Something very Grand indeed presented itself to my imagination. And it would be easy to draw. The Port Arthur “Rainbow” Bridge, was just about the grandest thing I had ever seen. This bridge is something we would travel almost every summer to go to another of my uncle’s houses. Lawrence was one of Gus’s and my father’s brothers and he and his wife lived in a small town in southeast Texas just near the Louisiana border, and you had to go over the bridge to get to their town from the interstate. You could see the bridge from the side as it was approached from that highway, then you would turn south on a smaller highway and go over it to get there.
As you drive this bridge you go up a steep incline and get higher and higher, higher and higher, and yet higher into the sky. At the top is an amazing view of Sabine lake (practically a bay), ships, and boats of all sorts are on one side, and on the other, in the distance you can see Beaumont up the Neches river.
And so… I began to try and capture this wonderful structure on the butcher paper with the same excitement and gusto I felt every time we passed over it. I used pencils and pens (both black and blue ink) and red colored pencils, and with fervor I created. Time flashed past me, the creative effort took me to a cosmic place of wonder… and before I knew it Chin and Gus were coming inside from all their hot work outside.
“MON DIEU” they both exclaimed as they entered. I thought it was from the heat outside until they both descended upon me. “Did you draw this?” Gus said almost accusingly. And he and Chin seemed to be looking around for some mystery artist who had run in and done my drawing then vaporized. They looked at each other and said some stuff in French. I heard my father’s name in there.
I was still a little unsure if I had done something wrong or if they liked my drawing when Aunt Chin bent over and kissed my cheek. “I didn’t know that my Pitou original would look so spectacular t-man.”
“You like it?” I started to ask and explain “it’s the…”
“Port Arthur Bridge!!” they both interjected
I was astonished they both knew what it was… but then my mind hit on the fact that they had probably both traveled the bridge many a time as they lived closer to Uncle Lawrence than we did, and yet I was happily surprised that their recognizing it meant I drew it well enough.
“Well you said GRAND.” I added
That moment was one of those perfect ones that stick in your memory. They sat and watched me finish the picture. I didn’t usually like to be watched when I drew but I made an exception for them. Gus encouraged me to come up with an artsy way to sign my drawing at the bottom, and Chin wrote on the back in pencil who, when, why, and a title of what, and had me sign the back with my full name, which I hadn’t even really learned cursive yet, but I did something to try and look sophisticated. Then she had Gus take down the clock by the table and they taped my drawing there. I was prouder than punch has ever been. What does that saying even mean anyway?
I had a mini flashback of the prize pies on the table… but now they were in front of my drawing. Chin and I were at the Fair again with blue ribbons on her pies and my drawing, her in her red dress, and me all dressed up in a shorts suit (do little boys even have such things as shorts suits now?) and we were smiling and people were clapping at out accomplishments. Being a middle child in a family of five children it was nice to be the apple of someone’s eye for a change.
My very fantastic “day” was winding down from here though I didn’t really know it. Chin pulled out a left over ham and we made ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch.
“Do you have any potato chips?” I asked
“I surely do.” Chin answered and went to the little pantry fetching a bag. She put a handful of chips on each of our plates by our sandwiches. “Good suggestion Mon pette.”
I proceeded to do something I’ve always done with ham and cheese sandwiches. I don’t know why or where I got this idea, but I still do it today. I opened up my sandwich and layered the chips into the sandwich. This is a wonderful crunchy addition to any ham and cheese, that I highly recommend. My mom used to always pack me chips in a little plastic bag, along with ham and cheese in my lunch so I could do this and have them fresh and crunchy.
Both Chin and Gus watched me in wonder as I “chipped” my sandwich and took the first crunchy wonderful cold bite. It was then I really realized they were so interested in what I was doing. I don’t know what Gus said to Chin in French with a little giggle, but they both followed suit and added chips to their sandwich. Something no one else in my family ever even tried.
I watched as they took their first bite, excited and confident that they would see the wonder of this taste combination. And they did!
“My, My, My, mon tit-man,” Gus said half in French and English “ces’t une bonne chose (sest une bone shows)” I phrase I knew meant “this is a GOOD thing”
Ok now I was on cloud 11.5. having them appreciate and share in my ham sandwich yumm secret was all this kid could ask for to make me feel special, important, noticed, validated, all the above… Little do adults know how such simple things can give a kid a shot of confidence and self esteem that may last a lifetime.
We sat back talking and cooling off and enjoying our ham cheese and chip sandwiches, accompanied by iced tea. Then Gus turned to me and asked two questions.
“First, t-man, you want to help me rearrange da fans and turn on da air conditioning to start cooling dis house down for our company.” I got the impression they didn’t always use the AC unless it was really hot or company was there. “And second….. hows bout a nap for dis afta’noon. I knows Chin done wore your skinny little butt off already dis day.”
I had to honestly admit that both sounded great, but I looked to Aunt Chin for validation. “My man gess up b’fore the sun each day and does the garden ann more, while I sleep, then he naps in the afta’noon and gits out’a my way so’s I can cook annn sush. I thin pitou, you done a man’s day a’ work ann should nap too if you want.”
All I needed to make this an “oh so fine a day” was to rest for a bit now in cool air. Gus and I moved box fans to doorways, shut windows, turned on the AC, rearranged some furniture to make a flow through, and ended up in their bedroom with one oscillating big fan, an ottoman fan at the base of the bed, and a box fan pushing AC air through the hall to this room from the living room. This in southern Louisiana this is a dream of cool air to sooth the savage breast, or beast… whatever…
Gus laid on one side of their big bed on his back with his arms folded on his chest. I followed the same on the other side…. Ahhhhh comfort and coolness, such simple but wonderful blessings.
I was drifting when Uncle Gus said a few last minute things to me. “ Tell God, t-man, someting you are tankful for before you fall asleep. Always do dis.”
“I’m thankful I got to stay with yall today” I said
“You done have to tell me ow’loud cher, juss remember to tell God every time you be falling asleep. Is good for da soul.” Gus continued, “But to tell God ann you…I’m tankful too.. you stay wid us toiday.” Sometime after that I vaguely remember turning on my side and falling asleep in a such a peaceful way it should be bottled and sold.
Sunday Drive: Stand by Me
2 days ago