Rich In Family

“Set down in my office until I can get back here, B,” the school principal told me.  “I’ll deal with you in a while.”

“Yessir,” I said.   

My mama loves to hear me say, “Yessir.”  But she hates it when I say “We’re poor.”

“B,” she tells me, “We are rich in family.”

Rich in family means I have a lot of brothers and sisters, too many, matter of fact, for anyone to remember our names. They call my big brothers Cletus and Levi, Baronne.  My older sisters, Bernadette and Anne-Elise, are both called Bernalise. The next three children in my family are all called, Little Baronne. I’m the baby and most folks, they call me B, that’s short for baby, or boy, but mostly it’s short for Baronne. I don’t blame them. Even my daddy gets us confused, especially when he’s been drinking liquor.

I think about the labeled ties Mama twists around the legs of the parsley and greens she sells at the co-op. I need one of those around my neck that says “Little Baronne; poor and polite.” Rich in family sure don’t fill a boy’s belly. Maybe Mama will understand that when I get home today. But Mama is most times tired or too busy to listen to me. I have to follow her through the garden as she works the dirt, chopping her words each time the hoe meets the earth. 

“Some people…have more…some…have less. That’s how God made-mankind,” she’d said when I asked her about adding a little meat to our sandwiches.  “We…are…”  

“I know I know,” I’d interrupted her, “We are rich in family.”  

She leaned against the hoe and said, “That’s right B, and don’t you forget it, God don’t appreciate no ungrateful heart.” She hinged herself forward and went on working. I knew we were done. I’d keep eating mayonnaise sandwiches until I was old enough to buy my own ham.  

Like all the Baronne children, I’d grab a brown paper bag from Mama’s wrinkled up hands, give her a kiss, and head down the road to school. Most mornings it weighed nothing. Sometimes I wondered if she’d remembered to put anything in there. In the fall, we’d pick kumquats or satsumas and that’d add a little heft to the sack, but the frost had been around for weeks now. There was no more fruit, only two slices of bread with just enough mayonnaise in between to keep them from drying up in your throat. God I hated being rich in family!  

Mr. Blanchfield’s office is filled with shelves of books. His desk has papers piled up all over it. You can’t even see the top of it ‘cept right around the big black phone with lighted buttons across its bottom. He’s probably gonna try and call my daddy at work. I can see his paunchy fingers dialing the number to the hardware store. I bet Mr. Blanchfield don’t know Daddy got laid off.  I bet he don’t know Mama’s growing vegetables to sell at the co-op, in addition to the laundry she takes in, and the nights she works tending to old people whose too sick to take care of theirselves.  No, I bet Mr. Blanchfield don’t know much about the Baronne family ‘cept that we’s rich in family.

I hear the playground outside his window. I could be out there with a belly half full of mayonnaise and bread if I weren’t a thief. 

I knew Mama was tired this morning. She worked all night at the Johnson’s house tending to Ms. Alzian. Ms. Alzian’s coming up on a hunnerd years-old. Her people told Mama they’d only need her to work there a few weeks, but Mama’s been going there so long–Ms. Alzian thinks Mama is her mama.  

Ms. Alzian’s daughter usually drops mama home around 6 in the morning. Mama walks through the yard to the chicken coop. I can hear her cooing to the hens from my bedroom window. After she harvests their eggs, she comes inside and starts working in the kitchen. She uses the eggs to make our breakfast and puts a few aside for making mayonnaise or adding boiled eggs to daddy’s dinner.  I never knew if it was the cooing or the cooking that woke me up, but this morning there was neither.

“All of our chickens?” she hollered. “You gambled away all of our chickens? That’s the only protein these children get, Cletus Baronne!” I heard her scream. I looked outside and saw daddy on the ground. Looked like mama woke him up. The door to the empty chicken coop was wide open. Feathers were everywhere. Mama stomped towards the house, stooping under the clothesline where she’d spend most of her day.  

I dressed for school and set at the table with the rest of my family. Mama gave us a sheet pan of hot toast and a jar of kumquat jelly. No one asked her why we weren’t having eggs. She laid out the bread for our lunches and smoothed mayonnaise across the soft white bread like she was ironing.  When every piece was perfect she’d place them on top of one another, wrap them in wax paper, and slip them into their bags. You’d think she was putting a wedding cake in there the way she handled them so careful. I kissed mama, took my bag and decided today, someone else could have my mayonnaise wedding cake. Today was going to be differnt.

