Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Stuart Shannon: 1952 - 2019

Stuart showed no mercy in ping pong.
 Added: Services tentatively scheduled for January 8 at 1:00, St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Please spread the word with anyone who knew Stuart and please feel free to comment or consider this post as a guestbook to share with the /family.

One of the funniest, most fun-loving people I've ever known left us yesterday, on Christmas Eve.

Stuart Shannon was a friend of mine for almost thirty years. If you ever went to T.S. Station on Shreveport-Barksdale Highway, you probably knew Stuart. He was the manager of the place for many years.  He would have been the tall, fit guy in slacks and a tie with the big mustache, with the brisk, purposeful walk.

Stuart was born in Melbourne, Arkansas on November 5, 1952.  His parents, Josephia and Karr Shannon moved to Shreveport and Stuart attended Catholic schools, eventually going to LSU and to Centenary to obtain his MBA. He had one brother, Karr Shannon III, who lives in Coral Gables, Florida.

Stuart was the life of any party or gathering with his dry wit and infectious laugh.

Intense concentration on the Tyson fight.

Everyone loved being around Stuart. He could debate with you on almost any subject and his knowledge of sports trivia was unbeatable. We always made crazy bets: we'd bet on the Masters golf tournament, the over-under on a football game, the outcome of a prize fight and how many rounds it might go. And let me tell you, Stuart would never let you out of a bet if you lost. Never. One of my daughter's teenage friends made a bet with Stuart and lost, and Stuart made him pay up: he considered it a life lesson for the young man. "When he's a grown man," Stuart said, "and tries to get out of a bet, he could get really hurt!" It wasn't that much money. It was the principle of the thing. He might have seemed gruff sometimes, but he had a heart of gold.

Deck night debate.

We used to have "deck nights" on Friday and Saturday nights; friends and friends of friends would
Those chili pepper pants...
wander to our backyard where the twinkly lights were always on and the music playing from the CD player on the deck. Stuart would walk in wearing his "chili pepper pants" and the party would come alive. Our neighbors had a game room with a pool table and since we have a joined driveway it was easy to move back and forth between our houses. Stuart was a sharp pool player and tough on the ping pong table, too.  He'd tuck his tie in his shirt so it wouldn't get in his way and proceed to decimate his opponent.

Mardi Gras was one of his favorite weekends and the home where he lived with his mother on River Road backed up to the bayou. We would park at Stuart's, he'd mix a tall drink in a plastic cup, and we'd all go walking the parade route. Walking would be slow going because he knew so many people that he had to stop and talk every few yards.

I worked for Stuart for a year or so at T.S. Station; he let me come wait tables there and he never cut me one bit of slack because of our friendship. He expected me to show up for my shift just like anyone else. One time I had fever and tried to get out of work; he checked my forehead, told me I didn't have a high enough fever, and sent me out on the floor. I was mad about that for a long time, but I got over it. Everyone that worked for Stuart respected him as far as I ever knew. In the restaurant business where turnover is usually high, people generally stayed with Stu.

The Christmas outfit.
Stuart was a great cook; I remember him going to the restaurant in the middle of the night just to get the prime rib going. He loved to read, and he was a great golfer. Stuart was fearless; he was always up for anything.

I can still hear his laugh; Stuart had the most infectious laugh I've ever heard. To me, that is what I will always remember about him; that and those crazy chili pepper pants. And his friendship. If he was your friend, he was your friend for life.

We lost touch in recent years in that we just didn't get to talk or visit as often, but I always knew he was there. Stuart was one of those people that if you were in a bind and had just one phone call, you'd call Stu. He'd be there for you.

At this writing, I don't know what sort of funeral arrangements there are for Stuart but as I hear of anything I will update this post.

He was a good friend and I will miss him.

Crawfish on the deck.
Added:  Since I wrote this I keep thinking of stories. For example, one night, one of those deck nights, we were all outside on the deck, music blaring, conversations among small groups, and I guess about fifteen or sixteen people were here. We kept wondering when Stu would show up, but we never saw him.

The party started to wind down and a few of us went inside to turn on the television. At the time, we had a huge television in the bedroom which was right off the deck, so it was a natural landing space on those nights, for people to hang out in there and watch tv.

During a lull in the conversation we kept hearing snoring.  It was the strangest thing. Eventually someone looked under the bed and there was Stuart, fast asleep.

Maybe you had to be there, but man, we thought that was hilarious. It became part of the "Do you remember the time..." repertoire for a long time!

Added:  Thanks to Timmy Mitchell for sharing this great photo with me!  What a great group of guys.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Some Year-End Reflections

Bayou Teche
This is the time of the year when people tend to do a lot of reflection and self-evaluation, and I find myself doing the same thing.

I've spent a lot more time living life rather than writing about it -- my last blog post was this summer.

This has been an epic year for me and I am overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude and almost disbelief, sometimes.

I have said before that when I began this project to write about Cammie Henry and her life, her contributions to preservation and to the arts, I never had any idea where it would take me. Basically, I simply went where she led me, and I still am.

This book, and Cammie, have taken the reins of my life and led me on such a journey this year! I have traveled to cities and towns across the state and I have talked to groups large and small about Cammie Henry and Melrose Plantation.

