One of the many advantages for me of living in Louisiana is that much of my extended family is here. Though I visited the state regularly throughout my entire life for holidays (and, oddly enough, Summers), I was rarely here for life’s smaller celebrations. Now, I can make it to things like my cousin’s son’s baby’s 1st birthday. My aunt Norma turning 85 is a pretty big excuse for a party, but this celebration was small – 28 people on a boat for 5 hours on the Tchefuncte (chuh – funk-ta) River, so who knows whether I would have been able to attend if I weren’t just across the lake.
The big boat next to my cousins’s boat in Mandeville belongs to their very generous friend, Brian. He volunteered his beautiful craft and his time, though my cousin’s son, Phillip, found great joy in piloting most of the day. After we had all the decorations, food and folks aboard, we headed upriver. Until we crossed under the 12, I was familiar with most of the shoreline and it’s stately homes. The river is a friendly place (as is pretty much everywhere down here) so people regularly wave from their porches, from passing boats and while slicing the water on skis, inner-tubes and kneeboards. But when you cover your boat in birthday balloons, EVERYONE waves and many shout birthday greetings.
We went all the way to Covington as the heat came off the day and fewer people flew by on Sea-Doos. With the sun setting, we turned around and headed back toward Mandeville. Then, much to my delight, we passed the dock and kept going. If you haven’t cruised along a river with cypress trees jutting up through the murky water, Spanish moss dripping from the boughs, there’s very little I can do to convey the peace and beauty of it all. There are elegant white herons and sometimes even a hawk. And there are fish leaping in the water and gators cruising by. It’s a lush, green, humid, heaven on earth.
When we got to Madisonville, they had to rotate the bridge to let us pass. The people driving Madisonville have a love/hate relationship with that bridge. It’s where we watch fireworks at New Year’s and it makes a great vantage for catching throws during the boat parade on Mardi Gras Day and I even got to “ride” it once as they rotated it open. BUT, for every boat that warrants opening the bridge, there is a 7 minute minimum wait for the cars who get stuck on either side. Many on the boat were thrilled to finally be the reason for the 7 minute delay rather than the victim of it.
We rode past honky-tonks that we’ve celebrated in, then past a giant party of teenagers, some of whom were jumping off the dock and into the dark nighttime water. I lay down staring up into the sky and marveled at how many more stars are visible here, despite the lights of New Orleans. It was rare to see more than a few dozen stars in Los Angeles. We used a phone app to identify the many constellations and marveled that the sky used to be TV to people, that they knew every star and its movements. I was able to pick out the dipper and that’s about it without the app (I know Orion too, but it wasn’t visible).
Then we hit the open water of Lake Pontchartrain and I could see the distant glow of my beloved city, my home, my New Orleans. I feel so blessed to be able to see my home from a boat on the river my family has lived on for years, the river I’ve traveled and played in for decades. I still get amazed sometimes that I don’t have to leave here anymore, that I can spend the day with my family or walking through the French Quarter and I don’t have a return ticket looming over me.
By the time we returned to Mandeville, it was after 11 pm. The cakes and crudite had been eaten, a few people had been “over-served” (that’s the polite term for drunk here) and the one child onboard was getting cranky. It had been a glorious day and we used it well.