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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

L. E. J. covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for Consumer Affairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, and Country Roads Magazine, and the books FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

A Sense of Place / November 2014



Yours Truly in a Swamp,
Monthly e-column by
Leonard Earl Johnson, of Lafayette and New Orleans


November 2014
www.LEJ.org



A Sense of Place 
by Leonard Earl Johnson

Further back down the road, in Illinois, my Grandmother spoke German and English. Her Mother spoke only German. 
December 28, 1916 ~ October 12, 2012
Margaret "Mac" Echoles-Staudacher Johnson,  in 1943

My Mother spoke only English. It was a time when German immigrants, like French immigrants to Louisiana, were bent towards assimilation by both state and home. After all, these immigrants wanted their creole issue to succeed in their brave New World. A result of this would have been that my Mother never talked at the knee of her Grandmother.

We all lived, in our turn, in a German-American village in Illinois. It was named Ullin, after some early settlers or, as my Father argued, the Daughter of the Polish Coun
Casimir Pulaskiwho perished at the Battle of Savanna, during the American Revolution. History shows Pulaski had no children -- sometimes your own Father can lead you wrong.

My Father, Gordon Hale Johnson, was nicknamed Porky, and came from a nearby back hill railroad village named Alto Pass. It was a spur line town shipping Illinois' Ozark-foothill produce to a world largely unaware Illinois had hills, and
 was so named by railroad surveyors who measured it the highest point on the Illinois Central Railroad between Chicago and New Orleans. With this new rail line -- only truly busy when area orchards were in fruit -- Alto Pass joined the mainline commerce of America.

My Father's Father came there with the train, from "up-East." Before that, "Europa. Denmark, Norway. No where exactly," he said. He worked his way west with the railroads -- the high tech industry of the day -- and when the tracks reached Alto Pass he got off.


My Father claimed some vestigial objection to Ullin being named after Germans. He would say, "I should know, I married one!"  Thus was born the Count Pulaski's Daughter theory. Supporting evidence to his error was the fact that the county was named Pulaski. In truth, it was a family he thought descendants of the original Ullins still living in the village that bothered him. They were the local establishment, as he saw it, and their Ullin was on the mainline of the Illinois Central. He was an interloper from Alto Pass.

My Father and Mother owned a roadhouse, named Porky's, where the food was good and he was the floor-show sitting at the end of the bar expounding on the Ullin-naming issue, and F. D. R.'s New Deal (he disliked both).  My Mother, who grew up in Ullin, liked the 'Ulins' and the New Deal, "Just fine!" Porky evidently won the naming-argument because the resident family allegedly bearing that name dropped one 'l' from their spelling. 


"Out of  fear Porky was making people think them Polish!" my Grandmother laughed.



Illinois Central Station, early 20th Century, Ullin, Illinois
There were, also, former slave families, alas, free but on the wrong side of the tracks. One Irish, and a merchant family we suspected of being Jews passing as Methodist. The Africans were Baptist, the Germans and Irish, Catholic and the rest a scattering of faith and suspicion

My Mother's antecedents 
had been citizens of Germany's Bönnigheim, near Stuttgart, Swabia. These are lands of mountains, Black Forests, German industry, and people who like to sing and yodel. 

They immigrated first as one Brother / Son / Uncle, who sailed to New York City, took a train to Saint Louis, Missouri and a raft / barge, in those days called an "ark," one-hundred miles down the Mississippi, to the Cache River. To the new German settlement of Ullin, at the southern tip of Illinois, twenty miles north of Cairo, Illinois. Cairo, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers is where Mark Twain's Huck Finn was headed on his raft to set free "Nigger Jim," from the slave-state, Missouri.

My people arrived after the Civil War. After Mark Twain had captained river boats to New Orleans, fled West to avoid that war -- after briefly joining the Confederate Militia in Missouri -- and then moved to Hartford, Connecticut to write. 


