Sunday, April 25, 2010

Strength to Maintain a Garden

Vermilion Parish is in the middle of spring, and as you drive around you’ll see newly pruned trees and bushes, farmers plowing their fields, and citizens working in their gardens. It’s a time of preparing the ground and planting seeds in anticipation of a large harvest. For some, the reward will be as small as a few ceramic pots filled with Marigolds, and for others as large as fields blanketed in golden grains of rice.

It’s so easy this time of year to plant for the future because the weather and landscape are as beautiful as a postcard. The thought of our fruits of labor motivates us to spend money on potting soil and seeds, and to grab a shovel and dig. But as the days get longer and warmer, and the air gets thicker and wetter, and the insects start partying like it’s 1999, where will you get the motivation to maintain what you’ve planted? Where will you get the strength?

When I first moved back to Cow Island from New York, I became fascinated with my mom’s backyard and some property behind it. Even though I’d grown up back there, I’d forgotten about it and what it offered. I went from an apartment with a potted plant in Manhattan to an entire house with sixty acres of landscape, and a canal filled with snapping turtles and alligators.

I can see the property from the window in my room. When I sit at my writing desk, I often stare through the glass like it’s a television. Some days my mom will walk into my view to throw old fruit over the fence. Other days, my brothers and nephews will make guest appearances on horseback. Sometimes I’m blessed with a memory of my father.

My first spring back in Cow Island, I wanted to be in that picture. I wanted to plant things in the land and watch them grow like a thick enchanted forest. I was motivated by a desire to be part of something, and to build a gift for my family as a thank you for all the support they’d shown me over the years.

For three weeks, building the garden became my number one priority. I tilled soil, planted seeds and trees, hung birdhouses and ferns, installed a fountain, and built a fence out of large fallen branches and rope. I even laid down concrete blocks to create a sitting area where I hoped to be inspired to write.

The result was a colorful outdoor space that made me proud. My family even celebrated Mother’s Day there that year, and contributed to the garden by donating plants, and chipping in for a cypress swing. It was a success in my book, and a symbol for all that I could accomplish if I put my mind to it.

But then summer arrived, and the vision of my potential became blurred by the heat and insects. As I watched the garden from my bedroom window, weeds and poison ivy overtook areas of clear direct lines and mulch. My homemade fence built to create intimacy crumbled apart due to rotten wood and improperly fastened rope.

The hardest slap from reality though, was that by building the garden, I’d created an obstacle for a vital process in maintaining a yard; mowing. The fence, fountain and flowerbeds had made the area inaccessible for a riding mowing machine. So I had to go old school, and begin pushing a Snapper amidst heat, mosquitoes and failure.

I’d built too much, too soon. The result was something pretty, but not practical. Interesting, but not real. Bold, but not strong.

I hadn’t taken the time to get truly re-acquainted with Louisiana’s climate before I began the project. I had worked so hard to build this garden, but didn’t have the strength to maintain it or tear it apart. Instead, I watched it deteriorate from the safety and climate controlled temperature behind a window.

This year I’ve committed myself to cleaning up the obvious mess I made. I moved pots, and tore down flowerbeds so the area can be mowed again. I dusted off the cypress swing, pruned dead branches off of plants, and dropped a few seeds in places that won’t cause obstacles.

Although in some ways the first garden I built failed, I don’t regret the work. I enjoyed watching an idea come to life, and learned from my mistakes. I have cut back on my different growing areas so I am better able to focus on what’s important to me, and what will yield the highest harvest.

So in my opinion, the best way to maintain a garden is to learn about its landscape before you even plant it. Don’t let it scare you, or you’ll never reap the joyous rewards of watching something grow. Instead, arm yourself with knowledge and you will find the strength to build and maintain the chosen garden of your life.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Concrete Foundation of Meaux Lumber


I’ve never been very skillful with tools except for hammering nails or making funny sounds with a hand saw. So when I had to install a rail on some steps at my mom’s house, I asked my brother Joey for help. I volunteered to purchase all of the supplies in hopes that he’d take charge of the project, and all I’d have to do was hold screwdrivers and make snacks.

Unfortunately, buying the materials for a homemade handrail proved to be more challenging than I had initially thought. Aside from the many different sized pipes, I also needed screws that could be drilled into concrete.

Do those really exist? I wondered. Couldn’t we just super glue it?

The inside of most hardware stores usually intimidated me because of my lack of knowledge as well as the lack of available help. But luckily I did my shopping where customer service is one of the many values drilled into a concrete foundation.

