Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Louisiana Loose End: New Roads and In Memorium

Ernest J. Gaines. Photo credit: Source: Academy of Achievement interview, 2001.

In memorium: Ernest J. Gaines

I've written several times about one of Louisiana's (and arguably, California's) sons, author Ernest J. Gaines.

He died in November.

Mr. Gaines was one of my two most important cultural interpreters for my time in Louisiana. (The other was James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux.)

Mr. Gaines told generations of stories of Louisiana. No, that's not right.

Mr. Gaines told stories of relationships. Relationships between men and women, between parents and children, between people who were enslaved and people who had supreme power over their daily lives, between people whose melanin content fell on a continuum from maple to walnut, between people whose ancestors originated in France and people whose ancestors came from what is now Senegal and Mali, between people who spoke French and people who spoke English, between black sharecroppers and white Cajun sharecroppers, between black Louisianans who stayed in Louisiana and those who joined the decades-long diaspora north or west.

Louisiana did play a role, of course. Louisiana was the one constant among the changing names and eras of Mr. Gaines' flawed heroes and heroines, villains, those who saw, those who saw and did not see, those who stood by, and those who stood up.

I drove three times to the New Roads area, driving by his house in nearby Oscar, pulling into the drive in front of his gate, pressing the intercom, in the hopes I'd be one of the lucky few to be able to visit the church on his grounds, the church he'd attended as a child, which he'd moved from its original location, to save it.  And, oh yes, to perhaps meet him in person. My attempts were for naught, alas.

En route to New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

New Roads, 2016

New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

On one of the New Roads trips, I poked into town.  I walked around one of the historic neighborhoods and took pictures of pretty bungalows, like these:

New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

Since I couldn't connect with Mr. Gaines directly, I looked for him through his past. As a tween, Mr. Gaines attended the St. Augustine Catholic School for several years before migrating to California. I found the church and attended a service there.

St. Augustine Catholic Church, New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

St. Augustine Catholic Church, New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

Wayward buggies

The "buggies" in New Roads, Louisiana, loiter wantonly just as they seem to do in all of Louisiana.

New Roads, Louisiana. January 2016.

On further reflection, the above photo suggests a conscious gathering of carts, likely up to no good.

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