Twain, aka, Samuel Longhorn Clemens, came from Hannibal, Missouri, two-hundred miles upriver from Ullin, Illinois. He was born in 1835, following the appearance of Halley's Comet. He died in 1910, at 74, on the day after the Comet's return -- something he had humorously predicted. Growing up, my siblings and I read his books and thought ourselves better for it.


The German Brother / Son / Uncle to first seed our New World became my Great Great Uncle -- though he never lived to know it. I don't know if he ever read Mark Twain. His name was Wilhelm Stadacher and when he arrived on that first trip he secured land along the Cache River, on the opposite bank of a sawmill. 
The next century saw that sawmill’s offices become the roadhouse nightclub named Porky's owned by my Father, Porky, and Mother, who was always called Mac.


 Mac and Porky, 1943, taking the baths at Hot Springs, 
Arkansas, celebrating my birth without me.


"The hard road," U. S. Highway-51, was laid down in front of Porky's. The Cache River continued flowing in back, but with growing insignificance. My Great Uncle never knew any of this.

When Wilhelm returned to Germany, he gathered his extended family and led them back to The New Promised Land, "Ullin-America!

My Grandmother left behind a life for which she pined, I always thought. She did not talk much about it. America's two World Wars with Germany further tarnished her reminiscence of  "The Old Country." 


About all my Sister and Brothers and Cousins ever heard her say about Germany was that they had lived in a country town, near Stuttgart. They lived in an apartment above the ground floor, where a family of cows and two horses lived.


J. Staudacher Corner
19th Century,  Bönnigheim, Swabia
The name, "J. Staudacher" was painted on the outside wall in Gothic script. And a ghost walked atop the cemetery’s stone wall with a skull under its arm.

Swabia was a good land full of "Jovial people who liked clocks," she told us.


It was like Texas and Arkansas, it sounded to us. With a dash of Detroit -- in the days before Detroit became America's first fallen star. This, also, is the area of Germany where Hitler first arrived from Austria to save Das Vaterland from the Versailles Treaty. But that is another story, and you know how badly it turned out for the German folk.

* *

A Long Way Home
Two years ago my Mother died in Illinois. Thirty-three years after her Husband, who passed at 72, on a day I happened to be in Germany working aboard an American flagged container ship named Sea~Land -- I missed his funeral. My Mother was shy by two months of 96, and had taken to saying she was already 96. It was a shame she never talked with her Grandmother.

Her funeral was all you can ask of one. It was at the Crain Funeral Home, on the street where I grew up, in Ullin, where we all lived in our turn. 
It was loving, tearful and supportive. And her Priest, Father Chris Mujulea, a slim black man from Ghana, preached on how she asked him to pray for the Lord to take her Home. He told us this day was the Feast of Saint Mary Margaret. Margaret was my Mother's Christian name. 

Our Cousin, Lt. Paul Echols, a retired Carbondale police detective credited with solving a notorious cold case serial murder, and authoring, with Christine Byers, IN COLD PURSUIT, My Hunt for Timothy Krajcir, read a remembrance of family duties and kindness that hung stars in my Mother's crown. 

Father Mujulea gave my Sister, Margaret Yvonne, permission to play the Ingrid Lucia, Irvin Mayfield, 2005 music video, "Do They Play Jazz in Heaven" (made just after Hurricane Katrina). She had loved this video, this song of faith and rebirth. We all did.

Afterwords we caught Amtrak's City of New Orleans back to Louisiana at 1:30 a.m., from Carbondale, Illinois -- home of Southern Illinois University and my distant school daze. A barefooted student came in off the street and asked the ticket clerk about trains to Chicago. He was told there where three a day, "But you must wear shoes."



* * *

The south bound train pulled out of Carbondale and passed into the Shawnee National Forest and through nine little towns and villages important to me. It passed on to Kentucky by crossing the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois.

Before Reaching The River
by Leonard Earl Johnson
www.LEJ.org 

In my cozy Pullman car, 
Amtrak's City of New Orleans passed through 
the Shawnee National Forest and nine towns and villages that nurtured me.

This night more stars peppered the forest canopy
than recalled from youthful Ullin, Illinois,
where we all lived in our turn.

