“Happy days are definitely ahead of you. The struggle is over.”
So read my fortune cookie when my preteen granddaughter and I enjoyed Asian food after “Mean Girls” at the Walton Arts Center last month. Being fully aware, even in her youth, of the family tragedy and struggles with the deaths of two of my daughters – her mother Emily in 2019 and her aunt Kathryn in 2021 – she said firmly, “Dad, this is a wonderful fortune for you, and it will come true.”
I don’t make any New Year’s resolutions. These are pie dough promises, according to Mary Poppins: “Easy to make, easily broken.” Instead, I’ll just keep plodding down the road, saying my prayers, being the best neighbor I can be, hoping for the best.
Maybe the fortune cookie and my granddaughter were right. I can’t complain about how the new year has started. I spent a peaceful Christmas followed by a literally first-class New Year’s Eve celebration in a Superdome suite in New Orleans, where I watched my beloved Baylor Bears beat the Ole Miss Rebels in the Sugar Bowl. My younger sister Susan, a brilliant LSU student in her youth, Tulane law grad, and successful New Orleans lawyer tied to the Saints NFL franchise, made arrangements for me and our older sister Carolyn, both college grads. from Baylor. So in a suite of mostly Ole Miss fans, the six of us – the two sisters, their husbands plus a longtime Baylor friend from Texas and I – cheered on the underdog Big 12 team who dared to challenge a SEC legend in this legendary the conference’s favorite party town.
Our hosts in the red and dusty blue suite were friendly, which was to be expected; it’s the south and New Orleans’ most visible industry is hospitality. They smiled as we walked into our green and gold badges, though they were muted compared to what the six of us had just seen at Baylor’s official tailgate party elsewhere in the dome. Even Susan, who has no affinity with the Waco school but through her siblings, has managed to pull off gay attire: a dark green Tulane dress accented with gold jewelry.
I’ll spare play by play. Baylor won 21-7, confirming what our guest from Texas had predicted. After Baylor’s third touchdown and later with just five minutes left in the game, it was apparent that Mississippi were no match for the stone wall defense of Dave Aranda and our quarterback Earle, Gerry Bohanon. Bewildered Ole Miss fans started to leave, sincerely congratulating us but confused. How did this Big 12 team with a 2-7 record last year get this far? A Zen-Lutheran coach hired by a Baptist school. It’s like that.
As my brother-in-law led us across the longest bridge in the world to our hometown north of Lake Pontchartrain, I was free to reflect. Maybe the fortune cookie was okay. Certainly, the first new day of the year was extremely happy. But does the fight ever end?
Rather than struggling, perhaps it is better to consider suffering for a long time. In the biblical context, patience is not necessarily enduring pain, but rather being slow to anger and living one’s life treating others with patience. As God does with us sinners.
Heavy thoughts on a ride through countless tons of prestressed concrete over dark brackish water until midnight. My mind wandered with little to see in the dead-end 24-mile stretch between the plains of the big cities and the suburban pine forest. Those quiet minutes, except for the rhythmic boom-boom of car tires crossing every seam of the bridge, were a respite from the great revelry we had just enjoyed.
I thought of the hard times my ancestors went through as they settled the once wild and rural lands before us. For them, the amenities of New Orleans belonged to a distant nation before this particular bridge was built in the mid-twentieth century. Yet they had little need of the city; they were self-sufficient farmers. A modern piece of equipment brought to the farm in 1885 was great-grandfather Enoch Talley’s Seth Thomas calendar clock. Delivered by wagon to gross address “Covington, 15 [miles] North”, he paid it in installments. Four generations later, the clock sits faithfully on my mantelpiece and, in my absence, strikes this New Year with precision as it has for 135 years in Talley homes filled with struggle and happiness. And To the best of my knowledge, all of these Talleys have walked their roads and crossed their bridges being faithful Methodists and Baptists and good neighbors along the way. I will try to do the same.
Did I just make a resolution?