Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Thanks Joseph Smith, Jr.

We could do it
If anyone could, It would be us
I'd navigate my doubts
And we would be an anomaly

Then you said,  "This."
"This, I won't talk about with you"
That moment told me more than ALL the books
It was a vast library in one statement

If tables were turned
I would have read every book for you
Faced every question you asked,  "This"
"This I will talk about with you"

You never yelled, never got mad
You put it in a compartment and ignored
Being ignored hurts more
Solitary amongst the noise

It faded away, talking waned to typing
typing became mere texts
You still can't talk
And I can no longer be ignored

Water moved under the bridge
A sea of change in droplets
The new question now was - What hurts more?
Watching it rot? or Watching it burn?

If you would only talk to me
What scares you more-
That I might be hateful?
Or that I might be logical?

The erosion of friendship painted a mural
A game of percentages
Day to day casual of the 75 percent yet never
Authenticity for the whole

I went all in
And called the bluff
Talk to me or I've had enough
Again I heard that I had heard before

"This"
"This, I won't talk about with you"
Out of self preservation
I toe tagged the friendship

Had I killed it or only admitted defeat?
Put out on the table
What could not be said

Can the devout walk with those who doubt?
Can the apostate and the believer
See eye to eye?
They can only try.


But us?
We could not talk about it. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Where in the world is Janie...


Oh blogging.... I can't give you up but I often let you down. My mom's story sits there looking at me. I wait for her next installment. She is quite a writer isn't she? I've had to assure people in my life that no she is not making it up. Those are real people, they are/were characters but very very real. I love how her words have brought the stories back to the surface and brought them to life. This past Sunday watching Cosmos -- The part where the ode to the written word of humans is highlighted I thought of my mom's story and was immensely grateful to her for putting it down for me and future family members to read.

So this is my "one year post" Yes its about religion so for those who are sensitive to that topic you can tune out now.

I can't believe I don't have a specific date for the 'last Sunday' we attended church. It was such a long time coming that when we actually stopped it was a non-event in a way. I have a few snapshots in my mind. Like the phone call about a ride to scouts. And me saying "We won't be doing that anymore."

Like for this week/month?

"No like ... ever."

A few last things related to callings dropped off and a few final emails. And then that was about it. The living room and bishop's office sit-downs had already occurred.

In honor of this post, I even looked up my very first email to friends from the nebulous beginning of my questioning:

So I am having a crisis of faith apparently and I think Kyle doesn't know what to say to me anymore - so I have been praying about it and I keep thinking I need to talk about it. Because 1) you are smarter and more learned in the scriptures than I am and 2) I don't think my mumblings would negatively affect your faith.

I've tried to kind of quell my own mumblings but my thoughts get circular on the subject and its frustrating. Then I thought I'd bring it up one day in person - but that may be awkward.  So anyway - its so cliche too - A LDS woman struggling with the topic of polygamy - but I am struggling whether it is cliche or not.

Specifically about Joseph Smith.

And it all really boils down to the fact that my whole life I did not know he had what? 30 wives - to this day I still don't know details - and its very precarious to try to research it online - you know what kind of stuff is online - which I have avoided. 
but through what I feel were honest sources (not anti) I did find more. And it was unsettling. Mainly this point - that he hid the marriage ( to a girl who was only 17) from Emma and quote :
Book of Mormon witness, Oliver Cowdery, felt the relationship was something other than a marriage.  He referred to it as “A dirty, nasty, filthy affair...”
those words keep echoing in my mind, 
So I tried to let it go and turn to the scriptures only and choked spiritually on section 132 like I have before.

I feel like I could overcome the topic if it didn't seem hidden by the church. How many members today if asked would only know Emma asJoseph's wife - do these other women not deserve recognition - they bore him children... If it was my daughter I would not want her swept under the rug.

I feel like I can't move away from this and when "Joseph Smith" is said in church I ache. I mean if a man did that in the ward right now he'd be ostracized.

on a similar vein - Men being able to be sealed after the death of their wife and women not being able to. I can't. get. over. it.

anyway. I am going to pray more and fast.