At first I was terrified. At my first appearance at the Louisiana Book Festival (2018), I was a nervous wreck. Even though I have been teaching for over twenty years, it was still intimidating to me to get up in front of a crowd of people and talk.  As it turned out, that was a pretty friendly, and small, audience that included my husband, my editor, and an intern that contributed to some of the editing work.

In the spring I spoke at the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN) annual banquet; this was a very large crowd and I was still quite nervous. This was followed by an appearance before the Baton Rouge Country Club Book Club, and later the North Louisiana Historical Association. Most recently, I spoke to a group of architects at the Institute of Classical Art and Architecture event in Natchitoches and then to the Calico Belles, an auxiliary group of the APHN -- young high school age ladies who volunteer at events in Natchitoches like the annual Tour of Homes.

Each event has become a bit less nerve wracking and the Calico Belles event was downright fun because those girls were so enthusiastic and interested, plus we got to walk the grounds of Melrose and talk about Cammie and her friends. It was a joyous day.

Cammie Henry has also led me to many new friendships that mean so much to me. When the book launched in October 2018 at the Cammie Garrett Henry Research Center at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, in attendance was a fun-loving group of ladies who were the children and grandchildren of one of Cammie's sons. I visited with them that night and it seemed like all they did was joke and laugh. I remember thinking at the time, "These are my people." I felt instantly comfortable with them...connected.  Cammie kept throwing us together -- I started running into Dana everywhere! And in late summer they invited Steve and I to a small family gathering on Cane River and it was just the most wonderful day.

Another event that stands out to me from this past year is our trip to Lake Charles and McNeese University to speak at their SAGE program. That was another huge crowd and the first time I'd included a visual presentation with my speech. McNeese rolled out the red carpet for Cammie and Cane River Bohemia. Steve and I were treated to lunch and dinner at beautiful local restaurants, given a tour of the city, and I did two television appearances. May Gray, who organized the event, has become a friend now, and she made the trip one I will never forget.

I feel so blessed and honored for all of these opportunities and I know Cammie isn't finished with me. Our journey is not finished.

Besides book related blessings, this is the year I feel in love with Arnaudville, a tiny town in south Louisiana, where the arts are celebrated and the people are welcoming. I discovered Gateau Nana this year! And Song Trivia and Social Commentary! I made some great new friends and acquaintances in south Louisiana. I spend a lot of time waiting until my next trip to Arnaudville. The way we found Arnaudville and the house on the Teche where we stay has its own convoluted sort of story and wispy Cammie-connections which I'll be able to convey someday.

This year has also included a great first-semester at school; last semester, in the spring, was rough, rough, rough, but this semester has been good, and all but three of my students passed their EOC exam. And my gosh, the people that stepped up to contribute to my classroom library or to fill my Amazon wish list for my classroom have been amazing,

As this year comes to a close, I think we all tend to look back and evaluate our year, and I'm no different. It has not been without challenges, to be sure. Christmas is often a difficult time for me... I get overly sentimental and filled with loss for those who are no longer with us. We have a very small family and those losses are so strongly felt. But we persevere, we make new traditions, new friends, and really, I am blessed.

This self-serving post is really meant just to say thank you to everyone who made this year so exciting and gratifying for me.

You know who you are.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Where Did My Summer Go?

Kayaks on Bayou Teche (Arnaudville, LA)
With less than a week before I return to work for the 2019-20 school year, I looked at this blog and realized that I haven't posted a single thing all summer. My last post was the Kelley brothers D-Day post and technically, that was a re-post.  It is telling that the post before that one was from April and was about the restored cottages in Arnaudville, La., because that's pretty much where I've been most of the summer, either physically or in spirit.

As soon as school was out, we went to Arnaudville and stayed three nights; it was heaven. As I wrote in April, the cottages are lovingly restored and are the perfect getaway, at least for me. Arnaudville is in quick driving distance to Breaux Bridge (about 10 miles), to Lafayette, to any number of other places. New Iberia is less than an hour away. St. Martinville closer than that. Henderson Lake -- about 20 minutes or so. 

We've met some cool people in south Louisiana and made some good friends. I see a retirement destination in my future.

We came back from Arnaudville at the end of May and then spent ten days in Iowa, visiting Steve's family, then to Frisco, TX to visit my daughter and her family, then home for a couple of weeks and then back to Arnaudville for three days. And that was pretty much my summer!

On top of all that, I've had five days of teacher in-service work spread throughout that and I spent a couple of days at school getting my room spruced up for the new year.  My personal computer died and I had to get a new one -- always sort of traumatic for me.  And I've literally spent a lot of time watching my grass grow: we had a fungus attack our St. Augustine and had to treat that twice.  All those plans I had to clean out closets and downsize the clutter in my life never materialized.

The summer has blown by. 

Meanwhile, I've been working on a second book project; that's primarily in the research stages right now. The actual writing isn't happening yet, but I'm excited about it.

With all that happening, I haven't had much time to keep up with my blog, but I know it's here, and you know it's here, and I will get back into a routine before long.

I've had some thoughts and rants run through my head, and thought about posting them, but I'm trying to stay in a more positive place these days and decided I should probably keep my mouth shut on those.  Biding my time.

