August and Everything

August is this creepy little month that sneaks up behind me while I’m laughing and oblivious in July and says, Hey. Buck up. A lot of things are about to change, and it’s going to be hard for a minute, and very cold, but there’s coffee, at least, and fireplaces, and when it’s over, you’ll be okay.

Last fall, I packed up my comfy little 400 sq. foot apartment and said goodbye to New Orleans. I cried through 3 Gulf states, thought I didn’t know why at the time, and said goodbye to Jeff. Three weeks later, I was knee-deep in grapefruit-o-lanterns and Belizean 8-year-olds.

Two falls ago, I stuffed SJP and Sprinky into the Rendezvous and drove to New Orleans, threw my things into a supply closet, got evacuated for Gustav during orientation, and came back 3 weeks later a total stranger, still. A month after that I was dressed like a Ninja fighting pirates on Jackson Square. With friends.

Three falls ago I was meeting my French uncle at a train station in Marseilles. I don’t speak French. He doesn’t speak English. I hadn’t seen him in ten years. Three falls ago, Katie died.

Four falls ago, I got rejected to 14 grad schools. For writing. Which ruined my whole plan. Tale spin.

Five falls ago, I was driving a 24-foot diesel truck, on fire, from Austin to Beaumont and living out of a 50-degree medication closet. Red Cross. Katrina.

Eleven falls ago, my aunt died.  In a car accident. Just like that.

So here I am, in fall. In that strange quiet sunlight, with those twirly little yellow leaves, a ten minute drive from family, in a cozy home, with the most kind and loving husband, three little nieces, jobs we are blessed to have, access to pumpkin spice lattes- and I feel panicky. Even when I’m happy, I’m anxious.  And even sometimes, sad.

I think August is really saying: Hey. Your aunt died.
She would have been 50 last week.
And further still, August is really really saying: life is out of control.
I’ve never been able to dissociate fall from that feeling.

But it’s only a season.
N.N. says it better than me:

And even when the trees have just surrendered
To the harvest time
Forfeiting their leaves in late September
And sending us inside
Still I notice You when change begins
And I am braced for colder winds
I will offer thanks for what has been and what’s to come
You are autumn

And everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath
And still I notice you
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter
You are winter

And everything that’s new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breathe
What was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green
So it is with You
And how You make me new
With every season’s change
And so it will be
As You are re-creating me
Summer, autumn, winter, spring

N. Nordeman

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Grapefruit-o-lanterns. They Exist.

Well, there I was feeling all homesick for some fall in the Midwest—pumpkins, leaves, jackets, football—or at least a little Halloween fun in New Orleans, when lo and behold, I walk into the kitchen and they’re all carving  grapefruits.  They did it just like a pumpkin: cut a little hold in top, reached in and pulled out the insides, then very carefully, using gigantic knives with no handles and teeny little fingers and grapefruits, carved out spooky little faces. Then they put a candle inside, tied some ribbon to either end, and hung them on the doorknobs to greet trick-or-treaters, who don’t come on October 31st. They come on November 1st and 2nd for All Saints and All Souls days.  They even have a creepy little version of trick-or-treat: Eshpasha pa la calabera, si no me das te da cagalera.

Translation: Special porridge for the skull, but if you don’t give me, it will give you loose stools. Usually, then, the villagers give the kids some porridge and sweets, realllly wanting to avoid those loose stools.

grapefruit pumpkin 1

carving

grapefruit 4

grapefruit 5

On All Saints Day, they light little candles for the kids and babies who have died, and place the first plate of food they cook on the table next to the candles and wait for the steam of the food to go to the souls of the babies. After about half an hour, they say, “Okay. The souls are finished eating. Now it’s time to eat!”

They also place one plate of food and one little black candle on a chair for the anima soula: the lonely soul.  Each person gets a plate of food, including kids who come to the door, and a special plate is always set aside for the lonely soul.  The very next day, on All Souls Day, they do the same thing for adults who have died.

Also, we’re out of water again. The water went out Friday night, and by Sunday night—with no clean dishes, no reserve water in the drum and nothing to bathe with, people started asking around.  Apparently a pipe broke. I suggested we try to wash some dishes with the maybe 5 liters of water we had left in the drum, but Antonia said it wasn’t clean.  She said we have to be careful because these are the times when people, especially ones with babies, are desperate to use any water they can find to wash and cook and bathe, and people start getting sick from the unclean water.  Point taken. Taking a shower now costs $2.50 in 1.5L of Crystal water:

water

Update: it poured all day. Everyone ran outside with soap and shampoo and bathed, right there in the front lawn. I really wanted to lay all the dishes out on the grass, too, but I didn’t think of it in time.