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.  
 
read to be read at yeahwrite.me

Comments

  1. Aunt Joy sounds like an amazing woman. You're doing a great job capturing that magic. I could really go for a Coke right about now.

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    1. Thank you, Nichole! I used to love drinking Coke out of the little glass bottles.

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  2. What wonderful memories of a wonderful person. I love hearing about people's inspirations -- it always makes me feel that maybe someday I could inspire someone to do something really great. Nice work!

    And if I saw a flying cockroach, I'd lose it. They don't have those up here in the prairie...

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    1. Thank you! She was a great lady, and at the time, I didn't know how much she would inspire me. Like you, I hope one of my nieces (or anyone!) writes about me in 50 years!

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  3. This was so good. SO good. You did such an amazing job of "capturing the magic" and making me feel like I was right there with you. Oh, and Aunt Joy sounds awesome!

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  4. Oh, wow. This was fantastic. I think that your writing definitely has captured her magic. You make me feel like I knew her - well, I definitely wish I knew her!

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    1. Someday I will write about Aunt Jane, too! :)

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  6. This post made me want to be you. I totally envy the tradition you had with your and aunt! So beautiful!

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    1. Well, it was definitely good to be me for those visits!!! Thank you for the compliment.

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  7. I really can't add any words that would do this post justice. It was beautiful, and graceful, heartfelt, and touching. Thank you for sharing your Aunt Joy with us.

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    1. Thank you, Melisa! There was no one else like her!

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  8. Aunt Joy sounds downright magical. You brought her to life with your words, and made me love her.
    It was a graceful and beautiful post that I'm sure would have made her very proud.

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  9. Oh this made me long to be someone's aunt! (My one sibling is so not coming through for me here.) Wonderful story, and your descriptions of Louisiana ring so true; my mama's from Mississippi and my husband's from New Orleans, so I've met those flying cockroaches and lived in that humidity. And the grip Coke has on the Deep South is just amazing. . .my grandmother and older relatives refer to any soft drink as a "Coke" -- what a marketing coup!

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    1. Thank you, Louise! It's so true...everything is a Coke down here. Unless it's a Dr. Pepper! :)

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  10. You did indeed capture the magic and you revived some childhood memories for me, too. They weren't of the Bayou, but Chincoteague, VA. has some remarkable similarities.

    Your aunt sounds like she was a wonderful person and an even better role model. Ellen

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  11. I really enjoyed this. I could totally picture your Aunt's cabin. What a beautiful memory and what an inspirational, special person.

    On an unrelated note, I haven't spent much time in the South but I get the impression that if I ever moved there the biggest adjustment for me would be the size and prevalance of the bugs you guys have. Yikes!

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    1. You are so right...I think there are more bugs in the South. But we also have incredible food, wonderful people and great sights to see.

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  12. I could totally feel how special your relationship with Aunt Joy was and so happy you could "be" with her at the end. Beautifully written!

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    1. Thank you, Stacie! I was glad my Dad was able to deliver the letter in time!

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  13. Beautifully evocative of your aunt's spirit and her home in the bayou.

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    1. Thank you, Cindy! I miss that place, and her, as well.

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  14. I could see her in your writing. And I absolutely WANT her desk!

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    1. Not sure who has that desk now...wish I knew!

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  15. So, so good. As always you've captured a mood and place beautifully. What a lovely inspiration your aunt was - you're doing her memory proud!

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    1. Thank you so much! I wish she was still around, so she could help me with my writing :)

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  16. What a wonderful woman. Honestly, anyone that can read Faulkner with enthusiasm is already my hero. Very touching story.

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    1. I agree, Liz. Faulkner is not exactly my cup of tea. She was devoted to him, though! So glad you liked the story.

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  17. Beautiful story and a moving tribute to someone you clearly loved so much. Well done.

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  18. Ah this was wonderful and rich like a good roux. I come from Cajun people down in the Bayou and you captured something about it I love. The heat, the molasses-ness of it all. Great post!

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    1. It is such a unique place, isn't it? Glad I reminded you of it.

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  19. You most certainly did capture the bayou with your voice. My Dad spent summers in Louisiana as a kid. I've only visited once so I'm not as familiar. Reading this made me think of what his childhood summers must have been like. Well done!

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  20. so sorry for your loss. Aunt Joy sounds like an amazing woman. This writing is perfection. I could feel the humidity as I read this..your words painted an amazing picture. Aunt Joy would be proud of you.

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    1. Thank you, Robbie, that is quite a compliment!

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  21. You did her proud, I assure you. Beautiful capturing of the Louisiana summertime and memories.

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    1. I hope she would have been proud of it, thank youQ

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  22. Your writing is so rich and beautiful. I can only imagine how special that letter was to her. Wonderful post!

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    1. Thank you so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  23. What a beautiful tribute to your aunt. This is beautiful.

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  24. every woman (every person) should be lucky enough to have an Aunt Joy in their childhood. she sounds fantastic - and having roots like that give us strength, always.

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    1. Totally agree. She brought out (& still brings out) the best in me.

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  25. You are such a talented writer, and i hade no idea you got to spend time like that at that camp. i was only there once i can recall. Keep up the great work!

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    1. Wish I had all the experiences in Norwood at Grandma's, so that I could write about that! :)

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  26. You are such a talented writer, and i hade no idea you got to spend time like that at that camp. i was only there once i can recall. Keep up the great work!

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