I am sorry - feel free to think I am crazy and tell me to take it up with the bishop. 

 Almost like the pain of childbirth, I can't really remember the pain I felt then. I know it was real and deep and agonizing. But I have none of that anymore.
In fact I've come very close to not writing this "anniversary" post at all. But I'm going to do it anyway... what's that they say about an unexamined life...

Questioning in earnest Jan of 2011, Open disaffection August 2012, Left sometime February 2013, Resignation (Names removed) June 2013

So where am I now? where are we as a family?

Me:

To answer the oft asked question... so what do you believe now? I took that question seriously when posed to me and I started really diving into what it was that excited me. I have found such a renewed interest in science, specifically scientific skepticism. Found the old copy of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. Dove headfirst into some great science podcasts and discovered to my delight there is a vast network of modern skeptics that work to promote the beauty of science and the benefit of critical thinking.

In the social adrift state after leaving the church my natural inclination was to turn to the many crunchy mom groups and natural birth community groups. I have found dear friends in those circles.

Sadly though, I noticed the trend emerge that many things were still dogma based. A set of "rules" that were incontrovertibly true to many in these circles. Science denial often trumps when certain topics come up (vaccines, homeopathy, diet extremism, etc.) I felt I had in a sense jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

One night at dinner with a very cool friend who felt somewhat abandoned by a birth network she was a part of for political reasons she said "I thought one day instead of making myself fit in a place, I'll make my own damn place."

Brilliance!  I was a person with a foot in two worlds. A new found skeptic thirsting for science but still the babywearing extended breastfeeder who had two babies born out of the hospital. So I worked to find my own place to fit. And I started the Crunchy Skeptics group on facebook. It has helped me come in contact with some absolutely marvelous people. I've made wonderful new friends and have some fantastic people as admins. Several scientists, doctors, nurses, journalists, midwives, birth professionals, and more offer support and advice in the group. We chew articles up and debate the real data. We know logical fallacies and point them out readily. I have found the convos there to be unparalleled to most online groups. I know its *just* facebook but its really been a fantastic way for me to focus my time and effort doing what I love: chatting.

Us as a family:

We are now attending Fellowship of Freethought (meets once a month). Always interesting topics and the kids learn some great things about science or the natural world in their classes.
We are hoping to send the oldest three to Camp Quest this summer and Kyle and I will be volunteers.
We are all super excited to be watching the remake of the Cosmos series. This fuels my Neil deGrasse Tyson fangirling which makes everyone only roll their eyes a little bit more at me.
We are going camping with new friends again this weekend.
Wow... Sundays actually spent relaxing. FOR. THE. WIN.


Over the past couple of years I have felt some of the most difficult pain ever. Only rivaled by the pain of losing my father and brother, and it even encompassed that pain as well. I am so glad to be on the other side of it. I think of people like my husband, my mother, my sister, my mother in law, my older children, a few friends who have just listened to me over and over and over again through all of this. For new friends that I never would have met if not for my path of great change. I am a better person for having such open minded people in my life.

I have also lost many friends. And I am close to the point of forgiveness now. At first I felt rejected, then I rejected the relationships myself. It just is what it is. Its almost like a color. I like the color of those friendships very much, I just don't know quite how to incorporate them into the decor of my life now. I hope some day I/we will figure that out.

I was asked the other day if you could go back and not know what you know about the church would you?

At first I would have said yes.

Now? not only no. but hell no.

My life is richer for all the things I've learned.


PS. In other news, Kyle's hair has gotten a lot longer and his vas deferens shorter ;) 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My Life in Words, Part Eleven: Biscuits from scratch.

My Mom's story continues, Part One here, Part ten here


And as the day progressed, I learned how to drop the dumplings into the chicken broth, how to fry a chicken, and how to make biscuits from scratch. 



