"Happier days are definitely ahead for you. The struggle has ended."
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 family tragedy and struggles with the death of two of my daughters -- her mother Emily in 2019 and her aunt Kathryn in 2021 -- she firmly pronounced, "Papa, that is a wonderful fortune for you, and it will come true."
I make no New Year resolutions. They are pie crust promises, per Mary Poppins: "Easily made, easily broken." Instead I'll just keep on trudging down the road, saying my prayers, being as good a neighbor as I can, hoping for the best.
Perhaps the fortune cookie and my granddaughter were correct. I can't complain how the new year began. I had a peaceful Christmas followed by a first-class, literally, New Year's Day 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 stellar LSU student in her youth, Tulane law grad and a successful attorney in New Orleans with ties to the Saints NFL franchise, made the arrangements for me and our elder sister Carolyn, both Baylor graduates. So, in a suite of mostly Ole Miss fans, the six of us -- both sisters, their husbands plus a longtime Baylor friend from Texas and I -- cheered on the Big 12 underdog team that dared to challenge an SEC legend in that fabled conference's favorite party city.
Our suite hosts in red and powder blue were gracious, which was to be expected; this is the South and New Orleans' most visible industry is hospitality. They smiled as we entered in our green and gold regalia, muted though it was in comparison to what the six of us had just seen in the official Baylor pre-game party elsewhere in the dome. Even Susan, who has no affinity for the Waco school but through her siblings, managed to don some gay apparel: a dark Tulane green dress accented with gold jewelry.
I'll spare the play by play. Baylor won 21-7, confirming what our Texas guest had predicted. After Baylor's third touchdown and later with only five minutes left in the game, it was apparent that Mississippi was no match for Dave Aranda's stone-wall defense and our quarterback from Earle, Gerry Bohanon. Bewildered Ole Miss fans began departing, bidding us sincere but befuddled congratulations. How could this Big 12 team with a 2-7 record just last year have come so far? A Zen-Lutheran coach hired by a Baptist school. That's how.
As my brother-in-law chauffeured us across the longest bridge in the world back to our hometown north of Lake Pontchartrain, I was free to ponder. Maybe the fortune cookie was correct. Certainly the first new day of the year was exceedingly happy. But does the struggle ever end?
Rather than struggling, perhaps better to consider long-suffering. In the biblical context, long-suffering is not necessarily enduring pain but rather being slow to anger and to live life treating others with forbearance. As God does with us sinners.
Weighty thoughts on a ride across countless tons of prestressed concrete over midnight-dark brackish waters. My mind wandered with not much to see in the 24-mile, exit-free stretch between big city lowlands and suburban pine forest. These quiet minutes, but for the rhythmic thump-thump of car tires crossing each seam in the bridge, were respite from the high revelry we'd just enjoyed.
I thought of the hard times my forefathers lived as they settled the once raw, rural land ahead of us. For them the accoutrements of New Orleans were of some distant nation before this particular bridge was built mid-20th century. Yet they needed little from the city; they were self-sufficient farmers. One modern amenity brought to the farm in 1885 was Great-Grandfather Enoch Talley's Seth Thomas calendar clock. Delivered by wagon to the crude address "Covington, 15 [miles] North," he paid for it in installments. Four generations later, the clock rests on my mantel ticking faithfully and, in my absence, accurately ringing in this new year as it has for 135 years in Talley households filled with struggles and happiness. And to the best of my knowledge, all those Talleys trudged down their roads and crossed their bridges being faithful Methodists and Baptists and good neighbors along the way. I'll try to do the same.
Did I just make a resolution?