Another day, another story!
Today is St. Joseph's Day. I would not know this but my friend tagged me with a memory on Facebook. This is one of the days where Facebook feels like the best, good friend ever because of those fun memories which involved a hit and run accident in New Orleans.
St. Josephs is the day that Mary's husband Joseph is recognized and paid honor. In some places more than others.
Sicily, it is also believed that if a woman manages to sneak a lemon off of St. Joseph’s Table on this day, then she have better luck finding a husband. It is also customary for people to wear red on this day and to indulge themselves with doughnuts and crème puffs. In Italy, Spain and Portugal, St. Joseph’s Day is Father’s Day. (Obviously, Sicily is a really good place to be on St. Joseph's Day)
Since New Orleans, Louisiana in the United States was a major port of entry for Sicilian immigrants during the late 1800s and has a large Sicilian population, this holiday is celebrated by the whole city. On St. Joseph’s Day. St. Joseph’s Tables are built both for the public and by private individuals. These altars are then filled with a variety of different food – just like the celebrations in Sicily – however, these foods usually have somewhat of a Cajun twist to them. Afterward, all of the food is then usually donated to the poor. New Orleans also has a variety of parades and marching bands performing on the streets during this day. (Obviously, New Orleans is the best city to be in if you are in the US on St. Joseph's Day! Furthermore - this information was totally lifted and pasted from the St. Josephs Day site on the internet)
So - OUR St. Josephs Day memory all started like this.
I have known Virginia Dixon all my life which means since Middle School formerly known as Jr. High. My first memory of her is when I was forced to teach Algebra because for some reason we all had to teach for a day or maybe we got extra credit for that and I needed extra credit because I have never understood Algebra a day in my life (never mind that I think I can understand theoretical physics and quantum mechanics or at least lets say TRYING to is a hobby of mine) but this day trying to teach 7th grade Algebra Virginia kept saying she didn't understand as I wrote on the overhead projector. She wasn't being mean - she really didn't understand. What I wanted to say is LOOK, I don't understand EITHER but I'm trying to wing it for extra credit and sit down. In spite of this we somehow passed 7th grade and went on to High School where we were friendly if not neighborhood friends and we were friends with the same people. Got it? Okay.
So flash forward a few busy years and we both end up married with children (literally) in Pensacola and renew our friendship. And we are both writing in one capacity of another and we learn of a Screenwriting Seminar in the Big Easy and we decide this is one of the greatest reasons to get out of town ever. So we load up and head to New Orleans minus husbands and children. We planned to stay with our darling high school friend's Sue Finlaw's mother who was one of those mothers every kid wanted. She was mother to a tribe of kids that basically moved in her house for the summer and never left. Me being primary said kid. She had moved to NO so we had the perfect place to stay. We went to the Screenwriting conference which used The Body by Stephen King as it's working example which went on to be the movie Stand by Me - which is a great movie.
I remember we had a great dinner one night in the French Quarter and we went to Preservation Hall and Virginia says we went to a Voodoo palace but since we are and we were both Christian voodoo really wouldn't have been our thing so I don't know how that happened unless we just wandered into a whodooyouvoodoo nest without knowing it. This kind of thing can easily happen in New Orleans.
What I do remember is that night in the French Quarter where the moon was hanging just over the buildings and a parade broke out down the street and we were sitting like queens on the balcony looking out over the city. Totally in the right place at the right time. Here came the marching bands, the floats, the happiness extreme and the kid playing the saxophone who may have grown up to be Tina Turner's sax player for that infamous TV concert and there is a magic that is a New Orleans night that belongs to no other place in the world.
The next morning, coffee in hand, driving in the car on our way to the 2nd day of the conference we were hit and hit hard by a car from the rear. Totally in the wrong place at the wrong time. The driver jumped out and fled on foot, abandoning the car and was never found. We were fine until Sue's Mom showed up and said, Oh, honey's and hugged us and we both started crying being the grown women we were but suddenly feeling fifteen again. We were taken to the hospital for whiplash and so forth, both given neck braces and heavy duty motrin and sent on our way. We made it to the conference late and walked in the big auditorium after the guy had started teaching and he just stopped mid sentence when he saw us and said - OK, I have to ask - WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU GUYS? At which point Virginia and I tried to turn and look at each other but we couldn't do it without turning out entire bodies because we couldn't turn our heads. Then someone said, My God! There's blood all over you we realized, No, that's coffee from the accident that has somehow turned to the color of dried blood.
I assure you - a good time was had by all. We made it to Cafe Du Monde which is one of the most important things in the world. And we ate that sweet concoction known as New Orleans beignets (which don't count if they are not from Cafe Du Monde) And we talked about the power of story and then Virginia told me the entire saga of her three book trilogy for the ride back to Pensacola which was many hours but it made the trip go by quickly.
Memories. It's what friendships were born for. I hope you have warm ones from adventures gone by or that you are planning a new road trip in your near future.
Wishing you blessings on all the ordinary and high, holy days of your life.
Sometimes you have to listen to your inner instincts. The small voice we hear that whispers, this way, follow me. For some it is the voice of God. For others their sixth sense. For me I’d say it’s a combination of both considering they are one and the same.
Fifteen years ago I moved to Nashville following that voice. That’s the short and simple version of the story but it was that clear. Nashville. No other place on a map filled with other places, many options. I knew no one in the city, had no relatives in the area, and no particular job. It was the city where I had to be. I’ve never regretted following that voice but never more-so than last Monday when the celestial heavens aligned.