At school, I placed my lunch sack in the cloak room with all the other bags knowing I wouldn’t be back for it. Just before lunch I asked Mrs. Brookings if I could go to the restroom. On the way down the hall, I slipped into the cloak room and lifted each and every brown bag, weighing them in my hungry hand. Some had more, some less, kinda how Mama described mankind. And then I lifted a bag so heavy I thought the paper would split. My mouth watered. There had to be a whole chicken in there. I crammed the bag into my jacket and hurried down the hall to the boys room. Holding the bag like a football tucked into my belly I slammed through the bathroom door and knocked over the metal trash can. Before the clamoring stopped I was already in a stall with the latch locked behind me. All in one motion, I unzipped my jacket, sat down on the commode, opened the bag and looked inside.  

A hammer and some pecans!!  

Mr. Blanchfield came in to see about all the noise, “Everything alright in here?” he hollered.

I came out of the stall and handed the bag to Mr. Blanchfield. “I stoled this, Sir. I don’t know who it’s for, but surely they are hungrier than me.”  

Mr. Blanchfield took the bag, promised he’d find its owner, and sent me here.  

I could hear him on the other side of his office door. I heard him say my name and saw the window blinds shake as he entered the room. He nodded at me. I nodded back. He sat at his desk and cleared a small spot in front of me. Again, the door opened and the blinds shook, this time the school secretary walked in with a brown bag. I was pretty sure it was my mayonnaise sandwich and I was grateful I’d have something to eat.


The NY Resolution Begins

I can’t tell you how long I’ve thought about starting my own blog. Finally- I’ve created a place to make my writings available for my friends and family. This first entry is a piece I wrote in 2017. I was at the tail end of writing my first novel and felt…well I felt like I was going nuts. Take a look and stay tuned… I promise there will be more.


A Lie Well Stuck To is as Good as the Truth (based on a true story)

“Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins because….because…” Hap always got stuck on the word because.   

Henry Alexander Prescott, the youngest Prescott boy, looked up toward heaven for the next line in The Act of Contrition.  In a few minutes he’d have to say it to Father Fidelis.  

His family sat in this same pew every Sunday.  “Front and center,” his mother would say. “That way I can watch the priest and the priest can watch you.”   According to her, Hap and his brothers were always being watched.  Above their heads in the middle of the church’s domed ceiling was a painting of the four archangels -apparently keeping an eye on them as well. Mama liked to say Hap and his brothers were were her very own four Archangels.

Hap sat between his parents and snuggled up close to his mother. The smell of her powdery perfume relaxed him.   Four archangels, Hap thought to himself.  Many times, he’d wished Mama only had three.  Life would be sweeter without his brother James.

He pulled on the front of his collar trying to get some room between his throw-up button and his clip-on tie.   The queazy feeling in his stomach got its start way up in the back of his throat. 

“Fear makes you throw-up,” James had told him a thousand times before.

Fear and incense, Hap thought, catching a cloud of the scented smoke in his windpipe.

Mama reached down and wrapped her long, soft fingers around his clammy hand.  

“You okay, Angel?” she asked.  It was more of a statement than a question.

“Yes ma’am,” he lied.  

Lying.  That’s what he would tell Fr. Fidelis.  “Forgive me Father for I have sinned, this is my first confession and I lied about stealing.”  It was really two sins but it sounded better than saying he lied and he stoled.

He remembered back to the day when he sat at the kitchen table, a pile of stolen candy in front of him. “Contraband” his mother had called it.  The sugary scent of Sweet Tarts and Pixie Sticks, two of his favorites, suddenly sickened him.

“Did you break into the concession stand with your brother, or not?” his mother had asked for the guh-zillionth time. 

In the next room, Hap could hear dominoes knock and slide against each other on the table.  He’d been under interrogation for at least two games and a fist fight.  But dominoes wasn’t the main thing going on in the den, James and his friends were eavesdropping. 

“One wrong word,” his older brother had warned him, “and I’ll tell everybody you still wet the bed.”  James was the bed wetter.  Not Hap.  But nobody would believe that either.

“No Ma’am, Mama, I wasn’t there,” Hap answered, careful not to shift his eyes or scratch his nose. His mother claimed to have all manner of ways for knowing if her boys were telling the truth or not.  Outside of God’s four Archangels that is.

