Monday, August 22, 2011

Goodbye, Gretchen

The other day, I asked my mom whether she'd spoken to Gretchen, lately. Gretchen  Cruthirds was one of my mom's elementary school teachers in DeRidder, and a close buddy of Brother, my great uncle. The two of them used to call one another every morning to make sure the other one was okay. Brother died years ago, but Gretchen, who seemed much frailer, kept plugging along despite many health problems. My mother sent her candy at Christmas and called her occasionally.

Paul and I went down to Louisiana about six or seven years ago and stayed with her for a night. She offered to give us a tour around town--no small feat since she wasn't too spry and could barely see. No problem, though, as it turned out. She sat in the front seat and told us at what light to turn and described, from memory, and in detail, what stood or had stood on every inch of every block in DeRidder.

She'd lived in DeRidder most of her life--in fact she'd been born in the house we visited her in on Christmas Day. Her parents put a bow on her and placed her under the tree as a present for her older brother. She  had the place pretty well memorized. It was amazing to me--the idea of living that long in one place, of knowing it so well. I thought, for the eighteen thousandth time, about how rare it is for people in our country to stay in one place throughout their lifetime.

That night, we went out to dinner at a local restaurant that featured a southern buffet (which I'd love to be partaking of right now). The next day, Gretchen looked at Paul and said, "They've been talking about this big and tasty burger..." I don't know if "they" were friends of hers or ads she'd heard, but she was referring to a new burger at McDonald's. She wanted to go try one out, so we all went and she took us to lunch. (She wasn't all that impressed by the burger, as it turned out.) If the burger wasn't memorable, however, the line was. For some reason, both Paul and I occasionally pop up with that line. "They've been talking about this big and tasty burger..."

Other notable moments during our stay with Gretchen: Her recoil when we offered her boudin (I thought all Louisianans lived on the stuff, but she despised it); and a story she told us about her father being operated upon by the famous heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey in Lake Charles. Turns out DeBakey was born in Lake Charles. Gretchen's father didn't have heart disease--in fact I think it was some sort of G.I. problem. Maybe it was before DeBakey specialized. At any rate, Debakey had a reputation for being a fast and efficient surgeon even then.

When we left, Gretchen told me to have my mom come down soon--something she often said to my mom on the phone, as well. When I asked my mother about her just recently, she said she hadn't talked to her recently. "I don't even know if she's alive," she said, a little fretfully. When Gretchen's name came up, there was always a little frisson of worry....she was so frail, how did she keep going, was she still alive?

This time, I had my blackberry in my hand and typed her name into Google. Unfortunately, her obituary popped right up. She'd died only a week earlier.

I didn't know Gretchen well, but I was very fond of her--not only because I thought she was smart, kind, lovely, and tough in that genteel southern woman kind of way, but because she had been such a good friend to Brother. I will miss knowing she's down there, puttering around in the house she was born in in the same way I miss knowing that Brother is down there in the house he built, anchoring me to a place to which I am so perplexingly connected.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I'm very excited about the new HBO series, Treme, which follows several struggling residents of post-Katrina New Orleans. It premieres on Sunday, April 11th.

Louisiana rife with crime

Read it and weep: Louisiana ranks #3 in the nation in crime, according to a new article in CQ Press. Some of this might be due to the fact that New Orleans is so notoriously crime ridden...witness this report from Easter weekend (15 shot, two dead, over a single weekend). Makes me think all of us gorging ourselves on beignets and iced coffee at Cafe du Monde have no idea what's really going on behind the scenes. But is it all New Orleans?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


During a moment of idle Googling at Starbucks, I stumbled upon an article by a researcher on the psychology of place. I emailed him and asked him to send me a pdf of the article, which appeared in a publication called The Journal of Environmental Psychology...which turned out to be a revalation. Not only was the article interesting, but it gave me the name for the discipline I've been looking for--environmental psychology--for people who study the sense of attachment and identity we get from place. Environmental Psychology. Aha!

Here, below, is a snippet of what I've been reading today, on yet another working afternoon at Starbucks...I'm especially intrigued by the notion that place-identity can change throughout your life--though of course this makes sense, too.

Aspects of identity linked to place can be described as "place-identity." The term has been in use since the late 1970s (Proshansky, 1978), and is here, as originally, typed with a hyphen. Place-identity has been described as the individual's incorporation of place into the larger concept of self (Proshansky, Fabian & Kaminoff, 1983), defined as a "potpourri of memories, conceptions, interpretations, ideas, and related feelings about specific physical settings, as well as types of settings" (1983, p. 60). Place attachment is considered a part of place-identity, but place-identity is more than attachment. Place-identity is a substructure of self-identity, much like gender and social class, and is comprised of perceptions and comprehensions regarding the environment. These perceptions and conceptions can be organized into two types of clusters; one type consists of memories, thoughts, values and settings, and the second type consists of the relationship among different settings (home, school, and neighborhood; Proshansky & Fabian, 1987).

Identity develops as children learn to differentiate themselves from people around them, and in the same way, place-identity develops as a child learns to see her or himself as distinct from, but related to, the physical environment. Among the first identity determinants are those rooted in the child's experience with toys, clothes and rooms. The home is the environment of primary importance, followed by the neighborhood and the school. Here, social and environmental skills and relationships are learned, and the "lenses" are formed through which the child later will recognize, evaluate and create places. Place-identity changes occur throughout a person's lifetime (Proshansky & Fabian, 1987). Five central functions of place-identity have been depicted; recognition, meaning, expressive-requirement, mediating change, and anxiety and defense function. Place-identity becomes a cognitive "database" against which every physical setting is experienced (Proshansky et al., 1983).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Love Louisiana? (Me too!) Love the blues? Check this out...

It's a blog documenting the efforts of audio documentarian Richard Ziglar and reporter Barry Yeoman, a native Louisianan to chronicle their "...research and travels as we produce the one-hour radio documentary Still Singing the Blues." The actual documentary, they say, is scheduled to air in the spring of 2010.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

And here's the menu at Johnson's Boucaniere!

Check out the menu at Johnson's Boucaniere here. Check out Johnson's Facebook page here.

Johnson's Grocery--Open Again!

Some of you may remember that I wrote about a place called Johnson's Grocery--home of the best boudin I've ever tasted, and one of the nicest cowboy hat wearing guys I've ever met--awhile back. You might also remember that it was unclear whether Johnson's was going to stay open. I was really sad to hear that it wasn't...but good news just arrived in the form of a note from Rhett Johnson, of the Johnson clan, informing that they'd re-opened in Lafayette as Johnson's Boucaniere (Cajun French for smokehouse). "We R proud to say that we have won the award for best boudin in the area," writes Rhett. And they ship! More on that when I get more information. Sadly we were just in Lafayette in September and had NO idea. We made do with Poche's boudin, but....Wish I had another trip to Lafayette planned soon. Meanwhile, here's one review, if you find yourself in the area.