From One Life to Another


I started prepping the Iowan early. “We’ll hug him, then walk away.”

Mr. Boudreaux’s dad had cried at the end of his high school graduation, I mean really cried. This was after the Iowan spent parts of the evening trying to get me to leave early. “You can’t be interested in hearing all of this,” he said.

Then, the 90 seniors climbed the stage steps for last pictures. Our only child Mr. B. was bunched in back with his boy pack, arms thrown over shoulders. It was beautiful and wrenching. While taking photos, I noticed his dad’s tears. “This is the very last time they will ever do this. It just hit me.”

The Iowan was losing it. He is tall and hard to miss. Internal mother alarms shrieked: Warning, teenager humiliation. I took the Iowan’s hand and joined the slow line to the exit. For the last time, we read Mr. B.’s senior quote, painted on the wall just outside the gym. “When things get too heavy, just call me helium, the lightest known gas to man.” Jimi Hendrix.

Then, too fast, it was college move-in day. We got up at O-dark-30 and headed south. Several hours later, we were moving Mr. B. into the dorm. The roommates put clothes away while parents sweated and wrestled gear. The helpful RA from North Carolina kept referring to me as “Miss Alabama.” A graduate student dropped by to check laptop connections. He told us the weather was terrible during his first move-in day and his parents got into a huge fight so he couldn’t wait for them to leave.

When we couldn’t think of anything else to do, we took the boys to dinner. Then we dropped them off, back at the dorm.

It was time. I hugged Mr. B. tight and whispered, “Fly high, free bird,” my version of a goodbye joke. Dad and son hugged, shook hands and exchanged I love you’s. The Iowan and I turned and retreated, crisply. We were holding it together. All business.

A few heartbeats later, I looked back. Mr. B. had turned around and was watching us walk away, a little smile on his face. His eyes were shiny with tears.

The Drouillard House

We often sat on the front porch of the homeplace after dinner, listening in the dark to “brother” — the oldest of mother’s siblings — talk the Bible into flesh and blood. Sometimes, the stories turned to the mansion down the road built for a southern belle who shocked Nashville society with her marriage to a Union officer in September, 1864.

Relatives and friends of Mary Florence refused to attend her wedding to Capt. James Pierre Drouillard, an Ohio native and West Point graduate. So they moved west, to the hills and hollows of Cumberland Furnance, TN. Eventually they were accepted back into the Nashville fold. In the next century, mother’s friends lived in that home. The girls would drift slowly down the three-story spiral staircase, practicing for their grownup lives. So did I, once, when mother took me there.

So I always wondered about the girls as they moved along the stairway toward long-ago beaus waiting in the foyer. Did they see the faint outlines of a man in uniform standing in shadow? A wisp of a forever love conjured by bedtime stories and the embedded memories of a magnificent old home.

Valentine message

After young Mr. B got home from school, I saw a small paper under the windshield wiper of his car. In permanent  marker it said, “You are beautiful.” Written with a flourish, signed with a heart.

DIY, Growing Food in Winter

These are lettuce and pea seeds I put in last week. They are growing in my back yard, in a plastic container that held spinach. Yes, it is cold. And it freezes and sleets and ices up, still. But this is winter gardening and people do it even in colder climates than northern Virginia.

You just wash a plastic container that has a lid, punch some holes in the top and bottom, put in some soil (I use a seeding mix) and sprinkle in seeds. Water, close the container, label it with a permanent marker. Place it outside in a sunny area. Now you have a greenhouse environment for your seeds to grow. I may need to transplant these into a larger container before it gets warm enough to plant in the garden.

I also have some flowers and pampas grass sprouting.

Your seeds really want to grow, even in harsh conditions. Like us, they are animated by the life force.


“She took a hammer and smashed my game. Hard, all to bits. It was a punishment.” He sat in the backseat, strapped in, his face to the window. Then his eyes met mine through the rearview mirror. He saw something, a flinch, a startle, maybe. “I deserved it,” he said.  “Really I did.”

Another day, they were laughing. They could have been brothers, the two cutups. We drove past a stand of trees and then it was quiet in the car. “Have you been to that graveyard?” Asking me, this time. I had no idea a cemetery was in that neighorhood, hidden somewhere amid well-tended yards and fine, old houses.