The train rocked and a meteorite burned across my bedroom window.
Sam Clemens return, or a German folk-event of the newly dead nodding farewell?
"auf Wiedersehen, Mutter, Ich liebe dich"

* * *
The Video

L. E. J. and Mac, in 1944
Lagniappe: A similar version of this story appeared earlier containing the famed Beyond the grave rant on Social Security by the late George Carlin.
----------------

Copyright, 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

FYI
New Yahoo's mail system is too cumbersome to continue using for our mailings, 
and we are not able to pay for the  paymail system. 

You may not receive a monthly notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, 

until / unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. 
(Don't hold your breath.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). Contact me if you want on the list.

If you wish to read each month's story please go any time to www.LEJ.org 

(They are posted newly on the first of each month) 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

* * *
______
© 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Your comments are welcome, post them in the Blog.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

German Fest, Roberts Cove, La / Oct 2014

Yours Truly in a Swamp,
Monthly e-column by
Leonard Earl Johnson, of Lafayette and New Orleans


October 2014

 *


German Fest!

Roberts Cove, Louisiana

by Leonard Earl Johnson


A German Fest 

in Roberts CoveLouisiana!
Click for background Deutsch Volksmusik (German folk music).

You laugh? It may tickle the lederhosen off a real German, but this is the best German Festival in the U. S. of A., that I have ever attended. My Mother was German and I have been to a few German Festivals, some mislabeled Oktoberfest -- more on that later.


All German-fests have sausages, potatoes, cabbages, pretzels, beers, singing, Alpenhorns, and yodeling.  Roberts Cove has theirs amid the white marble graves of original settlers decorated with colorful German flags. And the Bratwurst -- in Germany and 
die Nordstaaten (the Northern States) Bratwurst is a mild veal sausage with a strong hint of nutmeg -- in Louisiana it is hot and spicy as die neue Schulemarm (the new School-marm).



Homepage Roberts Cove Germanfest 2014
Technically speaking in all tongues, Roberts Cove throws a German Fest not an Oktoberfest. Because it is held only on the first weekend in October. As we all know Germans are sticklers for order. And in Germany, Oktoberfest begins late in September, on a date that moves with the moon, and runs through the first Sunday in October. Go figure! 

If Octoberfest ends before October 3 (German Unity Day) it is extended to include it. "Sort of a German Leapfest,"  L. A. Norma told our seatmates on the train from New Orleans.


German Immigrants were few in French Louisiana, but those who came left their mark on Pelican State history (Pelican Staat Geschichte)

Notably there were the Germans said to have fed the indolent city folk of New Orleans from productive farms on the "German Coast," along Bayou Des Allemonds (Bayou of the Germans), 34-miles (54 kilometerswest of Big Swamp City. Amtrak crosses this bayou today but no longer stops at the settlement named Des Allemonds.


One day, coming back from New Orleans on the train, we were treated to three Des Allemonds' boys fishing along the Bayou, dropping their drawers at our approach, and mooning the Los Angeles bound Sunset Limited.



Bayou Des Allemands looking toward the Gulf of Mexico
(Bayou des Allemands den Blick auf den Golf von Mexiko)
Outbound swells sipping their morning coffee in the observation car saw three bare bottoms ~ one black, two white ~ shining up at them. L. A. Norma said, "Some things change, some
don't."


* *

Roberts Cove is a prosperous rice-growing settlement near Lafayette, Acadiana's "Hub City," and where we left the train that saw the racially integrated naked rear ends. 


"Do you speak German?" asked a women introducing herself at the Festival. Her English was tinged with the local Cajun accent, but she was German, she said. Her accent oddity owes itself to the fact that late-arrival Germans learned their English from earlier-arrival French-Canadians, the much revered Cajuns. About whom detractors say, "They speak neither English nor French." They taught these German-Americans to speak their English with a French-Louisiana accent. 

We were inside the Song Fest Tent, singing, yodeling and listening to Alpenhorns. "Bisschen Deutsch," I answered. She understood "Deutsch," but not "Bisschen"


"A little," I explained, I speak a little German. 

