MORGANZA TO NEW ROADS
We woke up not so bright but very early to a pouring rain in Morganza, Louisiana. After a quick cup of coffee at the Rivet house, we were off to breakfast at the Village One Stop. It started out as a small gathering with Lyle, Bae and Carla soon turned into a major event. The “Morganza Ladies” showed up, Mayor “Woots” Wells, Lyle and Carla of course, and many new faces. After coffee and conversation with all these new folks, the Mayor gathered everyone around for a special presentation—it seems that they had sent the collection basket around while we were talking, and the Village of Morganza was now making a generous gift to Relay of Voices from all those present. Needless to say, we were blown away at the warmth and generosity of this gesture. Everyone gathered round for a big group photo and a few smaller group portraits with Lyle and Father Babu.
As this unexpected breakfast party came to a close, the rain was finally letting up—just in time for us to get back on the road and start running. We headed out to the Old River Landing for the launch. The Mayor and Sugar were there to see us off. A police escort trailed behind Tom as he ran out to LA Highway 1 and over the Morganza Spillway. The landscape was filled with birds, cows, and an unoccupied eagle’s nest. The parade into and through town continued when Tom passed off to me—the mayor in his golf cart, police car with lights flashing, cars backed up, cane trucks pulling aside, giving a wide berth and waving. I finally made it to the south end of Morganza, passing the Mayor taking our photo one last time, with Sugar yelling out at me, “you go mama!” In another few steps, we ran into Bae, whose wife had called him up saying there were folks out running on the highway. He knew just who she was talking about and came to find us and have a conversation before we made the last leg to New Roads on bike. The road was full of bagasse and cane stalks accumulating on the shoulder, and cane trucks were hurtling by in the misty, wet morning. Muddy fields left and right filled the landscape with tall sugar cane in places and rice in others. The rain had left its mark on the overflowing ditches and generally soggy terrain.
We arrived right at City Hall, and immediately checked into Morel’s Inn, a vintage 1952 motel that would be our home for the night. Our schedule had us meeting up with Brian Costello for lunch and conversation at Hot Tails Crawfish House New Roads Louisiana, home to local spicy eats and beers and owned by Sam Carroll, Executive Director of Louisiana Seafood. As soon as Brian sat down, we dove right into an education full of history that comes alive as he speaks. Brian grew up next to his grandparents, and apparently a lot of family and friends would gather there as well, talking about the past. Brian was always interested in what they had to say, and started grounding their stories in deeper research. Eventually he studied European history in college and worked part time during college at the Pointe Coupee Banner before becoming editor there. He currently serves as theArchivist for the parish library where they collect photos and records. In addition to his day job, Brian does public speaking and has written several books on Louisiana History…. But the history Brian tells may not be the one you’re used to reading in text books. He noticed that so many written accounts were published second hand and coming from prominent white voices. He thought these are not the only people who built these communities—what about the African Americans and the Native people? So he began collecting oral histories to supplement the traditional institutional account. There’s much more to say about Brian, but we’ll save the larger story for another time—lunches are hard to transcribe(!) and our schedule also has us moving on…
After our lunch, we headed back toward City Hall where just across the street is the Visitor’s Center and a man named George Miller, director of the city’s Main Street program. Markita, another young city worker was also at the center, working on some VIP badges for the upcoming festival at the conference table. We all joined Markita at the table and dove into a conversation with George. He has been in New Roads since Katrina and was a refinery worker for 20+ years in St. Bernard Parish before the move. He also served as Constable there and continued that line of work in Pointe Coupee when he first arrived. Recently he got involved in newly elected Mayor Cornell Dukes’ campaign, and subsequently arrived at his position with the Main Street program. George has lots of energy and lots of ideas for a man in his second retirement. For only being local to New Roads, Louisiana for just over ten years, he also seems to know most everyone, and we could have sat all afternoon listening to his stories about dealing with Katrina as well as getting acclimated to life in New Roads.
At a certain point, Aimee Moreau—our local partner—walked in to consult with George on a few items regarding the upcoming festival. Seems Aimee also runs the 5K event in conjunction with the festival, which is not a big surprise considering she is race director for the Louisiana Triathlon and owns a local paddling and outdoors shop, all while keeping up a day job as a speech therapist (oh! And mother of two!). We only got a glimpse of Aimee at this moment, as she had more work to do and so did we. But plans were to later meet up for drinks and then dinner with she and her boyfriend Arthur Ewing. To my great surprise Arthur’s brother Lane also joined us—Lane happens to be an old college classmate of mine from Notre Dame days, some 20 years ago! The evening turned into a lively one at Ma Mama’s Kitchen, eating and drinking late into the night as if this was a weekly affair (which perhaps it is for them!). The homecoming keeps getting better!