A New Year
Scroll down to read Epilogue and Postscript
Our wonderful Cajun culture has a unique word. Lagniappe.
It means something extra, and goes back to the rural tradition of shop owners giving faithful customers a little something extra as appreciation for their business.
Lagniappe. It’s a good word.
It’s a New Year.
We’ve woke up alive.
This is a new day.
It’s a new start
A special gift.
Suck the life out of it.
Squeeze out every drop.
Enjoy your lagniappe.
It’s a New Year.
Being a writer, I always equate the first day of a new year with the blank pages in a new journal. As I open the notebook and leaf through its empty pages, the potential for what will be written and recorded there is limitless.
Being a journal keeper for nearly forty years has taught me several things. Some of this year’s entries will be sad and painful. Others will be joyous and funny. That is the nature of life.
As the world enters this new year, the pages are blank and no human knows what this year holds. Never in my adult life have I seen such uncertainty and concern. From war and confusion in all corners of the world to an economic meltdown that has shaken the confidence of many, we face uncertain days ahead.
The year 1939 was much like that . . . especially in Europe. War had commenced with the German invasion of Poland and subsequent involvement of most of the continent’s nations.
In England, the days were especially dark. In was in this bleak time at Christmas 1939 that King George VI made his annual Christmas message to the British people.
He quoted from a familiar poem by Minnie Haskins entitled “The Gate of the Year.”
“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way”
The King’s appropriate use of this inspiring poem stirred the British people, as it still stirs us over a half-century later.
It’s a good poem as we enter a uncertain new year.
God is in control.
There is no panic in heaven.
As long as we hold onto his hand and follow his guidance, we’ll be all right.
“ . . .My God shall supply all of your needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
[CI3] You won’t find—or smell—honeysuckle during Christmas season. A new year means there’s at least two months before Southwest Louisiana bursts into spring and greenery.
I began this book with a story of a beloved teacher, Eleanor Andrews, and her holiday gift of Christmas jelly. I’ve chosen to close it with a final story about this memorable woman.
Quietly, I ease in to the ICU where Mrs. Eleanor Andrews lays surrounded by tubes and monitors. I’m holding a green vase of pink honeysuckle, and its fragrance has followed me down the hallway.
It’s difficult to fathom that Mrs. Andrews will probably die during her favorite season of spring. I’d always thought she’d leave us in the dead of winter when the trees were bare and her garden was empty.
Her face is covered with an oxygen mask, but it doesn’t hide the smile that’s lit up my life since I was eleven. I lean down close because her voice is very weak. Most of what she says I can’t understand, but I hear one thing clearly.
“I’m going home today.”
For a moment I think she’s confused and believes she’s going home to Dry Creek. She reads my puzzled face and grasps my arm. “No, I’m going home today.”
I understand. She’s going home and looking forward to it.
She’s suffered enough.
Most of the ones she loves best are already on the other side.
She’s ready to go.
Nothing, not even her beloved flowers and yard in Dry Creek, can draw her to stay on this earth any longer. I hold her hand, unable and unwilling to let go.
I recall a wonderful January evening last year in her home.
I brought nine boys, including my three sons, to watch the Division I Football Championship game. The boys, divided in loyalty between Virginia Tech and Oklahoma.
. . . And in the midst of all this commotion, sat Mrs. Eleanor Andrews happily puffing away on a cigarette. I’ll never forget the look of pure joy on her face. Her eyes seemed to glow from the enjoyment of being surrounded by young people having a good time.
We had such a swell time watching the game together- all eleven of us.
You can probably guess who enjoyed it the most- Eleanor Andrews.
Looking around on that special January night, I swear I could smell the fragrance of honeysuckle in her living room.
Maybe it wasn’t honeysuckle, but the equally sweet aroma of love and friendship.
When the game ended each boy came by her chair, leaned down, and gave her a hug. She kissed each one on the chee. The sight of these country boys hugging on her touched me. She had lost two of her three sons to death, but for one precious night, her house was once again full of laughing boys.