We raised our "Bier" and joined in the Rucksack Song (Rucksacksong). Her husband wore nice lederhosen and sang with such gusto I would bet money he had been a Boy-scout and sang these same songs with the same gusto then.


Near Roberts Cove is Hawk's, a crayfish cafe' noted for purging their "mud bugs." Hawk's also prides itself on no signage. Finding it is something of a local game. Outsiders are a double muddled source of entertainment. One day, washing up at the dining-room wash basins, I asked a man where he was from.


The man said, "Down the road."

"Is your name German?"

"No," he said, "further down the road."


* *
Copyright, 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

FYI
New Yahoo's mail system is too cumbersome to continue using for our mailings, 
and we are not able to pay for the  paymail system. 

You may not receive a monthly notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, 

until / unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. 
(Don't hold your breath.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). Contact me if you want on the list.

If you wish to read each month's story please go any time to www.LEJ.org 

(They are posted newly on the first of each month) 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 
* *
* * *


Monday, September 01, 2014

Yon Memory Lingers On / September 2014

Yours Truly in a Swamp,
Monthly e-column by
Leonard Earl Johnson, of Lafayette and New Orleans



*
September 2014

Yon Memory Lingers On


by Leonard Earl Johnson


Some High School Poet 

in my oldest Brother's English class was inspired by nearby Saint Louis poet, T. S. Eliot's THE WASTE LAND, to write the following about how short and prickly Life's journey can be:

"The end lurks on yellowing grass beneath yon leafy dew

August is the saddest month
Because it brought us you . . ." 

His literary bullet stung -- it was meant to hurt -- older Brother's friends are not kind people. Of course, my umbrage was not for the Gateway City poet. (Who would ever defend him?) It was because August is my beginning, my birth month! And not a stillborn journey immediately involved in its end, as saith such poets with their cold hearts and pretty words. 


I should have guessed their words right from the first day. My first August welcomed with a sweltering Summer and a disappointed Mother. It happens. 


"You sweat it out," L . A. Norma jokes, to the bartender at Pamplona, who has been idly listening. "And you live to be seventy-one," she points to me as evidence of her wisdom. The bartender fills our glasses as evidence of his.


LEJ's Yours Truly in a Swamp
More evidence
In 2001, New York's Nine-Eleven shadows fell two weeks after my august August celebration in New Orleans. And 2005's Birthday came exactly one week before Hurricane Katrina. Before each dark event we walked along oblivious to the grass yellowing beneath our feet. 

We went to Bacco in 2005 

A large Schadenfreude group -- I was turning 62 and they all wanted to see. We did not know at the time but this would be our last Ten-Cent Martini Lunch. We laughed at age and Hurricane Katrina turning back toward Florida. 
    Ten-Cent Martini Birthday, Bacco, pre-K.
    Victor Campbell, Josh Clark, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
    Alberto Navarro, Melanie Plesh, L. A. Norma, 
    Lee Grue, Karisa Kerry, Margarita Bergen 
   (more off-camera)
Then we parted, planning to meet again on the coming Saturday night to hear Washboard Chaz at the Spotted Cat on rue Frenchmen. Instead we got blown away. 

"Like cotton seed in the wind," Norma said, struggling with her imagery. 


"Try dandelion ...,"  we tried suggesting.


"I'm no poet!" she interrupted, throwing her hands in the air.


We left Town with Katrina licking the wheels of our little red truck skittering across the Rigolets. We left with the storm behind us halfway up to its eye. We left along the very path of The Hurricane. A uniformed policeman told us we could only go East. 


"The West full?" Norma asked the policeman. Rain sprayed from every direction including up. "Just the road to it," he said. 


We landed on the North Shore, in Hammond. At the hearth of a kindly fallen monk. And then decamped to Lafayette, Louisiana. "Where the English isn't English and the French isn't French," detractors say. Yet we communicate, live well, and grow happy. 