Lizzie, on the other hand, was a strong woman who faced the world unflinchingly.  Kind was not a word used to describe her.  I never saw the mean side, but I have heard that others did.  She was less than soft spoken when it came to her children’s spouses.  But her opinions also changed.  If she didn’t like you on one visit, she may love you on the next.  She didn’t care about your opinions of what she did.  I only knew that she loved me.  She had patience that was in direct contradiction to her reputation.  She allowed me to have so many experiences that I wouldn’t have had if I had spent all my time in the suburbs.  Instead, I know what it is like to walk out to the chicken coop with an apron on to hold the eggs that you were going to steal from the hens.  I thought she was magic because she could walk through the chicken yard without looking at her footsteps, unworried about all the chicken poop she was trudging through.  It was a long while before I realized that she changed her shoes before going inside!  I was too busy delicately holding eggs in the cradle of a cotton apron, dodging poop, and eyeing hens wanting to attack those responsible for making off with their eggs.  After harvesting the eggs, it was time for breakfast.  I was the assistant cook, which meant that I stood on a stool at the stove and assisted.  I learned how to flip an egg so that it was over easy.  I learned how to make toast when there is no toaster.  And as the day progressed, I learned how to drop the dumplings into the chicken broth, how to fry a chicken, and how to make biscuits from scratch.   I would doubt that many of today's foodies would be able to define a biscuit board, much less be able to point one out.  I’m proud to say that Lizzie’s biscuit board has stayed in our family, finding a home with her great great granddaughter.

The story of Lizzie and Ben is another story, and would have been better told by one of their children, but that opportunity has passed.  They had seven children.  Three sons were born first, and I am sure they were despairing of having a daughter.  Audrey came first around 1912.  Then Raleigh Pat in 1914, and Harold Benjamin in 1916.  Finally in 1918, the daughter was born who would one day become my grandmother, my beloved Me-Maw.  They named her Janie Orean Watters and she was born on September 1, 1918.   Four years later, Frank Benjamin was born, and then there was a long spell without the birth of a baby.  Finally Mary Winona came along when Frank was eight, and Margie Faye followed two years later.  That mean that Janie’s two sisters were 12 and 14 years younger than she, but they were close.  In their adult years, Margie and Janie were as inseparable as two women could be.  I doubt that three days went without a long distance phone call.  As the years passed, the closeness of the siblings waxed and waned.  But I grew up close to all my great aunts and uncles, and as it was with great grandparents, my great aunts and uncles were truly more like aunts and uncles.  Three of the siblings – Janie, Frank, and Harold, lived in one block in the suburbs as I grew up.  So for many of my formative years, those uncles were very real masculine role models when my grandfather was working offshore  for a good part of my childhood.  These uncles exhibited the macho stuff – the camping, the boating, the horse riding, the hard drinking.  My grandfather was almost the personal opposite. Never hunted, never drove a boat, and for sure never drank.  More about his horse riding to come, as it plays a very real part in the beginning of my family.

to be continued... 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Life in Words, Part Ten: The last time he would smell fresh air.

On Christmas Day, mom said "I wrote for you."
The story continues, Starting here, Part nine here

To say that I craved sleeping with someone sounds so calm.  Maybe I need all caps in this case.  I CRAVED SLEEPING WITH SOMEONE.  As a reminder, my grandfather was gone most nights, as he worked out in the Gulf of Mexico on an oil rig.  So for most of my childhood, I lived in a house of females.  My grandmother, my aunt, my mother, and me.  When my mother wasn’t available, I would sleep with someone else.  No one turned me down – except for Pa-Paw.  When he would come home, he wanted to sleep with his wife without a child between them.  Took me years to understand that!

The people in my life were not dreamers, or artists, or poets.   They were workers.



