German Fest, and my Mother's Funeral / November 2012
Thursday, Nov. 1, at 8p.m.,
Gold Mine Saloon, 701 Dauphine,
Corner of St. Peter and Dauphine,
French Quarter, New Orleans ~ LEJ
Roberts Cove, Louisiana
And my Mother's Funeral in Illinois
by Leonard Earl Johnson
A German Fest in Roberts Cove, Louisiana. You laugh? It might 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.
There was beer, singing, Alpenhorns, yodeling, white marble graves of original settlers decorated with bright German flags, and hot spicy Bratwurst Sausages (in Germany and U. S. North, a mild veal sausage with a strong hint of nutmeg).
|Roberts Cove Germanfest|
Technically it was a German Fest, not an Oktoberfest because Oktoberfest is in September. (Go figure!)
Louisiana -- nay all of us -- are not good at timekeeping, we use the Gregorian Calendar. Besides, September is too hot in Roberts Cove for blowing Alpenhorns and eating hot Bratwurst Sausages.
German immigrants were few to French Louisiana, but those who came left their mark. Notably there were the Germans said to have fed the indolent city folk of New Orleans from productive farms along the "German Coast," at Bayou Des Allemonds (French for "Bayou of the Germans"). Amtrak crosses this bayou at the settlement, Des Allemonds.
One day, coming back from New Orleans we were treated to three Des Allemonds' boys mooning the Los Angeles bound Sunset Limited. Outbound swells sipping drinks in the observation car saw three behinds -- one black, two white -- shining up at us.
L. A. Norma said, "Some things change, some things don't."
Roberts Cove, where we spent our October German Fest is a prosperous rice-growing settlement near Lafayette, Acadiana's "Hub City," and where we left the train that saw the three integrated rear ends.
We were inside the Song Fest Tent, singing, yodeling and listening to Alpenhorns.
"Bisschen Deutsch," I said. She understood the "Deutsch," but not the "Bisschen".
"A little," I explained, I speak a little German.
We raised our "Bier" and joined in the Rucksack Song. Her husband wore nice lederhosen and sang with great gusto. I would bet money he had been a boyscout and sang these same songs with the same gusto then.
A Sense of Place
Near Roberts Cove is Hawk's, a crayfish joint noted for purging their "Mud Bugs." Hawk's prides itself on no signage. Finding it is something of a local game. Outsiders are double muddled. One day, washing up at the dining-room wash basins, we asked a man where he was from.
The man said, "Down the road."
"Is your name German?" we asked.
"No," he said, "further down the road."
My Grandmother spoke German and English. My Mother spoke only English. Her Grandmother spoke only German. It was a time when German immigrants, like French immigrants, were bent towards assimilation.
We all lived, in our turn, in a German-American village in Illinois. It was named Ullin, after some early settlers, or the Daughter of the Polish Count Pulaski.
My Father was nicknamed Porky, and came from a nearby back hill railroad village named Alto Pass. He was of Danish/Norwegian descent, and did not like the idea of our village being named after Germans. Besides, descendants of the Ullins still lived there and he did not much like them.
My Father and Mother owned a roadside establishment where he expounded frequently on this and issues of F. D. R.'s New Deal. My Mother, who grew up in Ullin and liked the 'Ulins', "Just fine," would shrug. He must have won the Ullin-argument because the resident family named Ullin dropped one 'l' from the spelling of their name.
"Out of fear Porky was making people think them Polish," my Grandmother laughed.
There were, also, a few former slave families, one Irish, and a merchant family we suspected of being Jews passing as Methodist. The Africans were Baptist. The Germans and Irish were Catholic.
My 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, took a train to Saint Louis, 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. Cairo, Illinois is the town at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers where Mark Twain's Huck Finn was headed on his raft to set free "Nigger Jim."
My people arrived three years after Mark Twain had captained river boats to New Orleans, fled West to avoid the Civil War, and moved to Hartford, Connecticut to write.
Twain came from Hannibal, Missouri, two-hundred miles upriver from Ullin, Illinois. 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 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 office become a roadhouse nightclub named Porky's, and owned by my Father and Mother. My Mother was nicknamed "Mac."
"The hard road," U. S. Highway-51, was laid down in front of Porky's, and the Cache River continued flowing in back -- with growing insignificance. My Great Uncle never knew any of this.
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. The name, "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.
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, a slim black man from Ghana, Father Chris Mujule 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 is my Mother's given name.
Father Mujule gave permission for us to play the great Ingrid Lucia, Irvin Mayfield, 2005 music video, "Do They Play Jazz in Heavon" (made after Katrina). Mother loved this video.
We caught Amtrak's City of New Orleans back to Louisiana at 1:30 a.m., from Carbondale, Illinois -- my alma mater. A barefooted student came in off the street and asked the ticket clerk about trains to Chicago.
The south bound train passed in to the Shawnee National Forest and nine little towns and villages important to me. It passed on to Kentucky by crossing the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois.
In my cozy Pullman car,
the Shawnee National Forest
than recalled from my youthful Ullin,
where we all lived in our turn.
Ich liebe dich"
* * *
"Do they play jazz in heaven,
then its standing room only up there"
|L. E. J. and Mac, in 1944|
|December 28, 1916 ~ October 12, 2012|
Margaret "Mac" Echoles-Staudacher Johnson, in 1943
photo credit: Maureen Brennan