“continuity” tossed into the WordBowl lottery by Erik Munera: photographer. storyteller. philosopher. 

Guns, horses, indecipherable cousins thrice removed — visits to my father’s mother’s family farms, lands stretching from Thibodaux to Houma — involved some combination thereof, the family celebrations indistinguishable from the funerals.

Caffeine DoubleDose, DoubleEdit session at Cafe Grumpy

Caffeine DoubleDose, DoubleEdit session at Cafe Grumpy

Great Aunt Ola’s wake, a heavy Louisiana heat that threatened rain without a cloud in sight, an appalled relative I called “aunt” out of courtesy set her mind to rectify a grievous situation: I, a Toups — by blood, if not by name — had never ridden a horse.

Dispatched to a barn, plopped atop a horse — alright, a Shetland Pony — funeral dress tucked around my pudgy still-little-girl thighs, unsteady rocking as Prissy adjusted to and accepted my weight, then the thrill of Prissy trotting towards full gallop, the soft splat of my carefully coiffed curls against my back. Great Aunt Antoinette howling, my mother less amused, concerns over the potential damage to my fancy hand-smocked dress battling with her own Texan childhood astride a horse, inconceivable a daughter of hers had been equine bereft.

Once I was dressed in appropriate borrowed clothes and almost-fitting boots, I was given free reign, a delicious moment of exhilarating liberty.

"Year of the Horse" art by Anna Noelle Rockwell

“Year of the Horse” art by Anna Noelle Rockwell

One other occasion arose to ride, the summer before I became a teenager, when, after much debate, my parents took us for the first (and last) time to the Toups Family Reunion. We drove across the perilously narrow Huey P. Long Bridge, through the waving fields of sugarcane which would one day be replaced by soybeans, past endless rows of orange trees drooping with fruit, gaping at the vast array of picnic blankets and food and people all related to us.

Our actual cousins — my father’s brother’s brood — greeted us on horseback, Cousin Michael dismounting, scooping me up as though I were still small, me clutching the saddle horn, him holding the reigns, and off we galloped, leaving my younger siblings behind.

It was no Great Aunt Ola Memorial Freedom Ride. I missed my Prissy.

Traditional Manhattan, Traditional Steak Tartare at Buvette

Traditional Manhattan, Traditional Steak Tartare at Buvette

On the ground, I was small in the sea of people, crawfish boil pots, sugarcane, badminton games, accents as thick and redolent as the humidity. Relative strangers called us over as we roamed, individually and in packs, announcing themselves, launching into detailed genealogy digressions, declaring their love for my grandmother, Lord Rest Her Soul, and their relation to one of the remaining fourteen Great Aunts, weaving strands of Toups and Marmons into a cohesive if convoluted narrative. My middle brother consistently mistaken for one of Uncle Johnny’s children, with his jet-black hair and dark eyes, he looked more akin to that Louisiana family than ours, a crucial cultural disparity.

We grew lazy and listless, drunk on rich food and other people’s memories, sticky from oranges peeled and eaten like apples, juice slicking down our chins until finally, mosquito-munched and sun-dazed, we piled into the Plymouth, thighs searing to scorched vinyl seats, semi-sleeping as my father drove, silent, my mother chattering to keep him awake until we arrived home, we, the single strand of Toups to reside in the foreign citified environs of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

“continuity” handwritten at one of my favorite writing-and-imbibing spots, Buvette (a sliver of Paris nestled in the West Village) and edited at the bustling Midtown outpost (oasis?) of Cafe Grumpy. “Year of the Horse” artwork by Anna Noelle Rockwell (more of her equine prints and cards in her Etsy shop here).


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WordBowl Word-of-the-Day from media entreprenuer/Yankee fan/data analysis champion, the insatiably curious  K. Nanus


In a town populated by blonde Baptists, our family — a dark-haired Catholic multitude — attracted attention, five kids in a land of two (parents)-by-two (progeny), five kids raised yes-ma’am, yes-sir, five kids who dared not contradict our elders, a plethora of politeness.

We were recognizable, interchangeable, a lump sum. Even our camera-exhausted parents passed off photographs of me — as the eldest, my young life was well-documented — as those of my sister, and it was years before Babiest Brother realized what he thought of as his baby photos were mostly his oldest brother’s. We have no Polaroids or Sears Portraits chronicling our collective childhood.

Veritable brainstorm, while writing another WordBowl word

Veritable brainstorm, while writing another WordBowl

There were occasional advantages to the gaggle of us: Blackberry picking in the still-wild adjacent woods, we gathered enough berries for a pie with some left over to top our Cheerios. Christmas mornings — even in the financially hazardous years —we gasped at first glimpse of our den, piled with presents. Later, wading through discarded wrapping paper, we acknowledged our individual hauls as perhaps a bit sparse, but the aggregate was staggering.

Summers — before my bothers reached the collective ages for baseball to dominate the season — we ruled the pool at The Racquet Club, organized raucous games of Marco Polo, Touch-the-Drain, aquatic Red Rover.The only way for someone else to win was to get us fighting amongst ourselves, not too difficult a task given the constant jockeying and scrambling for personal attention within our family itself.

Individual flattery worked, too.

