Sunday Morning Meditation – Porpaket
Mom never liked flowers. She doesn’t like fireworks either.
Things that cost money and don’t last are wasteful, she says.
Flowers die. When I’d shoot off bottle rockets in the driveway as a kid, she’d roll her eyes.
“I feel like I’m just watching my money go up in smoke,” she’d say.
Getting her a good gift for Mother’s Day is always tricky, not that she is particularly demanding. She likes power tools – we got her a drill set one year – and old country music, with a particular fondness for Loretta Lynn. Anything storage-related also goes over pretty well.
Give her flowers or chocolate and she’ll be polite about it. She’s not mean. She just thinks it’s all silly.
My mom’s a math teacher, and her take on things tends to be practical. Her side of the family lives in Kaplan, Louisiana and Crowley, or thereabouts. She’s Cajun. Her first language is French, but not the kind you find in textbooks.
Cajun French leans heavily on colloquialisms, borne out of isolation and distance from other native speakers. She slips into and out of the language so easily, talking to my aunts and cousins. When she gets mad, the cadence of her voice sounds like her native language. There’s an emphasis on the hard consonant sounds, and the beginning of her words sound like knuckles rapping a board.
One day, she scolded me for gossiping.
“You need to quit all that,” she scolded. “You’re a porpaket.”
“What the heck is that,” I asked her.
“It’s a French word,” mom told me. “It means you’re one who carries the news.”
I haven’t been able to find “porpaket” or an approximation of it anywhere in a French to English dictionary. That must be a term that exists only in the conversations heard in rural Louisiana. I know my mom was calling me out, but I really liked the word.
Propaket, a bringer of news. It sounds like so much more of a calling than reporter or journalist. It has a village quality to it. There’s the town drunk, the police chief, the mayor and the porpaket. What’s the latest? Ask the porpaket.
Being a reporter requires a certain passion for fairness, I think.
That’s a quality my mom has. Her classroom brings together kids with means and kids without. The expectations for students don’t vary due to circumstances.
My favorite mom story happened when I was still in middle school. She worked odd jobs for extra money in the summer and after school hours. One time she took a job at a grocery store. She worked alongside people the same age as the students she taught in her classes.
At this store there was a mandate that everyone had to memorize the barcodes for individual pieces of produce. You were expected to commit to memory long strands of numbers for every fruit and vegetable that rolled down the conveyor belt. The owners didn’t allow the cashiers to tape a sheet up next to the register, not that it stopped anyone from keeping one under the counter for easy reference.
The corporate office would regularly test employees on the subject matter. It was the biggest joke in the universe. The managers would pretend to look the other way as the employees read from a list of bar codes their managers “accidentally” left in the testing area.
My mom refused to cheat, even though the test itself was a farce. I remember she recorded a tape of the numbers and spent hours reciting them just so she could pass a test for a minimum wage job.
“What kind of lesson is that teaching those kids,” she’d say, her voice taking on that Cajun cadence. “It’s just showing them that it’s OK to cheat. I’ve never cheated on anything in my life. I’m sure not going to cheat for a $5 an hour job.”
Mom never could pass the test, of course. No one could. I think Rain Man would’ve struggled with it. Rather than give up, she wrote a letter to the corporate office, warning about the message the company was sending to its young employees.
That’s my momma, in a nutshell. She’d rather fail honestly than succeed dishonestly.
I’ve never forgotten that lesson. When I carry the news, I make sure to remember that I’m the son of a tenaciously honest woman.
My mom taught me that if you can’t succeed the right way, you haven’t succeeded at all.