40 Candles Later …

Can you believe the lovely and patient older daughter turns 40 today? Where does the time go?

Here’s the scene: Lakeside Hospital near New Orleans, 1983. Posh has been in labor for almost three months now, going on four.

We’d race to the hospital in Posh’s little blue Datsun. The nurses would say, “Nope, not yet.” We’d go home. I’d rub her tummy till we both fell asleep.

This dance went on for three months, as I say, until the nurses invited us to stay the night.

“Yeah, we’re a little anxious,” I explained. “It’s our first.”

“No kidding,” the tired nurses would mumble.

Eventually, a child is born, a rose-bud baby girl. Life is suddenly car seats, baby wipes and bottles with plastic liners, which were all the rage back then.  

First year alone, we spent a million dollars on formula and diapers. I remember wiping milk from your chin with the soft cloth diapers your mother kept around as rags, the only thing softer than a young mother’s own skin.

On Monday — every Monday — I’d take you to the laundromat at the end of Grand Route St. John, the street where we lived in New Orleans. Posh worked, I was off Mondays, so we would drop off the laundry, then knock around New Orleans in your four-ounce umbrella stroller.

To this day, I swear by umbrella strollers — light and easy. Made of swizzle sticks, you could use one to stir a mai-tai.  

So, we’d knock around New Orleans, you and me, the best knock-around town there is for a dad and a baby because everyone sleeps till almost noon, except for the shopkeepers hosing the sidewalks. Or, the piano tuners in the music clubs who, when they were done tuning the piano, would play Gershwin on sultry Southern mornings.

Ahhhhhhhhh…New Orleans.

As you know, it is all music and wrought iron and sweet tea. It’s damp brick and gas lamps and kooks…a wonderful town full of gargoyles and grace.

Each morning, something new blooms – beignets, or the bread for muffalettas…the chicory coffee … the bread pudding.

There’s no taming the place. Banana trees bump you on the butt. Weeds grow between your toes. Pigeons everywhere. There is no breeze.

And into this sweaty city, we’d go – to the zoo, the Quarter, the street car, the World’s Fair – (whatever happened to World Fairs?).

They were the best of times, they were the best of times. We had no money. Who needs money? We did.

Yet, I especially remember this one jazz joint (Tyler’s) where the raw oysters cost 10 cents.

For two bucks you could get a Dixie beer and a dozen oysters and listen to Ellis Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., caress the keys, surrounded by the sort of shady characters who work a jazz club door.

Those were the days, my dear. You had your mother and me all to yourself, as you absorbed New Orleans’ sweetness, its sonnets, its gumbo rains.

You were never sick. You rarely cried. As now, you were always “in the moment.”

So much to see.

In short time, you adopted the bonhomie of your young parents, who had no frappin’ clue what we were doing. Your father had a beard. In New Orleans, only pirates had beards.

The full majesty of having a child had not yet occurred to us. We were too busy just trying to keep up.

Yet, I remember every little thing about your early days, the straight-up way you sat in the stroller, the way you snacked on your ever-present Cheerios.

Like you, New Orleans was artsy and charmed. It looked like the ramshackle backstage of some rotting opera house.

On summer afternoons, the heat would come in colors. The light zinged from the sun — only a mile or two away — then ricocheted around five or six times, pinged off your forehead, then painted the walls and the floors this eerie wonderful brass.

In New Orleans, even the shadows had a hue, a bluish tint.

Four decades later, I really have only a few treasures from that era of our lives – a 100-year-old armoire we bought on Magazine Street. A tattered Paul Prudhomme cookbook.

And, thank God, you.

In Cakes, your precious daughter, I see you all over again. I see an encore kid.

It’s 40 years later, and there you are once more, hair up in pig tails, the sun in your cheeks — a mitzvah, a comic novel.

There still is – as there was then – a hint of Coltrane in those pretty brown eyes.

Oh, happy birthday, baby.

Happy birthday, us.

For past columns, more photos, and gin glasses, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com.

36 thoughts on “40 Candles Later …

  1. Perfect, precious, beautiful words…Just like your daughter and her daughter. I have only been to the Big Easy once, but everything you describe so evocatively rings true. I loved it at first sight. Much like your writing. Happy Birthday to your precious First Born. Much happiness to you, Chris.

  2. Sitting in New Orleans where the heat index should hit 120 degrees today I do sorta appreciate the rapture about heat producing colors. I’ll check it out through a window by being inside with air conditioning

    1. Oh Chris, what a great column! I know daughter #1 will cherish it.

      New Orleans. the heat. The ambiance. I spent my first 18 years there before moving to L.A.

      My sister texted last night at @10 pm, the heat index was 102.

      The heat. Getting my hair done at the beauty school ($2.00 wash & set) to find it perfectly straight when I got home. Passing out at city hall when our class went to honor John McDonough. Heat.