Located at 402 East 11th Street in Kaplan, Meaux Lumber was opened over sixty years ago by the late Harry Meaux. His sons, Ronnie and Gene eventually joined the business and now his grandsons, Chuck and Boyd have a stake in the ownership.

“My grandpa helped a lot of Kaplan residents during World War II when lumber was in short supply,” said Chuck. “He developed a good reputation, so after the war, people hired him to build their houses.”

Meaux Lumber’s product line includes (but is not limited to) doors, windows, plumbing and electrical supplies, hand, gardening and power tools and cabinetry grade hard woods such as oak, maple and poplar. They are licensed residential building contractors, but also fix roofs and do minor home repairs.

“The core of our business is residential building,” says Chuck. “Although I like working in the store, I prefer working on the house projects because they’re more challenging.”

According to Chuck, the toughest part of the construction business is orchestrating the various details involved in the process. This proves to be even more difficult when uncontrollable factors such as weather play a role.

“I learned from my grandpa that the most important aspect of this business is to make sure the customer is happy at all costs,” says Chuck. “When we do a good job, our reputation will help us get another house to build. But if the customer isn’t happy, we might lose two or three.”

First cousins, Boyd and Chuck, started loading trucks and making deliveries at the family business when they were fifteen. Over time, they both left for college and to pursue other interests. But as Meaux Lumber grew, the two men returned to take more active roles.

“Anytime you have a business with family, it’s hard to separate the two,” says Boyd. Consciously knowing is the first step in keeping everything running smoothly.”

When I went to Meaux Lumber for my interview, I couldn’t help but joyfully notice the extra-wide parking spots. Although this may be a minor detail to some, I found it particularly comforting that I could open my car door all the way and didn’t have to suck in my gut to exit.

At first glance, the inside of the building was very similar to most hardware stores. Multi-colored boxes of nails and screws were neatly stacked on shelves, and paintbrushes, duct tape and various tools hung from pegs on a wall.

But a closer look revealed a product that not all stores carry. Mementos like taxidermy mounts, family pictures and old newspaper advertisements hung throughout the building. None of these were for sale, but instead represented values Harry Meaux worked hard to achieve; experience, quality, trust and family pride.

I learned this from personal experience when I purchased the supplies for my mom’s handrail from Chuck. He took the time to explain how the concrete screws worked, and told me to call if I had any problems. He probably spent fifteen minutes helping me even though my total purchase only came out to a few dollars.

Although I had to work harder than I’d initially planned, my brother, Joey and I successfully installed the handrail. I look at it daily, and am reminded of what family members can build when they work together. This is all thanks to the Meaux family, and their concrete foundation.

For more information on the products and services offered by Meaux Lumber, call 643-7465.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Strength to Climb a Mountain

Several years ago, I lived in Lausanne, Switzerland at the bottom of what the Swiss called, “a large hill”. Geologists would probably call it the same, but to a Louisiana boy like me, who got winded when walking up a flight of stairs, it was a full-fledge mountain.

Most of the businesses of the town were located at the top, where there were breath-taking views of the Alps, Lake Leman (Geneva), and Evian, France. It was a magical place, where I spent most of my days and longed to live forever.

To get to the top, my options were a ten-minute bus ride or a twenty-five minute uphill walk. For my first few weeks in Lausanne, I opted for the public transportation because it was faster and easier, and the thought of climbing the mountain without sherpas and oxygen tanks made my head hurt.

I didn’t have the strength to walk to the top of Lausanne, because I thought I’d just climbed up my own mountain in New York. I’d written a book, and planted my flag in the ground in hopes of claiming the territory known as Success. But after almost two years from the date I typed, “The End,” on my story, no publisher wanted to hear it. I felt like I was still at base camp in the land of Failure.

I was mentally and financially broke, and had severely damaged my business career by taking the time off to focus on writing. So my friend, Heather, swooped in like a super hero and took me into her Swiss home. I was there to rest, and decide if I would try to continue my climb towards my dreams, or instead find another flatter course.

So I had no interest in climbing to the new mountain to get to the center of Lausanne. Even though I missed the scenery along the way, the bus was fine for me. Walking wasn’t worth the work and sweat, when I could simply relax and be lifted to the top.

But one cold afternoon while I sat at the bus stop, I began to have a change of heart. I was obsessing about my failure as a writer, and had to move before I died creatively right there on that bench. I needed to walk, but to where? I was already at the bottom, and the only place was up.