While others across the nation had carefully plotted their path for many years I lived oblivious, caught up in the daily rapture and apocalypse of my own life. It was only a few weeks ago that I actually realized the eclipse was headed my way. Or that I was headed toward it. Then I began to feel a bit unsettled. I blamed it on the news, the rolling tide of my emotions. On deadlines or fatigue. On just being me - artistic and emotive, passionate.
Plans were in the making all around me. All of the big events, major parties, bands and eclipse watching gala's. Glasses sold out, were recalled, sold out again. I never bought any. I bought Guinness. There was that small instinctual voice again. Alone, it whispered. So alone it would be. I would sit on my porch, watch and wait with expectation. Experience the unknown of what would come.
I woke up Monday saying Eclipse Day! As if it were Christmas morning. I was giddy. Such a silly word but I felt silly not melancholy. I worked on a short story about a woman waiting for the eclipse. The refrigerator man came to repair the fridge. I looked at my watch. I told him that it was about to penumbra was coming. I told him he could take a Guinness with him. I might have been hinting.
My house is circled with trees. Large Oaks of every kind, Elms and Hickories. I love the light passing through the filter of their leaves. The sun on their bark, the fog that moves through their limbs in the early morning dawn. I have a relationship with these woods.
I sat on my tiny, front porch, watched the shadows shifting forward, opened a beer. There was the singing of the cicadas and the birds. Dogs barked off in the distance down the hill. It was the middle of the day but night was falling, the shadows lengthening. There was the slightest of breezes and I felt the coolness on my skin as the day gave pause, began to bow to the passing of the moon.
I watched this approaching night for the hours it unfolded and then at the speed of atoms splitting, totality crashed over me. It was as if the keys of a thousand doors were unlocked at once and forever. And it took my breath. I whispered Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - not in fear or even in prayer - but in awe and wonder. A word of praise and thanksgiving to have lived in this moment in time, to have lived in the path of this happening and to be experiencing it in such an immediate and profound way.
I stepped out into the open beneath the dark sky where stars had appeared. Fireflies lit up the grass everywhere as if they had been standing by waiting for their orders to lift off. There are few moments in life this powerful and profound.
Day began to slide out from under the moon again, sweep across the yard, shadows being chased away by light until the fullness of day returned. The sound of the crowd miles away at the Riverfront irrupted into cheers.
Late that afternoon I watched the Nasa coverage, the interviews with people from all nations. This moment so exciting, so breathtaking. So unifying.
The following day I was in Parnassus Books greeting customers Visitors who had traveled all these miles to be right where I was all along. Sharing stories of where they’d been, how they’d watched. One man from Texas looked at me and said, “Totality is everything.”
"Yes," I said. “90% isn’t good enough,” he continued, adamant about this. He was preaching to the choir. “No sir,” I said. “Its totality or nothing at all.”
Another couple had traveled from Tampa. The man told me that they had run from the clouds farther up in Kentucky. Ended up pulling off of the interstate and watching from a field behind JC Penny. The woman said it was perfect. Her eyes were still filled with the wonder that I had felt. “An Indian man from New York and his family stood next to us,” he said, “and he watched the whole thing with his hand on his heart. He told me afterwards that in his religion this was a spiritual experience.” He smiled at me, tired from so many miles but so fulfilled. “I told him, buddy in my religion it’s a spiritual experience too.”
Another man told me, “You know, for just a minute we all stopped fighting. It wasn’t about politics or arguing. We were all in the same place. Suddenly we were all on on the same page.”
Eclipse books were on sale. People were buying them up. Opening to the pages for their next pilgrimage. Marking the trajectory. “Argentina,” one woman told me, “I was born there and haven’t been back in thirty years but I’m going for this.”
I realize that the world has scoffers, people who fall into the category of - What is all the noise about? Big deal. Sun, moon, eclipse - I get it. And those that say, Well, that was an interesting show, now let’s get back to business. But there’s another group. The ones who were deeply affected when those celestial bodies aligned, who felt an awakening of bold Illumination. When for those few minutes we became one people, looking heavenward, eclipsed by the vastness of the universe, our politics as small as those distant stars in the horizon. When all the pleasure and pain of simply being human traveling through this vast corridor of time was the greatest miracle of all.
Again it happens. My first visit to Nashville was based on my being a presenting author for my first novel, The Gin Girl (a swamp noir mystery) at SoFest as we call in here around the city.
So you might say it was Sofest that brought me here and Nashville that kept me. But I have no doubts that move was Divine in its making.
Right now authors are in packing to fly, drive, motorcade or camel back their way to the Athens of the South. Over 200 of them. Wise cracking and snarky, brilliant and inspirational, romantic and historical. Every genre and mood represented. The fact that it's FREE FREE FREE should be enough reason to get in the car, cancel other plans, stop what you are doing and attend. If I could drive to your door and pick you up and bring you I would.
Book festival have become more than a simple celebration of the word or a chance to hear your favorite authors tell funny stories about dropping their pants at the front door (Rick Bragg) or singing a song about Baloney and Beer (Clyde Egerton) - there is some serious stuff in there as well - they are a part of what America is carving out as our new town squares. Our old downtowns where humans actually walked the street and greeted one another. Where you were happy to see another face and you had something in common - you were neighbors sharing the same city and not minding doing so.
This weekend in Nashvlle people who love story, music, books, sunshine, innocent children, old dogs, all that is good in humanity - will converge on Nashville's Memorial Plaza. It will be a grand weekend filled with celebration and great reads.
Please join us and help us celebrate and welcome these 200 Authors to our city.
(I'll be in the Parnassus Book Tent all day Saturday and Sunday so please drop by and say Hi.)
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.