Travel | Henderson City Cemetery

29 Sep

Over the summer, I visited my parents in East Texas, where they have chosen to retire, a choice about which they never tire of complaining. While there, my father had to run an errand in Henderson, Texas, a small town about 30 minutes south of theirs, and I decided to go along for the ride.

In Dallas, a trip anywhere usually means driving over countless freeways and merging in and out of traffic, except, of course, when caught in traffic, where one might sit for more than an hour. Thank god for NPR.

A trip through East Texas, however, has a completely different meaning, as the route is a two-lane highway that curves through farm land and is bordered on both sides by forests of pine trees. The pine trees in East Texas never cease to thrill me, and I often feel as though they knowingly mock the city with their tall slender beauty, growing gracefully toward the sky.

“Take that, City Girl. Your high-rise buildings have nothing on us.”

And it’s true.

After my father finished his errand in Henderson, I asked him to drive me through town, hoping to glimpse a view of a small-town square and snap a few photos. The square was exactly as I’d envisioned, but it was a cemetery near the middle of town that caught my eye.

Like the pine trees in the surrounding forests, the grave stones, too, rose toward the heavens–beautiful marble statues directing those over whom they kept watch.

As my father waited patiently in his air conditioned car, I walked beneath a hot summer sun, dusting off graves to see the dates. Many stones revealed dates back to the early 1800s, and I tried to envision these early settlers of a small, East Texan town, wondering if any might be my own ancestors–my presence proof that their lives continue beyond the grave.

The grave I found most striking was a statue of Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice, marking the grave of Judge William Wright Morris, for whom Morris County is named. Some of the smaller grave stones, however, had crumbled or fallen, perhaps a result of age or the boredom of young kids in a small town.

The Henderson City Cemetery, however, was well worth the brief half-hour I spent walking through 100-degree heat. New Orleans may boast one of the most striking cemeteries in the nation, but like the pine trees leading into town, this tiny cemetery, tucked so quietly away, is strikingly beautiful in a most subtle and graceful way.

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Reflections | Mi Abuelita

13 Oct

A few weeks ago, my step-grandmother died. We were never close, and the loss I feel is for my aunt, whom she raised.  My Swedish grandmother died when my aunt was still a child, and my grandfather moved to Venezuela, where he met Carmen, who would become an American man’s wife, a step-mother, and years later, my step-grandmother.

I knew her as a small, fair woman with silver hair, but my mother has assured me how startlingly beautiful she was when she stepped off the plane in the United States, where she would marry my grandfather and raise two daughters who, by blood, were not her own–two American daughters who would grow up speaking Spanish, who called her Mother, and who would attend Mass every Sunday, under the guidance of their new Catholic madre.

It was the fervency with which my aunt attended Mass that caused my parents to eventually convert to Catholicism from Methodist, Episcopalian, or some form of Protestantism, practiced more in name than in deed.

My sister and I called my step-grandmother Grandmother Johnston, though it pleased her most when we called her Abuelita. We would visit her in the house she shared with her sister, Tia Laura–a house full of crystal and lace curtains, where we were not allowed to sit on beds and were told by our parents not to touch anything as not to break it.

There was a spare room, however, with a box of toys–nowhere close to as many toys as I had at home, but they weren’t my toys, so therefore, they were the best toys. This box of toys, the two schnauzers she and Tia Laura kept, and, on occasion, a step-cousin Elena, were enough to keep a young child happy for hours as my parents visited in her formal living room, drinking coffee or tea from china cups.

We would visit her and Tia Laura for an afternoon or so during Summer vacations, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and at each visit, Grandmother Johnston would always declare my father too fat or too thin but never just right. And as we bid goodbye in her formal entryway, always she would say with her beautiful Castilian accent, “You will not come see me, again. I know you will not. You will see me at my funeral.”

It’s a strange thing to have a step-grandmother from Venezuela who didn’t raise my father, who calls her Carmen, but who did raise my aunt, who calls her Mother. When I think of grandmother, it is the image of my maternal Nana that comes to mind–the woman who rocked me to sleep as a child, with whom I vacationed for months at a time, and whose house I will always call home.

I never met my Swedish grandmother, but I need only to look in the mirror to see her in my features.

