Monday, February 2, 2009

Random Photo Meme (Mardi Gras with My Aunt Lou)

Nan, at "All the Good Names Were Taken" has tagged me with a "Random Photo Meme." Here are the rules:

1. Go to the 4th folder in your computer where you store your pictures.

2. Pick the 4th picture in that folder.

3. Explain the picture.

4. Tag 4 people to do the same.

This is a photo of one of the floats in one of the many Mardi Gras parades I attended during my 2007 visit to New Orleans -- my very first Mardi Gras:

It might surprise you to learn that it was my very first Mardi Gras, given that my Aunt Louisiana ("Aunt Lou") (not her real name) has lived in New Orleans for my entire life. She lives on the second floor of one of those huge old three story houses that has been converted to three condominiums (each with two to three bedrooms and two bathrooms -- I mean, seriously, those old houses initially were far bigger than anyone really needed!) about two blocks from the main parade route down St. Charles Avenue. She has attended just about every Mardi Gras parade along that parade route every year for well over 40 years.

My cousin lives downstairs in the same converted house / condominium. (He bought it after he graduated from college, when the folks downstairs conveniently sold it). He and his wife and kids, along with various friends and their families who descend upon them every year, also have attended every parade along that route every year, for as long as they can remember. Most years they even ride a float in one or more of the parades, handing out beads and trinkets and cups and stuffed animals ("throws") along the way.

My Aunt Lou has been begging /nagging me to come visit her in New Orleans for Mardi Gras since I was a first-year college student. So why did I never go before February 2007? Why didn't I go when I was a young and wild college student? That's crazy, right?

Well, when I was in college, Mardi Gras was always a week or two before mid-term exams, or occasionally right in the middle of them, so I never felt that I could miss that week of school. Plus, I have to say I wasn't entirely sure it was a good plan to visit my Dad's sister for a week of drunken revelry -- I was a little afraid of what stories might be told at family events after that. Although I have to say, looking back, that was silly. My Aunt Lou is not one to tell gossipy tales - she enjoys her Mardi Gras visitors too much and she wants them to feel comfortable coming back, so I've never, in all the years I've known her, heard a bad word said about any of her Mardi Gras visitors. She is, instead, always the gracious hostess, welcoming and kind, and later telling flattering tales of the beautiful coat guest x had, and the wonderful conversations she had with guest y, and the awesome dinner she and guest z enjoyed, and how much fun they all had at the parades. Face it, I'm a nut job for not going to Mardi Gras much sooner.

But I never went during college, and after I moved to Arizona, it just seemed like a mighty long way to go for a parade, so the years went by and I just didn't go.

But my Aunt Lou is not to be disobeyed or ignored. When she wants something, she eventually makes it happen. In this case, she really went to extreme measures to get me to come to Mardi Gras.

Ok, I'm not really that self-centered. The thing that happened was not really about me at all, but she and I like to pretend it was, because it makes it more tolerable somehow.

First, a little background. My Aunt Lou used to smoke cigarettes. She smoked for about 20 years. Then, about 20 years ago, she got lung cancer and had to have a lung removed. Her husband (my uncle) was extremely supportive and really helped her out with the chemo treatments and adjusting to only having one lung, and with quitting smoking. He had smoked for years, as well, so they both quit smoking. Sadly, he eventually died of emphysema.

After the surgery and chemo, my Aunt Lou's lung cancer went into remission. She never smoked again, and she faithfully got her screening x-rays for the next 18 or so years, and they always told her everything looked fine.

Then, in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans. My Aunt Lou left her beloved New Orleans ahead of the storm, along with the rest of the folks who had enough common sense and enough money to get the heck out of there. She went to Houston and stayed with some relatives, for what she initially thought would be a few days or a week.

But after the storm, New Orleans was a flooded, destroyed mess, and it took months for things to get cleaned up enough that people could return to their homes. My Aunt Lou had to stay with the relatives in Houston for over three months. By the time she was allowed to return to her home, it was January 2006.

My Aunt Lou lives near the Garden District, one of the few places in New Orleans that isn't below sea level, so her home was not flooded. Nor was it blown away or severely damaged by the storm. She was one of the lucky ones in that regard. Nevertheless, she spent several months dealing with assessing and repairing the water and storm damage to the house and replacing appliances. The stove, washer, dryer, toaster, televisions, and just about anything else in the house that had been plugged in had all been ruined -- blown out by the electrical surge that occurred when the New Orleans power company restored power after a couple of months. She wisely declined to open the refrigerator because all the food had been in there rotting for over three months while the power was out. She simply hired some folks to haul it to the dump and bought a new one. And of course, there was Mardi Gras in 2006, too. That couldn't be ignored either, now could it? It would be an understatement to say that she had her hands full.

