Driving into Baton Rouge, I heard from the backseat,
Mommy, how do you know where you are going?
I know because I spent the first 18 years of my life "going" in Baton Rouge, the Bayou state of Louisiana. Most people are surprised to know I am truly a Cajun and not a Texan. I attended Texas A&M and married an East Texas boy and my only "flaw" in his eyes is the fact of my "home of record." So I let him claim me as a Texan. But, Louisiana it is and it is a rare trip that I am able to make the 13 hour drive to visit. I took advantage of a school in Alabama that Patrick had to attend last week and somehow used my charm to convince him to forgo the 45 minute flight to drive 7 hours halfway with us and free me up to only have 6 hours on my own. Made more sense the night I presented my idea then it does now typing.
Driving into Louisiana, I was so glad to be there. The Bayou state. Cajun food. Zydeco music. There was so much I wanted to do in such a short time. I had a plan, an agenda. There were restaurants I wanted to go to, a school store I had to stop by, and family I so needed to see.
The O'Neal Lane exit took forever, but I made it and as I pulled off the interstate, it all came back. I had driven down this road, upteen times and although it looked so different each visit, it was the same. I rode past the intersection my sister and I got into a wreck in on a Friday afternoon, she in her Pantherette uniform and me in my cheerleading one. I remember being put on a stretcher and riding the 2 minutes to the hospital. I drove past the Burger King, now a Backyard Burger, that was my job for a year in high school. I got sick on the Whopper line because of my disdain for mayo and was quickly promoted to cashier. Seems throw up is an immediate qualification for order taking. Turning into the neighborhood, I could picture the miles I rode on my rainbow bicycle up to the Cracker Barrel, now a SuperCuts, to play Pacman with my best friend, Angel. I turned on to Bonham and honked and waved at Angel's Dad walking up the driveway to get his mail like he's done since I moved in at the age of 6.
My house. 16431 Bonham Ave. My box of memories. Oh, it looks so different now, but it's the same in so many ways. It felt so good to be home. This home is the start of good memories for me. I started in a school I loved and my Mom was not in nursing school anymore trying to take care of two little girls on her own. She was so excited to be in this new house, this same house I had pulled into the driveway with my children. She married my stepdad in this house and she was happy. We were happy. She came to my school events. For open house that year, I proudly showed her around my new classroom. I had my own room in that house. I got to pick the color on the wall and put as many stuffed animals on my bed as it could hold. I can still remember the smell of baby powder when she would come to kiss me in every night. Pulling up it felt good to be home. To not be the "Momma," but Amy, the 8 year old that zipped up my friend Angie into a beanbag and then got her hair stuck in the zipper. The 6 year old that showed up to 1st grade with Miss Buford wearing green pants that Amy LeFeaux has never let me forget. The 7 year old having sleepovers with Angel. Playing Marco Polo in the backyard pool at night in the summer. Learning to ride a bike and getting that purple banana seat rainbow bike for my birthday. Listening to Michael Jackson's Beat It in my new Boom Box for my 11th birthday. Crying long into the night when I didn't make Varsity Cheerleading my Sophomore year. Studying for Mr. Moore's Biology class in my bedroom with Kirk Cameron on the walls. Talking on the phone to too many people. Dressing for dance recitals. My Mom braiding my hair for Friday night football games. All memories that built me.
My visits now include trips to see my grandmothers. Granny, my maternal grandmother who lives in a home, doesn't always remember me, and it makes me so sad. She did remember our inside "God made ghetti too?!" story and it made her laugh. And made me smile. Then sad. It's sad to know she is not there, not how I truly remember her. She was good to me. Always took me shopping for my birthday. Played doctor office and grocery store with us during the summer days we stayed with her while Mom worked. She could cook Creole like no one else and keep a house better than Merry Maids could ever dream. As I fed her lunch, I teared up. Full circle. She once fed me and now, I am feeding her. Part of who I am though is because of her. We stopped by her house too. I got to see my Pops. The house was the same and I kept showing my children things from my childhood. The stool by the door I sat in and watched her cook. The radio that looks like an old fashioned phone I played with. The room I slept in when I spent the night. The big backyard we would run through the hose in the summer. The chalkboard I would leave messages on for them. All memories. Good ones. Memories that built me. Their Mom. But once a little girl.
