Miss Louisa, a retired professor, dropped by on her daily walk down the lane. She is frail but I bet'cha she will out last the more robust of us.

"Belle, is that a new pot of mint growing here by your back door? " she asked.

"Shure is, Louisa...puttin' some in my taboule right now," I said.

"That is one of your Lebanese dishes, is not?"

"Thas' right. Today is a day of fast and abstinence, so taboule is one the menu," I replied.

"A day of fasting, my dear?"

" Why yes, Ash Wednesday, no meat today" I looked at her, puzzled that she had forgotten.

" Well, I declare, I had not remembered. Do people still observe Ash Wednesday? Oh, I see...I suppose that is the smudge on your forehead, ashes?"

"Of course folks still observe Ash Wednesday--same day it has been fer'ever...the day after Mardi Gras," I smiled slyly.

"Mardi Gras?
But, with New Orleans rather out of sorts, is there still a Mardi Gras?"

Now ain't that an odd question, I thought ter myself.
"Well," I said patiently to a professor who ought to have knowed better, "Mardi Gras ain't akshully about N'awlins, though the city made it sorta famous, I reckon. No, Mardi Gras--means Fat Tuesday in French--is the pig out day before Lent begins. Folks eat rich food and gorge a bit, an' mayhap they party a wee mite more'n they oughta since Lent means days of fast and abstinence, and simple livin'.

Miss Louisa looked aghast. "Do people do that still? How punitive!"

I tried to hide mah smile, "Why shure they do 'that' still. An' of course it is 'punitive' cause that is the whole idea--it is a penitential season. Doan look so surprised--looky, folks is always fastin' and abstainin' fer they own causes--to git skinny as linguine. So, why not fast fer Lent?"

"But why the ashes? You look dirty, you know."

"Louisa, I knows youse raised a Christian woman an' you must know the words: Man, thou art dust and to dust thy shalt return."

She looked out the doorway..."I recall--vaguely. I suppose I am just past smearing dirt on my head, Belle."

I was choppin' parsley and mint on the cuttin' board. "Ashes--not dirt," I said, "the ashes are from the palms of last years' Palm Sunday--we burn the leftover palms, bless the ashes and use them on Ash Wednesday. "

"Belle, my dear, I mean no disrespect, but why? Really, what is the point?"

She were lookin' out the door still, and I was quiet. Finally she turned to see why I was silent.

"Because I ain't been so good this year, thas' why, Louisa. Some days I try hard, thas' so...but many days I doan. Truth is some days my heart jes' ain't soft, but stony and proud. I ain't loved my neighbor as I ought, ain't always been kind when kindness were called fer...and I is guilty of smugness here and there...why I even entertained a few hateful thoughts toward Uncle when he set his dern jaw, stubborn as a baboon.

"I'se wearin' these ashes for the times I did the least I could git away with when I shoulda and coulda done a heap more. Fer the days I'se mewlin' around thinkin' about what I did not have when I have such a wealth of love and light and laughter that I need ter count my blessin's, but was blind to 'em. These ashes keep me from flights of fancy about my own worthiness.

"Why Lent is a time we'uns is called away from our self-absorption, excesses, and petty complaints about each 0ther. We'uns is called out of our dark lairs, out of our comfort zones, out of the moldy corners where we hide what we don't want to admit about ourselves--Ya' could say Lent is a house cleanin'! We are called in from the cold, off the moor, out of alienation, away from the precipice.....invited to come sit by warmth and light of the hearth, be kind to our neighbor, do good to our crotchety boss, forgive our mother-in-law, encourage the fainthearted, console the grieving....see how we can be good and useful to those around us.

"These ashes remind me that I did not make myself. Know what I heard right before I got these ashes? Listen now, Louisa, how true these words is:

"Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Louisa turned her head again, lookin' back out the open door, over the trees beyond. She stood still, jes' lookin'. I worried I had sounded real preachy. (Ya'll knows how Aunty Belle is!)

After a minute she stooped over and picked a sprig of mint. I could smell its fresh clean fragrance. She put the herb ter her nose and smiled as if rememberin' ....then she said,

" We rubbed our Easter Lamb with mint and pepper. I used to give up chocolates for Lent when I was a girl. Easter Morning the smell of chocolate bunnies was intoxicating!

"Well..." she mused, "do people still give up something for Lent, Belle?"

I laughed, "Why, yes, some do. But others try to do something positive, like visit the nursin' homes or serve food to the homeless down at Daily Bread."

She looked back at me, "What have you given up for Lent, Belle? Something more difficult that chocolate, I hope?"

I glanced across the kitchen at the computer. A lump formed in my throat an' I almost choked. Forty days!! Groan.....

