Just after Thanksgiving two years ago this week, I moved from Los Angeles, my city of nearly 18 years, and came to New Orleans. I spent last year’s Thanksgiving in L.A. with the same friends I was lucky enough to see again a week ago. So, this year I opted to share supper with my family across the lake. I started the day watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade doesn’t normally make my to-do list but I wasn’t about to miss the “Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Moves” of the 610 Stompers, New Orleans first all male dance troupe.
I sat through cartoon balloons and lip synching pop stars for a glimpse of those mustachioed men in their white tank tops, thin red satin jackets and baby blue gym teacher shorts in 20 degree weather. It was well worth the wait. Their dance to I Need a Hero was more fun than the city was used to and the hosts weren’t sure what to make of it. I laughed while puffing with pride then headed out the door.
Thanksgiving at my Aunt Norma’s guarantees great food and even better company. I always assumed that people grew up knowing their cousins. One of my cousins even lived with us for a year when I was 9. While I was living in Los Angeles, my phone rang during a lunch. The person I was meeting asked if I needed to take the call and I said, “No, it’s my cousin. I’ll call her back later.” The person freaked out thinking it must be an emergency. Turns out that lots of people only talk to their cousins at weddings and funerals, if that. I’ve never taken my cousins for granted, but it opened my eyes further to the different ways people define family and the expectations they have for those relationships. I always expect to have a good time with my aunt and cousins.
Homemade Southern cooking gets plenty of opportunities to show off between tailgating and barbecues, crawfish boils and hurricane parties, but people tend to pull out the stops for a potluck holiday dinner. We had the traditional turkey, cranberries and cornbread stuffing and gravy but mashed potatoes were replaced by 2 delicious versions of sweet potatoes. There was dirty rice, a mirliton casserole, spinach madeline, turduckin sausage, and a variety of complex fruit salads among other traditional Southern taste treats.
After the meal, shared with family, friends and neighbors, many of us headed to the marina to hang out on the boat. I grabbed my things from the car then looked down into my hands. I smiled at my cousins and said, “I just got this cooler from my car and this coozie from my purse.” They hugged me and agreed – I’m officially living local now.
A cool front was pushing the warm, humid day into a brisk night. As we sat on the roof deck of the boat taking in the constellations and silhouettes of Spanish moss dripping from cypress trees, a light dew coated our clothes and hair. I’ve seen condensation form on cars and inside cool houses on a hot day, but it never occurred to me that it could form on me.
Sitting on the roof of the docked boat, I had a minute to reflect on all that I’m thankful for. I won’t recount my personal gratitudes, but I am exceedingly thankful for my move to New Orleans. I love my city in a way that I’ve never loved any other. Last year, in L.A., the Saints played and I was lucky enough to stumble into a group of New Orleanians watching the game. But no one was wearing black and gold. Friday, after removing pumpkins and scarecrows and decorating Norma’s house for Christmas with a couple of my cousins, I joined the rest of the gang for a weekly LSU watching party.
I was still full from the wonderful turkey and turduckin sausage gumbo my cousin made from leftovers, but there was an ample spread complete with Dreamsicle pie that a neighbor and I had come up with at dinner the day before. Most everyone was wearing purple. LSU banners were hung and a giant stuffed tiger sat beneath one of the 2 screens provided for viewing (indoor and outdoor). LSU beat Arkansas 41 -17 for a 12 -0 season thus far, landing them in the Southeastern Conference Championship game next week.
With the Arkansas game cinched, I handed out hugs to family and friends from 4 years old to 85 and headed back over the causeway toward the Big Easy. There are very few sights as welcoming to me as the Superdome defining the NOLA skyline.
I arrived to the sad news that bluesman Coco Robicheaux had passed. I’d seen him play at the French Quarter Fest last Spring and enjoyed his gravel-voiced cool. It wasn’t until I read of his death that I learned that he was the creator of the bronze bust of Professor Longhair that sits in the entrance of Tipitina’s. People traditionally rub the head as they join the party inside. Turns out the bust was fashioned from hundreds of pennies he’d collected from friends. Everyday, I find more to love about this city.
I could only find the 610 Stompers doing the televised dance on YouTubes taken of TV screens in various local living rooms along with the laughter of those watching, so I give you this video of the dance that made them famous and the New York crowd loving it!