We visited my Grams. My stepdad's mom. The most welcoming and accepting woman I have ever known. She looked the same to me, slower, but the same. She became my Grams when my Mom remarried. I remember asking her what I should call her. I'm your Grams now. So Grams it was and she never skipped a beat. I was hers. I was her granddaughter. I spent many summer days with her too. I swam in her pool. She introduced me to The Sound of Music and To Sir With Love. She would watch them as many times as we wanted. She is the first one who cooked my famous Pizza Burgers. They were famous long before I started handing out the recipe. She was the most patient woman I had ever known and she loved her family. With seven children to her name, her stories were legendary and her laugh, contagious. I love my Grams. She built a part of me. A part of who I am.
Family came to visit. My Aunt Kathy was there. I knew she would be. She will always be such a huge part of who I am. I have so many wonderful memories of her. She always seemed to be there when things were not good, smiling and ready to hug. She took my Mom, Kelly, and I in for a short time after moving to Baton Rouge and it seems in my young memories, the beginning of good. I remember things from New Orleans, but most are not things I wish I could remember. But that time moving in with Aunt Kathy seems to be like a bookend to those. I remember playing cards with her. She taught me how to play Skip Bo. Told me stories about kids going to "Night School." Made me Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches. Watched Andy Griffith with me. Played the piano for me. And loved me. I had my first day of school walking a block from her house to Wedgewood. She was waiting for me when I walked home. I did homework at her table. As I grew, she has always had a hug. A sweet word. She always made me feel she was proud of me. She's a part of me. She built a part of me.
My best friend Angel came to visit. I have told my children "Miss Angel" stories for years and she is legendary to them. Lillie whispered when she walked in, "Is that the Miss Angel? The one who rode backwards on your rainbow bike?" That's the one. She was the first friend I had in Baton Rouge. I was coming off some really sad times in my 6 year old memory and she was a perfect fit. Looking back God knew. He knew I would need her then and how I would need her now. I have the greatest memories with her. I spent the night with her probably as much as I slept in my own house. I often wonder if her Mom ever got tired of my body in her house. It was one of the only families I remember that was in tact growing up and I loved being over there. We loved baby dolls and Barbies. We asked for the same things for Christmas. We roller skated, rode bikes, and swam. She knew every secret and she kept them. I learned manners from her, how to make a bed, how to say yes ma'am, and shake out clothes putting them from the washer to the dryer. I knew we would be friends forever. We had a small season we lost the closeness and it was a time when I struggled with loyalty. I hate this memory because it was completely my fault, but we reconnected before we both had our children. I was able to tell her how sorry I was and how much I regretted losing our time together. She forgave me. She was one of the first people to show me true grace and forgiveness. I think I love her for that more than anything else. I use this memory to teach my children loyalty, what it means to be a friend, and what true forgiveness looks like. Angel is a part of me. She built a part of who I am.
My time in Baton Rouge was precious. I spent time with my family. I got to talk with my Mom. I forget until I am there how much a part of me the Bayou state is and the people who walked with me through my time there. My memories from my childhood are definitely not all sweet. We walked through some hard times. But that house, that street were the start of good ones. As the memories flooded in during my trip, I couldn't help but wonder, what decisions, what choices, if made differently would have changed my path? And I am thankful for each and every one. Hard or not. This place built part of who I am, part of who I will always be. But I am here, back in Beaufort, SC with my Marine and four precious children because of the path that started back there. God was using people and the place to build me to be exactly who I needed to be at each point in my life to get me here. So I look back. I have no regrets. I am stronger for each memory and thankful that each day was ordained for me by the very One Who created me. I can look at each person along my way and say, I was built by you for God's plan for me. Built Bayou. I like it.