A North Carolina Tar Heel in the Heart of Acadiana

I’m not accustomed to having windows open and to be wondering whether I ought to just go ahead and turn on the a/c on New Year’s Eve. Welcome to Southern Louisiana! Evidently this isn’t at all unheard of, around here. We’re also under a tornado watch, as a cold front is coming through overnight, dropping our temps from (low) 60 to 47 and (high) 76 to 59 for New Year’s Day. That’s still on the mild side, isn’t it? Uh, yes, it is.

I haven’t done as much exploring of my region as I’d like. I live in a lovely town, one which date from about the same period as my home area in the Sandhills of North Carolina. That makes it one of the newer towns down here; there are towns like St. Martinville and New Iberia that date from the mid-1700s (and had European settlers in the area at what were simple trading outposts, much earlier, late 1600s-early 1700s). This area is also pretty “English,” in contrast to “Cajun,” although there’s a large Cajun population here. We are very much in the heart of Acadiana.

I grew up in town in NC but I have farming roots on both sides of my family. so the agricultural makeup of this area fascinates me. Now, I know what a tobacco field looks like, and peach orchards, and soybeans, and a variety of other crops grown in quantity up in The Old North State. But I’m not so sure what I’m looking at, yet, down here. I assume the recently-flooded fields that were so cleanly plowed and disked, just a couple weeks ago, are rice fields, as I live near the nation’s Rice Capitol, but that assumption is based entirely on my reading of the novels of Pearl S. Buck. They could be crawfish fields, too, but I’m more inclined to think the fields that had some water and a lot of plant growth even after being drained last year are the crawfish farms. I don’t know who can clear that up for me, yet, but I keep looking. Sugar cane, on the other hand, is pretty easy to recognize, and there’s a lot of that here and south toward the “coast –”

— if you can call it the coast. The Louisiana coastline is primarily swamp that becomes the Gulf oF Mexico, unlike the Carolinas’ flat and distinct sandy coastline.

Another big difference is that, although the Coastal Plain of NC is flat as flat can be, there are miles upon miles of woodlands. Here almost all land is under cultivation. The only place I’ve seen real forests are actually down along the Atchafalaya Swamp. Everywhere else, there are hedge rows and trees in people’s yards, but not acres and miles of woodland. That is peculiar, but it also gives one a vista that is out of this world — miles and miles of open land to the horizon, allowing you to see the moon coming up over the horizon and the water tower of the town maybe 12 miles away.

This is also a big beef area. I get a kick out of seeing pastures with cows and small lots with cows all around here. There are some breeds I know, like the Hereford, Brahma, Angus, and Charolais, and a couple of breeds I’m not sure of at all. They all help me feel at home, as cows are also a staple of the NC agricultural scene. More and more, this area, which has felt like home since my first visit nearly two years ago, is getting into my bones, and i absolutely love it.

The Life I Want – Transition Part 1

Lara Casey challenges us to look ahead to when we’re 85, and to envision what sort of life we want to look back on; the move was about building a new life for myself, for making the rest of my life something to be glad of and grateful for. I decided I wanted to start from scratch; if I didn’t absolutely need it (kitchen ware) or love it (my antique bedframe), or have a strong investment in it (35+ boxes of books and music) it would not come with me. I sold, donated, or trashed far more than I brought.

My first morning in town, I went to buy appliances. I’d intended to wait a few days before looking for a piano, but there was that tiny interior nudge, and I Googled Pianos . . . and found a piano dealer not ten minutes from the appliance shop. Well, it would be a total waste of time and energy to make a separate trip, right? So I drove over . . . just to look, you understand. A Steinway concert grand stood in front of the showroom, a splendid instrument but far too rich for my budget. I introduced myself to the owner of the shop (since become a victim of the Covid shutdown — will we ever know the extent of the damage caused by the political response to this virus?) and told him I wanted a nice used studio piano. He had a couple, but as he led me to them, I was distracted by the sight of yellowed keys on a dark instrument at the very back of the showroom.

“Oooh! What’s this?” “This” was a petite grand piano, long neglected, now in process of being refurbished . . . a full tone flat, he warned me, but in tune with itself. Well, I don’t anticipate working with other instrumentalists, and when I do I have access to another instrument at my new church job, so . . . I sat down and touched the keys. . . and fell in love. A prior owner had stripped all the lovely protective varnish and with it the nomenclature plate — the tuner couldn’t even find one inside the guts where one is usually attached, so I have no idea who manufactured this lovely instrument. But I was in love, and I bought her on the spot.

