In February of 1997, my boss at the time made an offer for me to pick a dream location to train at. He offered to send me in early and allow me to take someone as a reward for the hard work I’d done on a project.
I picked New Orleans, and my mother.
At the time my stepfather was slowly dying of heart disease and my mother was his full time care provider. My brother and I were concerned for her welfare, she looked very tired, so we arranged for family and neighbors to care for my stepfather and I took my mom to the Big Easy.
My mother has been to New Orleans, but not me. I remember giving her the window seat on the plane and her sweet excitement. It was a nice flight and I was thrilled to finally be experiencing New Orleans.
Nothing can fully describe the sensation one feels when stepping out on Bourbon Street for the first time. It’s a clear night, and with my mom as the tour guide we start up this historic street. Erotica, music and alcohol…my kind of street. We stroll the length of Bourbon Street and stop for a glass of wine. I can’t get enough of the sights and sounds of New Orleans. Tired from our traveling day, we make it a early night – well early by Bourbon Street standards.
My mother is the type of traveler that likes to utilize every minute of the light of day – so she is up at dawn. I, on the other hand am more of a carefree traveler – up at ‘whenever’. At 6am my mother is pushing me awake “Come on! Let’s go get some strong coffee and Beignets at the Cafe Du Monde!” I mumble, “Ummmm…the what…where…right now?” There is no saying no to my mother.
We leave the hotel and walk towards the Mississippi river to this large outdoor cafe at the banks of the river. We find a seat and are served delicious strong coffee and a plate full of what looks like Italian fritters to me. So these are the famous Beignets – amber colored, light, fluffy, and beautiful. We have this breakfast overlooking the downtown square and the river. Street peddlers, musicians, fortune tellers, voodoo specialists set up their wares around the square. Friday in the Quarter has come alive.
We spend the day exploring the Quarter, from riding on the Natchez Steamboat up the Mississippi; to having lunch at Chef Paul Prudhomme’s K-Pauls Louisiana Kitchen watching Chef Paul sit and cook; to shopping and walking every street of the Quarter; to dinner at Michaul’s Live Cajun Music Restaurant on the St. Charles streetcar line in the Central Business District where my mother (a great dancer) proceeds to teach me Cajun dancing. God – my mom is exhausting.
Saturday she bounds from bed ready to take on another day. Today she has something planned. We start the day at the Jazz brunch at the Court of Two Sisters. From there we walk towards the World Trade Center and board a tour bus. The tour takes us around showing the city, from the cemeteries to the parks, to the stadium to my mother tapping me and saying, “We are getting off here.” The driver announces the Garden District. I have no idea what we are doing in this breathtaking neighborhood – off the bus we go.
My mother tells me we are going for a walk. She is giving me her personal tour of the Garden District. I love gardens and estate homes, so I am in my element. My mother guides me along, chatting about this and that, until she stops in front of this large purple house. “What was that author you read her books… on vampires?” “Anne Rice?” I answer. My mom smiles. “This is her house” and looks up at this lovely very purple blue home.
I am standing in front of a famous author’s home. It was as if my mom was telling me that this could be me. I was hoping Ann Rice would come out on her balcony and water some plants – no such luck. After absorbing Ann Rice’s home for a while, we finish our tour and hop a tram back to the French Quarter, right at the World Trade Center.
It’s 5pm and my mom says “Let’s go to the top of the Trade Center and have a glass of wine.” We ride to the top of the center where there is this 360-degree circular rotating restaurant-bar. We sit and watch the sun set as the building rotates, displaying the vast landscape of Louisiana and the gulf below. It is odd to drink and have the building spin on its axis.
We leave the trade building at sunset and my mom is hungry. We walk up this street towards our hotel when we spy O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub. My mother wants Sheppard’s Pie and a pint. Here in the French Quarter, we step into Ireland. Little did I know what a fun place this would be. We get seats at the bar and order dinner. An Irish band is playing and Irish dancers are dancing. My mom is in heaven.
As we finish dinner I notice Rugby on the TV. It is Scotland verses (I think it was) South Africa. Next thing I know we are surrounded my the US Navy Rugby team who have come to watch the game. Suddenly men who are talking to my mom encircle us. To my mother’s right are two brothers who begin explaining the game of rugby to my mother…I have lost her for the night.
As the Navy Ruggers are talking to me and my mom, they are buying us pints with every round. Oh dear lord, I don’t want to get drunk in front of my mother. The Ruggers are yelling and laughing asking many questions about California. The two other men are deep in conversation with my mom over rugby, engineering, Latvia – yes Latvia.
As it turns out theses two men are brothers working for a company that monitors the emissions from refineries. Their Grandma is from Latvia and my mother worked for a Latvian doctor (my favorite) for 30 years. My mother has been to Russia, Europe, China, every state in the US, Canada, Hawaii, South America, and Alaska. These two men were enjoying how much my mother knew about Latvia and the world at large. They don’t even notice me.
Now the rugby team is another story and they are trying to get me to join in to their rugby songs. My mom gets two gentlemen and I get ruggers…oi… exactly how did this happen? The rugby game ends with Scotland losing, and my mother decides it is time to go. By now the Ruggers are getting wild so I am ready to leave before trouble starts. The two brothers get up with my mom and say they will walk us back to the hotel – FINALLY maybe one these two brother hotties will notice I exist.
Not a chance.
They walk out with us and down the street to our hotel. Once at the hotel they pause, smile and say “Mrs Beebe, we would like to send something home with you to tell your doctor friend about…” With that said, they begin to sing a “ŠŪPUĻDZIESMAS” (lullaby) in Latvian. It was a lullaby their grandmother sang to put them to sleep when they were boys. I wish I had a picture of the expression on my mom’s face as these two handsome 40ish men stood singing to her on the streets of New Orleans in Latvian. I thought I was going to die of pure joy. She places her hand over her mouth, and when they finished, each reached forward, took her hand and kissed it saying goodnight. It was priceless.
Again they did not acknowledge me except for a “Good night Catherine”…no hand kisses for me. Geeeesssshh. With that my mom and I turn to the doorman who is holding the door open and grinning. We walk in and I look at my mom “God Mom – you are the BOMB!” With that, we both laugh and go up to the room.
I think I was just outdone by my mother.
The following day we went to church in the catholic cathedral in the Square of the Quarter, with my mother insisting we take the tour and buys me a St Jude medal. I think she knew something – even back then. Sunday signaled our last day in New Orleans…Monday was work and then our flight home.
Our last day was spent in Slidell where the NAMC branch office was located. The branch personnel were wonderful and my mom sat doing needlepoint in their lobby with all the employees coming out to chat with her. In the end they sent us to eat lunch at the best crayfish place in Slidell. Little did I know that crayfish is ordered by the pound with a pint of beer. This was our last stop before going to the airport.
Every time someone mentions New Orleans I think of this fabulous trip I took with my mom. My stepfather died the following year, and I am glad I was able to provide my mom with a little break.
New Orleans treated us in grand Southern hospitable style and now that place is under water, devastated by the name my mother called me when I was younger and she was irritated “KATRINA!”
How sad it seems we can fly to rescue other countries, but cannot rescue people stranded from a horrific disaster here in our heartland. Meanwhile, beloved New Orleans, and surrounding areas sit in their own dirty bath water full of dead decaying bodies – destroying a rich history – because levies that should have been repaired didn’t hold. The monies meant to support America’s infrastructure went to rescue a country that had ‘weapons of mass hallucination’. How ironic that we spend billions of dollars to fight a perceived threat that never happened in lieu of the fight for rebuilding infrastructure in the US.
Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor and a way of forcing a nations sins to the surface.
Until next time-