Nope.. I didn’t wake up my mother for my school preparations.  That was Me-Maw’s job.  I am quite sure that many princesses didn’t have it as good as I did growing up.  By the time my eyes saw the sunlight of the morning, everything that could be ready, was ready.  My dress was laid out, my breakfast on the table, my satchel by the front door.  Bookbags weren’t invented yet.  I had a little childlike briefcase with cheap plastic straps secured by cheap metal buckles.  I went through several each school year because I tended to be rather rough on them.  Breakfast was the breakfast most kids are unaware of today, unless they go out to I-Hop for breakfast on special occasions.  There was meat (bacon or ham, but most definitely pork), eggs, toast, jelly.  Sometimes it would be grits.  But none of that instant stuff – grits cooked on the stove where I would stand transfixed watching them.  I had a great imagination and I saw them as lava, pulling up into big bubbles until they would pop, sending little pieces of corn meal up inches into the air.  I wouldn’t really see lava in real life until I was in my late thirties on a trip to Hawaii.  And my thought was how much its thickness resembled the grits of my childhood.  I didn’t share that with anyone, however.  I didn’t want to be seen as different.  The people in my life were not dreamers, or artists, or poets.   They were workers.  This is not to say that everyday workers are not artists, it simply means that the mediums they work in are the consumables of our lives.  A farmer grows what he considers to be a perfect squash, but he doesn’t indulge himself with idolizing it or attributing praise to it.  He simply looks at it, thinks to himself how grand it is, then drops it into the bushel with other squash to one day be fried up with butter and onions by another artist whose work is admired by those who eat that perfect squash.  Each artist in that cycle is anonymous to the next, but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful  a process.
My grandmother came from a long line of farmers.  She was the first daughter in a family of four boys and two girls.  For the majority of her life, she was the only daughter.  My great grandparents were Ben and Lizzie Watters.  In talking about my life, I always think of it as a clock that is consistently one hour – in my case, one generation – off.  My grandmother was my mother, my great grandmother was my grandmother, and that leaves my mother as….. well, I really don’t have a good answer for that one.  The closest thing would be to say that my mother was like a sister to me.  I said that to her once and she didn’t speak to me for a year.  But that drama came many years later than the point we are in this story.    

Neither of us imbued any deep philosophical meaning  into those conversations.  We were just friends.




Ben and Lizzie were definitely farmers.  One step above indentured servants to be exact.  They were share croppers.   While they did own some land in “the bottom” as it was known, and made memories there, they generally made money farming land belonging to someone else – someone richer.    I never heard the words poor, or poverty, or needy, or any other synonym we call it now.  They were just “plain folks” who got up each morning, gathered eggs, tended fields, and raised children.  By the time I was old enough to start building my memories, their working farm days were over.  They had moved to “the city.”  And to call Springhill, Louisiana the city was to acknowledge how small was the universe of Ben and Lizzie.  It would be difficult to find two people more diverse than this couple.  While he was a small man, standing only about 5’6’’, she was a tall woman, probably 5” 9”.  My grandmother claimed an English ancestry for her father, but he always looked to me like those described as “black Irish” in that he had dark hair, blue eyes, and fair complexion.  He was an oddity, that his hair never fully turned gray, but kept its dark appearance even at his death in his mid 80s.  Lizzie on the other hand, turned gray very early in life, then when most others are turning gray her hair became white.  WHITE.  Not grayish white, or silver, but white.  It was beautiful, and she was known as a beautiful woman.  As expected, few pictures remain of her, but those that do show a strikingly beautiful young woman, and it is easy for me to romanticize her relationship with Ben.  When they married, he was 32 and she was a mere 16.  At that early age, she was an orphan.  Her mother, my great great grandmother was often called a “black widow”.  She died in her early 30s and left her fourth husband with a young child.  Lizzie’s father was a Newberry and she had many cousins in the southern Arkansas/north Louisiana area.  Ben was known as an honest man and his daughter, my grandmother described him in almost angelic terms, saying that he was the kindest person she had ever known.  I can only say that he was kind and loving to me.  He was the rare adult who treated me almost as an equal.  I spent much of my summers as a young child with my great grandparents in Springhill where I was allowed to do the things that short stories are made of.  Paw-Paw Watters and I planted a field of summer squash.  We would walk every afternoon to feed and walk Buck, his horse around.  We fished.  And we talked.  Long long walks and long long talks.  I wish I could say that I remember those talks, but I think the beauty of them is that I don’t.  They were simply mundane conversations that two friends may share.   Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was the crops.  Neither of us imbued any deep philosophical meaning  into those conversations.  We were just friends.  When I was eight-ish, he had a stroke.  It was a terrifying time for me.  I didn’t understand what a stroke meant.  Didn’t know what it was.  When I tried to ask, I was shushed and when I wasn’t shushed, my Me-Maw would cry.  I learned not to ask, but went back to my tried and true routine of simply listening for those snippets of information which I could piece together into some fabric of understanding.  What I didn’t know at the time was that my life with my Paw Paw was forever changed.  
No more walks.  No more Buck.  No more talks.  Just PawPaw in a hospital bed in the middle bedroom.  As the days went into weeks, the weeks turned into months, then years.  He laid in that bed for close to four years until he died the summer of my twelfth year.  So now my memories are mostly of rubbing his feet with lotion, and combing his hair, and singing to him at the request of Me-Maw.  On one of our visits, she got him up and put a robe over his pajamas.  She walked him out to the porch where he enjoyed his last visit outside.  A dear neighbor, Lee Martin, came over to visit with the family on the porch.  Pictures were taken.  Many in the family probably still have an enlargement of that picture in their home.  I  used to look at it and wonder if he knew it was the last time he would smell fresh air, see the sky, or visit with friends while sitting face to face with them.  The rest of his days everything he saw, felt, or sensed was from a prone position.  That makes me sad.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Life in Words, Part Nine: I got to see her transform