Her small frame sagged.  She stood from the table.  “There’s nothing worse than a liar, Hap,” she’d said. 

He didn’t blame her for asking all these questions.   If James had just clipped his pocket knife back on his pants after he’d used it to pick the padlock on the concession stand, Hap might be eating this candy instead of fighting with the smell of it.

He didn’t blame James either.  Their mother’s idea of sweets was dried apple rings and mango chunks from the health food store.   For breakfast, she’d buy them naturally sweetened cereal.  Hap and his brothers improved on their mother’s fiber-filled feast with a touch of vanilla extract and a half-dozen packets of Sweet’n Lo.  They would slurp up the saccharin-flavored flakes, leaving behind a soupy sandcastle of sugar. Almost every night, when Mama took her bath, James would sneak into the medicine cabinet and serve up spoonfuls of Demazin; cough syrup, or as the Prescott boys called it, “dessert”. 

But not in the spring.  In the spring, the baseball park at the end of the block was open for business.   With every game came the lure of the concession stand.  Candy, the real stuff,  Sugar Babies, Boston Baked Beans, Lemon Heads, Ring Pops, and Razzles seemed to call at Hap, chattering like outfielders taunting a batter.  

Hap had figured, with his allowance he could afford about 4 things from the concession stand per week; one item for each night the park was open.  But the money never lasted that long.  He’d told Mama he needed more allowance since the days were longer in the Spring.  A request that only earned him a laugh.

The park manager knew the boys well, and when he’d found the pocket knife with James’ name engraved on its handle just outside the ransacked concession stand, he walked it right on over to the Prescott house and gave it to Mama.

There was no question James was involved.  But she wasn’t sure about Hap.

“I don’t even know what contraband is,” Hap had answered her, honestly.

Hap should have known what she’d say to that.  “Go look it up in the dictionary,” she’d told him and left the kitchen.

It was unclear if she believed him, but the conversation ended there.  

Or so Hap thought, until he brought the notice home that the 2nd grade class would be making their 1st Confession.  That’s when Mama tricked him.   “Come sit on my lap,” she’d said.  It was safe, James and the older boys were at football practice.  She spoke softly, she was saying something about trust.  She stroked his hair and rubbed his cheek with the side of her finger.  Hap’s eyes were locked on hers.  

“… tell Fr. Fidelis about the concession stand,” was all he heard.    

“Whuh? What about the concession stand?” he asked, feeling like someone had changed the channel in the middle of a good movie.

She took one of her deep breaths and said, “Let’s not go over the whole thing again, Hap.” 

Fr. Fidelis stood in front of the altar now and said the 2nd graders could make their way to the priest of their choosing when they felt ready. The church seemed warmer than usual.  Maybe it was because he was sitting so close to Mama or maybe fear makes you hot, too.  He shrugged his shoulders about, trying to get a little air under his suit coat.  

Hap scanned the front of the church.  There were priests stationed in different nooks and corners.  Each station had two chairs; one for the priest – the other- facing the priest.  In the back of the church were the confessionals with the curtains and the screens between the priest and the sinner.  The confessionals were for sissies. 

He uncrossed his arms, rose from his seat, and was the first one to reach the two-chaired station of Fr. Fidelis.  

Hap recited his well rehearsed lines.  In the end, Fr. helped him with The Act of Contrition.

It was late by the time Hap and his parents returned home.  Mama dressed for bed and sat at Hap’s side on the bottom bunk, in the room he shared with James.  

“Good job tonight, angel,” she cooed.  She kissed him goodnight and tiptoed from the room.

“Good job tonight, angel,” James sang in mockery from the darkness of the upper bunk.

“Shut-up, James,” Hap hissed, feeling assaulted by his brother’s eavesdropping and cruelty.

“What’d you confess, anyway, punk?”

“None of your business,”  Hap answered.

“Seriously,” James said, his voice softening as he hopped off the top bunk with his pillow and settled in at the foot of Hap’s bed.  “Did you go to Fr. Fidelis?”

“Yes,” Hap said, succumbing to his brother’s questioning.

“Did you go face-to-face?” James asked.  “I told you I went in the confessional, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, you told me that.  I went face-to-face.” Hap answered. 

“Whoa!  So what’d you confess?” 

“I told him I robbed the concession stand.” Hap said.

