Whit – Chill (excerpt 1)

Whit Laumond held the door open for each of her four children. Those inside the neighborhood cafe and nearest the door sat and stood with cups of coffee warming their hands.

The cafe was full.

The chill of the morning shot through the door as if that air knew seconds provided the chance to curse the warmth inside. The people understood and even sympathized with the young woman holding the door open, but they mostly wished she’d hurry all them kids of her’s along and shut the damn door.

“Close the door,” a man said. He said it loud. Everyone heard. Whit ushered her kids in just the same.

In the cafe there were small round tables and even more small chairs and a few more people than chairs. Those who stood mimicked those who sat.

The floor added to the roasted aroma an undertone of settled wood and verbally protested each foot on its planks. The windows stretched off the irritable floor to touch the metal ceiling tiles and lined the wall like crooked pictures. Fragments of Mahogany mended the broken pieces of the building together like strong old bones. Whit noticed the layers of old but also that the people trusted the structure of this place. She trusted them. She used to be one of them–a child of the south and, specifically, of the beloved New Orleans.

Inside these walls, it was warm like spring and indeed bloomed beautiful things. Even so, Whit could feel a draft and pulled her coat tight.

Jamaica – We Arrive (excerpt 1)

In Kingston. May 18th, Day One.

I took in our new land which looked across taxi lanes and palm trees to the foothills of the Blue Mountains.

The hills stole my attention for more time than I care to share as it was the first love of a Jamaican offering. The tone those mountains cast could cripple any attempt of a lively effort. The colors were somber and still like that of a single scale played in honor of a new morning.

But it was noon. And we were all hungry. Some of us for food. Some of us for sleep. Some of us for the adventures and challenges coming our way.

Each one of us, though, in our individual inclination, grew anxious to begin receiving payment on the journey promised. But the feast of the next nine days began in that initial moment masked as a devotion of reverent appreciation and hunger, patience and sweat.

We would all grow. And with growth comes with a measure of pain.

Not one of our twenty-one students, nor any of us five adults grasped how full our bellies were. None of us understood the kind of hunger that awaited us and the cost we’d pay to rid it off our souls.

We would, soon.

Beyond the Kingston airport in the fields of palm trees, there was leaves and canopy, green and fresh in the sun, and the field was limitless and carelessly lush despite the city’s effort. Typical city nurturing corporate powers. Typical forest fighting for life.

And between those distant fields, the horizon we saw was outlined with colorful billboards and buildings and people.

We watched as Taxis gathered the flowing peoples and drove on tired airport roads and under the canopies.

The gasses from the cars going and coming, bringing and dropping, held to the lower atmosphere as if the palm leaves formed an umbrella of protection for its prized mountain air. The fumes choked the nose but then the body adjusts, as it usually does, and moves on. And so we did.

Words and photo work begged for my hands. To capture and collect this Kingston journey as it began right here.

GOUTER – Bare Fruits (Excerpt 2)

“Well, the chef had a catering and food truck business ‘in town’ not too long ago. And his ‘kitchen help’ were kids who needed a second chance. Some came from juvie centers, I hear–you know how talk can be. And other kids from who knows where. From what I gather, this was the chef’s Triumph Kitchen. But he needed more stability than what the catering industry offered for those kids.”

The Hubbs paused. And looked down at his drink.

The cicadas faded. The wine leveled. And the dying sun buried it’s head in the grave of dusk.

Conversations like this, with kids and poor, but especially the two together, tend to slice the heart and then cut the throat. You get caught between love for human decency and the back door life filling in around it like a nest of hornets. You don’t know where those demonic buggers are hiding, even in your own damn yard, until one step takes you too close into their world. By then you’ve gotten stung. More than once. In one instance you’re gazing into the sunset of life and the next you’re swinging arms in battle. I admire the guy. But it’s understandably hard that I should have to like him for such a thing at all.

The Hubbs and I continue our conversation like the kids and dinner, bath and bed could take care of itself. It can’t. But that’s a lie we hold to a promise. Continuously. And hopeful.

