Porch Talk

a Southern Momma speaks


Traveling With Children

My daughter and I traveled to Louisiana  last week to empty the house, which has to happen before any work can be done.  With the help of a hard-working crew and friends, this was accomplished in three intense days, book-ended by flights that had what seemed to be an unusual number of a parent or parents traveling with young children, ranging from babes in arms to children not yet old enough to be in school.

Which reminded me of the first air trip our family took, the summer of 1969.  Our girls ranged in age from four to almost thirteen, and their wardrobes would probably raise eyebrows today.  They wore dresses with matching coats and hats, carried purses in gloved hands, as did I, because at that point in time, that’s what people wore when traveling by plane or train.

We flew to Atlanta, where we would take the girls to Six Flags Over Georgia.  After checking into a Howard Johnson near Six Flags, we got in our rental car and searched for a place to have dinner.  We ended up in downtown Atlanta, which looked like a ghost town, and where our search seemed fruitless.  Until we spotted a man on the sidewalk, asked him if there were a restaurant nearby, and were told that The Midnight Sun was only a block away.  “It’s on the ground floor of the atrium,” he said.  So off we went, the girls still in their traveling clothes, as were their father and me.

The minute we walked in we knew this was a high-end restaurant, one where children rarely dined.  But we were all hungry, this bird was better than one in an unknown bush, and so we approached the maitre ‘d, who showed us to a corner booth.  At that moment a strolling string instrument quartet began playing, and I watched the girls’ faces light up.  Clearly, this was going to be a very special night.

The boy who brought us bread even before our waiter arrived admired our eldest daughter, showing his interest by keeping our bread basket full even after our food came.  Only when we picked up the menus did we realize we were in a Swedish restaurant:  now, added to the lateness of the hour, the fatigue of a long day, and excitement of going to Six Flags was strange food.  Not a very optimistic situation.

Our waiter, however, proved to the soul of patience and a child lover to boot.  He made adjustments to the menu, suggesting grilled fish with no sauce, creating salads the girls would enjoy, and generally making ordering a much less complicated experience than we’d expected.  We hadn’t expected such a long wait, but then chefs in high-end restaurants can’t be pressured into short cuts.

The basket of bread helped, as did the string quartet, who played several selections at our table, a huge diversion while we waited for our food.  Which was beautifully presented and superb.  We had a traditional dessert I don’t remember, but which was enthusiastically received.  Then came the high point of the evening.  The maitre ‘d came to our table and congratulated us on our children’s manners.  “I was naturally doubtful if they would be happy in such  a place,” he said.  “But obviously, they have been taught well.”    Words like these will keep parents going for a long time!

The next morning was a different story.  I ordered breakfast from room service, because it was easier than going out.  The girls ordered pancakes, and when they arrived, I was surprised to see them on rough cardboard plates.  Plastic cutlery, paper napkins–.   Our accommodations were comfortable, the staff seemed competent, so I couldn’t understand why their food wasn’t served on china plates.  I called the desk to inquire, and was told that when they realized that guests who had room service made off with the china, glassware, napkins and cutlery, they had to change to disposable items.  I still remember my somewhat naive shock that people would steal such things.

Six Flags was a huge success, and the next morning, after a meal at a Waffle House down the road, we flew to Columbia, SC, where friends of ours had moved.  They had three children equivalent to the ages of three of ours, and we looked forward to a reunion.  After that, we planned to go to Charleston,  but there were riots there, and so we decided to go to New Orleans instead.  We booked connecting rooms at the Monteleone, and the next morning, I ordered breakfast from room service.  The girls were in our room when our food arrived, and they watched in wonder as two waiters pushed two linen-covered tables with flowers and domes covering plates of hot food , along with silver pots of coffee, milk, juice, and a covered basket with biscuits, beignets and cinnamon rolls.

As the waiters removed the domes with flourishes, one of the younger girls said, “Oh, Momma, now I know why you don’t like the Howard Johnson.”

The waiters laughed and the older one said, “Little Missy, your Momma has good taste.”

That trip had many wonderful moments that I can revisit in memory, but the one I just described is the one that always makes me smile.





Heroism and Hatred

The commemoration ceremonies honoring the 15th anniversary of 9/11 brought personal and communal memories, as well as anger, grief, incomprehension, and disbelief back to life as Americans relived a day that will, as did Pearl Harbor, go down in infamy.  In neither case were we at war with those who perpetrated these horrors, and our anger was  a response to acts which blatantly broke the rules of war.   Even as I write those words, I think how bizarre they are.  When enmity results in war, is anyone really going to obey the rules that prohibit killing civilians, torturing  prisoners, committing genocide as well as a long list of other acts?   There are always those who believe rules apply to everyone but them.  However, these rules do provide a way to bring to trial those who have broken them.    The Nuremburg trials, as well as those held in the World Court of Justice, try and punish those found guilty of crimes against humanity, as we have seen over and over in the years since these courts were founded.

Personal memories about 9/11 usually center on where we were and what we were doing when we first learned that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade buildings.  I was in my car, pulling into a parking place at the old Women’s Fitness Center when an announcer broke into the program I was listening to with the news.  I entered the building to find every TV tuned to this horrifying story, and I remember how hard it was to believe that anyone would deliberately kill a plane full of innocent civilians by crashing it into a building filled with equally innocent civilians.

Then came pictures of first responders climbing toward what turned out to be hell on earth.   I doubt anyone who saw pictures of people, some alone, some holding hands, leaping from that inferno because instant death was preferable to burning alive, will ever forget them.  And though all the people on the plane apparently on its way to crash into Congress died, they did not die in vain.  Courageous passengers rushed the hijackers and crashed the plane before it could accomplish its mission.