I'm still here, SIGIS is still here, and we'll get this thing rolling again before too long. Thanks for still being here! 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

D-Day 70th Anniversary: Remembering the Kelley Brothers

6/6/19:  Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day and I am reposting my tribute to Shreveport's own Kelley brothers.  During the course of this research I was blessed to meet Charlotte, one of the members of the Kelley family and she was a great help in filling out some of the family history.  As this article explains, Bose Kelley was killed in the Normandy invasion on D-Day and is buried in Greenwood cemetery in the veteran's section in Shreveport. If you want to visit his grave it is not hard to find: there are always flowers placed on his grave, and a flag, and he is buried right next to his brother, William.

On this 70th anniversary of D-Day, I'm running a version of one of my columns at DaTechGuy; here in Shreveport, one family lost three sons in less than two years in World War II.  During that war many families across our nation lost more than one son, but as far as I know, the Kelley family is the only family in Shreveport that lost three sons-- one of them in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.  

Like all of America, Shreveport watched the unfolding events at Pearl Harbor in 1941 with horror.  

In February 1942, William G. Kelley (his friends and family called him “Bob”) felt the call to service and enlisted in the Army Air Corps.  He had graduated from the local high school, attended Louisiana College, and was attending seminary.  He was ordained at the First Baptist Church in Shreveport by Dr. M. E. Dodd.  When he enlisted, Bob was preaching at the Evangeline Mission, a new church in town that he helped build with the assistance of the Queensborough Baptist Church.

Bob Kelley went to officers’ school and became a bombardier; he went with the Eighth Air Force to England.  Lt. Kelley had been overseas only six weeks when his plane crashed near Fontainebleau, France and claimed his life on November 10, 1944.  He was twenty-four years old.

The Evangeline Mission, where Bob was a preacher, was renamed for him as Kelley Memorial Baptist Church.

A second Kelley son, Bose, Jr., died in the D-Day invasion.  Al McIntosh, writing for the Rock County Star Herald, wrote on June 8, 1944, after learning that the expected invasion of France had finally taken place:
“This is no time for any premature rejoicing or cockiness because the coming weeks are going to bring grim news.  This struggle is far from over – it has only started – and if anyone thinks that a gain of ten miles means that the next three hundred are going to go as fast or easy he is only an ostrich.”
He was correct:  the grim news was only beginning.

William Kelley
Bose Kelly, Jr. enlisted in May 1942.  Bose graduated from Fair Park High School in Shreveport.  He was married to Betty Miller and working as a mechanic at Central Motor Company, a car dealership.  Bose volunteered for the Army Airborne, went to jump school and became a paratrooper.  Bose was part of the 507 PIR which became attached to the 82nd Airborne in 1943. The 507 PIR was activated at Fort Benning, Georgia on July 20, 1942 and trained there and in Alliance, Nebraska.  In 1943, the 507th PIR shipped out to Northern Ireland, then England, and it was in Nottingham where they prepared for the coming Allied invasion of France.  They studied sand tables, drop zones, and were given Hershey’s chocolates and a carton of cigarettes.

Bose was on a C-47, number 13 in his stick, as the plane lumbered through the fog banks toward Drop Zone T, near the west bank of the Merderet River.  Because of the fog and the incoming German flak, the C-47s flew faster and higher than anticipated which caused almost all of the paratroopers to miss the drop zone.  They were scattered over a 15 mile area.  The 507th was the last regiment to jump and by the time Bose Kelley’s C-47 was over the Cotentin peninsula the entire area was stirred up with flak coming from every direction. There were sixteen men in Bose Kelley’s stick and at least eight of them were killed that night.  The Germans had flooded the valley as a defensive tactic and some paratroopers, weighted down by equipment and unable to swim, drowned.  Bose Kelley was killed by a direct hit from an artillery shell.

Major General Paul F. Smith wrote in his Foreword to Dominique Francois’s history of the 507th,
“This regiment unquestionably received the worst drop of the six US parachute regiments dropped that night.”
Howard Huebner, who was number 3 in Bose’s stick, survived that drop.  He wrote:
I am a Paratrooper! I was 21 yrs old when we jumped into Normandy. 
We knew the area where we were supposed to land, because we had studied it on sand tables, and then had to draw it on paper by memory, but that all faded as our regiment was the last to jump, and things had changed on the ground. Most of us missed our drop zone by miles.  As we were over our drop zone there was a downed burning plane. Later I found out it was one of ours. The flack was hitting our plane and everything from the ground coming our way looked like the Fourth of July. 
When I hit the ground in Normandy, I looked at my watch.  It was 2:32 AM, June 6, 1944. I cut myself out of my chute, and the first thing I heard was shooting and some Germans hollering in German, "mucksnell toot sweet Americanos". 
We the 507th, was supposed to land fifteen miles inland, but I landed three or four miles from Utah Beach by the little town of Pouppeville. I wound up about 1000 yards from a French farm house that the Germans were using for a barracks, and about 200 feet from a river, an area that the Germans had flooded. If I would have landed in the water, I may not be here today as I can’t swim. A lot of paratroopers drowned because of the flooded area.
Local writer Gary Hines spoke to Bose’s widow, Betty, for an article he wrote for the August 2000 issue of SB Magazine.  She told him, “He was going to win the war and come back home.”  Betty was married at 18 and a widow at 20.  She told Mr. Hines “We were both young enough to feel that he was coming home.  He wasn’t going to be one of the ones who was lost.”

