Saturday, June 30, 2007

In that eerie way that some sixth sense moves me from some deep place now and then ...

Today I found myself -- for no particular reason -- absently putting "Charbonnet" (my surname) into the Google search bar and -- there it was among the many listings offered up; an obituary for someone I didn't realize had survived into these years. This was my aunt. The wife of one of my father's younger brothers. She passed away only a few days ago, at 101. I saw her over 30 years ago when she and my uncle made their only visit to the S.F. Bay Area when my father was critically ill. Or perhaps it was late in the 1980's when Bill and I stayed at their home on a Mardi Gras visit home.

Myrtle "Ma Myrt" Labat Charbonnet Passes
posted by Laureen Lentz on June 26, 20007

In a city where funerals are revered as one of our unique cultural experiences, the passing of Mrs. Myrtle Labat-Charbonnet is of particular historical significance. The Charbonnet funeral home is at the center of St. Phillips St. and Claiborne in Treme. Under Myrtle's encouragement they rebuilt after Katrina. Their hard work has encouraged the property owners around them not just to rebuild but encouraged larger investment along Ursuline and N. Robertson Streets. They have been a catalyst to the positive work being done in Treme.

I used to go to second lines. Now, I go to the funerals too. In this case, it's a neighbor who has lost a Mother. But at the service, I learned so much more about this legendary family from Treme.

Jazz Funerals don't just happen. Bands, carriages, programs, limosines, caring and guiding staff, horses and their guides, police escorts, the repast at the end. It is very complex when you consider all that must happen, all the while serving a grieving family, not just the second line most of us enjoy.

The Charbonnet Funeral home owns the elaborate carriages for which New Orleans is known for as part of our unique Jazz Funeral tradition and they are stored in Treme. Myrtle Labat-Charbonnet inherited the funeral home from her Godfather at a young age. It suffered a tragic fire in 1962 and Ma Myrt and her husband, Louis, rebuilt. Ma Myrt was born in 1906. She lived in New Orleans when it was all horse and buggy. She attended the Bayou Road School as a child and told her family how she was able to ride a horse from Treme to the River. I learned many compelling facts about this strong and fascinating lady today from her handsome family. For instance, Ma Myrt was declared the oldest voter in her precinct, never missing an election.

As her obituary points out, she was a very active member of her church and community throughout her life. Even though she was in a fragile state of health and remained in Baton Rouge she insisted that her children work to reopen after Katrina. They fulfilled her wish and gave our neighborhood hope in the process. Charbonnet supported their first post-storm service in October of 2005 and reopened the public areas of the funeral home in a limited capacity in June of 2006 and now are operating in all the space on their site.

Today, due to its rich legacy, the Labat-Charbonnet Funeral Home is one of the most highly-regarded funeral homes in the entire state. This was evident by the presence of many state-level funeral, embalming and mortuary professionals at the funeral today who offered their support to this legendary family who have supported thousands of New Orleans families through their darkest time throughout their 124 year history.

Louis, Jr., her son, gives the neighborhood organization (HFTA) use of rooms at the funeral home for meetings in Treme. He broke down in tears today as he explained that Ma Myrt never made it back home to New Oreans after Katrina. He said, "We were so close, until she suffered a fall. When they discharged the hospice ...

So many families have been unable to get their elders home since Katrina, but today, Ma Myrt is home. It was a great honor to be there today."

Photo accompanied the article above. This was the funeral procession for Aunt Myrtle.

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