Friday, July 8, 2011

Friendly Ghosts

Virtually every day in New Orleans, I've been wearing a hat that belonged to my grandmother. I only had space to bring one hat, and that was the one that I wore (and am wearing) on my head. It's handmade from palmfronds, and it was just one of a big collection that she had hanging along the wall at our cabin. She'd occasionally take one down and plop it on her head before yanking me on down the dirt road for a drunken stroll. She was that kind of a gal. Before I got here, I got to saying that I was going to bring this hat, because I thought it deserved to live in New Orleans since my grandma didn't.

This hat has become something of a friend of mine down here-- it's such a conversation piece-- I must field 15 compliments about it a day. I've had people offer to buy it, and ask me to give it to them, but mostly they just tell me how nice it is. I've heard multiple stories about how there's a guy who comes down here on occasion from Hawaii and makes these hats. Through this story it has become probable to me that my grandma got this hat in Hawaii when she and my grandpa traveled there in the '70's. That was a pretty big trip for her-- my grandma was a 1950's housewife and so her fate was to spend her entire youth raising children and tending to housekeeping and cooking. She was also a restless soul like me, and was never quite happy with "good enough."  She was a voracious reader, she relished the great pleasures in life like wine and rare red meat, and she always dreamed of taking a grand train trip before she died.

Last night, I dreamed that I was speaking face to face to my grandmother. I asked her about the pedigree of this hat, and if in fact she got it in Hawaii. And then this morning, just as I was standing in the mirror placing this hat on my head, Scott Joplin's ragtime piano came on the radio. Scott Joplin was my grandma's most favorite music. It brought her so much joy-- she'd stand in the dining room, spinning records, with her drink in her hand and her head tilted back in tinkling laughter, teaching me how to clap out rhythms. This is my most enduring memory of my grandmother.

I think my grandma would be proud of me today-- for taking this chance and having this adventure. I think that if she had had the opportunity, she would have done something like this. She had a great big pair of balls, and if she had been able to, she would have made the most of it.

I've been here a month, and I'm done feeling bad. From here on out, I'm going to make the most of this. If for no other reason than for my grandma.

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