A third Kelley son, Edgar Rew, was drafted into the Army in 1943.  He was sent to Camp McCain in Mississippi where he died five weeks later from an outbreak of spinal meningitis.  He never made it out of basic training.  He was 27 years old; he left behind a wife of five years.

The remaining Kelley brother was Jack.  Jack Richard Kelley was serving in the medical corps in Washington at Fort Lewis.  His father, Bose Kelley, Sr., wrote to U.S. Representative Overton Brooks and pleaded with him to prevent his oldest son from going overseas.   It is reminiscent of the scene in Saving Private Ryan where General Marshall reads the Bixby letter to his officers.  In this case, in a letter dated December 8, 1944, Mr. Kelley received word that his son Jack would remain stateside for the duration of the war.  Jack Kelley died in 1998.

The bodies of Bose Kelley, Jr. and his brother William (Bob) were buried in separate military funerals in France but were returned to the United States in September 1948.  Bose and his brother now rest side by side in the veterans section of Greenwood Cemetery in Shreveport.  Their brother, Edgar Rew Kelley, is in a civilian cemetery across town, the Jewella Cemetery on Greenwood Road.  Their father, who pleaded for his fourth son to be spared, died just one month after Bose and William’s bodies were buried in Greenwood Cemetery.  It’s as if he was just waiting for them to come home.

For sixty-five years their sister, Ruby, tended the graves of her brothers.  There has never been a time that I visited the graves that there was not a crisp American flag flying over each and flowers.  Ruby died last year and the graves are now tended by Ruby's daughter.  I visited the graves of Bose and William last week and sure enough, there were two new flags and flowers steadfastly in place.

As we observe this 70th anniversary of D-Day, we remember the sacrifices of young men like the Kelleys all across the country. Their name belongs alongside the Sullivan brothers, the Borgstrum brothers, the Niland brothers, and the Wright brothers.  It is their heroism and their sacrifice, along with that of so many others, that we remember and honor.

For further reading:

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Arnaudville Guest Houses Are Lovingly Restored and Incredibly Inviting

Arnaudville is a small community in St. Landry and St. Martin parishes on historic Bayou Teche and some pretty cool things are happening there.

A favorite stop of ours when traveling through the southern part of our state is Bayou Teche Brewing on La. Hwy 31. Besides the fabulous beer and tasty wood-fired pizza, you meet the most interesting and friendly people there.  On our most recent trip we met a guy from Florida who was in town working for developer Tony Adrian at Les Deux Mondes guest houses.

It was an odd coincidence because we had spotted the colorful cottages a few days before and been curious about them, and now, here was this fellow ready to tell us all about them. A couple of days later we had the chance to meet Tony and tour three of the cottages and now we can't wait to return and stay for a few days. In fact, I'm rather obsessed with the idea.

Tony Adrian is an energetic and enterprising craftsman; a former nurse, he now is co-owner and developer in the renovation of seven formerly dilapidated homes on Front Street in Arnaudville. The houses all date prior to 1920s and he was eager to show them to us.

The pastel cottages actually face Bayou Teche and while all of them are not complete yet, the three we saw were ready for occupancy while another is the current residence for the ULL student who does the landscaping and gardening.

Just a few years ago the property was a trash dump and eyesore and neighbors were a little nervous when Tony started moving in more dilapidated houses, but after he removed several dump trucks full of trash, fixed up the houses, and planted some flowers, tensions eased.

The cottages we walked through had gorgeous cypress tables and red oak counter tops, fully updated kitchens and bathrooms, stunning pine plank flooring, and simple, tasteful decor.

The walls feature original art from Nunu Art Collective in Arnaudville. Tony pointed out that he used milk paint made on site on the walls, "no latex paint," he said, shaking his head.

He has built spacious porches facing the bayou for each one. 

"Houses used to front the bayou," he explained. "The street side was the back door, so that's what we did."

You can walk across the street to Russell's and pick up your groceries or a plate lunch; you can spend the afternoon in a hammock just watching the bayou, or you can go down to the brewery for pizza and conversation.  You can even put a kayak in the bayou and explore the historic Bayou Teche.

"Have you ever had loquat?" Tony asked me as we walked around to the street side of the houses; he pointed to a tree filled with pale orange fruit. He plucked one from the tree, bent forward, and bit in, juice dripping everywhere. "You might need a bath when you get through!" he laughed.   The gardens along the cottages are filled with lovingly tended blooming plants, natural grasses, fruit trees, and vegetable plants.  Amber was setting out tomato plants when we were there.

Tony is all about conservation and preservation so he uses natural and local materials when he can; the rooms are all inviting and filled with natural light. He has updated all of the plumbing and electricity.

Some of the cottages are single occupancy while others are duplexes with a shared porch.

The cottages are listed on Air BnB, if you're interested in a stay. I plan to try them all!  In fact, I'm hoping maybe I can talk Tony into selling me one someday, but I doubt he'd be game for that. I get the impression this is a project of love for him.