It’s difficult to get one’s mind around such an event.  It’s also painful and fearful.  These difficulties can prevent us looking beyond the enormity of 9/11 to one small fact.  Hatred  was the monster behind, not only that event, but every one that happens because the instigators see other human beings as enemies, or as sub-human, or as so different from themselves in terms of ethnicity, or religion, or racial characteristics, or sexual orientation that they dehumanize these “others.”   Once a person or a group of people has been dehumanized, the next step, dislike, is easy.  Then the dehumanized are demonized, and dislike deepens to hatred, which may remain secret for a while, but which eventually expresses itself in acts like deliberate rudeness, bullying, name-calling and behavior meant to isolate the “others” from those who consider themselves human beings.

From there, violence takes hold.  As mankind should have learned long ago, violence begets violence, which begets more divisive hatred, which begets more violence.  It’s an unending process, and it can be stopped by only one thing: individual resolve to examine ourselves, face our biases, their consequences on other people’s lives as well as our own, and not only resolve to change, but do it.   A tall order, but one that is possible.

C.S. Lewis, the British writer (the Narnia trilogy) and theologian wrote in his book, THE BUSINESS OF HEAVEN, that evil does not happen over night.  It’s a gradual process, in which each day we see the world through the filter of self.  Eventually, this self-absorption shuts us into a dark place where no light–read love–can get in, and none can get out.  Then the person is completely evil.   Terrible to think of the brain-washing going on all over the world, as children learn from their families that not everyone is human, so we needn’t treat them as if they are.  The hijackers on those four planes learned that.   ISIS followers learn it, too.  No country, not even the home of the brave and the land of the free, escapes this poison.  Still, it is a poison that can be conquered.  Two reasons to do so–first, it’s the right thing to do.  Second, it might save our lives.




By this time, the dehumonized are





One of the most gracious acts of friendship I’ve ever witnessed occurred on the day of my father’s funeral.   July 16, 1963, one of those hot, muggy days that wilts not only flora, but human beings, especially when they are dressed for a funeral.   A crowd of people gathered at my parents’ house after the funeral.  One of these was the wife of the president of McNeese College, a lovely woman who was a close friend of my mother.  As she prepared to leave, she asked one of my Dubus aunts if there were anything she could do.   Florine, the youngest, who always cut to the chase, told her that if she could take the bags of garbage away, that would be a huge help, as the garbage pickup wouldn’t happen for two days.   Lucille said of course she could do that.   She opened the trunk of her Lincoln town car, various male guests loaded bags into it, and she drove off to McNeese, where, she said, maintenance men would put the garbage in a dumpster.   The image of her in her black silk suit and black straw hat driving away with a load of garbage is one I return to when I am the recipient of truly generous gestures.

My across the street neighbors helped move furniture to higher places while I packed to go to the home of friends who lived not far away.  During the time I was there, my host was away most of the time helping people clean out damaged house, while my hostess kept me company, set up a place where I could use my computer, provided good meals, and, in a word. made me as comfortable as I could be amid the anxiety and fear that possessed me.

I flew to Albuquerque to be with family on Saturday, August 20.  Two days later my neighbors took the man who helps me to my house by boat, and he was able to take care of things like cleaning out the fridge and freezer, moving things to higher places, and giving me a report as to the condition of the house and everything in it.

On Friday of that week, a good friend purchased two dehumidifiers and installed them in two areas of the house, turned on the two central air conditioning units, as well as the window unit in my office, and made sure all the ceiling fans were running.  He also met with the insurance adjuster that day, postponing a trip to their camp he and his wife had planned for the long holiday weekend until that afternoon.  He kept me on the phone as they made their way through the house.   On that Sunday, my lawyer/good friend met the FEMA inspector, again keeping me on the phone while he surveyed the house.

In the meantime, offers of help with moving furniture, packing up everything from clothes to china, etc., came in from friends.  One offered to come out with her wheelbarrow and tools, another offered to pressure wash everything necessary.  When I still thought my daughter and I would return to Baton Rouge on September 8th, a friend whom I met in first grade and is still one of my best and closest friends, offered to prepare meals that Pam and I could take back to our motel.  I realized that there was absolutely nothing we could do in the house until the repairs have been made, cancelled flights and motel accommodations, and settled in for a longer stay in Albuquerque than I expected.

The four man crew who are working on the house could not be more considerate.  They call me whenever they are about to remove a cabinet, or closet, reporting on the contents condition, asking me what I want them to do.  They are all hard workers, courteous, and knowledgeable.    Two I already had a personal relationship with, and I am forming friendships with the two I didn’t know previously.

Meanwhile, the friend who built my fence, garage and pool house, has gone to the house several times to check on progress and remove items which are better off somewhere else. Today he called from the house to report that many parts of the house are dry, and that he thought it wouldn’t be long before insulation and drywall could be installed.  He also said his wife would launder any clothes that needed it, and that they would dry my wool sweaters that were damp before taking them to a dry cleaner.  Now that is friendship!

One of the crew members takes daily photos of the progress, and sends them to me.   I’d no idea the damage would be so extensive, but the house is in good hands, and when I am able to return home, I can assess the furniture’s condition and make decisions about what to do.  My good friend said I would have a great deal of work unpacking, etc., and that is when I will call on my generous-spirited friends for help.  Friends who live far away send me encouraging messages, and always say they wish they were close enough to do more.  To which I respond that their messages of love and hope are the fuel that keep me going, bless them all!