The final installment of my Mom's life story so far, Part Eight here, the first part here


Whatever job my mother happened to have at any given time, her days followed the same pattern.  She worked during the daylight hours, and came home in the afternoon, sometimes dusk.  That was when I got to see her transform.  Most people transform into a homebody when they return from their jobs.  But not my mother!  It was a different kind of transformation.  It was taking off the face that she had worn to work, and putting on a more glamorous nighttime face.  The blush was brighter, the lipstick redder, and the eyes smokier.  Well, maybe I’m confusing the eyes with the smokiness of the small bathroom while I sat on the toilet and watched her put on makeup.  I was transfixed.  My mom was quite an attractive woman.  A natural redhead , she had a curvaceous body that would have rivaled Marilyn Monroe’s.  Maybe having a baby at 17 had helped her mature earlier than most adolescents.  I didn’t understand, nor think those thoughts.  I was just torn in half watching her get dressed and loving that time I could spend with her, but knowing that the result of her preparations would be her leaving for the evening, and she certainly wouldn’t be home before I was put to bed.  The corollary to that was that she was never the one to put me to bed.  But I slept with her.  In a three bedroom house, there was no room for two adult daughters and a young grandchild.  By necessity I shared a room with my mom.  It created in me a need to sleep with someone.  I had to fight my urge to have my own children sleep with me.  I didn’t wake up when my mother finally came home. But when my grandmother would come to wake me up, she would put her finger to her lips, a silent signal for me to BE silent.  And I obeyed.  Because I knew what it would be like if I were to unintentionally wake my mother.  



Monday, December 30, 2013

My Life in Words, Part Eight: Mama was a paradox

“Are you okay?  Do you love me?  Are you mad at me?” 