Further Reading:
Arnaudville Guest House Project Targets Tourists, Artists (Acadiana Advocate, 9/10/14)
Les Deux Mondes Project Grows in Arnaudville (Daily World, 8/23/14)
Waterfront Cajun Creole Cottage on Bayou Teche - 4 Guests (Air BnB)
Waterfront Cajun Creole Cottage on Bayou Teche - 7 Guests (Air BnB)

Friday, April 19, 2019

The People are the Best Part of the Books Along the Teche Festival

New Iberia oaks featured during the Live Oak Walk.
In my series on the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, I would be remiss if I didn't cover the best part of this festival.  Yes, the events are great, but what makes this festival so cool is the people you meet in New Iberia.

This festival draws people from all over the world, and that is not an exaggeration! James Lee Burke has quite a fan base, it seems.

Steve and I have made really good friends at this festival and have met people we stay in touch with.  Last year we met Wendy and Mike who simply insisted that we could not sit out the Cajun dancing, would not take no for an answer, and before you know it, had us up dancing with the locals. We stayed in touch and even made another trip to New Iberia over the summer to meet them for dinner and dancing. You won't meet better people anywhere.

This year we made new friends once again.

The first night, the Opening Reception event was moved from The Shadows to the Sliman Theater on Main Street due to rainy weather. We sat at long tables in the center of the room with the two buffet lines against the walls, and the Bunk Johnson Brazz Band played on stage.  We were joined at our table by Mary Ubinas who, with her husband David Dahlquist, is active in conservation and preservation of Bayou Teche through the Teche Project.

Mary is the lady who last year stood outside of The Shadows with us and told us that they could have retired anywhere in the world they wanted to and they wanted to come to New Iberia. They were from Iowa, where Steve is from, and we really enjoyed meeting them, so I was glad to see Mary again this year. She was accompanied by her friend Marsha, also from Iowa.

In the "It's a Small World" category, we found out that Marsha and Steve have one of those six-degrees-of-separation connections and we all hit it off immediately.

Marsha and Steve.

The Opening Reception could not have been more fun or spontaneous. Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser was in attendance and declared his love for New Iberia in his comments to the crowd. He said that he has the best job in the world and I tend to believe him. Who wouldn't love being able to attend all of Louisiana's great festivals and mingle with such wonderful people?

The organizers of the festival are talented, adaptable people who were totally unflappable about the location move for the event and when it came time to do the Second Line with the band, normally done through the gardens of The Shadows, Vicky Branton just led us all right out the front doors of the Sliman, down Main Street, stopped traffic, crossed over, and came back again!  It was delightful!

Cathy Indest and the Second Line (Photo used with permission from Lee Ball Photography)

I think the band was as surprised as anyone that we went outside.

The Bunk Johnson Brazz Band Second Line down Main St. (Photo used by permission from Lee Ball)

This was about the time I discovered my camera battery was dead and I had failed to bring my backup, so I ran alongside with my cell phone recording the Second Line. Cars were honking and people rolled down their windows and waved and cheered.

We kept on going until we returned to the Sliman.

Second Line down Main. (Photo used with permission from Lee Ball photography)

The evening concluded with a lively auction of a beautiful painting by Jerome Weber whose work was used as the image on the festival t-shirt and poster this year.

As we were leaving, Steve and I lingered, visiting, hating for the evening to end. That's when we met Stefan Kropelin who came to the festival from Cologne, Germany.

Anyone who knows my husband knows he loves the time he served in Germany while in the Air Force and so he was delighted to meet Stefan. They hit it off right away as they compared blood sugar readings, meters, and insulin pens, and then Stefan told us all about how he discovered Burke's books and how much he enjoyed them.

Steve and Stefan Kropelin.

He's read them in both German and English and when he learned about this festival he just had to come.

Stefan even rented Clete Purcell's room Number 4 at the Teche Motel!

Stefan in Room No. 4, Teche Motel. (Photo used with permission from Lee Ball)

Now that's a fan!

I just fell in love with Stefan; he was having a wonderful time. He took millions of photos, he gathered email addresses, and he talked to every single person there. Such a wonderful, joyful person!

The last night we all went to the Boogie On Down event at the Steamboat Warehouse Pavilion where we ate, danced with Rebecca Wells! (squeeeee!), and made more friendships.

Marsha, Wendy, Me, Steve. (Photo by Stefan Kropelin).

At the end of the night I think Stefan was as sad for it to all end as anyone; we were the last ones to leave long after the band had already packed up.

Stefan catching one more photo of the band.

I don't think there is enough space to capture all the great friendships I've made through this festival. Fran Thibodeaux from the Iberia Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau has my heart - she has made it possible for us to attend this festival and could not have been more generous and kind to Steve and me.

What I've found in New Iberia, and I've made at least half a dozen visits in the past twelve months, is a community of warm, welcoming people who are genuinely glad that you are there and happy to greet you and talk to you. They're proud of their community and happy to share it with you. I completely understand when Mary Ubinas says there is no place they would rather live.

There is so much happening at this festival, I still could not do it all this year, and I still have a list of posts to share with you about other events!

Honestly, in a state with over 400 festivals per year, the Books Along the Teche Festival is one not to be missed. It highlights all that is beautiful and special about Louisiana, about Iberia Parish, and about the people that comprise both. James Lee Burke sites and scenery is just a bonus!

Special thanks once again to Lee Ball Photography for the use of his photographs!

