Dry Creek is where I grew up, but it isn’t my home, not really. It’s the place I went to school, where my family resides, the place I learned that belonging isn’t a thing you get just because you grow up somewhere. Dry Creek is the hole my mother got sick in and my brother stopped believing life could get better. If you walk down the road to my family home, you probably wouldn’t see this. You’d be taken by the great pines going on for miles. The way their needles cover the ground so much you aren’t sure there’s anything beneath. Walking down, you’d notice the steady crunching of gravel under feet. Stretch out your hand and you can almost feel your fingers run along the pines’ sappy, knobby bark.
When you reach the gate, your eyes settle on the vast house in front. How the wood changes shade and texture as you pan right to left. You linger on the deep wear of the paneling around the door. Your eyes drift to the lumber yard insignia covering the plywood siding on the left. Pieces strip down from years of wear and tear leaving the impression the house is pealing. All giving the distinct indication things didn’t go as planned. The cedar house siding was too expensive, we didn’t have enough and the addition went unfinished.
If you look close enough, you might even see the memories. The hurricane in ’05 that destroyed the foundation. The way we had to beg my family to help us rebuild. A faint image of me carrying two-by-fours and pushing up walls beside my dad. Little handprints and names painted along the addition steps marking the day my father finished creating hope with his hands. Pink, green, purple, and black splashes left over from my sisters’ rooms. I hope you can see it, the love and the struggle.
The grass is overgrown around the house and along the fence as if someone at some point forgot to keep caring. Generations of cars – two Fords, a Chevy, and a Harley with a suicide shift – rust in the driveway. My brother’s ferocious pit bull lays tied to a tree on the right, waiting for someone to come close enough to slobber kisses over.
Take a glance around and you see what happens to a place when the people aren’t loved properly, when they have to fight to survive. But, if the outside doesn’t run you off, you’d quickly find yourself sitting on an old couch holding a fresh cup of coffee surrounded by people more than ready to help carry the burden life has handed you. That, and maybe only that, is why I can still say I love Dry Creek.
When you walk inside, the living room is covered in big thick wooden beams with Christmas lights stapled across. Regardless of the time of year, on the right day you can always see lights gleaming from the front window because someone needed a little Christmas that day. Insulation is falling in spots and a piano sits in the corner with old family photos collecting dust, but what I love most is the lights and the whisperings of holidays before.
The grass is overgrown around the house and along the fence as if someone at some point forgot to keep caring.
Christmas growing up was surprisingly normal. We always had a Douglas fir, picked out from our annual trip to the Christmas tree farm, decked in tinsel, crafts, and gold-rimmed bulbs. Our favorite cards from friends and family plastered the door, while a fresh wreath hung right above. There were cookies, caroling, and Rudolf and Frosty, but what always made it Christmas was her. All you had to do, no matter time or day, was step inside and look left, and you’d see my mom crafting Christmas ornaments and writing cards. Most likely holding a head-sized mug of cocoa or good ol’ southern sweet tea.
This was home, and the only redeeming quality about it was my mom. Growing up, she was everything – the cook, house cleaner, caretaker, boo-boo kisser, uniform washer, and fish stick maker. When she wasn’t cooking, cleaning, or taking care of us, she was crafting something, and Christmas was her favorite time of year for it. She’d sit for hours working on a project just to give someone else a little joy and warmth.
We never quite had enough when it came to money. My mom tried make up for it by filling our home with books, crafts, and beautiful, creative things. We stitched Christmas together through a combination of church donations and family help. Despite how difficult the year had been, each Christmas my mom scraped enough money together to make gifts for all our friends and family. My favorite was the year she made angels.
She sat at the dining room table for days with beads and wire strewn across. Star-shaped, circle, and oval beads, glittery pipe-cleaners and silver wire. It looked like her craft corner blew up all over the dining room table. She was so focused, handmaking everything as if each angel represented all the love she held for the person she was making it for. Like somehow, she knew they needed to know someone was putting time into them. I watched her hand write each card; practicing the notes over and over, so it was written perfectly.
Even as a child, I was in awe of her. I could watch for hours as she poured her heart and soul into each tiny ornament. It made me feel so proud to see her use her passion and love to create art that would inspire people and give them hope.
Much later, I realized this was the beginning of my belief that you can heal someone and change something about the world through art. Because even on her worst days and in our most difficult years, she found a way to put her love, passion, and care into something as simple as a handmade gift. In a home where the pantry was empty and Christmas was a patch quilt of support, you have this person who tries so hard to care for people, and I absolutely adore that about her. She’s always who I aspired to be. Even today, in my little, dysfunctional, southwest Louisiana home, she’s still my hero. Creating angels and crafting beautiful words so someone else can feel loved. Every day she is my light and guidepost for the potential that art has to reach people. I believe in art because she first believed.
Broke-Down Fords and Angels is the first part in a trilogy of short memoirs from the southern state of Louisiana, by Jessica Ciccarelli.
Cover image: old wooden building, Keatchie, Louisiana, via And so it goes in Shreveport