On Saturday night I went to a potluck at my friend Deb’s house. She loves Mardi Gras and almost never misses it but this year, for various reasons, she couldn’t get down to New Orleans. So she threw a party instead. Everyone was greeted at the door and bedecked with the famous beads of the Bourbon Street celebration and most people brought some kind of Cajun dish. There was jambalaya and crawfish, rice and beans and even the King Cake, with a little prize inside for the lucky person who finds it in their slice. When Mary Lou bit into her cake and came out with a little plastic frog, we all cheered. Queen for a Day! and gave her a crown.
I’ve never been to Mardi Gras. I can remember in college that was number one on my list of things I wanted to do before I turned thirty. Well, the roads never led in that direction. It was always north, north and further north. And now I’ll never see the city as it was before that catastrophic storm. I once had a correspondent named Nettie Armant. She wrote to me faithfully from her home in California. She was not a native to that state, but rather, she grew up in New Orleans. She wrote to me of her memories there, how her husband had courted her in the French Quarter and the excitement of the Mardi Gras. Each year in February, I received a big box from Nettie. Inside were the colorful beads of the celebration, doubloons and small toys thrown from the floats, also pictures and sparkles, anything celebratory. Nettie sent me other things, too, including a personalized dish for my new puppy, Mayday. The dish with Mayday’s name imprinted on it is still in service on my kitchen floor, where my old lady, Mayday, who turned 14 today, eats from her stylish, imported dish. Nettie had a big heart and enjoyed releasing part of it to me, whom she had never met.
The reason Nettie wrote to me is because of her love for New England. That’s right, New England. It fascinated me, how a woman who was born and grew up in New Orleans and who lived in California, could love New England so much. She never explained it any more than I could explain why I wanted so badly to go to Mardi Gras. But she did express to me that, though she had never been here, she hoped one day to come and visit this place of her dreams. She wanted to see the colors of the autumn leaves, the tall snowy mountains, the curling Atlantic. Next best was to subscribe to Yankee magazine. And to write to me. I saved a lot of her letters because she expressed herself very beautifully and because it was such a puzzle to me, where this love had come from. Once, some friends of mine were living briefly in southern California and I realized they were in the same city as Nettie. By that time, Nettie had been moved to a nursing home, her hopes of coming to New England gone forever. I asked my friends, both born and bred in New England, if they would do me the supreme favor of visiting Nettie for me. They agreed to and went to see her in her room. She was thrilled by their visit. They all took pictures and enjoyed the unusual visit, strangers linked by one idea: New England. I assume they talked about New England, though I don’t know. I think of all this now, many years later, when it is time for that poor, disfigured city to rise up once more and celebrate its heritage. I hope to get there one day. In the meantime, Deb’s party will suffice.
Nettie has moved on. She told me once that her cherished and long gone husband was buried in one of the famous cemeteries of New Orleans and that was where she would go when the time came. I don’t know for sure, but I think that is where she is now, in her good New Orleans soil, next to her beloved, all dreams at rest.