Hurrican Katrina had destroyed New Orleans just a couple of weeks before Aunt Lou's usual yearly screening x-ray in 2005. By the time she had returned to town and resolved all of the house issues, it was mid-2006, so she figured she would just wait until the next scheduled x-ray in September 2006. After all, the x-rays had been "clean" for 18 or so years, so she figured she was safe.

She wasn't.

When she went for her screening x-ray that fall, they found a lump. One that had "grown a lot since the last time."

"What do you mean 'since the last time'?" she asked.

"Oh, there was a very tiny sort of a spot when you were in two years ago, that we figured we should just watch to see if it was a lump, or nothing at all."

No one had mentioned this "spot" to her before. The lung cancer had returned.

So, my Aunt Lou had to have half of her remaining lung removed, and undergo months of chemotherapy again. Only this time, her faithful, wonderful, and supportive husband was no longer alive to assist her.

She rallied. She called in all her closest friends and family members to assist her by taking turns staying with her during each round of chemotherapy, which really leaves a person weak and helpless for a few days to a week. My cousin and his wife of course helped tremendously and often during the entire course of her treatment, but she felt it would be unfair to dump all of the burden on them just because they live downstairs, so she very graciously asked the rest of the family to chip in where they could. I volunteered to assist for one of the chemo sessions and flew to New Orleans in February 2007. The idea was that I would drive her to and from the chemo appointment, and then would stick around for a week or so afterwards to assist with anything at all that she might need -- shopping, cooking, cleaning, bringing her food or water, even helping her to and from the bathroom if necessary.

But when we went to the pre-chemo screening appointment, there was a minor problem and her doctor said she must wait a couple of weeks before she could undergo that round of chemo. So, instead of needing to play Florence Nightingale, I got to play with my Aunt Lou and my cousin and his family. We had a blast.

My Aunt Lou took me to see some sights in New Orleans. She showed me the areas where the rebuilding was coming along nicely, and we drove through some areas that were still devastated. We wandered through the French Market and had coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde. We walked over to Jackson Square and visited the St. Louis Cathedral. We dined at an obscure sandwich shop that served the best "Po' Boy" I've ever had. We visited friends and relatives in town. We shopped and chatted and rented movies and had a grand old time. I've always loved my Aunt Lou. She is kind, thoughtful, smart, beautiful, and has a good sense of humor. I really enjoyed spending that time with her.

And in the afternoons and evenings, she required me to attend every single Mardi Gras Parade every day, for the entire week. She encouraged/required me to buy a Margarita from the booth at the end of her street (where her street intersects with the parade route). In her words, "They are huge, delicious, and it's a fundraiser for my Grandkids' school." Only in New Orleans at Mardi Gras will you find a Catholic school selling Margaritas to raise money.... and Aunt Lou was right, they were huge and delicious, and only $5. What a deal!

The whole experience was extremely fun from a drunken reveler perspective, and quite an interesting experience from a people-watching and cultural anthropology sort of perspective. I will be forever grateful that my Aunt Lou required me to visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras, even though I wish she hadn't taken such extreme measures to accomplish that particular goal. Really, we all would have been much happier without the lung cancer.

I'll tell you more about the parades and the culture that has sprung up around them another time; it really was quite fascinating. But this post is getting too long already, and I have yet to complete my required tagging.

I will tell you, before I tag, that my Aunt Lou completed her course of chemo and it appears that the lung cancer has been beaten into submission, or at least remission, once again. And it is truly amazing how well the human body adapts. She won't be running any marathons, and she gets a bit winded going up stairs, but she is managing reasonably well even with only half of one lung remaining in her body. And I am quite sure that, even if hell and high water comes to New Orleans again, she will never miss another scheduled screening x-ray.

I tag:

1. Candy, at Candy's Daily Dandy
2. Kim Ayres, at Ramblings of the Bearded One
3. Michelle H., at The Surly Writer
4. Moe Berg, at Simon Metz

Looking forward to your photos and stories.


Bella@That damn expat said...

A great story, as always.

I've never been to Mardi Gras. Like you, I always planned on going but never got around to it.
Now I feel I'd be saddened with the way the city looks.

Michelle H. said...

A very nice story about Mardi Gras! I will get on that meme as soon as I have a free moment!

Nan said...

Great story.

Dave said...

What a story, and what a wonderful gift you have at sharing this story with us.
and thanks!


Alice said...

Love the post

Angie said...

I've never been to Mardi Gras, but I *loved* New Orleans, pre hurricane. I haven't been able to get down there since, but I hope to go soon.

Your aunt is a truly inspiring woman. Incredible.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Legal-what a great story!! I love you Aunt Lou! She is an inspiration!, beating lung cancer not 1 but 2 times! She sounds like one hell of a gal and I enjoyed this post!

Thank you so much for the tag!! This looks like a lot of fun and I will definitely work it in some day this week!

Fancy Schmancy said...

Wow, that was amazing! Good for your Aunt, how very remarkable!