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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the anthologies: 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, October 01, 2011

October 2011 / German Fest in Roberts Cove

Yours Truly in a Swamp

Leonard Earl Johnson

October 2011

* * *

German Fest

in Roberts Cove

by Leonard Earl Johnson

Oktoberfest, 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, Alpine horns, yodeling, white marble graves of original settlers decorated with bright German flags, and hot spicy (in the North mild veal) Bratwurst sausages. Technically it was a Germanfest, not an Octoberfest. Oktoberfest is the German harvest festival, in September.

German immigrants were few to French Louisiana, but those who did come 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"). And Roberts Cove, a prosperous rice-growing settlement near Lafayette, where we spent a fine October Germanfest.

* * *

My Grandmother spoke German and English. My Mother spoke only English. My Great Grandmother spoke only German. It was a time when immigrants to America were bent towards assimilation. It is sad that my Mother never talked with her Grandmother. 

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 of Danish/Norwegion descent. He 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 such as 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, lands of mountains, Black Forests, German industry and people who liked to sing and yodel. 

They immigrated first as one Brother/Uncle, who sailed to New York, took a train to Saint Louis, and a raft one-hundred miles down the Mississippi, to the new German settlement of Ullin, at the southern tip of Illinois, twenty miles north of Cairo, Illinois, the town at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers where Mark Twain's Huck Finn was headed 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/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. 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 "Mack."

The "hard road," U. S. Highway-51, was laid down in front of it, and the Cache River continued flowing in back -- 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, 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 memories 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 village, near Stuttgart. In an apartment above the ground floor, where a family of cows and two horses lived. 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 Texas and Arkansas, it sounded to us. With a dash of Detroit -- in the days before Detroit became America's first fallen star. This was, also, in 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 it turned out.

* * *

"Do you speak German?" asked an "old" lady no more than a year or two older than I. Her English was heavily tinged with the local Cajun accent, but she was German, she said. We were inside the Song Fest Tent, singing, yodeling and listening to Alpine horns.

"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.

We have all come a long way. 
Now, the person trying to fish your Social Security check out of your mail box is not some ne'er-do-well Nephew. It is the Con-servative people telling you 60 is the new 40 and you no longer need it. Don't believe it, folks. 

This is a strong YouTube dark humor rant from beyond the grave by George Carlin on America. Do not watch it if you do not want to hear harsh criticism of running our ship of state aground so others can steal the brass. Mark Twain would be titillated and my Grandmother would have understood the warning. And maybe both would shed a tear. LEJ


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