Further Reading:
Books Along the Teche Literary Festival: Great Southern Chefs (SIGIS, 4/13/19)
Author Rebecca Wells Charms the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival (SIGIS, 4/10/19)
Take a Trip to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 1 (SIGIS, 4/9/2018)
Take a Trip to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 2 (SIGIS, 4/14/2018)
Explore Chad: Basic Research and UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Books Along the Teche Literary Festival Features Great Southern Chefs Bonnie Breaux and Ryan Trahan

Chefs Bonnie Breaux and Ryan Trahan (used with permission from Lee Ball)
In Louisiana, good food is serious business. We prize our oyster beds, our redfish, catfish, and crawfish. We can batter and fry almost anything and when we aren't doing that we are making a roux and creating a delicious etouffee or gumbo.  From Natchitoches meat pies to crabmeat pizzas in Arnaudville, from crawfish in Breaux Bridge to oysters in New Orleans, we love good food.

That might be why the Great Southern Chefs Food Demo at the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival in April is always a popular event.

This year the cooking demo featured 2017 Louisiana Seafood Queen Bonnie Breaux of Cafe Sydnie Mae in Breaux Bridge and chef Ryan Trahan of Blue Dog Cafe in Lafayette. Ryan is the 2018 King of American Seafood.

The event filled up quickly Friday morning at the Steamboat Warehouse Pavilion on Bayou Teche in New Iberia. I skipped breakfast that morning because I knew we would soon be sampling delicious bowls of crawfish etouffee and Louisiana shrimp and grits.

Before the chefs demos, we were treated to a discussion by author Ken Wells about his new book, Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou:

A seasoned journalist, Ken Wells sleuths out the answers. His obsession goes back to his childhood in the Cajun bastion of Bayou Black, where his French-speaking mother’s gumbo often began with a chicken chased down in the yard. Back then, gumbo was a humble soup little known beyond the boundaries of Louisiana. So when a homesick young Ken, at college in Missouri, realized there wasn’t a restaurant that could satisfy his gumbo cravings, he called his momma for the recipe. That phone-taught gumbo was a disaster. The second, cooked at his mother’s side, fueled a lifelong quest to explore gumbo’s roots and mysteries. 
In Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou, Wells does just that. He spends time with octogenarian chefs who turn the lowly coot into gourmet gumbo; joins a team at a highly competitive gumbo contest; visits a factory that churns out gumbo by the ton; observes the gumbo-making rituals of an iconic New Orleans restaurant where high-end Creole cooking and Cajun cuisine first merged.

Mr. Wells's talk was peppered with funny stories and one point that interested me was his research into the earliest gumbos and his discovery that more than likely bear grease was used as the oil for the roux.

Author Ken Wells (photo used with permission from Lee Ball)

"New Orleans was awash in bear grease!" he told us.

This made perfect sense to me.  Elizabeth Shown Mills talks about this in her book The Forgotten People: Cane River's Creoles of Color.  By 1792, Marie Therese Coincoin, a former slave given her freedom by Pierre Thomas Claude Metoyer, was successfully farming tobacco on land given to her by Metoyer. She shipped this tobacco on barges to New Orleans. She also "trapped wild bears in the Natchitoches wilderness and sent bear grease to market..." (Mills 39).  Mills reports that Coincoin sent, in one particular shipment, three hundred hides and two barrels of bear grease.  This was a fairly common practice at that time and so Ken Wells comments resonated with me.

During the course of his research, Mr. Wells even obtained a small container of bear grease from a supplier and tested the bear-grease-roux.

His book is a fascinating study in the history of our most beloved dish and after his talk, Mr. Wells signed copies of his book.

The first cooking demo of the morning was chef Bonnie Breaux. An animated, enthusiastic chef, Miss Breaux says she is self-taught and learned to cook at her mother's side and later out of necessity to feed her family. Most recently Breaux had been the chef at St. John restaurant in St. Martinville (one of our favorites!) and Cafe Sydnie Mae is a sort of sister restaurant in Breaux Bridge.

Breaux shared her crawfish etouffee secrets with the crowd at the Steamboat Warehouse Pavilion and stressed the importance of  using the crawfish fat in the etouffee.  "That's where all your flavor is," she said.  When asked what kind of rice she uses, Breaux said she just uses regular medium or long grain rice in her etouffee.  There's a time and place for jasmine rice and the other gourmet grains, but not in a Louisiana etouffee. She also shared that she never tastes her food while she's cooking it.

Chef Ryan Trahan followed and his dish was shrimp and grits.  Trahan grew up in a restaurant family
Trahan's Shrimp and Grits (photo used with permission from Lee Ball)
and is from Crowley, Louisiana. His rule in the kitchen: "Everyone stirs the grits," he said.  "If you walk by, you stir the grits. If I walk by, I stir the grits. Everyone stirs the grits."   The rule must work pretty well because his shrimp and grits were to die for; the grits were creamy and the dish was seasoned with Trahan's own Worcestershire sauce.

Breaux and Trahan were available and visible throughout the day, talking to festival participants and sharing cooking stories. They were both at the evening event at the Sliman theater as well.

There is no shortage of fabulous chefs in Louisiana but festival organizers were on top of the game when they scored these two "royal" chefs for the demo this year!

