My mom was born in Somerville, Tennessee and moved to New Orleans at 10 when her father and mother opened a truck stop and diner just east of New Orleans. It was called Powers Junction and it was a booming business located at a crucial east-west path from the Florida coast to New Orleans and north-south connecting New Orleans to the Northeast, past Birmingham. This was 1955, before big interstates were built, and everyone from truck drivers to vacationers heading to any of those popular destinations passed through Powers Junction. I remember her telling me that traffic was so bad on holiday weekends that policemen had to patrol the intersection and her job was to bring them big cups of beer to keep them cool while they were working. My grandmother’s diner, Nell’s Diner, was the first food service establishment in the area to serve blacks and whites at the same counter and my grandfather was a stoic defender of that decision and of the friends who dined with them.
So, sure, mom grew up in a truck stop but her parents were still quite the cosmopolitan pair. They spent as much time as possible in the heart of New Orleans listening to music and eating at elegant restaurants around the city. The glamorous Roosevelt Hotel was the only place they stayed because that was the only hotel that would allow their black nanny to sleep in same room as Mom and her brother. She occupied many different worlds but there was a common thread that ran through them and through her life: Respect.
Time moved on and she left the truck-stop and glamorous hotel-hopping world and moved to Baton Rouge where she got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Louisiana State University while marrying, divorcing, marrying and divorcing again and having three children. She finally moved back to New Orleans when she was 32 and lived there until she died 35 years later. She wasn’t just a resident of New Orleans, she was connected to New Orleans. She was a cosmic daughter of the city and a die hard agent of the arts. I hold my head high in this town because I am her daughter.
And although she died too soon she did not die before passing on the most extraordinary gift to me: the understanding that life is finite and that it is our responsibility to be the very best we can be to ourselves and to one another. That was the biggie. But there were others also. In honor of Mother’s Day….here they are.
- Improve your handwriting.
- Kids can do chores after school. It’s character building.
- Real things are better than fake. That goes for butter. Sugar. Personalities.
- Turning 40 is a great big relief because you stop giving a shit about what people think.
- Follow your passions. The money will come (or not, and that’s okay too.)
- Creatively visualize where you want your life to lead.
- Know your heritage. Respect your heritage.
- Know the history of where you live.
- Love your sister. That’s not a metaphor.
- Be kind.
- Read a lot. No, more than that.
- Be a connector.
- Be proud of your daughters.
- Rent out your guest room if you live alone.
- Everyone has a story. Everyone has something to offer. Take the time to find out what it is.
- The arts are important.
- Get involved in your neighborhood.
- Know your political leaders.
- If you are going to donate to a campaign, go to an event and put the check in the person’s hand. No matter how big or how small. (Is that legal?)
- Do a language immersion program after you turn 60.
- Travel as much as you can.
- Treat yourself to really nice meals. Even if you are on your own.
- Keep healthy snacks in your house.
- Binders Bakery has the best petit fours. Ever.
- Vote democratic and be vocal when you are pleased or disappointed.
- Be an active member of your political party.
- Speak up. Stand up. Defend. If you don’t then you are guilty too.
- Do the touristy stuff in your own city. Don’t let the visitors have all the fun.
- Take your kids to Chichén Itzá instead of Disneyworld. It costs less and teaches more.
- Take your kids to Disneyworld.
- Vacations don’t need to be expensive. Cheap beaches are okay and kids don’t mind brown water.
- Double check your work. Always.
- If you are always looking forward to the next thing then you will never enjoy what you are doing.
And, in honor of Mother’s Day, one of her favorite drinks: A Planter’s Punch.
- 1 1/2 oz Dark Rum
- 1/2 oz good grenadine
- 2 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- Lots of ice
- Club soda
- Orange, cherries, lemon peel for garnish
- Add the rum, grenadine, orange juice and lemon juice to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake super hard for about 15 seconds. The shaker should be uncomfortably cold for you to hold.
- Fill a tall glass with large ice cubes and strain drink from shaker over the ice. Top with club soda and garnish with orange or lemon peels, a preserved cherry and a wedge of orange.
- If you like it slightly sweeter, add a splash of simple syrup.