"I'se givin' up bloggin' fer Lent, Louisa, an' it is shure is harder to let go of than chocolate."

Pssst!! Not blogging? What about reading blogs, huh? Huh?


Malinda777 said...

Aunty Belle, you write some good stories, and bring back some good and some bittersweet memories.

Ya don't know... but I lived in Bay St. Louis for 4 yrs...was re-directed that way when gaming opened, and they fetched me from Reno for managerial experience.

I was raised a Christian, but Southern Baptists as dear as they are to me...(and we had Catholics in TX too...even more in Reno) never celebrated their beliefs like the Cajun Catholics did. We never had no umbrellas, or Jumbalaya, or Dirty Rice, or Napkins flying in the breeze on a dance... Naw...

Naw'Orleans taught me a thing or two about life. Mardi Gras is a thing to experience. But it's more than a parade, it's more than a tit or two flying. It's the whole concept...and a quite logical one at that.

Party your ass off for three weeks, then give a few weeks to the Lord for Lint. Seems like a small gift back for what the Lord has done for us all.

I remember the ashes. I remember the sentiment. I remember "getting it". I miss it all. I am sorry that somehow most of what I loved in that area is blown away by Miss Katrina.

Happy Mardi Gras to you Miss Aunty Belle... I have quite a collection of fancy beads (never showed a tit one to get 'em)... I live in Reno and get taunted and teased a bit each year when I wear them like I did today on Fat Tuesday. I have even raised a few eyebrows by bringing in a King Cake and having someone just be in bewilderment that I would endanger their health by placing a gold baby in a piece of not-so normal food.

I miss the Deep South... Wave a napkin and twirl an umbrella for me girlfriend. Try to be good for Lint... Damn...weeks are a long time :)

Gnomeself Be True said...

Ash Wednesday...so many years since I've felt the meaning of it all.
If I could still feel in church, the beauty of the sentiment you expressed here, I wouldn't be an "ex-"Catholic.
On the other hand, NOTHING could get me to move back to Louisiana.

..................... said...

shocked inhalation of breath.....
gasping for air here......
what! giving up blogging for lent?
aunty belle, youse a brave, stalwart woman. my hat off to you!

in germany where i grew up the tuesday before ash wednesday was called Fastnacht (fast night). as children we dressed up in costumes and went to little parties. grown ups also celebrated. some cities and towns have elaborate parades. now this didn't happen all over Germany. Northern Germany is predominantly protestant...they did not celebrate fastnacht. my region was a nice mix of protestants (i'm protestant) and catholics ... we celebrated. as a matter of fact ash wednesday is a proper holiday with children out from school and no store open whatsoever. i still think it is that way.

Bird said...

i understand lent. i understand the intent -though i've always thought that instead of giving up something, doing something makes more sense (i gave up candy every lent as a little girl- now what good did that do? ) as an adult, later in life, instead i gave up NOT DOING - as you mention in your post - made a intent to help others in a more concentrated, purposeful way.

i love the ritual and the metaphor of lent - and i'm not a practicing catholic - and i don't believe jesus is the son of god but i like the idea of it - the good intent underneath the myth.

but why give up blogging? i'm having a hard time seeing how that connects with lent, with pentinence, with realizing the glory of god and the story of his sacrifice for us.

regardless, i wish you well during the lenten season.

sparringK9 said...


remember you are dust! liberating isnt it?? malinda 777...bay st louis!!! i know that town. and nawlins.
giving up blogging to focus on productive work in the real. nice choice aunty. of course every ash wednesday, er..starts with a headache but by thursday im as clear as a bell. grrherhaha

when i smell mint i think of my grandmother, the back screen door of her house, and the little alley behind....

well tequila is off the lenten menu. i added on some "serious reading" and took away TV...most of it. im still finalizing my intentions aunty.

they didnt get my palm frond!


butterflygirl said...

You give up bloggin'? I need to start back up on bloggin'!!!

Unknown said...

wow. givin' up bloggin for 40 days? i admire you, AB. i am trying to give something up too ... something i like a lot ... something i like too much. pray, AB, that i have to the strength to do it ... to fight the urge ...

and i will think of you ... i like your sentiment of lent. as children we went thru the rituals ... but never have i heard such a lovely and perfect explanation of just what lenten sacrifice is all about.

well, how fitting then, that i have finally come out of my own lair of self-absorption ... to pay some real genuine heed to those around me.

don't be a stranger, AB.


Anonymous said...

Aunty Belle,
I will take mercy on you by not writing in your space of something that would make you fume while unable to respond. But I could. It is tempting.

Bird said...

ah ab, you are sincere and fulfilling your intent. i am happy for you.

i have been very busy and not posting nor commenting as much, but just thought i'd fly by and check up on you.