Coming next in my Festival recap: Taking the Second Line through Historic Main Street

Thank you to photographer Lee Ball for allowing me to use his photos!

Further Reading:
2018 Small Town Chefs: Bonnie Breaux (Country Roads Magazine, 6/22/18)
Gumbo Life, Tales from the Roux Bayou (Robert Davis, New York Journal of Books)
About the Chef: Ryan Trahan (Blue Dog Cafe)
Voter's Choice (Vicky Branton, The Daily Iberian, 10/24/18)
Author Rebecca Wells Charms the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival (SIGIS, 4/10/19)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Author Rebecca Wells Charms the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival

Rebecca Wells in her vintage 1930s dress.
In 1996, Louisiana author Rebecca Wells published Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in which Siddalee Walker from Thornton, Louisiana contemplates the past, the future, and the lifelong friendships between her mother Vivi and her fellow Ya-Yas.

The book was incredibly successful and sparked such an interest in the Walker clan that the author's earlier novel, Little Altars Everywhere (1992) also became a hit.

From there, anything Rebecca Wells wrote was gold.

As fate would have it, the sweet taste of success would be on the back burner for Miss Wells. As her books began to rise to the tops of the best seller lists, she would be diagnosed with Lyme disease and would spend the next few years battling the chronic illness that this diagnosis would bring.

At the fourth annual Books Along the Teche Literary Festival last weekend, Miss Wells did not talk a great deal about her battle with Lyme disease but the residual effects do linger; bright light is intolerable and she gets cold easily. She tires easily, but when you give as much as she does to a performance, that is easy to understand.

The stage at the Sliman Theater in New Iberia was set for the popular author: three bottles of Essentia water, reading glasses, a tall bar stool, a black shawl, a music stand with her notes.

Miss Wells entered from the back of the stage, did a "Loretta Young twirl" to show off her vintage 1930s dress, and took her place.  Beautiful, ageless, charming, she told the capacity crowd about her dress, her struggle to find shoulder pads for it, and she talked about returning to the South to live in Tennessee.

The highlight of her performance was her reading from her book-in-progress, Divine Daughter of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. In an interview with Deep South Magazine in 2016, Wells said, "I am never happier than when I am performing my work. It’s really all I want to do," and it shows. She is a performer and as she read her work it was pure poetry. The inflection, the quizzical tones, the humor, delivered in Miss Wells's sweet southern drawl all come through and bring her characters to life. It is mesmerizing to watch and to hear.

In the excerpt Wells shared with us, "No More Y'all," Siddalee Walker is in New York and takes a class to minimize her Southern accent in order to advance her acting career. Sidda struggles with this, of course, and as Miss Wells enunciated the difference between "ten" and "tin" and "four" and "fo-oour," I think everyone in the audience was silently saying those words to themselves. I know at the dinner event later that evening everyone at our table said them aloud!

"Say 'Ten'!" said one guest from Iowa.

"Tin," I said.

Whoops and good-natured laughter.

After her performance, Miss Wells took a brief break to recoup, and then signed copies of her books for everyone who wanted her signature. Some brought play programs from other performances, and some brought posters. Anything Rebecca-Wells-related that was there, got signed, and anyone who wanted to visit with her got their wish. She was the most gracious, kind person I could possibly imagine.

Later that evening, at the dinner and dancing event at the Steamboat Pavilion on Bayou Teche, as we practices saying "four" and "fo-ooor," as we ate fried shrimp and jambalaya, and as we danced to Terry Huval's Jambalaya Cajun Band, in waltzed Rebecca Wells, perfectly darling in black leggings, pink long sleeved top, and a black, gauze tunic.

She is, as my mama would say, "not as big as a minute," a tiny little thing, with her hair swooped up on top of her head and her lipstick perfect.

She spent the next hour eating, dancing, and taking photos with the crowd.

Posing for photos with the locals

She did the Cajun two-step, the Cajun Conga line, and she took the microphone and pronounced the festival to be "not a book festival but a book party!"  She expressed her love for Louisiana and her hometown roots and said how glad she was to be back.

Wells in the Conga line with your author right behind her.

She won every heart in the place.

It is so exciting to see this festival grow and to see the great talent that it attracts. Last year was Ernest Gaines and I couldn't imagine how they could top that. Now I can't imagine who could top the precious, talented Rebecca Wells!

Coming Next:  The Great Southern Chefs Cooking Demo and Ken Wells/Gumbo Life

Further Reading:
Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Louisiana Blood: An Interview With Rebecca Wells (Lafayette Daily Advertiser, 4/5/19)
Wells has Audience Thrilled with Tales of Life, Fiction (The Daily Iberian, 4/7/19)
Rebecca Wells Comes Home (Deep South Magazine, 10/14/16)
Take a Trip to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 1 (SIGIS, 4/9/18)
Take a Trip to the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 2 (SIGIS, 4/14/18)

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Books Along the Teche Literary Festival 2019: Making my Schedule

Shadows on the Teche
Somehow in my past I had neglected reading The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. I remember when the book came out and I remember everyone reading it and talking about it. My daughter even read it (I think) because I had it on my shelf here for years; I never picked it up.