James slammed his hand down onto the bed. “What are you talking about, Hap?  You weren’t even there!”

“Mama thinks I was.” Hap sighed

“So you just made up a sin?”  “That’s crazy, Hap,” he snorted.

“Yep and you shoulda seen Mama.  She was so proud of me.”  Hap said snuggling down into his sheets, “I lied for my 1st confession James, and that’s the God’s honest truth.”

Robert O’Neal Boudreaux

For most of my life I have heard the expression, “You can’t kill bad grass.”  Not a strange phrase in and of itself, but it has always been used to describe my father, who in his 93 years of life, had many close calls with death.  It applied when he survived cancer and car wrecks, brain bleeds and bowel reconstruction.  Whether he wanted to or not, he just kept going and going and going and we loved him for it.  One year for Father’s Day, I actually gave him a hat that said, “I survived hospice.”  

At Thanksgiving this year, when he was diagnosed with pneumonia and weighed a measly 77 pounds, we gathered around his bed with tears and heavy hearts. 

 “I’m ready to go,” he said.  

I thought of all the times I’d kissed him goodbye, all the times I’d left his bedside thinking I’d never see him again.

“Dad?” I asked. “Are you gonna be okay when you wake up next week and you’re well?”

We laughed.  That’s what we do.  That’s what he taught us to do.  He made it to Christmas and on December 28th, he died—his eyes were open, looking upward and he had the loveliest smile on his face.  

Robert O. Boudreaux, Ro- bear,  Robbit, dad, Paw-Paw and to his great grandchildren Immy and Toby, he was ‘Funny Paw-Paw’. He didn’t care what name you knew him by and neither did I – I just wanted people to know him.

My father was a great influence on me and in much of my writing, he was the main character. Let’s face it, he was a great source of material. I used to practice my readings in front of him. Dad was an accomplished public speaker and loved giving me pointers.  

I would stand behind a make believe podium and he would sit in a chair with a stopwatch in his hand.  “Ok, GO!” he would say.  I would read, then he would give me feedback – like, “I  know you THIINK you need to use your hands but you don’t or 

“Dahlin, it’s ok to show emotion there.”  

One time, I didn’t get the chance to do an in person practice run with him.  This made me nervous, so I called him on the way to the reading, pulled over in a parking lot and read my piece, which featured him in some way.  When I finished he said, “Ok. That’s good. Very good. and I only have one suggestion – when you get to the part about me, go real slow- because THAT is FUNNY stuff.”

He was many things, funny for sure—he could light up a room.  He was an innovator—ahead of his time in the pharmacy realm and well respected for it. He was game—always up for a challenge, be it a round of gin rummy, or a fishing trip to Fourchon, but he would also stop everything to care for the sick, or to round us up to pray a rosary for someone who needed it.

My earliest memories of dad are church centered 

On Sunday mornings, while he sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee, my six siblings and I  would run around looking for lost shoes, digging socks out of the dirty clothes, throwing wrinkleddresses in the clothes drier hoping they’d come out looking ironed, accuse each other of losing or HIDING the outfit we wanted to wear, the brush we loved, the belt we needed. 

If I asked him to help me buckle my shoes or zip my dress he’d tell me to ask one of my siblings to do it. “That’s why you have Caroline,” he’d say.  I recall running through the kitchen once and seeing him staring off into space. 

“What are you doing? I asked him.

“I’m meditating,” he answered.

So, from the outside looking in, he drank coffee, got dressed, walked outside, got in the car and started honking the horn for us to hurry.  But on the inside, he was in the eye of the storm, centering himself before going to church, where we sat in the front pew through the entire mass. We didn’t rest our heads on anyone’s lap, or ask to go to the bathroom.  We were expected to be still and quiet, respectful and alert.

That was the pious part of dad.  The punchy part came the day before. On the occasional Saturday, when he would bring us to the church and tell us to climb over the pews, talk out loud, giggle, run down the aisles and up to the choir loft, the sky was the limit (well maybe not sky part) but you get the idea. Seven children running wild.

Some people would say he was a contradiction. For example – Dad was named Pharmacist of the Year for the United States and Canada- he was brilliant in his field, but FUN FACT about Ro-bear, he didn’t know the difference between a phillips and flat head screw driver.   If it didn’t work you unplugged it.  If that failed, you called a repair person.

