On the Bayou
|Photo by JC Winkler|
The 1976 red Pinto kicked up stray pebbles in the gravel driveway, sounding like the staccato of a hailstorm. Once the car stopped in front of the screened door of the country house, I waited for my aunt to lift the driver’s seat, so I could climb out.
The hot, thick air grabbed me by the throat, reminding me that summers in Louisiana can only be survived by staying wet and drinking lots of ice-cold Coca-Cola. I couldn’t wait to hop in the makeshift swimming pool, fashioned by filling an old rowboat with water from the hose.
Later, we would sit out on the dock and eat crabs we caught in our homemade traps, butter sauce dripping down our chins. Followed by an impromptu talent show my cousin and I would put on for the adults, who clapped even when we sang off-key.
The nights were punctuated by rusty, old table fans moving the heavy air around the room, while I tossed and turned, trying to find a cool spot on my pillow. And if I went a day without having an encounter with a flying cockroach the size of the Goodyear blimp, well, I was doin’ good. I hated those flying beasts.
My aunt’s place, or “camp” as she called it, on the water holds some of the most cherished memories from my youth. This was the place where time stood still, and we were free to spend our days reading, lazing about and having long discussions at the kitchen table, telling old family tales about Grandma and her extended cast of Creole characters.
This is where I got to know my aunt as the literary professor, published poet and avid Faulkner enthusiast. As the only woman in my father’s family who wore pants, she sported a short, modern haircut and cursed the invention of pantyhose. She was divorced, which was still quite rare and slightly scandalous, considering she had been married to an Episcopalian priest.
For my birthday, she gave me “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson and “Songs of the Whales” on vinyl. I loved my Aunt Joy. She told me I could do anything.
When I got the news that she was dying, I immediately set to writing her a letter to express how much she meant to me, and that she would never be forgotten. My father read the letter to her hours before her death, and although she could no longer speak, he said she was smiling through tears.
I often picture her behind her big Victorian oak desk, crafting a story with rich details of the local cypress trees, wild irises and bayou sights and sounds. A tale so colorful that someone would read it and mistakenly think they had visited the area as a child.