      “Hey mister, I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes!!”

  3. This is a birthday card she’ll treasure, as will her daughter one day. A beautiful portrait of a time and a town. I’ve never been to New Orleans, but you gave me a real sense of it and I look forward to experiencing the gargoyles and grace myself someday. Bravo.

  4. Wow, that was beautiful. Thank you for sharing those vivid and colorful memories. Happy birthday to your precious daughter.

  5. Wow, great column sir. One of your better, if not the best. Celebrating your daughter while folding in the charms of New Orleans and the joy of that first child was also a joy to read. The love coming through like sun tea in a jug. All the best until we meet again.

  6. Beautiful story for your daughter! Perfect description of New Orleans, the city that has it all. ❤️❤️

  7. Happy birthday to the lovely and patient daughter, whose baby picture looks just like Cakes. And congratulations to you, Chris, for you and Posh raising such a terrific family.

  8. Sniffle, sniffle. I can relate to so many phrases in this beautifully-written tribute to your firstborn. Our starter child was born in ’73, when we were young and broke and clueless. It was a magical time. Our second was born in March of ’84, which of course was during your first year of parenthood. Such sweet memories of those times, as well, except for the part about being in labor for days and being sent home from the hospital twice. Thank you, once again, for tugging at my heart strings with your magic!

  9. I’m betting that this beautiful love letter will be the most precious gift she receives on this special birthday. And thanks from the rest of us of “a certain age” for the memories…cloth diapers &
    umbrella strollers. Which of us with first babies knew what the heck we were doing?
    Your vivid descriptions of New Orleans were sensory and
    perfect. I maintain the last best authentic city in the U.S.

  10. What a beautiful birthday column celebrating your daughter, Cakes, and Posh. My eyes are a little misty, and it is not from allergies. And yes, you have brought back memories of being a young parent. One of your best!

  11. Lovier than anything I have read about living in New Orleans. I have had some great times there, and have run The Garden District to the end of the line a few times, walked Bourban countless times, had the powdered sugur pastries and coffee, watched the gutters and streets almost fill up during rainstorms, had Martinis in a Mason jar at tiny Prudhommes, had loud fun at Commander’s Palace, etc., and etc; but nothing was as dearly lovely as your experience as a young father in this incredibly eccentric rhythm of a city. A bit of the beat of this place and time remains in your prose. The pulse of the marriage of love and Jazz in the mind never goes away. Isn’t that just lovely?

  12. …“Lovelier than”…As always, the pictures tell a story almost more than the words. If at this late date you still want to know what love is, just look.

  13. What a lovely tribute to your daughter. She’s very lucky to have not only a loving father but someone who can say it so beautifully.
    I’ve been to New Orleans twice. My husband and I went several decades ago and we walked and walked and walked. It was great. The second time was with a girlfriend. We were driving home to Chicago from Ft Walton Beach, Fl. We went out of our way so I could check a nice Bourbon Street hotel off of my bucket list. We sat on our balcony and just watched the show.

  14. and today we also celebrate my second granddaughter’s 4th Birthday ~ ! cheers ~ ~ kr

  15. Happy birthday to your lovely daughter. Thank you for the evocative love letter to New Orleans. Memory of walking to cemetery #1 past a group of young men who said “where y’all from? You ladies be careful now.”

  16. I am typing this from Dumaine St. in mid-city, just a few blocks from Grande Route St. John. I’ve lived here for 30 years. The neighborhood is doing great. Grew up in Los Angeles – my Dad always had LA Times delivered, which is where I encountered your column as a kid. Bayou St. John is the greatest NOLA neighborhood!

    1. So good to hear it’s doing great. Lovely homes, and nice vibe. Close to the park. There was a terrific po-boy place right along the bayou. Hope it’s still there. In a world that changes too quickly, New Orleans picks out and supports the best stuff: music, architecture, food, culture.

  17. What a gift. Absolutely perfect. And in spite of all their flaws, that’s what our children are. Absolutely perfect. It wears me out remembering all of that perfection and beauty. Thank you.

  18. Our oldest (a daughter) is 43. Having a child turn 40 was more traumatic than turning 40 ourselves.

  19. This column is a masterpiece and should be taught in English 101. It beautifully captures the experiences of your young family. Also, it is a love letter to the hidden New Orleans of he 1980’s. Thank you Chris.

  20. Wow! What a wonderful birthday card/love letter to your first born, to her mother, to your granddaughter, and to New Orleans. This really touched my heart. My dad has been gone for over a decade. I wish I had something like this from him. I would have it framed and hung in a special place in my home. You are a great dad!

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  22. Wow. Absolutely beautiful. Almost magical the way I felt transported back to 1980’s New Orleans with this column. For a few minutes I was there. Thanks for the trip. And belated birthday wishes to your lovely daughter.

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