My mom


It was much later in my life before I realized that  my mom was a weapon.  She did quite a bit of damage.  Some was by her words, some by her actions, and some by simple selfishness.  Mama was a paradox.  While she often gave lavish gifts, she was just as likely to push others aside to get her own way.  It was years before I realized that she used things as anesthesia.  She could believe she was good – and she could make you believe she was good – if she gave you a nice gift, or took you somewhere you wanted to go, or did something you wanted to do.  As long as it cost her something.  And that something was always cash.  Sacrifice wasn’t her currency.  It’s hard for me to look back and try to understand why I didn’t see things accurately back then.  I imagine it was my childish heart.  A child always wants to believe in love.  Maybe we are even programmed genetically, or instinctively, to believe that our mother is good, that our mother loves us, and that our mother always has our best interest in the forefront.  I am not the only child to grow up and learn in hindsight that that wasn’t true.  But not knowing protected my heart and it needed protecting in those days.  I had been given the heavy obligation of making too many people happy.   If people were angry, if people were sad, it had to be my fault.  Why did no one try to take that from me?  Surely they noticed.  Surely to God they noticed.  The refrain that I repeated way too often was, “Are you okay?  Do you love me?  Are you mad at me?”  Of course, there was usually a response to that refrain.  But it wasn’t from my mother, the one I most wanted it to be from.  Her answer was too practical, too annoyed.  “I’m not mad.  Quit asking me that.  You know I love you.  I’m okay.”  Answers, but not the answers I wanted.  I wanted sweetness and caresses, and kisses that said I was the most important thing in her life.  But that probably wouldn’t have worked.  It is a law of life that for words to be seen as sincere, they have to match the actions of the speaker.   And my mother’s actions were far from saying, “You are the most important thing in my life.”

(Evelyn on the left)


I have to remember that my mother had me as the result of an accident.  I wasn’t born the lovingly wished for offspring of a fresh young couple.  I wasn’t the infant of an older couple who had prayed for a baby for over a decade, perhaps.  I was the result of two young kids fumbling around in some furtive encounter when neither of them had any thought that a life would start. Instead of joy at the realization that a baby was coming, I am sure there was anger.  If messages cross that placental membrane as easily as nutrients do, then I am sure I was bombarded with hate, rage, but mostly, fear.  When I realize that, it is easier to understand how quickly my mother was able to slide her parental responsibilities off to my grandmother.  Later in life, she tried to blame my grandmother for “stealing” me.  I presume she meant stealing my affection.  But anyone with any sense knows that it would be very hard to kidnap a child’s affection from a mother whose love was the most integral part of the child’s life.  I couldn’t have been very old before even I realized that I was an afterthought.  My mother was a working mother from my earliest memory.  She worked as a waitress, then for a caterer, and finally for most of my childhood she was a cashier for Winn-Dixie in our neighborhood.  

fire burns everything in its path, both good and bad



I am sure that she was a good worker.  If my grandfather imparted anything to the three women he raised it was to be a good employee.  One of the worse things that could be said of someone was that they were a lazy worker, or that they did not give an honest day’s work for their honest day’s pay.  That lesson led each of us to work far beyond what was expected.  We would arrive early and we would stay late, as needed.  We were a friend to all our co-workers.  However, in my mom’s case, she was perhaps too friendly to some of her co-workers.  The male ones, that is.  I can’t remember a time in my life after memories begin to stick, that my mother did not have a man in her life.  And at least one memory remains from a time when most children don’t have memories.  We had gone to her boss’s house for a holiday.  I loved going there.  He lived out near the Mississippi River levee, just as we did.  But his house was upriver from us, closer toward LaPlace and Destrehan.  And he had kids – lots of kids.  There is nothing an only child likes more than visiting families who have lots of children.  It’s like going to another country, or maybe even another planet.  Someplace so alien that it was unimaginable that people lived like that.    I wanted to go back, and maybe that is why I was so excited when I figured out  by my grandmother’s phone conversation that she was talking to Mr. Bud’s wife.  But that same understanding of who was on the phone couldn’t fathom what was happening on the phone.  But I knew enough to know my grandmother was upset and my inner demons kicked in and I began to ask if she was mad at me and whether she loved me.  After her reassurances, my little girl’s mind kicked back to that phone conversation and I peppered her with questions, “Are we going to Mr. Bud’s house again? Can some of his daughters come over to our house?”  The answer was no to all questions.  Had I been a little older, or perhaps a little more sophisticated, I could have put together the understanding that Mr. Bud’s wife had gotten to the bottom of my mom’s “friendship” with her boss.  I would have also known that the friendship, and my mom’s employment, was over.  And as surely as fire burns everything in its path, both good and bad, my friendship with all those children of one household was over as well.  I was way too little to understand everything about that whole debacle, but I knew it caused a scream fest in our house when my grandfather got home but that imaginary fire wasn’t done with its damage yet.  My mom took off in the car without permission and just like what would happen in the plot of a movie, she wrecked the car, destroying it.  When I got old enough to realize what had really happened, I wondered if that fire of passion had destroyed Mr. Bud’s marriage as well.  And I prayed it had not.  I did not want to feel that my  mother was responsible for all those little kids having to live apart from their father.  It was too sad for me to contemplate. 