When it comes to my step-grandmother, however, it has always been difficult to comprehend how we might be related to each other since we are not–neither by blood nor bond.

I pondered this as I walked out on my balcony earlier today, turning the doorknob on which hangs the rosary I made when I was four.

And there I stopped, realizing my relationship to Grandmother Johnston and what it is she has passed on to me: Catholic school; rites of passage; midnight Mass; books of saints; a crucifix and palms above the doorway of every family room; signs of the cross each time I’m afraid, habitual Hail Mary’s when I’m anxious, and an occasional a Dios mi.

Cultural and religious identity, brought from Venezuela to Texas, translated from Spanish to English, and passed on from my step-grandmother to my aunt, to my father and mother, and finally, to me.

I have never doubted that I am my Nana’s grandchild or my Swedish grandmother’s Svenska flika, but now I know how I am also my Abuelita’s nieta.

Vaya con Dios, Abuelita.

Neither you nor I may have realized it while you were living, but I realize now that I am, indeed, your granddaughter.

Photo | Trees at the DMA

31 May

“Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.”


On Yoga | Back to the Mat

18 May

Some time ago, I came across a parable of sorts, wherein a man in prison receives a prayer rug from a friend, though what he actually sought was a way out. After days of repeating the Salaat, or daily prayers, he notices a pattern in the weave of the rug at the point where his head touches the ground. Upon meditating on the pattern, he discovers it is actually a diagram of the lock of his cell. Through his prayer and meditation, he is able to escape his prison.

I’ve always liked this metaphor and the idea that through prayer or meditation of some sort, regardless of one’s beliefs, one might find the truth one seeks or, sometimes, truth unsought.

I was reminded of this story during my yoga practice today. After an exhausting semester, I finally made my way back to the yoga mat, heavy with the weight of work, teaching, and grading, a daily grind that, though important to me, often removes me from a sense of my self.  Initially, it was difficult to let go of the running thoughts I’ve had over the past three weeks.

Did I grade fairly and unbiased? Did I meet the needs of my students? Did I submit grades correctly?

As I moved through the asanas, or postures, however, such thoughts gradually receded as my focus was narrowed only to movement and breath. The inner ‘to-do list’ was, for that moment, silenced.  Through the vinyasa, or flow of each connected movement, the weight of work and worry was lifted. With my forehead against the mat or my arms spread wide in warrior stance, like the man in the story,  I was able to see, without even searching, that which is truly important.

Out and About | Adventures at Big Lots

5 Jan

Because of the recent Texas chill, I’ve been in the market for an electric blanket. I checked out Target and Wal-Mart, but the electric blankets were $120, which is approximately half of my electric bill, and therefore overpriced in my book. Lola K suggested Big Lots for my endeavors, so on my lunch break today, I moseyed on over.

Unfortunately, Big Lots didn’t have any electric blankets, but I did find a box of Triscuits marked down to .75 and a caffe latte for $1.00. Who could say no? I gathered my selections, and headed to the register. Of course, there was only one register open, and about ten customers with baskets full waiting in line ahead of me. Just as I wondered whether my box of Triscuits was worth the wait, a cashier at another register announced, “I can help the next person in line.”

No one moved, so, naturally, I headed to his line. A lady with a giant body pillow who was about five people ahead of me followed my lead, rushing past me, and emphatically tossing her purchase on the register.

“You know,” she said to me, “Those people have been waiting an hour.”

“Well,” I replied, “If a shorter line opens, the intelligent thing to do is to move to that line.”

I usually avoid such confrontations, but today I am wearing my glasses, which I think bring out another side of my personality. And I really wanted a Triscuit. Glasses or sans glasses, the Pillow Lady wasn’t having any of it.

“Well, it’s not the nice thing to do,” she smirked before calling out to a lady who was clutching a box of Quaker Oats bars marked down to $1.50 and a can of pink Metamucil. “Mamn. You were ahead of me. Would you like to move to this line?”

The Metamucil lady didn’t reply, but just stared ahead. It’s my belief that stores such as Big Lots and Wal-Mart slowly deplete human brain waves. The longer a person remains in the store, the fewer brain waves they have. The people in the long line were at the zombie stage. Fortunately, I had only been in there for fifteen minutes.

Perhaps offended by the Metamucil lady’s snub, Pillow Lady looked at me and said, “You are a line cutter.”