When I found out that author Rebecca Wells will be the featured author at the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival this year, I decided it was time to read the book. My librarian friend and fellow book-nerd insisted that I also read Little Altars Everywhere, which I did. Then I read Ya-Ya's in Bloom.  I now know the Ya-Ya's like my own family.

Now that I've read these, I'm excited to see Rebecca Wells next weekend at the literary festival! This is a woman that can tell a story! My favorite of the three books is Little Altars Everywhere but they are all wonderful; I have not read The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder yet, I've been so caught up in the Ya-Ya's. They remind me of my mother and her friends in a lot of ways and oh they are so Southern! 

So now I'm looking at the events schedule for the festival and trying to plan my events. This is more difficult than it sounds; there is so much I want to do!

We attended this festival last year and had a wonderful time, made new friends, and fell in love with Iberia Parish. That we would return this year was never in question. 

Do I want to do the same events I did last year?  (Yes!) Do I want to add new events? (Yes!) The festival organizers have spread things out a bit from last year and there are more opportunities to do things; for example, last year I missed most of the authors fair on Main Street because we were doing the Dave's Haunts and Jaunts tour. During the afternoon a nasty cold front blew in and by the time the bus tour was over most of the authors had closed up. 

Last year I didn't do the Bouree lessons and I think that would be sort of fun! 

This is my tentative schedule this year:

Louisiana Seafood Great Southern Chefs Foods Demo  9:30 - 11:00: this was great last year and
we got to sample delicious food!
Dave's Haunts and Jaunts Tour   12:30 - 3:00  We did this one last year but two things make me want to repeat this: James Lee Burke has released New Iberia Blues since then, and Danny Bonaventure. Danny is the tour guide and he's terrific, tons of fun, and excellent at his job.  This was a blast and I'm all in for doing this again.
Live Oak Walk  3:00 - 5:00  Main Street is lined with beautiful live oaks and I think this would be fun.  The walk is hosted by a local arborist and I would probably learn some things. We did not do this last year.  
The Jazz it Up Opening Reception  6:00 - 8:00  There is no way on God's green planet that I would miss this.  Hosted at the beautiful Shadows on the Teche plantation home of Weeks Hall, this was a fabulous event last year. The Bunk Johnson Brazz Band provides the music and there is a cochon de lait on the grounds under large white tents. If that's not your thing, you have the option of other seafood specialties. Tables are scattered on the grounds along the bayou and you can eat, visit, listen to music, and at the end of the evening there is a really fun second-line around the grounds! We met so many wonderful people last year at this event; it was one of my favorite things we did.  I'm all in
for this one.

So Friday looks to be a pretty busy day!  So far I've only picked up one new event.

The Dave's Haunts and Jaunts Tour runs again at 8:00; it is a possibility we might do it Saturday instead of Friday.  
Books Into Movies Panel Discussion  10:30 - 12:00.  I'm maybe interested in this event.  The panel will discuss what authors should know about making a film of their books. A lot of people tell me Cane River Bohemia ought to be a movie; I'm not so sure about that, but maybe I'll learn something or get some networking in via this panel. 
Allons Manger Food Truck and Music Event begins at 10:30 and runs until 1:30 while the Authors Book Fair runs from 9:30 - 3:00. I think I want to participate in both of these and have a fairly unscheduled day on Main Street, eating, looking at books, listening to music, and watching Bayou Teche.  This might give me time to visit the Bayou Teche Museum which we did last year and loved. 
Bouree Lessons are from 11:00 - 12:00 and I could fit that in, too.
University of Lafayette Academic Symposium 12:30 - 2:30.  We attended this last year and it was great; I definitely want to do this again.  The topic is James Lee Burke and Louisiana Politics: right up my alley. 

Now this is my problem: if I do the Symposium, I can't do the Reader's Theater which runs from 1:00 - 2:00, and I missed this last year, too. The actors are reading from Divine Secrets and this will be awesome!  Ugh!

From 3:00 - 5:00 Rebecca Wells will speak and I'm definitely doing this. I wouldn't miss a chance to meet this storyteller/author!  I bet this is going to be awesome!

The Boogie on Down Evening Party is from 6:00 - 9:00 and we will definitely do this again. It was great fun last year. Terry Huval and his group will play fabulous Cajun music, the food will be abundant and delicious, and the friendship and fellowship will be heartwarming!  

On Sunday, Steve and I will be heading back home so we will miss the Swamp Tours and the
Symphony in the Park. The trip home for us will include lunch in St. Martinville and a stop in Arnaudville to stock up on Bayou Teche Brewing beers and Cajun Saucer Pizza.  

It sounds like an exhausting weekend and I can't wait!  And even still there is not enough time to do it all. I did not even list the Art Guild Exhibit, the movie screenings, the Poetry and Music event, or the Sir Speedy Run.  

And my gosh, you're in Iberia Parish! When is there time to visit Avery Island? Rip Van Winkle Gardens? Konriko Rice Mill?  I'm dying to go to Cypremort Point!  I've never been to Jeanerette or Loreauville! The docks at Delcambre are cool to see!  There is so much to see and do.  This is why after we attended the literary festival last year, we have made at least four more trips to the area since then, and I still haven't seen and done everything there is to do.

Guess that means I'll keep on coming back to Iberia Parish!

If you go:
Here is the Schedule of Events
My trip report from last year, Part 1 and Part 2