Before we move to Louisiana, my friend (who lived in LA for years when she was younger), squeezes my shoulder, lets me cry on hers, then snaps me out of it. "You're going to -bleeping- love it there. You know that, right?"
She is right. I -bleeping- love it here.
Just yesterday the kids and I drive off to visit a funky little nearby town to see some folk art. Folk art, in my opinion, is an understatement. This museum is a collection of brilliant minds and darkest hours smashed together with patience, nostalgia, and loads of patina. It takes my kids and I a solid hour to get through the gift shop alone, things are that mesmerizing. Not everyday do you find bacon lip balm, hand-painted wooden spinning tops, and customized black and white prints for sale inside the same four walls.
The man behind the register welcomes our tribe, then ducks his head low to continue typing on his keyboard.
He must be a writer.
When I check in with him to see if we should be moving along, only the very tops of his salt and pepper curls are visible. Those friendly tufts let us know we can putter around as long as we like. They have all day just like us.
A few more minutes of lingering, then we decide to pay admission and graduate toward the museum.
What we see is unconventional, bizarre and delicious. Broken plate pieces beautifully alternate with old house keys to line a monster truck tire. The tire holds in a snapping turtle who pierces the surface of her algae water long enough to let us know she is there. "Look Mom, it's a snapper, isn't it?! Isn't it a snapper, Mom!?" Abby and Grayson climb the wooden fence to prop their bodies high. Our turtle friend pushes her clawed feet out of the water to make it worth their climb.
When we can tear ourselves from finding her eyes (they are unexpectedly quite close to her nose), we walk through the next archway. Each building has single rows of colorful tribal spots, polka-dotting their way up the trim of the doorway and back down in lieu of a welcome mat.
Doors seem redundant here.
The next building we enter pays homage to the great soul artists and jazz musicians of New Orleans. Rusty saxophones, a lone accordion on its side, and glassed-in miniature exhibits of the city's night life give Abby the heeby-jeebies; a black magic feel. She wants "up" as she trembles and asks to see more.
Grayson is touching everything in sight. There are push buttons, on the outside of each exhibit, that make one thing come to life in every tiny world. Sometimes a spot-light for a jazz singer, sometimes a little boy jumping on the bed in a swanky hotel. One button Grayson pushes starts an empty swing to sway back and forth and for a few seconds, we all hold our breath.
The next room has old pinball machines, video games, and other games of yore the kids cluck around with for less time than I thought they would. Before long, I find them both staring silently at yet another alligator gar skeleton.
"Is it real, Mommy?"
"I'm not sure if any of this is real, Grayson," I admit. It seems to all of us, more like a dream. A cool-funky-retro-world kind of dream.
The end of our tour is my favorite. My black magic. The man behind the register allows us into another building lined with the inside lids of paint cans; frozen in time with their bleached out drips of salmon, orchid, and celery green. Right away I can see it's his studio. He explains this is where he writes music, records musicians, and works at building his museum exhibits with wire and small working puppets someone donates from a defunct playhouse.
The three of us step in to a familiar sight: rugs stretching across uneven floors, lamps leaning against each other, and an old battered up piano standing its ground right there in the middle. Somewhere must be an old Billie Holiday mic stand. I can't see it but I know it's there.
I love this room. This room still hums warm with creativity, ideas and hopes colliding, hard work - the sweaty kind where you lose track of time and drink Sprites to keep your eyes from closing before the light must come back in through the door you wish was not there.
As the kind register man sits with black-rimmed glasses half-buried under his thick friendly locks, my jaw moves but the words don't come out. So much living yet to do.
The kids stay near the door, spinning their free wooden tops where the light comes in. They don't mind the door.
We chat a bit more about musicians, pop shields, artists, parenting and I know it's time to go.
Even though from here? I'm nowhere near ready to leave.