The story began here, Part seven is here

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Life in Words, Part Seven: Ba Sister got tired of it all

My Mom's life story continues, Part six here, It all started here


Sibling Rivalry

Me-Maw and her daughters: Evelyn and Beth        

While there were only two girls in the family, they were not close.  They were rivals for affection, rivals for compliments, and rivals for any good words which were to be spoken of them.  From childhood, my aunt had been given a name by her older sister.  She was called Bay Sister.  Probably it was actually “Ba” Sister, meaning Baby Sister.  But that was the name she carried until death.  And I think she grew tired of being the baby sister who had to carry the older sister’s reputation on her back.  When they left the house, it was the baby sister who was reminded to watch out for the older one.  Because the older one, my mother, was a daredevil.  She would do anything on a dare, from crossing a canal that runs through the urban areas of New Orleans, to jumping off a second story roof.  She had a quick temper that matched the old wives tale of redheads being hotheads. 

She made a decision to get out

Mae Beth aka Bay Sister

Ba Sister got tired of it all.  She got tired of neighbors complaining.  She got tired of family hysteria.  She got tired of her mother making excuses for what Big Sister had done.  She made a decision to get out, and to get out as quickly as she could.  So she enrolled at Soule College, which was a business college and she excelled at everything young women are supposed to do well.  She took Gregg Shorthand.  She did bookkeeping (accounting was for the men).  She typed close to 90 words per minute and her spelling was exceptional.  She almost finished the complete program at Soule, but she was offered a job at Humble Oil, probably as a result of her father’s good reputation with the same company.  So she made the calculated decision that what she had left to learn in her program was not worth the delay in the start of her career.  At her age, she couldn’t yet realize how much she would grow to regret that decision.  It was one of the few things in her life which she didn’t see to the end.  But what she did do was take those first baby steps that would lead her to the rest of her life.  She had no idea at the time what would come from the decision to take that job.  It would truly be the yellow brick road taking her to her own wonderland, her own Oz.


She was the New Woman.  She would support herself, travel alone or with girlfriends, and rebel against every southern rule for women she had been taught.

A new Beth. 

