Porch Talk

a Southern Momma speaks

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Pet Peeves

It seem petty to have pet peeves when this country and those all over the globe are fighting the coronavirus.  Still, this crisis, while it can draw out the best in us, it can also draw out the worst.  That happened to me yesterday.

I was talking with a customer service representative employed by the company I have a long term care policy.  After asking for a CSR whose native language was English two times and not getting one, third time proved to be the charm.

The CSR’s first words were, “How are you today?”  I have, like many others, heard these words many times, and I am always annoyed, though I know the CSR has to follow her boss’ wishes.  The day had already presented problems, and I didn’t want another one.

I told the CSR that I knew she had to answer this question because she was told to, but I wished her supervisor would realize what an invasion of privacy such a question is.

“I might just have been told I have a terminal illness,” I said.  “Or a close friend might just have died.  At any rate, how I am today isn’t the business of a total stranger.”  We finished the call, and I hung up, thinking how rude I had been.  Then I wondered if it is rude to try to prevent a total stranger from acting like someone trying to become a friend.

I grew up in a time and place in which friendships were built slowly, as the two people involved came to know each other better, and discover if they had enough in common to develop a friendship.  Most people realized that while it is easy to rush into a close relationship, it is difficult to back out, and went step by step.

People used first names only if the person addressed was on the same level as they were.  Otherwise, last names prefaced with the proper address were used, until the older or more prominent person suggested using first names.

At what was Southwestern Louisiana Institute then and is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, professors addressed their students formally, which helped maintain an appropriate distance between teacher and the class.

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Mother Nature’s Gifts

In these weird and upsetting times, Mother Nature is one source of calm, and even joy. Our experiences with Mother Nature can be as simple as a few window boxes of flowers, or as elaborate as a full garden. In either case, the gardeners will find in a garden rewards that might have been overlooked in more normal times.

Watching seeds turn into seedlings, and then into plants, is a rewarding activity because one sees the miracles sunlight or shade and soil and water create with only a handful of dry seeds.

There is a challenge in beginning a garden with seeds rather than plants from the nursery. Like the infants they are, they must be cared for with attention to details, such as the depth seeds are to be planted and the distance they must be apart.

The wonderful young woman who takes care of my garden follows the “destructions”, as a young grandson called instructions, to the last word, having learned by experience that to do otherwise yields poor or no results.

My garden is not formal. It’s more like an English cottage garden, with hybrid tea roses offering room to Dwarf Gardenias and moon flowers, and with lavender competing with a hyacinth to scent the air. All of my roses are fragrant, and in spring and summer evenings, the many colors and scents form a tapestry that changes an ordinary patch of soil into a land of mystery and delight.

When my dear Emile was alive, he planted vegetables. Summer squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, snap beans and green peas. When my husband and I had a house in the country, Emile and I decided to plant artichokes. Imagine our dismay when two dozen of them ripened at the same time. Fortunately, my book club was meeting that day, so each member went home with several artichokes. However, we never tried that again.

When I moved to New Orleans after my husband’s death, Emile drove there twice a week, because the garden space was small, and didn’t require the care the larger ones had. After he’d helped me settle in, he took a tour of the neighborhood. The house was a raised cottage, and I had suggested hanging baskets from the eave to be filled with petunias and other such flowers.

“People in our new neighborhood don’t use hanging baskets,” he said. “They use window boxes.” Soon, the front sun porch windows had window boxes, as did the windows in the living and dining rooms.

Emile was a born gardener, and one of my very best friends. His death was and is hard to accept, but when I look out at my garden, I know his spirit is there.


Gracie Mae Kinchin

The approach of Mother’s Day made me think of the many mothers and grandmothers I have known over the years, including Gracie Mae Kinchen, who came into my family’s life  in the early 1960’s. She was recommended to me by a friend who had grown up on a plantation near Plaquemine,  where Gracie Mae was born.

At that time, she was a slender young woman of boundless energy and a will to work.  She had six children of her own, and added my five daughters to those she loved.  My youngest daughter was four.  All her sisters were in school at St. Joseph’s Academy, and since she was too young for kindergarten, she and Gracie spent a lot of time together.