He was ahead of his time in a lot of ways. He had a prepared speech for the pre-pharmacy students he hired in his drugstore. “If the floor needs mopping, you gonna mop it, if the garbage needs emptying, you gonna empty it.  And just so there’s no confusion, It’s not your job because I’m white or you’re a girl. You’re gonna do it because don’t want to.”

He had several speeches like this.  One of the best, centered on how he wanted his children to treat one another.  My memory is that there was some arguing going on among us and he sat us all down and told us he had some bad news.  “IF YOU, he said pointing to Andre, are unkind to her, he said pointing to Caroline, then she will be mean to Claire, and Claire will be mean to Damian, and then Damian will be mean to someone at school, and it will go on and on and on.  But here’s the good news.  André, if you’re kind to Anne, she will be good to Alyce-Elise, and Alyce-Elise will do something nice for Douglas, and so forth and so on. It’s up to you y’understand. You can spread the bad or you can spread the good.

He knew which one he would spread and he really did teach us that by his example.  I could tell you more stories about him. If you knew him, I’m sure you have your own, but my goal right now is to honor him, for teaching us how to live our lives, for showing us that:

  • It’s a good idea to slow down and relish the funny parts.
  • If you’re centered- you can get through any storm. 
  • Running wild isn’t bad in and of itself, but running wild at the wrong time in the wrong place is. 
  • It’s ok if you don’t know everything- as long as you know where your strengths are.
  • Sometimes the dirty work will be yours to do,
  • and that each and every one of us has the power to spread goodness and make the world a better place.

Robert O’Neal Boudreaux

May 19, 1929 – December 28, 2022

Rest easy Dad.


“Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  That was my answer when my cousin, Rachel asked me how I was doing today. This is my cousin who recently pointed out that within a span of 12 months, I lost my religion, my mother-in-law, and my mom.  

But that isn’t why she asked how I was doing.  Her query had to do with the fact that I’m four days into a case of “good old-fashioned” pneumonia (not to be confused with that new-fangled COVID pneumonia) and the recent news that my dad has completely stopped eating and is going into Hospice care today. 

Let me unpack it here.  I am one of seven children, and yes, we are Catholic.  My three brothers were altar boys, I had an aunt who was the mother superior of an order of nuns, my dad brought Holy Communion to the prisoners at our local jail, we had 13 years of Catholic education.  The list goes on, and trust me, we’re bonafide.

Our gender disqualified my sisters and me from even standing on the altar, much less being the altar server who got to bring the priest that singular drop of water to put in the wine, or the blood.  I can’t remember if the one dramatic drop of water went into the chalice before the miracle of the transubstantiation, in which case the water would go into the wine,  or after the transubstantiation, in which case the wine would have been turned into the blood of Christ.  It’s confusing, I know and guess what, it’s a really big deal.

Catholics believe during every mass when the priest says the prayer of the transubstantiation, the bread and water on the altar are turned into the actual body and blood of Jesus.  When a non- Catholic attends a Catholic mass, they are not invited to take Communion, because they may think this is merely a symbol of the body and blood of Christ and they will not eat it with the appropriate reverence we Catholics have.  

Interesting side note here; when I was a child you could not eat a morsel of food before mass.  Nothing could be in your stomach before Jesus.  I don’t care how hungry we were on Sunday mornings, breakfast was not gonna happen.  Mixing Jesus and Cheerios was a sin. Period.

We used to go with Dad to the prison from time-to-time.  Quality time. He would visit the Catholic inmates, pray with them, and ask them if they wanted to receive Holy Communion.  Dad loved Jesus so fricking much it hurt.  Just talking about Jesus, would bring tears to his eyes. If he had ever been incarcerated, he would have missed receiving the Eucharist more than he missed his own family.  I think that’s why he took on this particular ministry.  In Catholic speak we don’t say chores, duties, or volunteering we say ministries.

While we are defining things, I’d like to point out that the Body of Christ, the Host, the Eucharist, and Holy Communion are all the same thing- the transubstantiated bread wafer which still looks exactly the same, but is entirely different now.

A prisoner once told Dad he’d grown up Catholic, but had turned away from the church.  This made Dad’s heart ache.  He didn’t want anyone to live a life without God. God was too good — too loving, too imperative to living.  So my father talked to the man for a long time. When he felt the man’s heart had softened, he asked if he’d like to receive the Eucharist.  The man said yes.  Elated and humbled, Dad put the Host in the man’s mouth and the man turned and spit it out into the commode.

