This morning, the feeling I woke up to in my bedroom 100% assured me that winter has breathed its last on Chicago for this season…. My room was warm and humid, the air was still- despite the windows being open….and as my students would have said, “I was sparkling”.
It was hot.
See, here in Chicago central A/C isn’t the norm in apartments… I’ll be making my window A/C unit purchases shortly, another one of those “welcome to Chicago” rites of passage. The good news is, here you only need it for about 3 months… I walked for 5 miles this afternoon- outside, it’s absolutely heavenly right now.
But as I woke up, and noticed the feeling around me, I was transported a few thousand miles away and a few decades back in time.
The feeling in my bedroom was the EXACT feeling I had felt so many times before- visiting my Grandfather Stanchel (and a host of other relatives that lived in that area).
Lower Valley, Grand Cayman, somewhere in the 1980s-1990s.
I can remember whining as a child, “Do we HAVE to go visit them?!? It’s HOT there. It’s SOOOO hot. And it’s BOOOORING.” The compromise was always: “After dinner, it’s cooler. And yes, it’s important. It’s our family. They love you, and we love them.”
From my perspective now, I don’t remember the heat or the boredom. I smiled as I reminisced this morning… Remembering Grandfather Stanchel showing us his water trucks, his cows, eating his super-burnt hamburger patties, walking the grounds. I remember sitting on porches watching fans oscillate while the grown-ups spun their best stories from the past. I remember my parents proudly introducing us kids to older relatives, and relatives saying to me, “Come, let me smell that sweet head”, as they did to all children.
I picked up my phone and sent my dad a text, “OMG… It’s so hot in my apartment. I think I’m in Lower Valley. If I hear Grandfather Stanchel’s cow call, I’m gonna really be scared.”
His reply, “I was thinking of Lower Valley this morning, too… Got to work and found the A/C was broken at the office.”
Despite the fact that I don’t have kids, as I get older I find myself thinking more about my roots- and where those roots have taken me. (Or not taken me?)
My roots are in New Orleans and the Cayman Islands… Where do I go? Chicago.
I was raised primarily in the Catholic Church, but what do I do now? Go to a different Christian church.
Sunday dinner was almost always roast beef. …And I don’t eat beef.
I was raised in a “get married, live happily ever after” family. …And I’m divorced, and have been for 4 years.
But I also am beginning to see how those “roots”- those memories and traditions and places and even foods- are reflected in the “buds” of my present life…. And what elements of them I want to pass on…. To whoever… My friends in Chicago tease me that I put more into Mardi Gras preparation than most people put into a major concert. I know a good gumbo is the best thing on a cold day, and chilled, boiled shrimp are just about the best thing on a hot day. I sit in church and hear a scripture quote or a song that was one of my Gram’s favorites, and my heart nearly bursts. Or, I notice my church is celebrating the same feast the Catholics would be celebrating that weekend, and I feel happy (and slightly less guilty) that it seems to be coming full circle.
I couldn’t be more excited about a legit crawfish boil in Chicago this weekend. My friend is bringing his son along, and (since I’ve been talking about it for a month) we are ALL excited. I even drew a crawfish on a napkin at church a few weeks ago, all for the sake of demonstration and education! Haha! I still remember my first crawfish boil (well, probably not my first, but the one we had recorded on BETA tape where my brother was screaming in terror that the crawfish would eat me)… I remember my 5-year old bad-ass safari outfit I was wearing for the occasion, on that driveway on Michigan Ave. in Metairie.
Naturally, I have a whole slew of “essential” first crawfish experiences to make sure I create this Saturday- peeling, sucking the head, using the head as a finger puppet, taking two live ones and doing a “crawfish race” on the sidewalk. My friend’s son has had a million questions and is very much looking forward to it as well. I (of course) had to get him the crawfish shirt on sale at Storyville… because he will need to remember his outfit from his first crawfish boil, too, duh!
…And the sad thing is… I know in the end, in the moment, he’ll probably feel a lot like I did in Lower Valley… “It’s hot. I’m bored” and perhaps, “Ew, these are SPICY!”
But maybe, just maybe, down the line, he’ll remember it with retrospective fondness…
Just like branches and buds on plants do, perhaps moving away from my roots is ok… It’s just that the roots are what keep you grounded as you move and grow, and find your own way. Those memories, traditions, and values shape the journey. I’m planting new seeds, putting down new roots, but also still enjoying the rich fruits of those roots planted in me long ago.


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