One of my favorite memories is of Gracie and DeLaune walking from our home on Mouton Street to Webb Park on the other side of Claycut Road.  Gracie held DeLaune’s hand with one hand, and carried a picnic basket in the other.

My daughters were brought up on the principle that privilege is balanced by responsibility, and so they had a chore chart, which was posted on the kitchen wall. Every Sunday they gathered and decided who would do which chores in the coming week, writing their names next to the appropriate chore on the chart.  This freed me from having to nag, because if some chore that needed to be done hadn’t been, all I had to do was look at the chart and remind the daughter responsible for the chore to do it.

I told them that Gracie Mae worked for me, not them.  If she could vacuum their rooms and mop the bathrooms they used without having to pick up even one thing on the floor, she would do that.  If she had to pick anything up, she left it to them.  Further, since they used the bathrooms, they had to keep the tubs, the sinks, and the commodes clean.  They also made their beds every day except Friday, when Gracie Mae changed the bed linens.

The result of all this was that they not only loved Gracie Mae, but respected her as well.  Gracie Mae had great faith in God.  She was a strong woman, both physically and spiritually, and she lived her beliefs.

My first marriage ended, and I was the one who had to move out.  When I married my second husband, Dick, some years later, Gracie Mae came to work with us, bringing with her her cooking skills–I have never forgotten her chicken fricassee, which is still the best I’ve ever tasted–and her housekeeping skills, but the peace and calm she brought with her was the greatest gift of all.

When Dick’s health began to fail, and we needed 24 hour help, Gracie Mae’s sisters took over, so I didn’t have to spend hours interviewing people, because I knew that, like Gracie Mae, they were competent, compassionate women.

Gracie Mae was with us when Dick died.  He’d been in ICU in a coma for some time, and the prognosis wasn’t good.  My daughter Aimee was teaching at Tulane, so she drove up to be with me.  My second daughter, Pamela, and her husband Vic, had also come.  Though family members are not usually able to be in ICU, the hospital made an exception, so we took turns so Dick would always have a family member with him.

The night he died, Aimee and I had been sitting with Dick for hours when Pamela and Vic arrived.  Gracie Mae was also there.  Aimee and I went home to rest.  We’d barely got there when Vic called to say Dick had died, and that Gracie Mae had been holding his hand at the time.

I can think of no better guide into the next world than Gracie Mae, whose goodness manifested itself in every breath she drew, every thing she did.  When she died, I remembered that I used to tell her that if I got to heaven, and she was there first, she would be so high above me I wouldn’t be able to see her toes.

I consider Gracie Mae, like my mother and grandmothers, to be one of the people who has taught me that talking the talk is easy, but that walking the walk isn’t.  Thank God for these women, who taught me walk the walk.

I often told Gracie Mae that if I got to heaven, she would be so far above me I would hardly be able to see her toes.

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Books Do Furnish a Room

The above is the title of one of the twelve volumes in a series by English author Anthony Powell, published between 1951 and 1975.  The stories offer a comical examination of movements and manners, ideas and behavior, of people among the upper crust in England. I read each it them when they came out, and since AbeBooks has some very inexpensive ones, I think I’ll order them.  Perfect reading project for this isolation!

All members of my own family and also the extended family believed that books do indeed furnish a room.  Every home had book shelves filled with books, from picture books for children to fiction for adults.

I had always thought shelves of books revealed interesting information about the owners, as well as being the foundation for discussions about them.  I belong to a book club that meets nine times a year, and hearing the opinions of the various books has always given me new insights and food for thought.  It is on hold, of course, and I look forward to the day when it’s safe to meet again.

When my first husband and I moved to Baton Rouge, we rented a house on LSU Avenue, a wonderful two story house with French doors in the living room that opened to a screened porch.  It had a bedroom and bath downstairs, and two large bedrooms and a bath upstairs.  It also had built in book shelves on either side of the French doors, which were a gift to a book lover like me.

