One of the great things about being an author these days is the chance to meet up with other authors and readers. Since my Sentinels of New Orleans series (and Louisiana standalone ebook, Christmas in Dogtown) started up last year, I've met other authors and even more readers who've either lived in Louisiana or visited enough to fall in love with the unique South Louisiana culture.
So it was that I met Pamela Mason (former resident and hometown girl from Arabi (that's "arabee," by the way, Louisiana, out in St. Bernard Parish, or "Da Parish," as the locals call it) online and began to chat about some of our So-La holiday memories, especially since we're heading into holiday season (which in Louisiana goes something like...Thanksgiving, Reveillon, Christmas, New Year's, Twelfth Night, Mardi Gras--'cause that's how we roll.)
We each picked five of our favorites. Today, read about my five; on Monday, Pamela will be here with hers.
I'll save the absolute favorite for last, but here goes:
2) The Destrehan Plantation Fall Festival. Held out in the small town of Destrehan west of New
4) St. James Parish. The "River Parishes" west of New Orleans have retained a lot of the old plantation homes, and St. James Parish is no exception. But come December, this Cajun town becomes the site of a massive construction project as people begin building teepee-shaped wooden "trees" all along the high earthen Mississippi River levee as it winds past Lutcher and Vacherie (and my imaginary community of Dogtown). The wooden teepees are stuffed with dry kindling and on
Those who know me will nod vigorously in agreement when I say I'm no domestic goddess. I can cook, but it's a utilitarian exercise. Usually, I'd visit family for Thanksgiving and end up at loose ends on Christmas Day, looking at restaurant options.
Then came Hurricane Katrina. I had been stranded, evacuated with two dogs and one day's change of clothes, for eight weeks before my zip code reopened after the storm, one of the first to reopen. I went back in October to devastation and heartbreak that it still hurts to talk about some days. There weren't many people in town (except soldiers). Most of the lights were still off. There was no trash pickup. No mail service. Water quality was questionable. The air reeked of mold. Cell service was spotty but it was the only option--none of the land lines worked. "Coffin flies" swarmed out of the drains. Debris was everywhere. And here came Christmas.
It was sort of a miracle in itself that Tujaque's, an old-school New Orleans restaurant in the heart of the French Quarter (across Decatur from Cafe du Monde) reopened about that time and announced a limited-service Christmas Dinner. I made reservations as soon as I could get through.
I remember parking alongside the river, and the wind was cold and moist as I crossed Decatur. The streets were deserted. But inside Tujaque's, there was laughter and talking. I sat in the bar for a while waiting for my table, and everyone who came in asked the question we all asked in those days: How'd you make out? Where'd you go? When did you come back? We had to tell our stories; we had to hear others' stories.
Later, we sat at a small table in one of the little dining rooms, eating oyster dressing and fried turkey and bread pudding, asking those same questions of the people at the nearby tables. No one was a stranger in those days; we were bonded by sorrow and survival and a determination to recover.
A middle-aged man at the next table said, "I wrote a song about it; would you like to hear it?" Well, sure. I thought he'd just softly sing some lyrics, but he reached on the next chair and pulled out a case containing a ukelele. As he began to play, the room fell silent. People came to stand in the doorways. He sang about driving over the bridge into Baton Rouge, running west from New Orleans as Katrina approached, and looking back and wondering if his home would be there when he came back, and it wasn't. But home was more than a house, he'd learned; it was this place, and all of us. I never thought I'd spend Christmas Dinner crying into a plateful of bread pudding with whiskey sauce but it was the most poignant holiday experience I've ever had. Tujague's became my "go to" spot for Christmas after that.
And just because in Louisiana, we like to toss in a little lagniappe, or something extra, here's another memory. Walking into a record store down on Decatur in a rainstorm one day and running smack-dab into a very big, very tall man. I looked up to apologize and froze. Aaron Neville! So here he is, with my favorite holiday song.
Leave a comment about a favorite holiday memory for a chance to win a digital copy of Christmas in Dogtown!
Friday, November 01, 2013
Writing Down the Holidays in Louisiana, Part 1 (and Win 'Christmas in Dogtown')
BIO: Novelist currently living in Auburn, Alabama. Author of the Sentinels of New Orleans series (urban fantasy, Tor Books) as Suzanne Johnson. Writing as Susannah Sandlin, author of the Penton Legacy (paranormal romance) and Collectors (romantic suspense) series from Montlake Romance. See my author website for more info!