Saturday, July 23, 2016


It has been said that Southern politicians are known for being a colorful sort of people. Southern politician's families even more so. Then why should anyone be surprised if my family looked like the 8 box of Crayola Crayons (that's counting the dogs). We were different, brilliant and non toxic, and oh, so much fun.

My dad held the trump card of the raconteur, feeling most at home with an audience around him, telling homespun tale after tale. Never mind if the tale grew in size and proportion each and every time it was repeated. If it caused attention being brought to him then the better the tale. Daddy loved an audience. He rose from the ranks of the poorest share croppers son to work for the common good. He honed his skills of honesty and hard work, meshed with a clear understanding of every man's problems and dreams. He had a big generous heart and a fair dealing hand which characterized his efforts in the strange world of Louisiana politics. The most important person was the ones he was currently talking to. He loved having people around him. Such a man was my father.

My mother was articulate, literary and well trained for public life. She required lots of alone time. Being a minister's daughter, she had lived her entire life “in a fish bowl” and was well suited for being scrutinized by everyone, relishing the idea of surprise as to their evaluations. Mother felt drawn to the man who had never known the genteel ways she had been taught, perhaps exercising her independence by rebelling against the tight reins her parents had kept on her and perhaps due to her idealistic hope of refining the rough edges of this common man.

As a young couple, they were perfectly suited or so one thought. On the one hand, there was the idealistic country boy out to conquer the world, who had never used a telephone until the day he arrived at college. On the other hand there was the naive young lady who was used to Sunday socials, attending plays and concerts and teas in the warm summer afternoons, or sneaking off to swim on a Sunday afternoon, a known sin for a preacher's daughter. My daddy was a home body, he had never traveled except during the war and really didn't care much for it. Mother, lived to travel. She was used to it since Methodist preachers moved every three years back then. No two backgrounds could ever have been more different. Yet, there was a commonality between these two. Both of them had a keen sense of humor and playfulness; both were strong willed, though mother had been trained to acquiesce to the male in the family. Both loved to talk at the same time. Actually one never really listened to the other, but continued to talk over and above the other, succeeding to communicate his or her wishes only by endless repetitions. To this competing conversation at the dinner table, we four children added our voices creating a cacophony intolerable for most, but the norm for us.

My parents believed in entertainment and creativity. Our life was one adventure after another. For instance, when I was around nine or ten mother decided I should experience a train ride and a plane ride. So the two of us went down to the train station on lower Third and boarded a train to New Orleans where we spent hours exploring Magazine street and the antique stores. We went to Brennan's for a meal, white tablecloths and napkins, jazz music in the background, and fine silverware. A sharp contrast to the rowdy meals we had at home. We spent the night at a hotel on Canal Street. The next day was spent at the Audubon Zoo after some beignets at Cafe du Monde. She even took me down Bourbon Street and told me about the evils that lurked behind those doors while laughing at the drunken characters we met on the street. The next day we boarded a plane and flew home. I was now a man of the world, I thought.

Another time, while I was staying with daddy in Baton Rouge he took me to a bar/restaurant downtown just a block from the Heidelberg Hotel. He said I should learn about Beatniks. These were young people who were part of a social group in the 1950s and early 1960s that rejected the traditional rules of society and encouraged people to express themselves through art. We sat at a back corner table, wine for daddy and a coke for me, listening to the young people. Some played their guitar, others read a poem. One sang a song of rebellion. After each performance the fingers would snap in approval. The room was dark with wine bottles as candle holders and black lights around the black walls. Everyone there wore black clothing with berets or scarves, Most everyone was smoking. I, being naïve like mama thought they were only cigarettes. Daddy didn't think the smoke would be a problem since we wouldn't be staying for long. I was fascinated by these people that I had heard of but never seen. I might have even dressed the same except that I owned no black clothing. Blue jeans and cowboy boots with a black shirt just wasn't right.

Once mama caught some of us using crayons on the walls in the hall. There was some fussing, and we had to clean up after ourselves but soon we found that she had cleared out a closet in the middle of that hall and declared that it would be our place to be creative. There was the space where the clothes should be and overhead that were two large spaces that used to house suitcases. We could climb up and lie down in those cubbyholes. We wrote all sorts of things on those walls as well as colored and drew to our hearts content.