One afternoon, when my fifteen month old daughter was napping, I began putting books on the shelves, sorting them first by genres and then alphabetically by author. I heard the doorbell ring, and when I answered it, found a woman from the house across the street on the steps, a cookie tin in her hands.  “A welcome to the neighborhood,” she said, and I asked her in.

I saw her taking in the furnishings in the living room and adjoining dining room, the rugs, the curtains.  Then she saw the book shelves.  “What in the world are you thinking, putting books on those shelves?  You should have something pretty there.”

“Where else would I put them?

“Out of sight.”  She headed to the door, shaking her head.  I stood there, thinking about the Great Books Club I’d belonged to in Lake Charles.  Edith Gibson, a former librarian, had married Joe Gibson when he was a policeman.  They lived in Jennings, but then oil was struck on property he owned, and they moved to Lake Charles.

Edith settled in and then began forming book clubs whose members would read classic books and plays, beginning with Aristotle and  Socolese. Each club had twenty members, and the same rules, which included the one that said if a member arrived at a meeting in time to get coffee or a Coke from the hostess’ kitchen, well and good.  Otherwise, no.

If a member missed three consecutive meetings without cause, she would be asked to resign. All the members in our club were mothers, so if a child were ill, that was considered a cause for staying home.

Another rule was that members had to read the entire book, not just skim over it.   Even if they didn’t enjoy it, their negative comments would enhance discussion.

Edith Gibson had established forty of these clubs before I moved to Baton Rouge.  Hoping to find the same sort of club there, I checked with every library and asked people I knew if there were, but the answer was no.  The Main Library used to have a book discussion club, but there weren’t enough members to keep it going.

I truly felt like a sailor on a desert island, and began dropping Thomas Hardy’s name into conversations at parties.  Why I chose Thomas Hardy I’ve no idea, and I was about to change to someone else when a woman, hearing his name, said,  “Do you mean the writer?”  I said yes.  “I guess you read him in college.”  “I still read him.”  We stared at each other and she said, “What are you doing for lunch tomorrow?”  “Nothing I can’t change.”  That began a lifelong friendship.

I don’t expect everyone I meet to have the same passion for reading that I do.  But what a gift it is to find another person who does.

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The Doldrums

The definition of doldrums is this: a period of inactivity, stagnation,  and depression.  I think a great majority of people in this country are in the doldrums, and with good reason.  The coronavirus has changed our lives, and though there are optimistic projections of when the country can open up again, there are others which say the virus will return in the fall stronger then what we are experiencing now.

As long as the stay at home order is in force, we all will need to find ways to fight off the doldrums, I’m suggesting a few.

Reading is a great way to take us out of ourselves, and though libraries are closed, online sites like Powell’s and Abebooks have a huge variety of books, most of them at very low prices, and with free shipping.  Our own bookshelves probably have books we haven’t read in a long time, and are worth rereading.

I belong to a book club titled READING THE CLASSICS.  It’s on hold now, like everything else, and I miss the opportunity to discuss the current book with people who love reading as much as I do.

Amazon has a many books that can be accessed with Kindle, so I am going to list some fiction writers whose books I think would help the reader get out of the doldrums.

I love mysteries, so will begin with them.

Agatha Christie heads the list.  She has two major protagonists, Miss Marple and Hector Poirot, and each of these characters are described so vividly that we soon begin to think of them as real people.

Ngiao Marsh is an Australian writer whose novels have compelling plots and interesting people.  She was active in theatre, and so a number of books are connected to theatre and the actors in various plays.

Ruth Rendell has a unique style.  Her novels border on the grotesque, which sets them apart from other mysteries.

Marjorie Allingham’s Albert Campion is a perfect rendering of a certain class of English gentleman.  He is different from other protagonists because he is humble and does not put himself forward.  Delightful books with well executed plots.

Major Fiction Writers

Kurt Vonnegot’s books range from the tender THANK YOU, MR. ROSEWATER to the violent SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE.  Vonnegot’s novels often seem to have written by a mad man, but the distinct style, the intriguing characters, and a sense of humor that has us laughing at some of the preposterous plot lines, make his works a treat from beginning to end.