My devoted father put his hand in that toilet bowl, scooped Jesus right on out of there and ate Him. That’s how much my dad loved Jesus, he saved Him from drowning!  How many people can say that?

I can imagine about now, you are thinking I made this up.  My mother used to accuse me of making up stories all the time.  She made me doubt my memory so much, that I now take a sibling poll when I write about something.  Some of my siblings remember things as I have, some don’t, but on this story — we all agree.

Having us all agree is something I’m hoping will happen in the coming days. As we gather around Dad, honor his life, and send him on his journey to be with mom and his beloved Jesus, I hope we agree that we’re all we have now and that we love one other–maybe even enough to save each other from drowning.

Darkest Hour

The Trauma Gene is explained as the passing along of trauma from one generation to the next.  

I recently saw a film about a Holocaust survivor who decided, at a late age, to speak to high school students about her concentration camp experiences.  She’d kept these stories to herself until she’d read a news account about a young skinhead group who claimed the Holocaust was a hoax.  With her prisoner number still tattooed on her forearm, she told the teens about watching the Nazi’s shoot and murder her father and brother,  about the bits of bone she’d seen in the ashes she’d been made to spread in a field outside of the crematorium, and about the day her mother had been taken away to be burned alive.  At the end of WWII, when the camps had been liberated, she’d fallen in love with and married another survivor.  Together, they came to America and had a family of their own.  When interviewed, her children described their home life and upbringing as ‘different’ from the childhood experiences of their friends.  Their father had violent nightmares.  Their mother seemed to lack the ease and joy of life they’d seen in other mothers.

When I first heard about the trauma gene I was skeptical.  I’d heard it applied to the Holocaust, slavery, and the trail of tears, but the film made me see it differently.  

I began to think of the victims of school shootings, wouldn’t they necessarily behave differently because of their experience?  Would they be able, as parents, to trust that their own children would be safe in an environment that had failed them so miserably?  I thought too, of all those who were victimized by 911; the people who were in the buildings, on the planes, the first responders, their surviving family members, and even the trauma experienced by those of us watching from home.  As a nation we were traumatized.  As a nation, we drew closer to our own and adopted a mistrust of the systems that were in place.  Our soldiers too, come home from war, having seen death and destruction up close and struggle to live in the homeland they’ve risked their lives to protect.  Don’t their children pay a great price for their service?

I thought of singular or personal trauma.  As a survivor of sexual and mental abuse during my early teen years by a coach, I thought of the trauma I have passed along to my children.  Hadn’t my overprotectiveness stunted their growth?  And what of the trauma experienced by others, the trauma of physical abuse, bullying, pedophilia, date rape, addiction, poverty, divorce, abandonment, unjust judgement – heaped on people of color, and police officers alike?

Who among us is spared?  Who among us is without trauma?  

We are prone to categorize ourselves— He is the skinhead, she is the addict, I cannot identify with them.  I am separate from them.  I am Christian, I am educated, I am middle class, I belong here.  I feel safe and understood here.  We do this in all aspects of our lives.  We separate ourselves based on income, political affiliation, geographic location, sexual orientation, race, religion, and so on.  

The problem is that God did not intend for us to be separate.  After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples were traumatized – terrified of being persecuted.  Could they trust the system to treat them any differently than Jesus had been treated?  They hid in the upper room for days, and when they emerged, they did not come out with weapons to protect themselves.  They did not declare war on their perceived enemies.  They emerged with a new fire in their hearts, determined to live out the love and oneness they’d seen in Jesus- even in his darkest hour.

Trauma is universal.  Some of us are still in the thick of it, while others are lucky enough to be survivors of it.  Like it or not, it is our common denominator — a connective tissue running through humankind all the way from Jesus to you and me.  I wonder what the world would be like if we were able to connect with each other on this level — if we could step down out of our turrets of judgement and certainty, offer to wipe the brow of someone we have defined as “other” and say, “I know your pain.  You are not alone.”

2 Corintians 4:8-10

We are pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.…

How Are you? Really?

I’ve always fantasized about being nuts. I don’t mean cat-lady- crazy or the kind that requires medicine, but the kind where people sort of leave you alone and don’t expect much from you–the kind of crazy where you’d never be asked to be room mother and den leader.  

