I can still vividly remember walking to class across LSU's campus in late August cursing the heat as sweat built up between my shirt and my backpack. I couldn't wait to move some place cool and dry. I thought I'd avoid Louisiana summers for the rest of my life if I could.
I recently returned home to Louisiana in June for my dear friend Carrie's wedding and to spend time with my family and grandparents. During my visit I came to the realization that I actually missed Louisiana summer. Sometimes it takes moving away to figure out all of the little things you love that you've spent most of your life taking for granted.
This was a particularly special trip home because I had Joe joining me in New Orleans for the second time. Seeing my home through a "foreigner's" eyes only further emphasized the magic that is uniquely Louisiana and had my heart swelling with love for the place I will always call home.
Watching the clouds roll in
Sure, it rains here in New Zealand, but nothing compares to sitting on the front porch swing, watching afternoon storm clouds roll in and feeling a sudden change in temperature as heavy rain drops come pouring down. You're almost always guaranteed a lightening show accompanied with loud claps of thunder over Lake Ponchatrain, and if you're lucky, you may even spot a water spout (a small tornado over water).
The rain passes as soon as it arrives. Steam rises up off the asphalt and the smell of rain, freshly cut grass and hot asphalt fill the air. I realize I've never found that scent anywhere else I've lived. From afternoon and into the night I hear the rain frogs hidden in the puddles singing 'raaaaiiiiinnnn' and I know I am home.
Bring the heat
After nearly five years without air conditioning in San Diego and New Zealand, I always feel the need to bundle up indoors when I'm in Louisiana, where the air conditioning is always blasting. When I walk outside I brace myself for the wave of hot steam that greets me at the door and fogs up my sunglasses.
I used to despise being outside in the summer, but on this trip I just couldn't get enough of it. (Maybe it's the fact that I'm in the midst of my first Wellington winter). Every day we find time to sit on the porch talking and waving to people walking along the lakefront, or napping on the swing in the afternoon when it's cool. Even when we're doing nothing, it feels like something.
Each day we head out for what has become more of a food tour than a vacation. Our schedules revolve around restaurants and social gatherings. So many things for Joe to try and so little time!
We managed to squeeze in a visit to Port O Call, Mother's, Lüke and Drago's. You won't find an organic leafy green salad on the menu here, but to hell with it! No where else in the world does Chargrilled Oysters like Drago's. I love watching the cooks literally shovel (with large shovels) butter and seasoned breadcrumbs over the oysters on the open flame.
It's also fun to discover the great new restaurants that have popped up while I've been away, like Liz's Where Y'at Diner in Old Mandeville (kitschy 'NOLA' diner and burger joint) and The Shiver Shack on The Mandeville Lake Front (Ah-MAZING Tenessee BBQ).
Louisiana people have so much pride in their state. Everyone's got a favorite place or must-do for us to try before we leave...
"Y'all gotta try Mother's. They got the world's best baked ham."
"Oh, have you had a Monsoon yet? You've gotta get one if you go to Port O Call. It'll knock you on your ass!"
"Did y'all bring marshmallows to feed the gators? Gators love marshmallows!"
Sharing is caring
Almost every time I go home to visit my parents, one of their friends shows up on the front porch over the course of the week with some kind of free food to share - freshly caught shrimp, red fish on the half shell, veggies from the garden — sharing is caring!
And my parents are always sending someone home with tomatoes from the garden, packs of home-grown spices or homemade pickled okra. It's one of those social aspects of life that you really only get when you've been living somewhere for a while in a place where everybody knows everybody.
Down on the bayou
During this trip, I really wanted to show Joe more of my roots, which meant spending time with my grandparents! Each time I am with them I hear new stories — and some I've heard before ;-) — about their pasts, learn bits of history about our family and discover new things about myself.
While in Luling, where my dad was raised and his parents still live, we tooled around town seeing bits of my dad's childhood, as well as some authentic Louisiana scenery. My uncle took us for a little swamp tour on his boat where we spotted an alligator!
Afterwards we visited my grandparents' house, which is basically like a museum.
My grandfather saves/collects everything - every award, bumper sticker, keychain and cap he's ever been given, and his woodshed is truly a sight to behold.
So many of my favorite childhood memories take place with my grandparents — listening to ghost stories on the porch swing with my cousins at their camp in Mississippi or playing with our new toys in the drive way on Christmas morning. I'm so glad I was able to share those memories with Joe.
Before we headed back to New Zealand, there was just one more 'southern' experience I wanted Joe to have — it's time to get bushwacked at the FloraBama!
The FloraBama is 3-story bar situated on the coast of Orange Beach and also sits on the Alabama/Florida state line. (And my dear friend Kate just so happens to have a condo next door to the bar, so it was essential that we work a beach weekend into the vacation.) Florabama serves up the most delightful drink, a bushwacker, which is like a mud slide daiquiri made with coconut cream, Kahlua, Bacardi Black Rum, dark creme de cacao and milk.
It's a great place to dance to live music, enjoy bushwackers all night with your toes in the sand, watch Bachelorette Parties and 'cougars' alike get wild and of course take your photo in one of those face-in-a-hole booths.
A weekend at Orange Beach is the perfect way to relax and recharge with friends before returning to New Zealand on our 24+ hour journey.
My trip home has left me with a renewed appreciation for my roots and all things uniquely Louisiana. I still can't put my finger on why this trip felt so much more special than the one's before. Maybe it's just because I had everyone I love in one place.