Edith Wharton’s novels are set in the late 19th century in New York and New England.  She belonged to the upper class, as do her characters, and is the kind of observant writer who makes that stratified world, with all its flaws and foibles, compelling.

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The Staff of Life

In a recent conversation, one of my daughters and I discussed the renaissance of home baking that is going on in this country. We had both read online articles about this, and were surprised to learn that while home baking included muffins, cup cakes, layer and loaf cakes, cookies, brownies, and biscuits, it also included bread.

Basic bread, not banana bread or any others like it, but loaf bread. I wondered why making bread was so popular, and then thought about the difference of process in making bread and all the others cited above.

Bread dough has to be kneaded in order to develop the glutens in the flour, which gives the dough structure and texture.  Unlike making other baked good, when batter is stirred with a mixer or by hand, making bread is a hands-on process.  The baker’s hands handle the dough, kneading it smoothly so that the glutens will be distributed throughout the dough.

Thinking about that, I realized that kneading not only helped the dough, but the baker.  In times like these, anxiety and fear are emotions millions suffer.  Kneading dough can release tension, at least for a while, and the aroma of baking bread creates a space of normalcy, which we all need.

My first experience with baking occurred when I was five.  For Christmas I received a toy stove that really worked.  I wanted to make biscuits for my father, and though my mother offered to help, I was determined to make them myself.  I put the pan in the oven of my stove, and when they were done they looked every bit as good as the ones my mother made.

I put the biscuits in a basket lined with a napkin, and presented them to my father.  He took a bite, then another, following each bite with a sip of coffee.  His face had a strange look, not at all the appreciation I expected, so I picked up a biscuit and took a bite.

I had never bitten into anything as hard as that biscuit was. ‘How could that happen?’  I mentally reviewed the recipe, and my mind stopped at the word “shortening”.  It was the last ingredient, followed by the instructions, and somehow, I had overlooked it.  My mother saw my face and asked what was wrong.  “I left out the shortening,” I said, and burst into tears.  My father dipped a biscuit into his coffee, and ate it with relish.

“These are the best biscuits I’ve ever had,” he said.  “The only ones I can dip in coffee and they won’t fall apart.”  Despite his praise, I never made biscuits without shortening again.

Nor did I have any more problems baking until the day I made a cake for my husband because I was angry with him over some trivial occurrence, and decided to make a peace offering with his favorite cake.  A good friend was in the kitchen with me, visiting while I made the cake, three layers of chocolate that would be iced with divinity icing.  As I put the last stroke of icing on the cake, it began to split into four quarters.

I heard my friend gasp, but she said nothing, and watched me get a large bowl and put cake and icing in it.  Then I attacked the contents with a steel spoon, reducing it to a mixture of cake and icing.  “There’s his cake.  And I dare him to say anything about it.”

My friend called my husband and told him to be prepared for this baking disaster.  He came home and instead of teasing me, put some of the mixture on a plate and ate every bit.   Before he could say anything, I picked up the bowl and scraped the contents into the garbage.  The word “cake” was not spoken.

Later, my friend called and said my husband had called her and said he had never had such a good cake, but he knew what would happen if he said so.

I made a cake for the family every week-end, but I never had another disaster, and to this day, I don’t know how that one happened.

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Books Can Be A Help in Getting Through This Crisis

Like so many others, I am doing fine-tuning housework to keep occupied in a productive way during this shutdown.  Yesterday I began with the books in my library, which fill fourteen large bookshelves.  They were packed away during the 2017 flood, and two good friends helped me unpack them and put them on the new shelves.  We tried to keep the genres apart, and the books in them arranged alphabetically, and given the tedious task of dusting each one, we did a good job.

Still, many books, both fiction and non-fiction, were mixed together in several genres, and I decided I would put them back in order, giving me a project that will take several days.

The plus side of this is that not only does it occupy my time, it gives me an opportunity to reaquaint myself with books I hadn’t looked at in years.  And what a treasure trove I’m finding!

I have loved books since I was a very young child,.  I remember reading an essay Katherine Anne Porter wrote about Eudora Welty.  She stated that Welty grew up in a family where, when you visited relatives, you didn’t have to take the current book with you, because they all had the same  books that at that time were considered essential to any personal library.

