More than an Obit for Sister Marcy / April 2017
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Obit for Sister Marcy Romine
|Sister Marcy Romine|
She returned to New Orleans about five years ago to became director of special projects at the NO/AIDS Task Force.
"My temporal spiritual home," was Sister Marcy's sweet rift on the philosophical note raised high by fellow Saint Louis immigrant to New Orleans, Tennessee Williams. Williams famously called New Orleans his Spiritual Home.
Soon after her return to Big Swamp City we met for lunch at Cake Cafe and Bakery, on Spain and
|Lazarus House, green building foreground of Holy Trinity Church|
Project Lazarus is an AIDS / HIV services project. I was a new volunteer the year Sister Marcy first came to Louisiana. We met for orientation, and to be given the name of a person I would visit ~ reading to ~ an agreed title ~ visiting regularly ~ as we saw fit ~ befriending ~ and, yes, sometimes sitting bedside at the last hour. I know this may sound creepy, but it was actually liberating.
"What will happen if I start to cry?" I asked, at that first meeting.
(In full disclosure: I volunteered because it had been suggested by a grief counselor that I do so as a way of dealing with loss of friends. In those early days, when President Ronald Reagan would not even speak the name, the NO/AIDS Task Force opened on Frenchmen Street. With laudable civic grace they offered free counseling for the ill and the bereaved.)
Sister Marcy said, "It might give them a chance to cry, too. We hope to demystify death, and it is not like they don't know. They will let you know where they are."
Holy Trinity was founded in 1854, as a prosperous German congregation, on Saint Ferdinand Street. It served the new German and Italian settlements of Faubourgs Marigny and Bywater.
|Holy Trinity Church, founded in 1854 /|
today, Marigny Opera House
Holy Trinity had grand French stained windows and magnificent Bavarian / Schwabish hand-carved wooden fixtures. All sold off by the Archdiocese after desanctification. Today the building is rentable as the charmingly misty venue, Marigny Opera House, in this misty post-Katrina gentrified neighborhood.
During five years at Project Lazarus I befriended a young dark-skinned man from Baton Rouge, who went by the name of Roger X. He held a PhD in physics, and was teaching mathematics on the graduate level when he was diagnosed. Life had been good. He had friends, a red Chrysler convertible, and was buying a house. He lost his job, most of his friends, his red car, new home, and even his eyesight, after he became ill.
Once, reading a passage from A LESSON BEFORE DYING, I did cry. When I had collected myself Roger X. calmly said, "I don't cry anymore. It is alright if you do."
Roger X. had grown up in New Roads, Louisiana, hometown to Ernest Gaines, author of A LESSON BEFORE DYING, and distinguished professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Like Gaines' protagonist in LESSON (Grant Wiggins), Roger X. wanted out of his Life in "the Quarters," the section of once plantation lands where blacks lived ~ then and now. Both men got out, and both got pulled back by roots, memories,
membership in the community.
We were reading A LESSON when Ernest Gaines and Oprah Winfrey took America on a tv-tour of New Roads, its church, and cemetery.
Homie, Roger X., and I went along, too.
Roger's weak eyes left him unable to see more than light and shadow ~ no details. I started describing what was on the tv-screen. Roger stopped me. He already saw it in his mind, he said, "As clearly as anyone watching in America."
His Father was a "Hardshell Baptist Preacher," he told everyone, in sad explanation for his never visiting. His Mother was loving, he said, but obedient to her Husband.
That Christmas he went home for a first visit since diagnosis. He left December 12, and returned December 20. The Prodigal Son's visit cut short five days before Christmas ~ in a devout Christian family ~ was a very bad sign. Sister Marcy called me to come visit. We read more of A LESSON BEFORE DYING. No one cried.
Roger X. died the following Spring. His Parents did not come, but his Mother phoned. Sister Marcy may have called her. In the last hours of care a hospice crew bathed, powdered and dressed him while I waited in the hall.
I held the phone to his ear and spoke into it to his Mother: "He smells like baby powder, and is in a fresh blue gown." I told her Roger's eyes were open and moist, "He knows it is you."
A few weeks after his death I wrote to the Oprah Winfrey show in Chicago. They wrote back and when A LESSON BEFORE DYING was made into a HBO movie I was invited to attend the premiere at the Orpheum Theatre in New Orleans. At the dinner afterwards at House of Blues, I sat at table with actor Cicely Tyson and chef Leah Chase.
Thank you Sister Marcy and Roger X., mes amis!
I know nothing of Roger's internment. Sister Marcy is buried ~ like Tennessee Williams ~ back in Saint Louis, Missouri. There was a huge memorial service and Second Line for her at the Marigny Opera House.
(Tennessee Williams has annual festivals in his honor in New Orleans; Clarksdale, Mississippi; Provincetown, Massachusetts; and lately Saint Louis, Missouri.)
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© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson,
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