Ba Sister’s first job for Humble Oil was in Grand Isle Louisiana.  What a tiny dot on the map of Louisiana!  It was barely even in Louisiana, but instead it was a collection of houses and offices built on pilings hanging on to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.  From a distance, it looked like a circus scene, with all the houses on stilts, and one would expect to see clowns emerge from them, also walking tall balancing on ten feet poles of wood.  If you are not from Louisiana, or another town that lives on the edge of water that routinely rises without mercy, you wouldn’t be used to the stair climb you would make every morning as you reported to work.  The “girls” in the steno pool would live together in what would appear to be a summer cottage to the uninitiated eye.  They had a chance to see many men in Grand Isle.  But what you really saw was the men arriving to work and then leaving work seven days later.  Grand Isle was the hub of men who climbed aboard helicopters which flew them out to platforms which consisted of oil wells, a heliport, and living quarters.  It was quite an unnatural situation.  Instead of men climbing on the city bus after slogging through a hard day’s work, these workers would walk across a metal catwalk, looking down at water that may be 100 feet or more  deep until they reached their living quarters, which was also the living quarters of 50 or more other men.  While that job was an excellent training ground for a future executive assistant, it was far from excellent as a hunting ground for a husband.  Of course, Ba Sister would have never been guilty of hunting for a husband.  She was the New Woman.  She would support herself, travel alone or with girlfriends, and rebel against every southern rule for women she had been taught.
She didn’t feel the sand of Grand Isle, Louisiana between her toes for long.  Her skills did not go unnoticed, and she was soon working in the Central Business District of New Orleans in the Humble Oil Building.  Even there, everyone knew her father, Red Honeycutt.  His was a hard reputation to ignore.  From his first job of driving a truck, he soon became a roustabout, then a drill pusher on one of those dots in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was the job of those men to pull  oil from under the earth’s surface to sate the thirst of a growing America.  His fellow employees respected and trusted him.  Within a very few years he was an important member of the Employees Federation, the pre-union organization which worked with the management of the future Exxon.  The election to President of the Federation was not a surprise to any who knew him.  His honesty and integrity was known and respected by the rank and file, and even more amazingly, by management – even the highest level of management in the company.  All this was to say that Red’s daughter didn’t go unnoticed by that same management.  She spent enough time in the pool of young workers to make good friends.  Earning good money for the first time in her life, she treated herself well.  The first big purchase was a 1953 Chevy.  It took her for weekend trips to places she had only heard about.  She went away to visit the families of friends she met at work.  But she also went to places her car could not take her.  She was the first one in the extended families of her mother and her father who had ever left the country – on purpose.  She had had uncles who had seen Europe, but that was on a trip paid for by everyone’s uncle – Sam.
The whole time Ba Sister was taking the world by storm (a little storm, but a storm nonetheless) the Big Sister, my mother , was attacking the world with her hammer. 

My Life in Words, Part Six: Tomato aspic, caviar and college?

My mom's life story goes on, Part Five here. It all began here




My aunt lived in the house with my grandparents, my mom and me until I was nearly eight years old.  And even when she moved, she was a large part of my rearing.  She was the family member who was committed to seeing that I grew up with class.  Mae Beth, “good”  Sister made it her job to take me to places where the last thing in the world they would serve was anything with a gravy or a black eyed pea.  With her, I dined on things like tomato aspic and caviar.  We went to Commander’s Palace and dined in the courtyard.  We traveled away for the weekend to Gulf Hills Dude Ranch on the Mississippi Coast.  Every interaction she had with me was designed to teach me that there was something beyond my southern upbringing.  She was the first to talk to me of colleges.  Not just encouraging me to go to college, but talking about which college.  She positively beamed when I spoke of going to Sophie Newcomb, which was the women’s college associated with Tulane University.  I, of course, was too young to know anything about Newcomb, or admission requirements.  I just knew that it had a nice entry and it was in the Garden District.  My mind couldn’t grasp the idea of actually going away to any college and living in a dorm.  Didn’t know what  a dorm was. 



 she was very much past ready to move out and start her life. 



To understand my ignorance, you would have to understand that of all my extended family on either side, only one individual I knew had gone to college.  He was a much older cousin and he came to our house one Christmas with three of his rowdy college friends.  My grandmother did what every aunt does for college boys – she cooked for them.  And what did they do for me?  Broke one of my brand new toys.  I had been given a pogo stick and a miniature pinball game made out of plastic.  Well, one of the guys jumped up on the pogo stick and immediately jumped onto the pinball machine.  Which reacted by breaking into a million pieces.  At least it felt like a million.  To match the million pieces my heart had broken into at the same time.  I wanted to scream out in a rage, but I didn’t.  He was a GUEST.  And even at my young age, I had learned that one never ever made a GUEST feel anything but welcome.
I never quite understood why my aunt didn’t go to college.  She was very smart.  While the family was not rich, I think that my grandfather would have found the money to help her go.  Maybe it would have been to a state school, and maybe she would have had to live at home while she attended, but she could have gone.  But instead, she knew that the only way she would be able to move out of the house was to get a job.  And she was very much past ready to move out and start her life.