One of my favorite stories about the effect books have, even on the very young, is one Phyllis   McGinley, who wrote A SIXPENCE FOR HER SHOE, as well as many others.  In that book,   she recalled an afternoon when she was reading a story to her four year old daughter.    As the story went on, she thought the words were beyond the child’s understanding, and stopped reading.  The child asked why, and on being told that the words were too hard for her to understand them, she said, “I don’t care about them words.  I just like the story.”

During World War II, when gas was rationed, people tried to make one trip serve several needs, as did my family when we went to the downtown library once a month to stock up on books.  The limit was eight books per person, so with two adults and three children we could have forty books.  I read my brother’s to him, and when I’d  read mine, I read my sister’s, and even some of those my parents had chosen.  Elizabeth Goudge’s books were popular, with nothing that would damage a child’s innocence, and she soon became one of my favorite writers.

When we moved to Lafayette in 1943, a best friend who lived near my home and I walked to the library at least once a week,  because, avid readers that we were, we had finished all the books we had between us, and needed more.

The Betsy, Tacey and Tib books were the rage for girls our age–eleven and twelve–and the librarians, who knew us well, would put a new one aside so we could read it first. Nancy Drew and her friends provided a different kind of reading experience, as they solved crimes with insight and fortitude.  But of all the series of books I read at that time, the Little Colonel series is first.

Lloyd lives in a village near Louisville, Kentucky.  We meet her in the first book, when she defies her grandfather by picking strawberries in his garden.  He’s alienated from Lloyd’s mother because she married a Yankee,which he considers as an insult to all he hold dear.  Lloyd confronts her grandfather, and at the end of the book father and daughter are reconciled.  The series ends at Lloyd’s wedding.

When my daughter Aimee was working at the Actor’s Theatre in Louisville, KY, I visited her.  One afternoon we drove to the village where Lloyd lived, and saw the houses that had been used in the book.  These brought back memories of the books themselves, and we soon realized that while telling interesting stories, these books also promoted manners and mores, and presented personal honor as anyone’s most precious asset.


Facing Difficult Times

There are many devastating results from the corona virus.  The increasing number of deaths, as well as the heart-breaking stories of victims who die alone with no family near them.  The rituals following death can’t be carried out, so families and friends can’t gather to remember and honor the dead, and to offer solace to each other.

Women give birth without the support of loved ones, friends who took pleasure in meeting friends for coffee or meal can no longer do so, nor can children finish this school year except online, and not all can do that.  And millions of people are out of work, because their employers have closed down their businesses.

In a word, we seem to have lost control of our daily lives.  But conversations and emails with family and friends offer the many ways we can get that control back.  From what I hear and read, houses are having the most comprehensive cleanings they’ve had.  People are getting rid of things they’ve hung on to for years, setting them aside to give to a charitable organization when this is over.

With children not in school, and parents not going to work, many families are using this time to become closer.  They play board games.  Parents read aloud to children.  They cook meals that have always taken too much time and effort before.

Bill Gates’ pledge of 50 million dollars for relief, and Tyler Perry buying groceries for every customer at chosen Winn-Dixies in Louisiana and Georgia are grand examples of generosity, but personal generosity, like doing errands for people who are most vulnerable, or calling a sick friend and telling him/her something that will bring a laugh, helps not only the receiver, but the giver, who chose to do these acts in defiance of the many strictures the virus imposes.

Now is the perfect time to read the books one has always wanted to.  The libraries are closed, but sites like AbeBooks have used books that cost little, and many have free shipping.  Finish the handiwork you started months, even years, ago.  Do wood working, play a musical instrument, start window garden.  Hang bird feeders, including ones for humming birds.  I have Cardinals and humming birds, and a variety of small birds like sparrows, wrens and Black-headed Chickadees, and also a Painted Bunting, whose beauty makes me catch my breath.

Now is the time to find refuge in your own home, your own garden.  It is also the time to strengthen or repair relationships, because though the virus has changed our lives, it can’t make them meaningless unless we let it.