“There’s a little boy’s grave. I go when I’m riding my bike. He died a long time ago, but somebody leaves teddy bears. And cookies and things. On the boy’s birthday? There are always cookies. I don’t touch them.” I asked why he went there. “I like to,” he said. “And it just makes me really sad.” I held my eyes steady, steely straight ahead. I kept clearing my throat. Finally I said all I could say, “It makes me sad too. It’s nice of you to think about him. You know, you are such a good kid.”

We haven’t laid eyes on him in years. But I still can see him, sitting at the grave of a long gone boy. The living keeping  company with the dead.

Stop the Presses

I stopped the presses once. The 1977 Hanafi siege of D.C.’s city hall ended after the press run had started. It was the lead story in the Birmingham Post-Herald and I was the late copy editor that night. Calls were made, stopping the presses was a costly move and rarely done. But I persisted, saying the story had to be updated. I remember the printers’ boss nodding to me, smiling and saying, “Let her stop the presses.” I was trying to be  authoritative but couldn’t. I looked at the eyeshade wearing men poised over the layouts, started laughing, and said it, “STOP THE PRESSES!”

I had no idea that in three years I would be in Washington, D.C., working for United Press International. No more stopping the presses for me. But that city hall building was the first place I went to cover a story, a news conference with Rosalynn Carter, the first lady, and Mayor Marion Barry, whose election came after he was lauded as a hero in the Hanafi siege. After, I walked to the front of the room, introduced myself, and shook Mrs. Carter’s hand. I told the Georgia native that I had just transferred from Alabama. She said, “I’m so glad to have another southerner up here with us.”

This story was partly an excuse to post a photo, taken in the UPI newsroom in D.C., showing one of my favorite bosses ever, Lucien Carr, a key member of the New York City circle of the Beat Generation in the 1940s. And that’s another yarn for another day.

Sign of the Times

I just got chided by my 91-year-old mother for not being on Facebook more often.

Go Bury Money, Like Now

I’m sharing a New Year’s tradition aimed at drawing wealth to you. I have no idea about its origins.

Take a bill or some coins and put the money in a plastic bag. The amount does not matter. Bury it outside your front door while saying, “I am burying my poverty.” Mark it with a stone or something you can find the next day. Seriously, people have not been able to find their buried money the next day. Do this on New Year’s Eve, before midnight. Then, on January 1, dig up the money while saying, “I am uncovering my wealth.” Do this anytime during the 24-hour period on New Year’s Day.

If you don’t have ground outside your door, not to worry, take a pot and bury your money there and place it outside your door or on the balcony. If that doesn’t work, take a bowl and cover the money with a wash cloth and put it beside the door. This is about symbolism and intent. Do not spend the money, ever. Put it away. Some say that if you spend the buried money, you’ll lose money.

If you follow these instructions, unexpected money will show up for you in the next year. Maybe because I believe, this always happens for me. Always. At least in the years the Iowan has not found, and spent, my buried money. I have heard about people who eventually have taken stacks of buried money and donated it to a good cause. For instance, they have donated it to a church or favorite charity and report all is well.

Or you could leave it tucked away in its individual sandwich bags in a hope chest or drawer. And laugh to think about what your heirs will think to find it.

Holiday light

This is my front door this year. It stars an artificial ivy wreath from IKEA embellished with LED lights, which are battery-powered and set on a timer. I  added a few sprigs of fake holly the other day. Neighbors’ lights also show up, reflected in the glass door. I used a point-and-shoot camera with a mulish flash so you can’t really “see” how the wreath appears to be a circle of light floating in the doorway. But I wanted Rick to see it, and the bad photo gives a hint of the floaty.

I don’t do this, but I understand why people keep up their holiday lights all winter. They help.

Home for Thanksgiving

I’m spending time with Miss Nell, who is pushing 92. I tried out some locks/alarms for her last night and left a note by the coffee pot: “Don’t try to open the doors. I’ll disarm them when I get up.”  But she wanted to read the newspaper and didn’t want to wait. At dawn, she climbed through a window out onto the porch, then back in again.

She’s taking a new exercise class, at church.

While I’m here, she wants to have a talk with the three of us, her children. “Because when I ‘go,’ I plan on going fast. So y’all need to know some things.”

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