Years ago, a nephew’s high school graduation, I’m up in the nosebleed section of the Civic Center, numbed with boredom. The caps, the gowns, the ritual, the same speeches that I heard, Future of America, Aim for the Stars, Seize the American Dream, all that stuff. I go home, open a blank page, title it Advice To Seniors, what-I-wish-I’d-have-been-told, and then waited, for the first thought…
“Don’t Chase Money.” I meant it then, I mean it now.
A few paragraphs later was this line, preaching to strangers, preaching to me, “At the end of life the question of merit is, “Did I ever know who I was, and did I live a true-to-me life?”
Who am I? I am thinker, who happens to be a writer.
The thinking, the writing, it feels like a fluid, makes perfect sense, that God’s gifts build up a hydraulic pressure if we don’t release them. For years, I wrote three Bedtime Stories a week, an easy 150 a year, part pleasure, part or-else.
When Are You Gonna Do A Book, They’d Ask
Compiling these stories into book form is INTENSE. Written over years, ebb ‘n flow, it all gets condensed when you dine upon them, one after the other. One sentence in one story, my father talking, “I feel good, but you never know what lil thing is growing inside you.” His hand touched the spot.
There are plenty light ones… a stinging caterpillar falling into my mother’s bosom as she is singing a hymn at an outdoor church function…
…hoping we’ll still be hungry in heaven, because I’m hoping my little grandmother will meet me, peck my cheek, and whisper, “I knew you were coming. Let me fix you a plate.” A plate of what? My last name is Fontenot. Rice ‘n gravy!
The book starts with Essays. First one, Ain’t In The Bible But Should Be, me wondering why “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” didn’t make it into the Black Book.
How ‘bout a few less Bob begat Bob Jr, and replace it with some common sense, “Don’t borrow money to buy a wallet,” and “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
The second section is called Riffs. For many years I wrote a story on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday nights, due at “pillow time,” 10ish. Some nights it was easy. Others…sometimes I’d have five documents open and none worthy. Many times, it’s 8:45, 9:00, got nothing, and I’d open up one more document, type the first word that came to mind, and let it riff.
One story like that was “Less”, just put that at the top and here they came, one after the other, “Put me down for Less expectations, which might lead towards being Less judgmental.”
Writers tend to write about what they know. The third section of the book is titled My Louisiana, some sentiment, some humor, everything from work ethic to hug ethic. One favorite is The Ceremony Of Coffee:
“My grandmother had a big serving tray. For every guest there was a cup of black coffee, already poured. In the center of the tray was a bowl of sugar and milk, and one stirring spoon, resting in a cup of water. Each guest picked among the mismatched coffee cups, added sugar, cream, the stir, the first sip, the ummm, all while my grandmother held the tray before them.”
In The Lullaby of Cajun French I wrote about being part of the generational cutoff line, our elders thinking French was obsolete, why waste time teaching it, and so it was the secret language of adults. Tender as the years pass, the ones-who-could dying off, and our ears perked for the rare hearing, and here I am, at the edge of my father’s hospice bed, “Ooooh what I’d give, when the mind retreated from adult English to the safety of childhood French…the nurse tells us, hearing-is-the-last-to-go, to have been able to speak French to my father, tell him, Go on Dad, we’ll be okay…”
The Padre Section
One of the most honorable things I’ve ever done is to be the voice of my father’s end. The Padre section begins with We May Never Pass This Way Again, driving down Maplewood Avenue, cars this way, cars that way, but coming toward me, could-it-be, could-it-be, yes it was, my father in his little car, beaming at me with love on his face, going the other way, both of us watching the brake lights in our rear view mirrors. It had been so long since that happened. Would it be the last?
It was. Many stories later, comes I Guess This Makes It Official, my return to the cemetery, a week later, dressed in blue jeans, with a red handkerchief in my back pocket, just in case, standing at the foot of his grave, the dates all done, thinking, ‘I guess this makes it official’…
The first page of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories, Volume 1, is titled With Gratitude. Who to thank first?
“Thanks to God. For life, for still living, for putting some tools in the toolbox. Everything is Yours. I present my words and thoughts and labor into Your hands. Thy will be done.”