Summer at the Beach

My family and I spent many summers at the beach, first at Pensacola Beach, and then, when my daughter Aimee and two friends discovered Navarre Beach, we went there. At the time Navarre Beach wasn’t well known; it is now. Thanks to a law that prohibits high rises, there are only a few at the end of the beach near the bridge that crosses the Santa Rosa Sound.

In late February of 1983, a party of ten pooled money and rented a house that would accommodate all. My good friend Henry Avery and one of the Baton Rouge Little Theatre’s best actors, whose name I don’t remember, were part of the group, as were Aimee, her friend Chris Waters, my daughter DeLaune, a good friend, and her twin first cousins.

Despite a stiff breeze blowing in from the Gulf, Henry would marshal a group to sunbathe, making it more tolerable by finding a depression in the sand where they could get sun, but also some protection from the wind.

Each of us were responsible for cooking the main meal one night. I remember all the meals as being good, but the most interesting one was the blackened redfish Chris Waters cooked. Paul Prudhomme had just introduced blackened seafood and Chris decided to try one of his recipes. We were all gathered at the counter that separated the living/dining area from the kitchen, watching Chris. All of a sudden, heavy smoke blew towards us, so heavy some of us began to cough. Henry tied a napkin over his face, got down on the floor and started crawling to the door, followed by the rest of us. The smoke cleared and lo and behold, the redfish was edible, though we all agreed there must be some way to cook it without driving people outdoors.

Chris, Aimee and I were the last to leave. For some reason, instead of taking the main road to the bridge, we traveled on a parallel road, and toward the end of it, we saw a house with a for rent sign, one so perfect that we parked in the drive, climbed the steps to the deck around three sides of the house and peered in windows to check the place out.

The furnishings were lovely, there was a wet bar in the living/dining area, and two bedrooms downstairs. We could see stairs leading up to what must be the master bedroom. I took down the number of the rental agent, sure I couldn’t afford such a wonderful place, but curious about the price. To my amazement, the owner wanted only $400 a month, and this included all utilities. I asked the rental agent why the rent was so low, and she replied that the owner sent employees to the house in mild months deducting expenses as being business related.

I rented it for two months that summer. A son of the rental agent carried my luggage and heavy typewriter upstairs, placing the typewriter on a table in front of a window that looked out on the Gulf. I was doing a lot of technical writing and editing at the time, and assured my clients that they would get their work on time. A few sounded grumpy, admitting they were envious that I could do my work at the beach while they were stuck in hot humid Baton Rouge.

I did have visitors. Three of my daughters came for a week, other friends for long weekends. My life had been difficult in recent years, to be able to take long walks on the beach at sunrise and watch stars at night helped me find peace that I hadn’t had in a long time.

Later my second husband, Dick Baldridge, and I bought a condo on the beach at Navarre, and when the one next door was for sale, we bought that one, too, planning to knock through walls and make it one large place. Then Opal came, and destroyed them both. Anything built to replace destroyed homes had to be on the original footprint, but since we had the double space, we were able to rebuild one house instead of the two.

The contractor, Joe Faulk, only built houses for people he liked. Fortunately, he liked us. I think the turning point came when he learned that all the rooms would be painted the same light blue, and all the Formica countertops would be the same light blue. He told me that usually he had to work with decorators from Atlanta, whose ideas of what wallpaper and countertops were suitable for a beach house drove him crazy.

I have many happy memories of that house which I had for nine years. However my daughters’ lives made it impossible for them to visit me except occasionally and so I put it on the market just before Ivan struck.

All the houses Joe built survived the hurricane with little to no damage because unlike others which had peaked roofs, Joe used hip roofs so that the wind couldn’t blow them off.

The days I packed up that house were some of the saddest in my life, but I knew that was a chapter I had to close, so I did.


Home Gardens

The first garden I had after my marriage ended was at a place a mile off Rosedale Road in West Baton Rouge. George Richard, who later founded Balloon Fest, moved the Acadian cottage he’d grown up in in Donaldsonville and restored it from top to bottom.   I found it in the Rental ads in the ADVOCATE, and called the listed number immediately.  Marie Richard answered the phone, and mid-conversation, she said, “Didn’t you write CAJUN?”  I said I had.  “That book presented Cajun culture the way it should be.  I think that house will be perfect for you.”

And it was.

The spring after I moved in, I planted what I intended to be an English Cottage garden.  George obligingly built a picket fence around the garden to keep his horses out  I tended it until July, when keeping it clear of weeds became so difficult I knew I needed help.  I called Gracie Mae Kinchen, who had been with us for years, and later would be again, and asked if she knew anyone who gardened.  She said Emile Clark would be a good choice.

But when Emile came out the next day, it turned out that he had never planted a garden in his life.  Still, he was there, so I showed him the difference between a weed and a wanted plant, and he never looked back.

When I moved from Rosedale Road to Le Havre, where there was a lake. I got permission from the president of the association to plant roses outside the wall enclosing my patio, though the rules forbade it.  Emile planted a slow growing wisteria on the second floor balcony, and when I remarried and moved to Sweetbriar Street in Baton Rouge, the wisteria came with us.

Finally, Emile had the space to create a number of gardens.  He built a picket fence around the front yard, then made an English garden.  He also planted a row of holly bushes that grew high enough to block out the view of the house next door.  When the man of the house asked Emile why I wanted something that high, his reply was that Mrs. B. loved her neighbors but she didn’t want to know they were there.

A rose garden had its own space off to the side of the courtyard.  Dick loved tulips and so every year Emile planted 600 bulbs.  Wisteria grew on the back fence that overlooked a large pasture, climbing roses filled other spots, and there was always space for zinnias and daisies.

A few years after Dick died, I moved to New Orleans because my daughter Aimee and her husband John Lawson were having my first grandchild.  Sebastian was born on January 21, 2000, and since my house, was only nine blocks from theirs, I saw him almost daily.  Emile drove down twice a week to prepare and care for gardens.  The first week I moved in, I told Emile I would buy some hanging baskets to put in front of windows, as we had at Sweetbriar.

Emil said, “People in our neighborhood who live in raised houses like this one don’t have hanging baskets.  They have window boxes.”

Needless to say, window boxes it was.

That garden was the smallest I’ve ever had, but there was room for roses, and spring bulbs, and Emile made a Knot garden in the front which was delight to behold.

After three years, though I enjoyed living in New Orleans, I decided to move back, not to Baton Rouge, but to Prairieville.  My close friend Henry Avery was in real estate.  I described the house I wanted, he went online to see what he could find, and I drove up one day to see them.

None of them had trees.  All of them had the cookie cutter designs so prevalent then.  There was only one left, on Bluff Road, and when we got there, the owner had forgotten we were coming and wasn’t there.  Discouraged, we turned back.  Then, as we passed Ridge Road, I saw a sign.  House for Sale.

“We don’t have anything to lose,” I told Henry.  So we drove to the address, and the minute I saw the house, I said, “That’s it.”

The house had a lock box, so Henry called the realtor and got the code to go in.  It had a long, peaked ceiling living/dining room area.  It had a compact kitchen.  It had a large master bedroom with it’s own bath, and two smaller bedrooms that shared a hall bath.  Long porches with deep eaves across the front and back of the house.  “This is my house, but it’s way too small.”

By the time we got back in the car, I’d figured how I could add on to the house.  My offer was accepted, and as soon as the house was mine, Emile started on the gardens.

The property is almost an acre, with a wooded area and a large area in front.  Lots of sunshine for roses, shade for plants that aren’t happy in the sun.  Emile was in his element, turning grass into fern filled spaces, training Honeysuckle over arches, and planting a vegetable garden that kept us in vegetable well into the fall.  He also planted two fig trees, and manfully battled birds to pick buckets full.

There came an unhappy time when Emile could no longer work as hard as he had been.  Finally, he couldn’t work at all.  He was and is one of my best friends, and when I think of him, I think of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s ROAD OF THE LOVING HEART, which the natives of the island where he lived and died built in his memory.  This smooth shining road is a metaphor for the love the natives had for Stevenson. In Emile’s case, I think of the ROAD OF A GARDEN LOVER.