Monthly Archives: January 2014

small gestures

On the morning of the Martin Luther King Day parade in Bay St Louis, my neighbor’s adult son was passing by on the street and I called out “Good Morning!” He seemed surprised to hear a voice and he had to look around to see who had greeted him. He waved and went on a few more steps before he turned and called out, “there’s going to be a parade today!” This, in parade happy already-gearing-up-for-Carnival Gulf Coast Mississippi.

At St Rose church, at the end of the Sunday service, a young man, well dressed, got up to share a few reflections about MLK, about his parents’ and his grandparents’ generation. He said, in effect, “It’s really hard to realize what they went through. We almost have no idea. Things are so different today.”

MLK parade day was also the first day I took a spin on Bill’s loaned bike. Like a kid again, playing, easy flat streets to navigate. As I was heading for the coast road and the trail along the beach, I went by a house and an old fellow was walking down his driveway, doing some kind of lawn chores. He spotted me and raised his arm in friendly salute.

Riding along the bike path that follows the coast road, I could see far down on the beach, a couple of kids running along the edge of the sea. Their bare feet kicked up sand and water spray. One chased the other. They hooted and hollered, lost, or found, in the moment.

In the coffee shop, a very elderly man came in by himself, was greeted as a regular, and proceeded to have his usual oatmeal. He was leaving at the same time I was. I was surprised and delighted to see that he had arrived on a very well used bicycle, a comfort bike, as they say, and he had a large wooden stick tied to the back fender. I said to him, enthusiastically, “That’s the way to get around!” He immediately apologized, said “Oh no, of course, here, get around,” as he moved over to let me pass my. It took me a moment to realize what he thought I had said.

jump start

Sunday 1/19/14

 It is so easy to have doubts about one’s writing, whether it is good enough.  It is so easy to feel fraudulent.  And then the inertia sinks in, oh so easily, leading to less energy to keep at it, less effort to market what has already been written. 

All it took the other day to jump start the needed hope was to see a picture.  I was looking at a review in the NPR arts section of their website.  It was the book cover for  “All Standing: the remarkable story of the Jeanie Johnston The Legendary Irish Famine Ship”.  A tall wooden ship with its masts and rigging, sailing as if in the evening, a storm  threatening. 

I immediately felt a renewed passion for the whole Irish migration story, and for the novel “Paddy O’Neil’s Trunk”.  The work needed to be kissed a few more times and then sent on its way, again, to see if some publisher would take a liking to it.

“Yes”, said the spirits, “don’t stop now, someone may enjoy it, someone may find it to be of value.” 

Staying hidden in the thumb drive will not do.

welcoming signs

On Sunday 1/12/14 Bill and I went out to Grammy’s Donuts. The little place, down at the end of our street, was hopping at 10 am, staffed with Asian and African American and white staff, some of the couples at the tables were also interracial. Great prices and very friendly place. When Bill went to pay, he asked if he should leave the tip at the table and the waitress asked if this was his first time there. He said his dad (as I walked up) had been there but he had not. She said “that’s your daddy?” with a warm smile. Because he was a first timer, he got a paper bag with two free donuts. (And as Bill is not a big fan of donuts, I scored them!). Bill and I talked afterward about the beauty of small businesses and how they can do little favors like that for customers.

After Bill and Bailey said adieu, I decided to drive over to the coast and enjoy the warm Sunday afternoon sunshine, 63 degrees on a very blue sky day with low humidity. The sky was reflected in the water, and for the first time in my short history here, the Gulf itself became a lovely light shade of blue.

At one point I got up from my folding chair to check out some movement in the water close to the beach. It turned out to be a small swirl of water as the changing tide rode over a small sand bar. It looked as if some fish might be churning in the shallow water and a fellow and his grandson came down to where I stood and asked if it was  redfish. We got talking. He introduced himself. He asked if I was visiting. When he heard my story, he told me about some local sights to take in, included in these were Mobile Alabama and an artsy little community outside Mobile called Fair Hope. He described a great restaurant near Pass Christian owned by one of the Cuevas family members.

