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Friday, November 11, 2005

A collective honor... ?

Of course. This amazing honor is being awarded on my watch, but was earned by all of the family women -- my enslaved greatgreatgrandmother Celestine of No Last Name, her enslaved daughter, Leontine Breaux Allen (our beloved Mammá); my own mother, Lottie Allen Charbonnet; Aunt Alice Allen Hymel, St. James Parish educator; the trickster, Aunt Vivian Allen Jernigan, of all of the women of the preceding generations ... good thought. I can say proudly, "look how far we've come!" And just maybe it will provide some guidance for the younger family women I'll leave behind when my time is spent. The years of researching family history and rebuilding the lines of connection bring with them a heightened sense of context. Thought of in that way, any false pride drops away and in its place comes a rare feeling of entitlement. Now I can write that bio. The "favorite photo" I've chosen is one taken when I was in the process of beginning the second half -- somewhat past fifty. That Betty was still in possession of a full head of hair and with eyebrows not yet descending over eyelids! The molting process was still years away.

When making the choice from an array of old photographs, I found myself wondering if this indicated that I saw fifty as the point at which life crested? Nope. It was only a fleeting thought. I'm keenly aware that the trajectory is still being defined, and that I've never felt quite completed -- still in the process of becoming. But my physical self as viewed objectively was probably at its peak at that point in time. This picture was taken on the day that Bill and l were married in the early 70's. I felt loved and whole and real and feisty and the camera caught every bit of it.

And speaking of such, word came this morning from a friend; a member of Richmond's city council and a noted architect who is in New Orleans as a part of a team of experts investigating the mold and structural problems left by Katrina. When Tom announced his assignment, I asked if he'd look into the fate of a couple of the buildings my father and grandfather erected many years ago. This morning it came -- the Phoenix is rising (see photo)! Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home has survived 4 feet of floodwater and is again operating. One day before too long, those jazz funerals will be wending their way to and from burials at St. Louis Cemetery as they have for the past century.

I've still not made meaningful contact with scattered family members, but at least I know that life is continuing, and that the legacy of Charbonnet is still a strong part of the identity of that city and its culture. Am hopeful that as things begin to slowly return to whatever form normal will take in the coming months and years, there will be a coming together of now dispersed family members.

That reminds me -- I must try again to reach cousin Louis Charbonnet and his family through the Mid-City Carriage Company. Have kept up (online) with continuing coverage on the fate of his heroic workers who saved the horses and mules -- and know that those animals that survived are stabled out of state awaiting restoration of their New Orleans home. The French Quarter will surely see those horsedrawn carriages again along Bourbon Street before too long -- a symbol of life as it once was lived in one of the most interesting and oldest cities in the nation.

I know that because the culture is in my DNA. Time and the distance have done little to diminish it.

Photo: Sent by Tom Butt as evidence of the survival of Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home.
Photo on the right is explained in body of this entry.


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