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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.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

German Fest, and my Mother's Funeral / November 2012

Please join us 
Thursday, Nov. 1,  2012, 8p.m.,
Gold Mine Saloon

701 Dauphine,
Rue Saint Peter at Dauphine, French Quarter, New Orleans ~ LEJ

Yours Truly in a Swamp
a monthly column 
by Leonard Earl Johnson
of New Orleans and Lafayette, Louisiana

November 2012

* * *

German Fest!

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 attended. 

There is beer, singing, Alpenhorns, yodeling, white marble graves of original settlers decorated with bright German flags, and hot spicy Bratwurst Sausages (in Germany and the U. S. North, Bratwurst is a mild veal sausage with a strong hint of nutmeg). 

Roberts Cove Germanfest 

Technically it is a German Fest not an Oktoberfest, because it is in October. In Germany, Oktoberfest comes in September. Besides, in Louisiana, a month later is a month cooler. 

German immigrants were few to French Louisiana, but those who did come left their mark. Notably there were Germans said to have fed the indolent city folk of New Orleans from productive farms on the "German Coast," along Bayou Des Allemonds (French for "Bayou of the Germans"). Amtrak crosses this bayou at the settlement named 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 them. 

L. A. Norma said, "Some things change, some things 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 three integrated rear ends. 

"Do you speak German?" asked an "old lady," introducing herself, and no more than a year or two older than us. Her English was heavily 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 English from earlier-arrival Canadian French -- the much revered Cajuns, whom detractors say, "Speak neither English nor French."

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. 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 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 double muddled. 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."

* * *

Further Down the Road,
in Illinois, my Grandmother spoke German and English. Her Mother spoke only German. My Mother spoke only English. 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, as my Father argued, the Daughter of the Polish Count Pulaskiwho perished at the Battle of Savanna, during the American Revolution. Pulaski had no children.  Sometimes your own Father can be wrong.

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 roadhouse, named Porky's, where 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 it).  My Mother, who grew up in Ullin, liked the 'Ulins', "Just fine." 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 Mother's antecedents 

were 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, Illinois. Cairo, 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," from the slave-state, Missouri.

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 the roadhouse nightclub named Porky's owned by my Father and Mother. My Mother was always called, "Mac."

"The hard road," U. S. Highway-51, was laid down in front of Porky's, and 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. 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.

* * *

A Long Way Home
My Mother, of 69 years, died last week in Illinois. She was shy by two months of 96, and had taken to saying she was already 96. It is 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, 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 was my Mother's given name. 

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

Father Mujule gave my Sister permission for us to play the Ingrid Lucia, Irvin Mayfield, 2005 music video, "Do They Play Jazz in Heavon" (made after Hurricane Katrina). We all love this video, this song of faith and rebirth.

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. He was told there are three a day, "But you must wear shoes."

Moving on 
The south bound train passed in to 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

In my cozy Pullman car, 
Amtrak's "City of New Orleans" passed in to 
the Shawnee National Forest and through nine towns and villages important to me.
Tonight more stars pepper the forest's canopy
than recalled from youthful Ullin,
where we all lived in our turn.

A meteorite crossed the train's window,
"auf Wiedersehen, Mutter,
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

Mac and Porky, 1943,
taking the baths at Hot Springs, Arkansas,

 celebrating my birth without me.

A similar version of this story appeared October 2011, containing the famed beyond the grave rant on Social Security by the late George Carlin.
Copyright, 2012, Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

Papa LEJ
photo credit: Maureen Brennan
© 2012, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
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