We were looking out at the Gulf and my new host told me that what I thought was a barrier island, was actually a man-made reef post hurricane Katrina (piles of refuse taken out and dumped there to create a habitat for sea life). The reef is named after a local Congressman Gene Taylor, who was defeated by “one of those wing nut Tea party people”. I immediately felt all the more welcome. He described the new tea party congressman as another “empty suit”. Gene Taylor apparently lives in the Bay St Louis area, “a Democrat but very independent.”

In the full light of day you could see the moon rising in the east.  His grandson was getting a little anxious to move on. I mentioned that I was looking forward to doing some fishing but knew next to nothing about salt water fishing. He told me that he has a boat that he starts to take out in April and has a buddy who goes out more frequently and that if I were interested, he could give me a call sometime, “if nothing else you’d get a free boat ride out of it.” He pulled out his phone and asked for my number and email address. He told me where he lived and to stop by if I was in the area. He moved to Bay St Louis after retiring about two years ago. “We love it here.” He had lived for 60 some years in Hattiesburg, “100 miles up the road.” He introduced me to his grandson and then they went back up the beach to retrieve their bikes.

When I finally turned to leave, the light was somehow brighter, the sun warmer. It was still January.

From One Thing to Another


The flight attendant at the blizzard-encircled airport called out “Passenger Sullivan, Gulfport”.  He then called out the names of other folks presumably waiting there as well.  Some of my fellow travelers were going to places like Cancun.  I thought that might be a good new name: Passenger Sullivan Gulfport. As I had given myself a 90% probability of not being able to leave that day (hundreds of flights had been cancelled and I had volunteered to be bumped), when he summarily took my bag and checked it, I looked at him in surprise and asked “what do I do now?”.  He looked at me and said, “Your bag is gone, go to your gate.”    My gift to the unknown standby would remain unrequited, the world would move forward, I was leaving town as planned.

As soon as we gained altitude and broke through the clouds, the rest of the trip was all bathed in sunshine.  In the final leg of the trip, I was the aisle seat completion of a threesome, my fellow passengers being a grandmother returning home to the Gulf Coast after the holidays, and a young psychologist who was interviewing the next day for an internship at a hospital in Biloxi.  The two were talking quietly, as quietly as one does at 30,000 feet, when I recognized the name of the hospital that the psychology student mentioned.  All it took to join the conversation was to ask if I had heard the name of the hospital correctly.  Bingo.  We were an instant small group of three, as transient as transient can be, hitting it off.  Conversation drifted into clinical matters, new approaches to work with trauma, and the grandmother, a long time resident of the coast, began to talk about Katrina, and Camille before that.  The plane began to descend, the sun was now starting to set.  The plane banked and both the long time resident and myself, very short time resident, pointed out the barrier islands, the Gulf, the beaches below.  The student murmured that this would be a nice place to spend her internship year.

The long time resident had been talking about visiting property she had in Pass Christian, three months after Katrina.  She recalled driving out to the property along the coast, and seeing that there were no buildings in sight.  When she got out of the car, she realized that there were no birds in view, that there was no sound at all, other than the wind.

The sun had by now nearly set, a deep crimson on the horizon.  The long time resident was glad to be back home, the student was excited about her interviews the next day, and I was relieved to have completed the day’s journey, needing now only to get the cab for the final 30 miles along the coast road back to Bay St Louis.  We bid adieu to each other.  There was a new lightness to the evening, to the immediacy of the moment, to the possibility of connection in the most uncertain of times.

And then a flock of geese

On Tuesday 1/7/14 while waiting for a flight out of Rochester, a flock of geese flew west into strong headwinds, straight across the abandoned looking runway. They were flying at 7 miles per hour, about forty feet above the pavement. They were not wearing their usual leather helmets nor were they in any obvious radio communication.

barren runway