I think it would be a blast to go through the carwash and roll my windows down during the drying cycle. I would love to wear tap shoes to the grocery store because the music in the Alberston’s is just so good for that.  I long to garden in my husband’s old oxford dress shirt and work the dirt until the sun dips down below the treetops. Then I’d go inside and set an elaborate table with fresh greens from the garden, gold ringed china bowls, oversized silver soup spoons, tapered candles, and monogrammed linens. For dinner I’d offer my loved ones a box Cheerios and gallon of milk because – I love the garden and I love a beautiful table but I hate to cook.

Being crazy is like a secret craving I have and – sometimes I act on it.  I’ll pull on my dead uncle’s robe hoping it’ll bring me inspiration.  Some days, I’ll walk into my study wearing my nightgown and an old necklace that belonged to the woman whose life I’m writing and greet the characters in my book aloud.  “Welcome.  Welcome.  Good morning.  Please feel free to join me today.  I’m taking dictation if anyone’s interested.”  

I have a romantic vision of myself sitting behind my closed study door among sloppy stacks of well loved books and unpaid bills —my desk— cluttered by cups filled with varying amounts of cold coffee.  I’ll play the keyboard on my laptop with my eyes closed, swaying back and forth, taking  dictation from the voices in my head.  I’ll breathe deep meaningful breaths like I’m playing Mozart while smelling a bouquet of stargazer lilies, and the smile, the smile I feel flow across my face is one of satisfaction and delight. Completely immersed in the creative process, so prolific, so in tune with the voices in my head that the messy world around me disappears.  The best part of this fantasy is imagining the people on the other side of my closed study door- tiptoeing past, leaving me to my madness, and waiting in wonder to read the masterpiece the voices told me to type.

But that’s as far as I go on the tortured-artist crazy train and sadly, this is not the kind of crazy I’ve been feeling. It’s the kind of crazy where I don’t feel heard.


“I feel like I don’t have a voice,” I tell my husband.  

It’s not a new feeling. I am the fifth of seven children after all.  At least once a day, in my early life,  I was asked this question:  “Which one are you?”  It could be posed by anyone from my brother’s best friend to the newspaper delivery boy, the pediatrician or the principal at our school.  My response varied based on who they already knew in my family.  

I am the the fifth child.  

I am the third daughter.   

I am the three years older than the baby.

I am not the funniest or the smartest.

I am not the favorite child, although I do share a room with her. 

“I am Claire,” was rarely my answer.  My father, simply called me ‘five’.  And this–this no-name nickname made me feel special.  

As I prepared for this reading, of course I re-read the event description- the one I helped write. It says:  

Life is impossible to erase. What has made us? What does it mean to grow old, get older, embrace boldness, wrestle with regret, become a real woman and finally face the end of our lives.

And I thought, “What do I know?”

Can I possibly answer these questions in a thousand words? I tried.  I sat for days at my keyboard, waiting for the story to come.  I wrote nothing and then I’d write something I didn’t like.  I dug in my old journals- looking  for the answers or some lone sentence I could spin into a short story.  I even tried a technique a friend shared with me called 55 for 5 where you reduce the very thing you want to one sentence and write it 55 times for 5 consecutive days.  “I love what I’m writing.  I love what I’m writing.  I love what I’m writing.”  On day one I remind myself of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

“I love what I’m writing, I love what I’m writing.”  Day two I wonder, “Did Erma Bombeck have to do things like this?”  

I’m sure, like me, there were times in her life when she couldn’t get the words out fast enough and times, like the time I’d been having, when it felt like I was writing on a t-shirt and the words that come out aren’t fully formed and there’s just no flow.  

Is this so crazy?  Or is it what has made me?  What it means to grow old, get older, embrace boldness, wrestle with regret, become a real woman, and finally face the end of my life?

Here’s what I do know:

  1. I am Claire, being myself (crazy as it may feel) is what makes me. 
  2. The older I get – the more personal and necessary my writing becomes.  Writing clears my mind and  I can’t hear my own voice until my head is clear.  
  3. Embracing boldness means writing (and reading) the very personal and If I don’t do it -I will regret it.
  4. I know that real women follow their hearts and this can sometimes look crazy.
  5. As for the end of my life…I hope to face the next 50 years of it saying this, “I really do love what I’m writing.”