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.