Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Ending With Music
I’ve been very fortunate to visit the towns and communities in Vermilion Parish over the last few months. In my travels I met amazing people, tasted innovative cuisine and learned about my Cajun heritage. What I remember most though, are the stories of people who suffered loss from Hurricane Rita, but more importantly how they fought back and worked hard to rebuild their homes and lives.
I watched Hurricane Rita hit Vermilion Parish from a television in a New York City apartment. I was disturbed by the images of flooded homes and towns, but to tell the truth, I didn’t really recognize the destroyed areas. It had been almost twenty years since I’d lived in the parish, and I’d forgotten where I’d come from.
When Hurricane Ike hit us a week and a half ago, it was a different experience for me. I had to put sandbags against the back door of our house to keep the water out, and I watched my brother and neighbor board up our windows. I had to evacuate, which I’d never done before, and wait in front of a television set to see if our home was going to be flooded.
This time as I watched, I recognized the flooded towns, and people who had lost everything for a second time. I saw the mayor of Delcambre, who I’d met only a couple of months before. He had told me when I interviewed him that although it had been a rough three years since Rita hit, the town was coming back, and had plans for a new waterfront development.
My mother and I were very fortunate to have no damage to our home, and as she’s repeated to me often, at least we didn’t bury anyone. However, evidence of Hurricane Ike’s destruction surrounds us. It’s at the Esther cemetery, where parishioners had to wash out mud, and the National Guard had to replace tombstones. It’s up the road at the flooded home of my cousin, who had just finished rebuilding from Hurricane Rita at the end of this August. It’s on the faces of people when you run into them at the grocery store or gas station.
Last week I sat at my desk and wondered why this had happened again to good and honest people who were working and fighting to create the lives they’d imagined for themselves. I stared out of my window and realized that it was a clear and beautiful night with a nearly full moon, and I couldn’t help but feel the irony, considering there was so much destruction surrounding us. I wondered if it meant that something good was ahead, or if it was a pure coincidence. I wasn’t sure how to cope with all of it, but the next morning I received my answer.
I was sitting at my desk again, and listening to a rap C.D. that a friend of mine had given to me. My mother walked into my room and then threw a pile of clothes on my bed.
“You’re getting new underwear for Christmas,” she said. “All of these have holes in them. What if you fall dead one day, and people see you’re wearing torn underwear?”
“If I’m dead,” I said. “I think I’ll have bigger problems.”
Then my mother started moving her arms up and down like a baby shakes a rattle. She bent her knees a little and then hopped forwarded. I asked if she was okay, and if I should call 911.
“I’m dancing,” she said. “I used to love to listen to music and go dancing when I was young with your dad. Who is this singing this song now? Is he from around here?”
“The singer’s name is Snoop Doggy Dog,” I said. “I think he’s from another parish.”
When my mother left, I smiled and realized that I felt relaxed and at peace for the first time since Hurricane Ike had appeared in our lives. I hadn’t found a reason for the destruction, but I’d found a way to cope with it. Music.
That afternoon, I drove my mother to the New Harmonies exhibit at the former building of Bill’s Dollar store (311 N. Cushing) in Kaplan. One of my former school teachers, Mrs. Ann Langlinais was there to greet us and show us around the music exhibition sponsored by the Smithsonian.
“It’s a very interactive exhibit,” Mrs. Ann said. “You can listen to the different genres of music and see how some of the first instruments were made.”
Mrs. Ann also showed us music themed art-work from Kaplan students, and information about local musicians. She gave me a brochure that highlighted all of the different events occurring until October 12th. They ranged from an instrument-making workshop to a Jazz Brunch to a duck-calling contest.
It was nice to see Mrs. Ann and to learn a little about something that affects on a daily basis. My mother enjoyed it as well, and the next day suggested we attend another musical event.
“Get dressed and be in the car in twenty minutes,” she told me. “You’re taking me to see that play your nephew, Matthew choreographed. I think it’s about a store that sells scary stuff.”
The musical, “Little Shop of Horrors”, which is sponsored by The Vermilion Players, was held in the auditorium at Abbeville High. I was pleasantly surprised to see many people I recognized, including my cousin Wayne, and my former Catechism teacher, Joan Suire, who I see regularly on my weekly trip to Suire’s for shrimp fettuccini.
Although I had seen the musical before on Broadway, it was extremely enjoyable to see young people up on stage singing and dancing. Wayne’s daughter was one of the Fantasy Doo-Wop singers, and every time she walked on stage, Wayne would jump up and shout out words of encouragement the way I’d seen my father do at my brother’s basketball games.
I enjoyed myself so much at the play that the next evening I decided to take my mother on another music adventure. This program called, “Traditional Cajun Music Heritage Across Generations” was sponsored by New Harmonies and was held at The American Legion Hall in Kaplan.
When we walked in, we were greeted by the singer J.B. Pere. He hugged and kissed my mother, and told me that he’d known her for over fifty years.
“That’s impossible,” she said. “I’m only 39.”
Later that evening we sat and watched musicians of all ages perform and tell their stories of how they found happiest. There was J.B. Pere, who had been singing for over fifty years, followed by Bernie David who had at age sixty-one decided to pick up an accordion and start his dream of producing music. There was the veteran, Donny Broussard, who accompanied the new comers, Mitch Schexnaider (Age 19), and Gracie (Age 10) and Julie Babineaux (Age 8).
The images of these diverse musicians working together to create one of the world’s most powerful treasures, was amazing. It caused people of all ages to dance around the room, and I even saw my mother tap her foot and slap her knee to the beat of the music.
Unfortunately, because of the florescent lighting, my camera wasn’t able to pick up many of the shots. Then I remembered that I was in Vermilion Parish, and so I looked around the room for a friendly face with a nice camera. It wasn’t long before I found Brett Hebert, who snapped some wonderful images for me so that I can share the night with you.
Yes, I realize that last week started with the floodwaters of a hurricane. They destroyed people’s hard work and faith for a second time in three years. I can’t explain why it happened or pretend that it didn’t. However, if you look around past the watermarks on the homes, and the ruined furniture laying on the sides of the road waiting to be hauled away, you’ll see that there is hope.
I see good people who are willing to support and lend a hand to their neighbors, family and friends. I see a community with incredible strength that was founded on hard work, and has rebuilt before. I see Vermilion Parish, whose week started with a hurricane, but who has the power and hope of its citizens, so that its week will end with music.