the owl and pussycat’s wedding, in the attic among a roll of drawings of mine that she’d carefully packed away.

It was then, thirty years later, that I did a second drawing of The Owl and the Pussycat, one of several projects that I dragged Tisolay into after my granddaddy died and I realized, like a knife in my heart, that she was losing her will to live.  I made my visits more frequent, and anything that brought her closer to Granddaddy became an epic adventure: a big attic-cleaning and ‘discovery’ of forgotten trunks of Granddaddy’s, filled with mementoes from his childhood and their courtship years together… reading her love letters to him, found in the trunks, aloud to her, and then his to her (she  surprised me by melding the two together in chronological order so they could be read as the two-part conversations that they were)… sorting through the bureau drawers crammed with old photographs, and recording the stories that came pouring out of her with each one…

And drawing the things she loved.  She loved to watch me draw, had ever since I was a child.  When we found my little Owl and Pussycat penmanship exercise, I started a drawing of the little Owl and Pussycat book and the two stuffed animals, and then matted them together in one frame for her that Christmas.  True, it was less an expression of her tie to Granddaddy than it was to me, but they were all, in one form or another, wordless pleas for her to realize how much she was still needed down here by me.

Sept. 1964, Tisolay’s side yard.  © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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   Sept. ’64 – I love how the shadow of Tisoley’s head, caught while snapping this picture, is touching mine.

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© Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

Meerschaum pipe   Leave a comment

My great-grandfather’s Meerschaum pipe

All my life I have thought of this as my great-grandfather’s pipe, and have pictured him smoking it on special occasions or holidays.   But only a few weeks ago, I found my great-grandmother in the Ancestry.com archives, and now I’m not so sure but what it may have come down through her side of the family.   I’ve recently found out that she was from a family of cigar makers from Cuba.  Estelle Sabater (1862-1933) was also from New Orleans, the daughter of Juan Sabater,  a cigar maker in New Orleans who had come from Cuba in 1835 with his family as a 5-yr-old boy.  I suspect that his parents were also from Menorca, but have not found proof.  Estelle’s father lived a block and a half from the Sitges coffeehouse, almost directly on the thriving wharf of the Mississippi River, and owned a cigar store a few blocks away across Canal St, the boundary line between the French Quarter, with its French and Spanish creole population, and the American Sector upriver, where the  Americans who settled after Louisiana became a state, “Kaintuck barbarians” to the old-line French community which hated them and their superior business acumen, after the New Orleanians wouldn’t let them live in the Quarter.  Sabater died at 35, when Estelle was only 2, but the Garcia family who took them in were also cigar makers from Cuba who had their finger on the pulse of trade with Cuba and tobacco shipments coming into New Orleans.  While I can’t find proof of this either, I believe the Garcias and Sabaters were cousins, their families linked by marriage somewhere back in Cuba, maybe even Menorca.  They lived behind the city, which was probably less crowded and more pastoral, but more to the point, also closer to the Old Basin Canal which connected the city with Lake Pontchartrain to the north, the preferred route of trading ships to and from Cuba.

Perhaps Granddaddy’s meerschaum pipe came from the side of the family that was in the smoking business.  I suspect I will never know, though.

Photo may not be used without written permission of owner.