Then I began to take note of the people passing by me on their way to the top. There were school children riding on bicycles, a mother pushing a stroller and a senior citizen rolling her wheelchair up the steep incline.

Am I that weak? I thought. Is it really better to sit here at the bottom and die rather than sweat a little to get to the top?

“No,” I said standing up. “I can do this. I have to do this.”

So I climbed. Immediately my heart and lungs began pumping like I was jogging, but my steps were only taking me about ten feet every two minutes. I continued though, to prove that I was not defeated, and was stronger than children and an old lady in a wheelchair.

But then the sky turned dark, and snow began to fall to the ground. Not pretty little flakes that children in fairytales wake up to on Christmas morning. But big hard balls of ice that pelted my face like giant spitballs shot through cannons.

I was in a blizzard, and the course of my journey became more confusing and challenging. My feet slipped with each step, and I soon lost hope in reaching the top. My new goal had become to get to the next bus stop.

But then a flash of revolving color appeared like a light at the end of a tunnel. It looked liked a giant candy cane spinning around, but when I got closer, saw that it was a barber’s pole. I was only halfway up the mountain and didn’t really need a haircut, but the thought of sitting in a nice warm room while someone snipped away my ice filled locks, seemed my only reasonable option.

So I entered the barber’s shop with a hope of being saved while the heavy storm covered the town in a blanket of snow. But I hadn’t taken more than a few steps when a new obstacle in the form of a cow-sized poodle ran out from behind a large velvet curtain and barked and growled at me.

A heavy-set man wearing a bizarre smile appeared a few seconds later. The blizzard began to seem more appealing, but before I could step away, the barber sat me down in a chair and lowered the back until my head leaned into a sink. Without any explanation, he disappeared behind the curtain for a minute. When he returned, classical music filled the air and slowly warmed my body like an electric blanket.

He washed my hair with Mozart, but cut it with Beethoven. His hands danced across my locks like those of a conductor leading an orchestra, and on staccato notes, he cut one strand at a time.

I had feared the outcome, but a look in the mirror reflected one of the best haircuts I’d ever received. Then as if on cue, the blizzard stopped and the sun shone down on beautiful Lausanne, and through the barbershop window.

I made my way to the top of the mountain that day, and enjoyed my prize of the picturesque land below me. A week later, I was rewarded again when I received an email from my agent stating that not one, but two publishers wanted to buy my book.

I haven’t climbed my own personal mountain yet, but I’ve made progress. I now know that I am meant to be a writer, and have a clearer idea of my journey. There are times when I encounter other blizzards, and am not sure if I’ll ever reach the top of where I’m heading. But at least now, I know that I am capable of getting somewhere. At least now, I have the strength to enjoy the scenery along the way.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Simplest of Sounds

Whenever I drive my mom anywhere, she searches the side of the road for aluminum cans. She’ll tell me explicit details about them, and share her thoughts on re-sale value.

“A red smashed Coke can wrapped in a paper bag!” she’ll exclaim. “Five cents and we can recycle the paper.”

I admire my mom’s instincts to want to keep Vermilion Parish clean, and her ability to spot a nickel a mile down the road. But when I’m focusing on driving or listening to the radio or trying to explain to her that I do indeed have a job, her CAN-nouncements aren’t as endearing.

“Two Dr. Peppers! That’s ten cents!”

“I was in the middle of a sentence, Mom,” I’ll say louder than needed. “Please don’t yell out can thoughts while I’m speaking.”

“I’m sorry,” she’ll say.

Then I’ll feel like the worst son in the world. Guilt punches me in the stomach, and I search for the words to apologize. But my mom speaks first.

“A twenty-ounce Arizona ice tea! Oh wait, that’s a paper cup. Why do people litter?’

Hearing my mom’s can thoughts is something I took for granted until I interviewed Lindsay Aguilar Levier, owner and Dispensing Audiologist of Louisiana Hearing Specialists, LLC. Opened in Abbeville in 2009, the business administers hearing tests and sells a variety of hearing aids, earphones and other audio devices.

“I decided to become an audiologist after working with children at The Baton Rouge Speech and Hearing Foundation,” said Levier. “It was amazing to see them communicate in a non-traditional way. Missing your child say, ‘I love you’ is heartbreaking. I wanted to help.”

Levier has a Masters of Arts with a concentration in Communication Science and Disorders from LSU. With over ten years of experience in audiology, Levier has worked for Miracle Ear, various Ear, Nose and Throat specialists, and the Louisiana School for the Deaf.