“Well, aren’t you gonna tell me the name of this “new place on Government?” I asked.

“The name is kind of odd even for you Lou’siana folks. It’s one of those words that doesn’t look at all like it sounds. Y’all do that down here. I know. But this one is hard. Even for Lou’siana.”

“What’s the name of the damn restaurant?”

“Gouter. Like Goo-Tay.”

“That’s french, babe. Ain’t nothin’ uncanny, or too Lou’sianan about it. Straight french. And pretty smart. I like it.”

“You think people will get it?”

“No. But they’ll get the food if it’s good like you say. And then they’ll learn the name well enough. Lou’sianans aren’t big on particulars. Especially names. Did I ever tell you about my friend, Rooster? His name was Chris too. Only I never knew until we graduated. The announcer called his name for the diploma, ‘Christopher Duplichan.’ That was the first and the last I ever heard his real name. Even so, that man will always be Rooster–to me and everybody else in that small town.”

“Babe, get this, the chef has like eight–er wait–six kids of his own.”

“So he adopted some of these kids he’s trained?” I ask.

“No. That’s his kids. Little ones too. He and his wife together. Big-time family kind of man from what I hear.”

Large families aren’t a surprising point of conversation down here. Sometimes the Hubbs forgets this. He’s Texan, a different kind of south. And though the bottom boot of Lou’siana isn’t counted among the bible belt parts of the deep, that’d be about 110 miles north of here near Shreveport, we do like our families rather large. If we don’t have the babies ourselves, we gather up our aunts and uncles, all the first through damn near sixth cousins, and the adopted friends of the family into one big plot of land. We call them a village. I grew up near one of those things. Good people. But I’ll never forget the day I discovered that every person I knew in that village was kin folk to one another. That would be a whole story worth telling. Not now.

I smile and stand. It’s time to go inside and manage our kids and the end of the day things that define the limits of tired in the family home. But before we walk into the chaos of our neglect, I hear the Hubbs tell me we have a seat at Chef Chris’s Table for dinner “a few nights from now.”

There’d be eight of us. Privately served by the chef. Ten or so courses.

“If husbands truly knew the gift of a dinner and a night out to the mother’s of babes, there’d always be room for dessert even after ten courses,” I tell him.

I could feel the Hubbs warm at my words. I rested my hand on his shoulder. He faced the night. I shifted inside. Our sacred shared world made room for duty. The kids needed us.

Hearing his story, I figured the chef whose table I’d soon enjoy a seat at understood the gift of his tables and food and that place perfectly. I trusted the course spent under his care would bear fruit. Ripe. Succulent. Fruit.

Lou’siana Flood – Answer That

My phone rang. I looked down at it but didn’t budge. The morning had Matt and I moving slow. We sat on the front end of our garage and watched the sun struggle against the low fog of blue clouds that hung at the horizon. The air folded in on itself like a dense wet blanket. I had a hard time breathing. Nine days of rain. The waters took things and homes. And lives.

I sipped the coffee he made us and watched the sky but did not hear my children as they played, or the birds as they sang, and certainly not the phone. My eyes watched but everything else played numb.

I studied the sky. I prayed, today at least, it wouldn’t rain. Even that small whimper of my heart felt a little hopeless. It would rain. I knew it would. If I believed in the gods of old, I’d say with certainty Pisces made good on a claim to the bottom boot of home sweet Lou’siana. But I don’t believe in such things, at least, not publicly.

“Answer that,” Matt said, “It could be FEMA or the adjusters.” I answered my phone but the man’s voice on the other end didn’t begin with “mrs. wallace” or “may I speak with.” Instead, the voice joyfully thanked the good Lord above that he got through to me. Cell service suffered these days. Matt made talk of getting high-powered walkie-talkies. I wished this was one of his end-of-world jokes.

“Hey, Alyssa!” the caller said,”I’m so glad I got you. Look, I had to call. Have you been taking pictures? I mean. I just got down here to help and this story isn’t being told. You need to let people know what you’re seeing. You have a gift. We need it.”