I was at the end of the hugging line. She pulled me close with a surprisingly strong grip. “You’ll never know how much this meant to me.”
I couldn’t speak. On that January night, I was too full for words
# # #
Once again, at her ICU deathbed, I’m too full for words.
I lean down and kiss Mrs. Andrews on the cheek one last time. I stop outside the cubicle for one final glance.
I see two things.
The smile on her face,
and the green vase of pink honeysuckle.
Mrs. Eleanor Andrews was wrong by one day. She died the next morning.
When I received the news, my heart was filled with a selfish sadness, but not grief. The suffering of her worn out body had ended. Her long battle was over. I recalled the words of the Apostle Paul, “Absent from the body . . . present with the Lord.” II Corinthians 5:8 [CI5]
She was now at home with her God.
# # #
Eleanor Andrews was buried in Dry Creek Cemetery by her husband Red and sons Charlie and Keith.
Driving home, I stop at the old Dry Creek School. It’s where she attended school and later taught until the school closed.
I walk by her old fifth grade classroom. There’s nothing quieter or eerie than an empty school building. This was the site of many of her happiest moments.
I was there for her final joyful day in this building. It was her seventy-eighth birthday party She fussed at us for planning it without her permission. “No one is going to come. There won’t be a hand full of people come to see an old woman like me.”
Sunday afternoon arrived and she was wheeled into the large conference room.
People kept coming—a long line of her grandchildren, country men who’d sat in her classroom, ladies who’d first been taught by her in Bible school, and old friends with whom she’d graduated from high school in this very same building.
When the party was over, she gave me her famous stare. “Come over here.” She dropped her gravelly cigarette voice an octave. “Well, I guess I can forgive you now for planning this.” She broke into a huge smile. “Today was one of the finest days of my life.”
I walk out of the Old School sad and glad.
Sad at how we’ll miss her in Dry Creek.
Glad our paths crossed on this journey called life.
I roll down my truck window to let the cool March air in. As I cross Mill Bayou, I notice the honeysuckle blooms are gone for another year.
But deep down in my soul, I believed I could still smell the sweet and wonderful fragrance of honeysuckle.
I wonder if there’s wild honeysuckle in heaven.
I sure hope so.
The honeysuckle, or wild azalea as it’s often called, is actually a small brush-like tree. It is found naturally along small streams and creeks. Other than its few weeks of glory in the spring, it is unnoticed and unremarkable.
However, when it blooms, it outshines every plant in the swamp.
Another thing that makes it special is its rarity. You have to get off the beaten path to find honeysuckle.
The fragrance of its pale pink blossoms is hard to describe. The “honey” in honeysuckle is the best way I know to describe it. It has a sweet smell that is pleasant to the nose and once sniffed, never forgotten.
Many times I’ve been in the woods after a March rain and smelled honeysuckle long before I was near enough to see the bushes.
2013 will be my first spring away from the aroma of wild honeysuckle.
I don’t believe they’re found in eastern Africa.
For the next several years, DeDe and I will be serving among the wonderful folks of a continent I’m come to love. Africa.
It’s bittersweet leaving our beloved Louisiana piney woods. It’s the only home I’ve ever known. Well-meaning friends ask, “Why?”
Our answer is simple. This is what we strongly feel God leading us to do at this stage of our journey. It’s the right season and the right reason for us.
We’re excited about the next part of our journey and the stories and growth that will result.
We’re sad to leave behind our families, friends, and especially grandchildren, but plan on taking all of these memories with us. August Strindberg said it so well, “No matter how far we travel, the memories will follow in the baggage car.” Hop on board with us as well continue our journey. You can follow us at http://www.creekbank.net as well as our social media pages.
Most of all, we covet your prayer.
Thanks for joining us for a good helping of Christmas jelly.
Writing for a reason,
Dry Creek, Louisiana