“The most challenging part of my job is trying to find a hearing aid for someone with monetary restraints,” says Levier. “It’s very disappointing when I can’t help someone feel and hear better.”

According to Levier, the best part of her job is helping people hear the simplest of sounds that they hadn’t heard in a long time. She had one customer who had forgotten the sound of a buzzing wasp.

“My most memorable experience was with a woman whose husband was dying in the nursing home,” says Levier. “When she put the hearing aid on, she broke down in tears. Her husband died a few days later, but she was so thankful that they had those few moments together.”

Levier suggests having your hearing checked once a year. She says that you should never put anything in your ear smaller than an elbow, and that the largest threat to our hearing is noise exposure.

“The biggest complaint I get is that people can hear, but they can’t understand,” says Levier. “So I find out about their day-to-day activities in order to select the best hearing device for them. I listen to them so they can hear.”

Levier attempted to give me a hearing test by use of a Video Otoscope. A monitor displayed the inside of my ear, which looked like an underwater cave filled with mountains of gold.

“That’s ear wax,” Levier said. “We can’t continue with the hearing test because it interferes with the results.”

I was extremely embarrassed of my improper ear hygiene, but Levier said that she’s seen her share of waxy lobes. She refers customers with gold in their ears to their General Practitioner or Ear, Nose and Throat physician.

Later that day when my mom and I were headed home, I thought about the man who had forgotten the simplest of sounds like a buzzing wasp. Although I wasn’t always in the mood to hear flying insects or about how many cans were in a ditch, the thought of never hearing them again scared me.

My mom had been quiet even though we’d past at least six cans. I missed her voice, and for some reason did something very strange.

“A Pepsi and a Red Bull!” I shouted. “That’s five cents.”

Although my mom’s can thoughts were distracting at times, I didn’t want to ever stop hearing them. But at that moment, the simplest of sounds was on a break.

“Good job spotting the cans,” my mom said. “But if you don’t mind, I’m trying to listen to the radio.”

For more information on the services offered by Louisiana Hearing, call 337-706-8176.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Strength to Dance in the Rain

In most intimate relationships there are daily challenges. Some are mildly inconvenient, but others collect like thick fog in the air, and eventually form into black clouds. Then one day they thunder and burst open into a full-fledge storm, all because of an incident as simple as a dirty pair of underwear left on a bathroom floor.

Many of my relationships ended over trivial issues because I was too weak to handle the stress of a significant other. Sometimes I’d burst the black clouds myself by consciously waving my Fruit of the Looms in the air before letting them fall to the ground like an ax on a chicken’s neck.

But there are those couples who open an umbrella for the storm, or mop up the excess run-off of life so their relationship can flourish. There are those who find the strength.

My brother Mike married his high school sweetheart, Tina Simon when they were both teenagers. In their thirty-five years as husband and wife, they’ve faced many challenges, but have managed to stay together. Their reward has been four beautiful children, and strength for another thirty-five years.

“We began our lives together as best friends, and over the years we have become soul mates,” says Tina. “I am so proud of the life we’ve made together and I thank God for blessing me with such an amazing man.”

Mike has worked in law enforcement since 1982, and is currently the Vermilion Parish Sheriff. According to Tina, as her husband moved through the ranks of his career, there were many bumps along the way. But the roughest were the fifteen and a half years when he worked as a narcotics agent. During this period, he spent a lot of time away from home and was exposed to dangerous situations.

“I found the strength to deal with his absence through prayer and my children,” Tina said. “God kept me sane, and the kids kept me busy.”

Tina channeled her energy towards her children’s education and development. She substituted at school, taught catechism, and took an active role in the Beta Club.

“I not only wanted to be part of our children’s home life,” said Tina. “I wanted to be part of their educational years, spiritual growth and extra-curriculum activities.”

Another great challenge for the couple was during Mike’s campaign for Sheriff. They worked together for sixty hours a week during an eighteen-month period. Their four children joined the crusade, and through moments of sadness, joy, excitement and exhaustion, they found the strength for a victory.

“There were times when we had to give each other pep talks,” said Tina. “But we were so in touch with one another that we found ourselves finishing each other’s sentences and silently thinking the same things.”

I initially wanted to write this story about Tina to hear where she found the strength to be married to a man in both law enforcement and politics. But during our interview, I was surprised to see how well my sister-in-law took the situation in stride.

“It’s hard to view Mike being Sheriff as a challenge after what we went through when he worked in narcotics,” said Tina. “Now he comes home at night so we have more time together. The rough patches made us stronger today.”