At some point in this short sentence, my legs lifted me off the ground and took me a few steps away from our garage. My eyes still glued to the horizon. Pale. And blue.

“I’ve not taken pictures,” I said. I lied. “My hands have pulled boards, walls, floor, belongings and God knows what else from Matt’s parents home. They’ve not had time to be on a camera.”

The truth. I did all those things I said. I’ve pulled boards, walls and floors and belongings out of homes, but I’ve done it with a camera tied around my neck. I pray the camera isn’t ruined. There are pictures.

Maw’s Kitchen (Excerpt 1)

My Maw, as I like to call her, or my momma’s momma as the folks from town say, comes up from the grave to have coffee with me on occasion. That’s our ghosts; the warm fuzzy childhood memories we couldn’t shake on account of them being so damn good.

We don’t say much, she and I.

We sit near each other on two straw-weave chairs that, as it happens, were once her’s. My womanly build exposed in fitted slacks and a white button-down, and her slender frame covered in a long flower-infested moo moo, compare in contrast more truths about our personality than our attire. My Maw had the kind of class that never depended upon a wardrobe; I admire that about her.

I have three cups to her one cup, and though we both face these oversized windows to lively people in an even lovelier world, I notice it’s the paper in her hands she brings in close. We enjoy an easy going silence that’s practiced over time. I still find trouble telling her all the things that are too easily chatting in my mind. Good things, obviously.

One memory with her, in particular, comes up often as she very intently saved me from a stupid bit of misguided decision. It defines that moment in time when a southern girl gets called into womanhood by her elder.

And not just any elder.

No, we don’t always listen to every elder steering us north and south. This would be my momma’s momma telling me like it is. A voice any young southern lady is sure to heed. And a wisdom she’s meant to apply. Promptly.

I glance back over at my Maw and see her sitting next to me with her head and hand entirely focused on the damn crossword section of the newspaper. Well, ain’t that a perfect place to begin this here story because that’s exactly what I arrived upon this day almost seventeen years ago.

GOUTER–The Remarkable Story of Chef Chris Wadsworth (Excerpt 1)

I recently learned of the remarkable story of Chef Chris Wadsworth one evening as my Hubbs came home sharing the story of his day’s lunch. My Hubbs’ friend, Dave, invited him to the “new place on Government Street.” He and Dave worked together ‘in town.’

And what I mean by ‘in town’ is the city of Baton Rouge, Lou’siana, which in decent traffic lies about thirty minutes south of my home in the rural void of any kind of social significance.

I miss being ‘in town.’ Four robberies and two shootings in our old neighborhood of eight years ‘in town’ provided the ammo for us and sent our family of five packin. I’ve spent the last four years trying to find a way back ‘in town.’ Living rural for four years and three months and two days this here September is a test of my endurance. Some like to say home is where your heart is. That’s all fine and good. But I like to believe home is where your people are. All of them. Even the ones you don’t like.

Evening talks in the deep south are simple. Afternoon coffee this far south begins at 2pm and goes on till 4pm. There’s an hour’s break before the whiskey and wine find their way into our glasses. At which point we offer ourselves to the drunken sun on the altar of a front porch somewhere. It doesn’t have to be our front porch. Chairs are optional. The drinks are not.

Knowing his Louisana wife well, my Hubbs began his story making sure I understood the food he enjoyed at “that new place on Government” was quite good. Possibly New Orleans good. Even better though, was the Hubbs account of the rare heart in which the experienced chef Chris served our community. From what I could gather between the sips of red and the hums of cicadas was that the chef’s entrepreneurial endeavors ran laps around his devotion to helping the underprivileged youth of our community. If the “new place on Government” and its potential were the earth, its sun had to be the faces and needs of those kids.

“Have you heard of Triumph Kitchen,” the Hubbs asks me.

“Of course not. How would I know about that?” I said that with a smile that faked the truer feelings resting on the brow of my eyes. Between motherhood and distance, that life of knowing the ins and outs of society had long forgotten to lay at my door. I may hold a grudge.