End-of-the-season PORCH SWING (bourbon, house sweet tea, mint) cocktail at the southern-tinged restaurant The Readhead

End-of-the-season PORCH SWING (bourbon, house sweet tea, mint) cocktail at The Readhead

During the inevitable summer storms we would mad-dash to the ramshackle clubhouse, forage for loose change between vinyl seat cushions to feed the vending machines for icy cans of Barq’s Famous Olde Tyme Root Beer and Orange Fanta. We commandeered packs of playing cards from the lifeguards, surly at the interruption of their tanning schedule and, stripped of their high perch and reflective shades, reduced to mere mortal babysitters. We played War and Pounce and our own made-up game we called “poker” to justify penny gambling. We waited out the rain, until our pruned fingers softened to normal, our saggy suites dried in stiff creases.

When the skies cleared, we went right back at it, slip-sliding off the diving board, shouting and squabbling, ganging up on those who opposed us. Courteous with the parents strolling by, racquets swinging, their tennis whites glowing against deep tans, calling out for us to mow their lawns, babysit, tutor, ask our father — the retired major leaguer — to consider private coaching for their baseball-besotted sons. We were responsible in ways smaller-familied children were not. We assumed nothing our due, we were grateful for small kindnesses, we were too young to chafe at largesse. We were humble before adults, our Church, our teachers.

To outsiders there was something special, extraordinary even, about so many children so alike and well-mannered and industrious. Our last name morphed into a modifier, an emphasis. The very repetitiveness of us made us exemplary.

Our collective name defined us even as we grew, and separated ourselves from the herd.


“veritable” handwritten at Southern-tinged restaurant The Redhead (east village, nyc) and edited over an iced pour-over coffee at Amor y Amargo (east village, nyc).

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WordBowl Word-of-the-Day brought to us by The Letter H

Dream Weaver, Music Maker

Brandologist who once created a Letter C just for me.

The Letter C by The Letter H

The Letter C by The Letter H

The Map of the Land of Make Believe — matted, framed, under glass — a gift from my Nana, hung on the wall of what was briefly my bedroom but as the largest in the house, became the shared domain of my three young brothers, who ignored the Land of Make Believe entirely.

The map rendered with cartographer’s care, the significant stories placed in geographic context: Pinocchio in the belly of a whale off a coast, Hansel & Gretel bread-crumbing though an Eastern European forest, the Snow Queen in her sleigh flying across a Nordic tundra, Ants and Grasshoppers holding court in a clearing, Snow White with her dwarves in close proximity to the Three Little Pigs defending their home against the Wolf’s bluster, Sinbad sailing the Seven Seas, Scheherazade in a Middle Eastern palace.

Dreamy GARCIA cocktail at The Beagle, nyc

Dreamy GARCIA cocktail at The Beagle, nyc

And at the edge of the map, a cow, a moon.

I spent hours tracing journeys across the global expanse, Grimm to Christian Anderson to Aesop, fairy tale mash-ups. Voyages every bit as real as crisscrossing the country, watching my father play ball, playing connect-the-stadium-dots, before our burgeoning family settled into a blip of a landlocked Southern town.

During the peripatetic years my parents often left me with Nana, her Houston home a travel hub between our San Francisco base, my father’s native New Orleans, Phoenix for Spring Training. Nana, in polyester pantsuits and cat-eye glasses, driving us in her faux-wood paneled station wagon, instructing me to imagine raindrops on the windshield as ice skaters, asking me to describe each in detail, their costumes, their routines.

Nana, widowed early, a near life-long single parent of five children, was a believer in make-believe, indulgence, escapes. Nana was ice cream and waffles for dinner on meatless Fridays observed out of Catholic habit, desserts and Diet Dr. Pepper, grandiose garage sale gifts (unstrung folk guitar, encyclopedia set missing only a single volume).

And, later, when I finished with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, Nana handed me her cast-off Agatha Christie mysteries and wildly age-inappropriate pulpy paperback novels.

KENTUCKY RIVER (bourbon, creme de cacao, peach bitters) channeling childhood dreams at The Beagle, nyc

KENTUCKY RIVER (bourbon, creme de cacao, peach bitters) channeling childhood dreams at The Beagle, nyc

She taught me her favorite card games, Pounce, Double Solitaire, some convoluted Gin Rummy-esque thing called Zioncheck. We whiled away whole weekends, cards slapping sharp against the table or landing precariously on my lumpy bedspread. One humid afternoon, in the midst of a particularly close game of Double Sol, a couple of cards fell from her sleeve.  I may not have noticed had she not started so violently, scrabbling to shove them back up her sleeve, slip them into the discard pile.

My Nana, cardsharp, hustler, cheater.

The stories I knew were of heroes and villains, knights in shining armor, evil queens, pure princesses. Stories which left me unprepared for the nuances of Nana.

I closed my eyes, envisioned the Land of Make Believe, wished upon a star to return to a black and white world of Happily Ever After.

It took TWO villages (east, west) to raise this post

The Beagle, east village, nyc

Bakehouse, west village-meets-meatpacking district, nyc

ALEXANDER ROMANCE cocktail (gin, cucumber, mint, elderflower) at Bakehouse

ALEXANDER ROMANCE cocktail (gin, cucumber, mint, elderflower) at Bakehouse

caffeine & smoothy fuel from 11th Street Cafe, west village, nyc

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