I sat on this story for two weeks, a bit irritated that Tina wasn’t having a hard time being married to a Sheriff. Didn’t she know I had an agenda? Was I going to have to make something up to give the column a little spice? But then, as if the universe heard me, inspiration rode up to me on horseback.

It was the late afternoon before my deadline for the column, and as I sat at my desk staring at a blank page, I heard noises coming from outside. I opened my window blinds and saw Mike and Tina on horseback working cattle in the pasture. My first look at the couple was the two of them riding side by side. Their backs were to me, and as they got further away, it was as if someone was standing beside me whispering the story that needed to be written.

Since I am much, much, (much) younger than Mike and Tina, I’ve always known them as a couple. I would often sleep at their home, and catch intimate glimpses of their relationship. There were tough moments, but there were many more filled with happiness, trust and love.

But the recent moment I watched of Mike and Tina on horseback was the most powerful. It was a story of best friends who are human like the rest of us. They’ve been through storms, but stood strong as the black clouds thundered above them.

Both my brother and sister-in-law have been a large part of my life. I believe in them, and their lasting relationship has proven to me that I am capable of having my own. I know that neither of them would ever hurt the other or their family. It is the trust they’ve built over the years that will give them the strength for any storms in the future.

“Mike is the one I can count on to be there for me, to believe in me and to care about me,” says Tina. “Together, we have given one another the strength to conquer all of the challenges that have come our way. We have learned to dance in the rain.”

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Training to be a Hero

I had many different jobs in my life, and each one required some sort of training. I’ve gone to archery school, taken computer courses and sat through seminars on how to perfectly fold jeans. Most of the information was necessary, but I often found my attention wandering to other places, unconcerned with the consequences of an improperly folded pair of Levis.

But there are those jobs where being focused during training can be a matter of life and death. Take for example the fire fighter, who trains by getting in a trailer, which is then ignited.

“It’s called a Flash Over Trailer,” says Matt Suire, Assistant Fire Chief of the Abbeville Fire Department. “It trains fire fighters to read how a fire’s gases travel. This way they can prevent the flames from spreading.”

Every new rookie fire fighter trains for fourteen weeks at the LSU Fire Fighting School. In addition to being set on fire, they take classes on climbing ladders, handling hoses and using breathing apparatuses.

“The most important subject the instructors teach is personal safety,” says Suire. “When you go into a fire, you have to watch out for your partner and yourself.”

Suire started his career as a fire fighter back in 1980, and is no stranger to dangerous situations. About five years into his job, the second floor of a burning building collapsed beneath his feet. He fell to the ground floor and broke his ankle.

“Luckily there were other fire fighters inside who pulled me out,” says Suire. “Toxic gases and structures collapsing are two of the biggest dangers when fighting fire.”

According to Suire, every fire fighter is required to have twenty hours of training per month. In addition to controlling fires, the department also responds to medical emergencies. Other responsibilities include inspecting hydrants, public education and pre-fire planning with businesses.

“We keep a file on all of the commercial buildings in Abbeville,” says Suire. “Every business in town has an information sheet with a diagram of the structure. It has who to contact, and lets us know if there are any hazardous materials on the premise.”

Suire was named Abbeville Fire Fighter of the Year as a rookie, and again in 2009. He says the best part of his job is helping the public.

“I have many memorable moments with the fire department,” says Suire. “People are so grateful when we help them. It’s what I love about my job.”

I recently interviewed Suire at the Abbeville Fire Station on West Vermilion Street. While there, I met other members of the team including Fire Chief Elvin Michaud, Captain Jack Harrington, Fire Fighter First Class Brady Barras and Secretary to the Chief, Charlie Romero.

I was given a tour of the facility, which included fire proof uniforms neatly hanging on pegs, coiled up hoses and a variety of different fire trucks. One, called a Tender, holds three thousand gallons of water, and another one is equipped with the Jaws of Life.


Suire and Barras even showed me a public education trailer the department uses to teach school children about fire safety. Don’t worry parents and teachers because this trailer, unlike the Flash Over Trailer, isn’t set on fire. It does however produce smoke, and kids learn how to crawl out safely.

One of the most interesting parts of my tour was the bunkroom. Since fire fighters work in twenty-four hour shifts, they are required to sleep at the station. I love my job at the newspaper, but I’m not sure I’d be wiling to spend the night at the Abbeville Meridional.

But writing is a solo profession, whereas the career of a fire fighter requires cohesiveness. Individually they are human beings with the spirit and courage to help others. It is through teamwork and their continuous training that they become most powerful and transform into heroes.

