Thirty-five or so years ago, our teenaged daughter — a garland of paper flowers in her hair — danced with her friends in the crowds at Jazz Fest, and a newspaper photographer snapped one of the shots that ran the next day in The States-Item.
“Why, you’ve gotten a picture of little Bettye Anding,” said the editor who was processing it for print as a copy was taken back to me.
Jill danced again at Jazz Fest last weekend, this time with Texas cousins in for the occasion for the first time ever. She and her husband and son guided them around the Fairgrounds on a journey that served as both a celebration and a connection.
I’ve told you before that I come from a tiny town in east Texas, a place that was home to great-grandparents and some of their own forebears on both sides of my family, and a place I still regard as home despite many years of absence. That’s not just because I can still see our old house there, some of the creeks I waded through, many of the trees I climbed, and the road often traveled to buy the ice cream cone that Mother allowed after the afternoon nap.
Home is home because of the people who once lived there, and those who still do — the grandmamas and daddies and aunts and uncles and cousins who were the most important people in my world when I was small.
Native New Orleanians know what I mean. The clock at Holmeses on Canal Street, the neighborhood KBs, Pelican Stadium and the like are important memories, but it was the family that was there with them that was special.
My children were born in New Orleans and grew up here without the extended family connections that I knew, but frequent trips to my home fed their understanding of kinship. The youngsters whom I call my “little cousins,” offspring of my first cousins, were their companions during our earlier visits and later into adulthood. But when the oldest of my dearly loved first cousins died last year, that bond could have become fragile, something her daughter — one of our Jazz Fest visitors last weekend — understands.
When she and her husband and another cousin took off for Texas Monday morning, she told me how much she had enjoyed having Jill and her husband as houseguests during a birthday party there in February. The two couples had begun to create a new bond then, and it was strengthened here last weekend. That was important to her, she told me, and I was happy to hear it. A connection with this couple and the 35 or so “little,” “littler” and “littlest” cousins can give our daughter the extended family that I’ve so cherished.
You can’t go home again, wrote novelist Thomas Wolfe. Some of us can prove him wrong
Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in, wrote Robert Frost. And many of us can prove him right. I’ve done that every time a hurricane has headed for New Orleans.