Like many children of divorce, I spent most of my childhood with my mother, so, although both sides of my family are from Louisiana, I’d really only met one half. Sure, I knew my father’s mother and siblings and their children, but that was it. Last weekend, my father and brother flew into town and we all headed to Baton Rouge for a weekend of seafood and family.
The rain kept us inside Saturday, but the shrimp were outstanding. I met at least a dozen folks and was grateful that I’d voted we wear name-tags the next day as I could only retain 4 or 5 names. I’ve always tried to treat people as if they were cousins, people whose welfare I care about, because I genuinely believe that we are all one in a very real sense, that I could be related to many people I share nothing in common with other than DNA. I’m comfortable assuming I could be related to my postman, the checkout girl at the grocery and the President. What has made me uncomfortable was knowing I could see my dad’s cousins at a festival or Mardi Gras and not know who they were, not wave or share a hug. Worry no more!
The 24th annual crawfish boil at my father’s cousin’s home on Sunday put an end to that. We arrived and checked in to receive our name-tags (thank goodness) and sign in with contact information for a list we’ll all be getting a copy of later. There were at the very least 50 people there, far too many to add to a Christmas card list. I didn’t really know where to start with the getting-to-know-you stuff so I wandered around with a camera until the giant plastic tubs of crawfish were poured onto 4 different picnic tables. A crawfish boil, as I’ve stated before, is more than just a meal, it’s an opportunity to stand around picking meat from shells in casual, stainable clothes while visiting, getting to know each other.
Afterward, I wandered into the kitchen to wash the smell from my fingers using my new technique of rubbing a stainless steel spoon (works better with shrimp, but definitely helps with crawfish). There, I met more people and began to be able to make groups in my mind – couples, families. The rain held out most of the day and a good time was had by all. We took a group shot of the family and I got to feel part of something new, something old, something that was here all the time, waiting for me to join in and take my place at the table. Now, I have even more family here.
Afterward, we went to another cousin’s house and looked at old photos of my dad’s mother and siblings far younger than I’d ever seen them. I’d never seen my father’s father, who passed before I was born, and it was so very clear that my dad was a chip off the old block.
My brother has been working on our family tree for a couple years. His impressive research has filled out our tree back to our arrival in the states in 1634. In addition to fun factoids about distant celebrity relatives, it appears that a relative of my mother married a relative of my father generations before my parents met making me related to… myself.
It was an extraordinary weekend. I got to see more of where I came from, of the cloth from which I was cut. I got to spend time with warm, wonderful people who fed me pounds and pounds of awesome Louisiana seafood, tons of salads with everything from peas and apples in them to bacon and cheddar, and desserts ranging from 3 kinds of brownies to homemade strawberry ice cream (awesome!). And I spent 3 days with my father and brother in the state where it all began.
Before leaving on Monday, my father, brother and I walked around the Garden District and took photos of the stunning architecture and foliage. It was a trip down memory lane for my father, who hadn’t been in New Orleans for 40 years, starting with a cup of joe from Community Coffee, the same local brand my father apparently drank during his college days at LSU.
We headed to the French Quarter, where my brother and I have many, many memories together, but none since the storm and none with our father. Dad enjoyed visiting Pat O’Briens whose motto has been, “Have Fun!” since 1933.
We also had a great lunch at Muriel’s. I’m a sucker for their shrimp and crab salad, which couldn’t possibly sound as good as it tastes.
The city and the Quarter have evolved over the decades and again after the storm when so many businesses were forced to close and reopen as newer, flashier places. But Pat O’Brien’s and the Preservation Jazz Hall next door are as they were when my dad was a boy. It’s hard for me to imagine resisting this place for 40 years, but it was really great to be there when it all came back to him.
Following my heart to the home I never lived in before has brought me more than joy, it’s brought me back into the fold, back to my roots, back to what I’m made of and who I’m connected to and all the love that’s been waiting for me here all along with the family I know and the family I just came to know.