Monday, February 15, 2010


A few days ago, my son, Bob, stopped by on his way home from a trip north and found me feeling a little down. I was just arriving home from a full workday when he turned up. I was tired, and quietly kvetching about how much public attention I was attracting so late in life, and of how little confidence I was feeling in what my life may be like in another year. He laughed -- and reminded me about his grandmother and my remarkable mother, Lottie Allen Charbonnet, who held her place on the planet from 1894-1995 -- and with such gusto -- until the last few years of that life.

When my father died in his mid-nineties, we sent her off to Hawaii with my niece, Victoria, for her first time off the continent and onto (for her) "foreign" soil. She'd spent untold years care-taking and some recognition of her sacrifices was due.

Mother, at 95, still wore 3 inch heels and took public transportation to downtown Oakland for her weekly ritual of Saturday afternoon window-shopping. She lived an active social life, though limited to a degree by my Dad's late-in-life blindness. She'd never learned to drive but didn't appear to feel the loss. She took classes making awful jewelry (it was her sister, Vivian, who made the awful ceramics) at the senior center, and enjoyed times with her friends immensely.

Victoria tells the story of their evening at one of Oahu's grand hotels; a memory that popped into mind last night just before falling asleep:

They were to join other tourists at a traditional Luau but when they reached the beautiful outdoor theater site, the line was extremely long. Victoria tells of motioning Mom to a chair near the entrance then walking to the desk where she informed the host that she was with her 95 year-old grandmother and that -- considering her advanced age -- it would be really helpful if they would give some consideration to her years, and ... then she walked the long line back to Mom.

"Now Gram, they're going to move us up to the front of the line, but you need to walk very slow-ly, you hear?" And she did, dutifully. However, a bit later in the evening (as this photo shows), there was Mom up on the stage with the dancers taking hula lessons and tearing the place up with her as yet undiscovered talent as a member of the chorus line!

...and as far as I can tell, her grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen, ran her household and saw to the spring planting of her garden in St. James Parish, Louisiana, until her death in 1948 at the age of 102 ... and she'd spent her first 19 years enslaved (freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865).

Guess I'll see y'all next spring!

(Thanks for the reminder, Bob.)

... and maybe I can still get those tango lessons in, if José is still around and willing.

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