We made hideouts in hay lofts and read books away from prying eyes. We climbed trees and hung by our knees on the top most branches. We used slingshots and china berries and had wars with each other. We made rafts in newly created drainage ditches and floated around the area. Our only rule was to be home for supper and before dark. Yes, our family is different, brilliant, non toxic and fun.

© Nippy Blair 2015. Posts and pictures on this blog cannot be copied, downloaded, printed, or used without the permission of the blog owner, Nippy Blair.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Funeral

I had one very interesting experience while working as an art and dance therapist at Central Louisiana Mental Hospital back in the seventies. Some of them were good, some bad and some really funny. One of the most unusual ones was the death of one of my therapy patients. This man had spent most of his life in the hospital. I was told he had no family that ever checked on him. Mr. Doe had been in my class for about a year. The day he didn't attend, I checked on him. He had died during the night. At hospitals where people have been institutionalized for most of their lives and abandoned by family they were usually buried on the hospital grounds. This wasn't unusual. Now here is the strange part. There was an estranged family who wanted a proper burial and they wanted me to be one of the pall bearers. I had lots of questions as to whether this would be appropriate, but after talking with my superiors, decided it would be fine.

Now, this man was huge - well over six feet tall and probably on the plus side of 300 pounds. His daughter, it turned out, was the only living relative, and she really didn't know him because she had been abandoned as a baby and raised in another state. She was willing to come home and have him buried in Alexandria. The service was to be conducted at a local Catholic church. I did not know the other pall bearers and really felt out of place. Yet I agreed to do this for Mr. Doe, whom I had learned to respect.

The priest that conducted the service was recovering from a long illness and was heavily medicated. I should have seen the signs. We rolled the closed casket to the center of the aisle in front of the altar and the priest began his service. Being medicated, he was unsteady on his feet and once tripped and reached for the casket for balance. It moved down the aisle a bit. He brought it back while waving the metal censer suspended by chains, over the body once or twice hitting the casket which allowed more smoke to leave the censer. I was unfamiliar as to why this smoky incense was being used, so I asked the man next to me. He explained that many see it as a symbol of prayers or the soul of the deceased person rising. It is also used as a sign of reverence and dedication, used at funeral services to honor and commemorate the dead. I thought I rather liked that idea even though the priest was clumsy.

After the priest finished, he missed the censer holder and dropped it on the floor. Stumbling, he placed his Bible on top of the casket which made the casket roll again and the flowers on top fall off. While recovering the censer and placing the flowers back on the casket, he apologized and was sorry the other priest was not available. I was relieved that the rest of the service went well, except for a few more fumbles.

During all this, the daughter sat rigid and stared straight ahead. I guess she felt it her duty to bury her only relative although she really didn't seem to have any emotions whatsoever toward him. The service was finished and we stood on each side ready to roll the casket to the hearse. As we reached the door, the daughter suddenly screamed, “Wait! I want to take pictures.” We had a shocked look on or faces, I'm sure. This time she wanted the casket opened. The priest complied. She stood next to her father while someone took their picture. But that wasn't all. Next, the priest had to be photographed with the deceased. And then all eight of us pall bearers had to take our turn for the photo op. We finally closed the casket and lifted the heavy man down the steps to the hearse. It began to rain.

At the cemetery we had the daunting task of taking the casket to the top of a hill. Since it was a long climb, the body was placed on a rolling cart. We began our ascent. The wet ground was slippery. One man lost his footing and his shoe and fell, getting mud all over his suit. He recovered his shoe and we proceeded. Then we all began losing our footing as we slipped and slid trying our best to keep this heavy casket going forward and upward. Suddenly, the casket, with the 300 lb plus sized man inside, slid off the cart and descended toward the bottom of the hill. Thank the Lord the casket did not open. After several tries we managed to get Mr. Doe to his grave site and finished the service. We stood in stunned silence with bits of flowers and mud all over our clothes and around the casket, while the rain continued. Still the daughter sat rigid and straight faced.

As we began to leave the daughter suddenly asked for one more photograph. What? So we stood around the casket, muddied clothes and all for the final picture. Finally we were able to leave....bless our hearts.

 © Nippy Blair 2015. Posts and pictures on this blog cannot be copied, downloaded, printed, or used without the permission of the blog owner, Nippy Blair.