She must be a Catholic school teacher because before I could reply, she said to the cashier, “Well, she’ll be last in the line to Heaven.”

I, however, was once a good Catholic school girl, and quickly replied, “That’s OK. Jesus said ‘The one who is last shall be first.’ ”

Pillow lady didn’t reply to my retort. How could she? Jesus did say that. And if it turns out not to be true, well, I’ll just cut.

Pop Quiz | To eat or not to eat, that is the question…

29 Dec

Situation:
You are an instructor at a local college, have an hour for lunch, and are craving a samosa. Fortunately, you work in a city where samosas are sold on every corner of every street. At noon, you head to your favorite Indian grocery store, where the owner’s wife bakes samosas daily for very satisfied customers such as yourself. Upon greeting the owner, you request a samosa, pay, are given your samosa in a plastic bag, and return back to work in great anticipation.

However, upon opening the aforementioned plastic bag, you find that instead of a samosa, the owner has given you a yellow cabbage dish in Tuperware with five pieces of naan bread. At this point, you realize the owner has accidentally given you his lunch.

Visuals:

Exhibit A. You expected the following:

Exhibit B. Instead, you received the following:

If all the statements in the passage are true, which of the following responses best resolves the situation:

A) Return to the grocery store and give the man his lunch for your samosa.
B) Place the man’s meal in the refrigerator of the breakroom to return later.
C) Eat another man’s lunch.

Answer:
Option A is incorrect. You will not have time to drive back to the grocery store and return for the next class you are teaching. Option B is also incorrect because refrigerators in break rooms are never safe; you will never see your food again, especially if you work for a Liberal Arts department. Therefore, the only correct answer is C) Eat another man’s lunch. You will greatly enjoy a homemade meal, will satisfy your hunger, and will only feel slight remorse at the thought of the man’s disappointment when he opens his lunch bag to find only a samosa.

Images: A)herbivoracious.com; B)zedomax.com

Literature | The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

3 Sep

A few weeks ago, I was having an existential crisis.

“I’m having an existential crisis,” I told a friend. “I feel like I’m stuck in a Woody Allen film on repeat, being played by Woody Allen. I think it’s because of facebook.”

“Your existential crisis is because of facebook?” my friend humored me.

Maybe. Think about it. Constant externalization of self instead of internalization of reality; existence pending upon recognition by others through wall posts; one’s actions reduced to meaninglessness by clicking “clear” on status updates. It just all yields this unbearable lightness of being. So, yes–facebook.”

At which point my friend suggested I set aside my glass of Pinot. A few days later, my well-meaning friend produced a dog-eared copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

My first response was a sneer as I was thrown back through the recesses of time and memory to my freshman year in college. At one particular party, a young man with wild eyes raved about The Hitchhiker’s Guide before a paranoid look crossed his face as he nervously proclaimed that my pizza resembled a dead goat. I wasn’t eating pizza, and have, since then, written off The Guide as the psychedelic-addict’s book of choice.

And perhaps it is.

My friend, however, insisted that The Guide is not only brilliant but brilliantly funny, and I reluctantly acquiesced. It’s either this, I thought, or keep waiting for Godot.

I don’t mind being wrong if it’s in my favor, and deliciously wrong I was. I’ve devoured the five volumes like a black hole devouring time and space. Indeed, it is brilliant. And oh-so-funny.

As we travel with the hero, Arthur Dent, through the infinite crooks-and-crannies of the universe, we realize that perhaps we can’t escape our human condition or the question of the meaning of life. Gift or curse as it may be, it’s a sign of intelligent life.

Another sign, however, is a sense of humor. Examining the weight of existence through comedy, then, is often the panacea to counteract the heavy volumes lining one’s bookshelves. And what else but brilliance could be expected from an author hailing from the country that gave us Monty Python, the original Office, and other comedic examinations of our human condition?

Why it took me so long to stumble upon The Hitchhiker’s Guide, I know not, but I don’t want to ponder the timing of circumstance. For now, I’ll just thank the author and my friend for the gentle reminder that sometimes it’s necessary to lay aside the tomes of philosophy, look the Absurdity of Existence in the face, and laugh.

Perhaps all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, and really, there’s no need to panic.