A piano, one easy chair, a lawn chair and wicker settee did not meet the needs of a furnished home, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do to remedy that situation. In the meantime the covid shutdowns were announced.

On Facebook I found word of an upcoming estate sale. This sounded interesting — and I drove an hour SE to the home of a retired, downsizing teacher. . . where I found several art works I simply loved, and a couple of kitchen items. . . and a Queen Anne chair . . . and two new friends, the sisters who operate the estate sale business. Through them I furnished the new house — except for some bookshelves and a desk ordered through Ikea. I now have a home I dearly love and enjoy and am glad to have people come visit.

It’s not complete, yet. I still have to shift things around a bit and add the really personal “grace notes.” But every time I walk in the door and see “Fannie Mendelssohn” (the piano), and the rich red brocaded settee, and the room in its fullness, I feel a surge of joy.

I wasn’t able to work right away, which has been a hardship. This is a part of the country that even before the shutdown was in an economic depression due to state and federal regulations of the energy industry. With the shutdown, even those with disposable income were being very cautious, in case that money was needed for essentials. I went five months without a paycheck, and that paycheck is for the part-time church work. But gradually things are picking up with teaching piano (Fannie Mendelssohn is a wonderful piano to teach from!) and some supplemental playing at other places (funerals). I feel the tide has turned on that score and I’m going to be okay. I have to be very cautious for a couple more months, but I’m not worried.

New Life Well Begun

I wonder whether this might not be a good time to revive this blog. The past year has seen a lot of changes in my life, including a major move to another part of the country, and I once again have new material to write about. I’ve not posted in months and months. I ran out of steam; living in depression is exhausting. But my new home is full of unfamiliar and interesting things to write about, and evoke reflections that might be of interest or benefit to someone, somewhere, so I believe I shall try again.

The shift began a year ago, early fall, when several things converged in my mind to make me aware that I very much wanted and needed a major life change, specifically, a move. One of the big issues influencing my decision was the arrival of my 62 birthday. My mother was 62 (and 5 months, 6 days) when she died of cancer, in 1991. To me, she had always been old. Poor health, most notably in the frequent recurrence of debilitating migraines, had robbed her of a lot of energy and ambition. Being “too old” was always her excuse not to make needed changes in her life; the fact was, I think, my poor mother’s spirit was too badly wounded and she simply hadn’t the confidence to do a thing about her unhappy life.

I did not want to be like my mother. Not in that respect, anyway (I have many much more interesting and worthwhile things in common with her). I wanted to live while I could, not to be confined to others’ expectations and demands, or their limited vision of my capabilities, or the constant reminders that, for years, for others, no matter how hard I had tried I could never be good enough to warrant their approval, or their love.

The only way that seemed open to me was a move, and the desire for a move was revealing itself in subtle ways, once realized begging action, even though physical and financial limitations made a move appear impossible.

I began to pray, “Father, may I?” not really believing that I could, only knowing that I wanted to, with no reservations left in mind.

Things began to happen with amazing speed, and in February, my NC home sold, I travelled to my chosen region on what I thought would be my first “recon mission.” I arrived on Thursday night. Friday I met with a realtor and found a charming house to rent in a pleasant neighborhood at a rental price within my budget and far less than comparable properties rent for in my former area. As the realtor, a lovely, vivacious Christian woman, and I sat on the front steps, talking, she suddenly burst out, “Laura! You need to get in touch with the pastor at First Church! They just lost their organist! She’d been there more than fifty years . . . ”

I sat on the job lead, unsure the timing would work out. But Sunday I got a message from the pastor, could I come and meet with him Monday afternoon? My realtor had given my number to her friend, who’d passed it on to the pastor. I left that meeting with a new job.

One more day in town to visit with friends, then back to NC to pack, and even there God had His hand in the matter. Instead of having to pay several thousand for professional movers to help me out, friends offered to use their church’s mission trailer and move me themselves, for the cost of their expenses. Other friends came and helped me pack and sort . . . I found a taker for my older mobile home (which had not gone with the sale of the real property) who also helped me with the clean-up.

In less than two weeks, I was back on the road for good.