Anyone interested in becoming a fire fighter will need to take the Civil Service test. For information on dates, call 337-893-1831.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Strength for the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

One of my life’s pleasures when I was a child was chewing gum. I loved its taste, and the way I could maneuver it through every crevice of my mouth. I blew bubble after bubble, and entertained myself with one stick for hours on end. Big Red, Juicy Fruit, Bubalicious, Hubba Bubba, and Trident. Those were my childhood friends who stood by me thick and thin, or at least until their flavor dissolved.

Then on the Mardi Gras when I was six-years-old, my relationship with gum took a new turn. I was sitting on my bed and taking inventory of all I’d caught at the Kaplan parade. There were peppermints, Mary Janes, Chicklets and lollipops that melted into gum. I felt thankful for my treasures, and lined them up in the order I was going to devour them.

But my dad walked into my room, interrupting my plans for domination over the sweets. He was there to recommend that I forgo one of my life’s pleasures as my penitence for Lent. He said that through self-denial for forty days, I’d be re-born on Easter Sunday and would be filled with strength.

“If I can’t chew gum, the only thing that’s going to be stronger is my breath,” I said.

I think I might have burped and then tried to give my dad a high five. But unfortunately, he didn’t always find me as hilarious as I found myself. So his recommendation for penitence suddenly became a punishment, and my pile of Mardi Gras treasures was taken from me like candy from a baby.

Gone were the Mary Janes and magic lollipops that melted into gum. Gone were the chocolate doubloons and candy that I couldn’t identify, but was sure was delicious. Even gum related products were confiscated, leaving me alone to drown in a pool of tears as my dad carried away my baseball cards, Booza Joe jokes, and a Hubba Bubba t-shirt.

My first week of Lent consisted of basic childhood tantrums. These included, but were not limited to, a hunger strike, kicks and screams, and threats to either go blind or run away and live in the forest with my imaginary pet alligator.

The second and third weeks, the tears stopped. But my fight continued on as I walked around our house shirtless in political protest against having my Hubba Bubba t-shirt ripped from my body.

By week four, I knew I had lost the argument. So for the rest of Lent, I changed my focus from protesting, to finding anything in our house that resembled gum. My brothers had eaten all of their Mardi Gras stash, so I searched desk drawers, in-between sofa cushions and through my momma’s old purses. I was finally successful when I found an old cough drop on the floor of the family car. For ten whole minutes, I sat in the back seat sucking on the Halls and pretending it was a Chicklet. A dirt flavored Chicklet.

Then Easter morning came, and before the sun rose, my eyes popped opened like someone had scared me or sprayed me in the face with vinegar. It was still dark, but imagines of Dentyne and Bubalicious danced before me and led me down our hallway to our living room.

To avoid waking anyone in our house, I carried a flashlight and shone its beam underneath our front picture window. There stood a row of baskets filled with chocolate covered rabbits, marshmallow chickens and gum that looked like robin’s eggs.

I stepped towards my prize, fantasizing about pouring the candy all over me. It would be a rain of life’s pleasures, softly kissing my skin before it floated down to my feet.

But before my hand could touch the Easter basket, before I could rip open the cellophane, before I could even smell the sweetness of my reward, my conquest was interrupted. A glow of light seemed to evolve from thin air as if conjured up by a mystical force. But after I caught my breath, I realized it was only my dad turning on a table lamp.

“Happy Easter,” he said. “Right after mass, I’ll give you back your Mardi Gras candy and you’ll be able to open up your basket.”

Regardless of how much I cried or begged or even reasoned, there was no changing my dad’s mind. The few hours I had to wait for my Easter basket were the toughest of the forty days of Lent. Every inch of my body pulsated in pain, and I seriously wondered if I would die before ever blowing a bubble from the robin’s eggs made of gum.

But several years later, I realized that it wasn’t death I was experiencing. It was re-birth. My dad’s promise had been kept, and I was no longer the freewheeling gum chewer who let the likes of Juicy Fruit and Big Red control him.

To honor my late dad, I continue to give up gum for Lent. It’s not as difficult anymore because I’ve outgrown it. But it reminds me of what I can accomplish, and that I have the power to be born again whenever I wish.

To many Christians, this Easter Sunday is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. To others, it has different religious significance. But regardless of how you celebrate, or what you believe, this day is the first day of the rest of your life. Like spring flowers fertilized with strength as they sprout through the dead leaves of winter, it is our time to blossom.