HENDERSON, La. – I know these are hard economic times. I know houses aren’t selling. I know to be grateful that the yellow Cajun cottage soon is going to belong to good people who need it.
I liked everyone who looked at the house, at least those I met. They all had ambitious plans, same as Don and I did 10 years ago this month. One potential buyer mentioned cutting the pine trees, which made me wince. The trees were the main reason we bought the place, a shaded oasis in a former sugar cane field. But that would have been none of my business had she bought it; I know that, too.
I can’t help but still feel proprietary, however, at least for the last month the house is mine. I keep weeding the lantana, which stays green all year here, and watering the kumquat tree, the first thing, always, that we looked at after spilling from the truck after nine hours, dusty off the trail from North Mississippi to Southwest Louisiana. This year the tree is full of fruit, still green, which will turn orange as Ric-Rac balls and produce throughout the winter.
This morning I danced around the living room by myself. A Cajun waltz was playing on the radio, and I wanted to savor the moment. Where else in the Deep South can you get news and music in French, then English?
To say I’ll miss this place is to say Jimmie Rodgers could yodel. An understatement. I’ll miss soaking in the claw-foot tub with the fleur-de-lis I painted on its side. I’ll miss sitting on the front porch and listening to Helene Boudreaux on the radio singing “Till a Tear Becomes a Rose.” I’ll miss the wooden pirogue, almost rotten now, filled with flowers and ferns. I’ll miss hanging the incongruous snowman on the hurricane fence at Christmas. I’ll miss walking the few blocks to see my best friends, past the fishermen’s coop with crawfish shells pouring out a spout into a dump truck.
I’ll miss it all.
I keep humming that old Rolling Stones song that gave us a dollop of uncharacteristic 1960s optimism: “You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
Maybe the past decade was all I needed of unadulterated fun. Maybe it’s someone else’s turn to sleep beneath the Louisiana stars and savor the smells of big pots in outdoor kitchens and watch the dancers of all ages at Mulate’s, where live music plays every night of the year but Christmas. I’ll get something else. Something I need.
I stopped packing at sunset yesterday and sat on the porch to watch the sunset. They are spectacular here, accentuated by the flatness of the horizon and probably the pollution from Baton Rouge. It was quitting time and half a dozen pickup trucks passed on their way home. This is a town that works hard and plays hard and doesn’t let one primal need interfere with the other.
The moon will be full tonight, and I think I’ll drive to the levee for a look. The levee was the first place I saw the Hale-Bopp comet, a celestial event worth remembering. Mabel, the yellow dog, will ride with me. And when we come home, she’ll slip under the bed that Don raised with blocks of wood as she grew older and fatter.
And we’ll sleep – on top of and under the bed – with sad, but satisfied minds, knowing the thing we loved most about this place already is gone.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.
Rheta Grimsley Johnson