Popping with NOLA-Living (and Dying)
Tonight, Sun and I went out on the town. Ok, fine. We went to the main library. But it was at night! And to hear Poppy Tooker discuss her new book project, Mme. Bégué’s Recipes of Old New Orleans Creole Cookery! It was delightful. Poppy signed her book for us, inscribing it in Sun’s name while at the same time giving her this advise: “I have the perfect recipe for you in the book. Have your mother make with you the Stuffed Eggs. They are delicious and fun to make.”
We sat down in the second row (Sun wanted to be front and center) and Sun flipped through “her” cookbook as we listened to the story of Mme. Bégué. It was sinfully simple and also decadent We sat holding hands, with Sun’s head occasionally in my lap, listening and learning. And enjoying ourselves.
Then we hopped in the car for the short drive home.
“Mom, is Peanut buried in our backyard?” Sun asked out of the blue. “No, honey. She’s not,” I answered. “Well, where is she?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her the cat went away when she got sick and I really had no idea where she had died. So I lied: “She’s in Mrs. M’s yard across the street.” “Why?” she questioned, of course, because she is a five-year old. “Because,” I continued, on firmer ground with the truth, “she took to Mrs. M at the end of her life and it was there she wanted to die and be buried.” Satisfied with this line of questioning, Sun went further.
“Will we bury Beau in the backyard when he dies?” Sun asked. “Yes, honey, we will,” I promised. “Then what?” she asked. THEN. WHAT. What do I say to this question? I answered as best I could, I stalled: “Then what, what, Sun?” I asked in return to her question. “Well, then do we dig him up?” my sweet five-year old asked, stunning me in its ghastliness. “No, honey, no. We don’t then dig him up,” I answered firmly. “Why not?” she sincerely asked. “This is hard to explain. Do you remember the pumpkin you had that turned black and got smushy? (She had.) Well. It got that way because it was dead. And people and animals do the same thing. They get smushy and gross and so we don’t dig them up. Got it?” (She did).
Then she doubled down:
“Why can’t I be buried in the backyard when I die?” she asked. “Because they won’t let you. They have laws. You need to be buried in a cemetery. Like where my grandmother is, you know, Sunshine, whose name is close to yours. Remember visiting her grave?” I asked. “Yes, the small buildings,” she answered. “Yes, Sun, that’s right. We live in New Orleans, you know, and we have to bury our dead above ground in tombs and copings,” I explained to her again. She knows this fact cold now. And at last she seemed satisfied with this line of inquiry.
“So, can we pass to see if the king cake place is closed? I really want king cake.”
And it is not lost on me that my friends in Kansas and Colorado and Florida did not, and will never, have this conversation with their child. And I couldn’t be happier to be a New Orleanian.