"Not a bad outcome for a serendipity-minded old scribe like you, and a flat-lined poet like me," Norma says, when I tell this story. "Not to mention, all those train rides in-and-out of Big Swamp City!"



*

Our Post-Storm

New World has been good for Louisiana artists and lovers of poetry. It gave us Lafayette musician, Sam Rey's masterpiece, Meet Me in New Orleans. Why this did not become Big Swamp City's official post-Katrina song only proves further that poets speak Truth more than politicians want to hear it.

Post-K., 

Sam Rey drove select out-of-town scribes into New Orleans on the day it first opened up to, "Certain zip-coded residents with I. D., and a need to go." 

Rey recalled, "We were the only car on the road and the Sun was coming up big, 'Like a pink fried egg'."


Meet Me in New Orleans by Sam Rey  (YouTube)

Well, Sunday morning sunrise coming up like a pink fried egg
Yeah they say it's Sunday morning
but it's still Saturday night in my head.
That picture of your mother, taken at your party in 1963,
well it's bouncing off the ceiling. Lord she's just as high as she could be.
Please tell me it won't take long
'Cause I'm doing my best to hang on
Please meet me in New Orleans, it's time to come home.

I want to shout it from the rooftops. I wanna be first in line.

I wanna shout it from the rooftops. I hope they hear me this time.
Now if you see my baby brother and that woman they call Shay Duvell
please tell 'em that I love 'em and I hope they're doing well.
Now I'm straggling, and I'm skuffling and I may have lost my mind.
But I grieve my dear beloved, one tear at a time.
I wanna shout it from the rooftops, I wanna be first in line.
I wanna shout it from the rooftops. I hope they hear me this time.
Now give a holler
when you see me
in that Road Home waiting line
Aww meet me in New Orleans,
if only in my mind
I said meet me in New Orleans, if only in my mind.


I want this song at my funeral! 

*
More Good Art News
Long before Katrina, New Orleans artist, Dawn DeDeaux directed a project at Orleans Parish Prison, called The Prison Art Book. It was administered by the Arts Council of New Orleans, and funded by a two-percent tax on construction dedicated to municipal art, with few restrictions on concept or design.
 


DeDeaux, a practitioner of installation / conceptual art, was a perfect choice to create what became a concept great in scope and size. Huge books with covers made from welded iron bars similar to a prison cell. Art fit for a mighty big coffee table, and housed today at O. P. P., New Orleans Museum of Art, City Library and a few other sites. 

Conceptual Art is sometimes confusing. L. A. Norma says it is, "Like experimental film. Sometimes you don't know if this is it or the film has flipped off the sprocket." 

DeDeaux has, since O. P. P. days, exhibited at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, Armand Hammer Museum of Los Angeles, and many other distinguished venues. She is represented by the prestigious Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans. Recently she mounted her finest effort to date, at Lafayette's Acadiana Center for the Arts. Wow!

"This is no broken sprocket," Norma said, looking up to the AcA main gallery's 'sky' for a breathtaking view of MOTHERSHIP 2: DREAMING OF A FUTURE PAST, the exact name of DeDeaux's piece. 

I loved this installation, it is an Artist's Louisiana Masterwork.
Dawn DeDeaux will answer questions at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette: 6:30pm, Thursday, 11 September 2014.

Your thoughts are welcome, the comments button is somewhere below. It is hard to find, I know. Only Google can change its hidden location. If you can find it tell us what you think.

 
Mothership 2: Dreaming of a Future Past
 Artist: Dawn DeDeaux
Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette
July 12 ~ September 13, 2014
New Orleans Arthur Roger Gallery represents Dawn DeDeaux

Copyright, 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

FYI
New Yahoo's mail system is too cumbersome to continue using for our mailings, 
and we are not able to pay for the  paymail system. 

You may not receive a monthly notice for YOURS TRULY IN A SWAMP, 

until / unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. 
(Don't hold your breath.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer). Contact me if you want on the list.

If you wish to read each month's story please go any time to www.LEJ.org 

(They are posted newly on the first of each month) 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary.