Fish Fry at Saint Luke’s

I remember the smell of New Orleans during the smoldering months of July and August and September. That was when it was so humid and hard to breathe that we did not even crinkle our noses at the garbage stench any time a good gust of wind came through to help us fill our lungs.
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I marveled at all the bras, beaded necklaces, and feathers strewn across lamp posts and balconies and electrical wires as we weaved in and out of shops in the Quarter, trying to catch a glimpse of naked ladies and drag queens in alley doorways. The sound of that incredible African music sent a chill up my spine, and made me lift my rib cage side to side and swing my hips while walking.
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I remember trying on masquerade costumes and headdresses with my mother and favourite aunt Yvonne, and watching the lot of skateboarders and break dancers gathering in the square down from Cafe du Monde. There we sat for hours, sipping chicory and eating beignets, observing scores of drowsy looking girls riding around in horse-drawn carriages with old men who smoked cigars in faded floral button up shirts. Countless street sweepers hummed or whistled or sang, not a single one of them without music.

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I remember taking a photo of my dad with the “Huge Ass Beers” sign and strolling down Bourbon Street with Chris when he was too grumpy to appreciate the soul of the place. We tried every kind of food we could get our hands on, but what I most looked forward to was my favourite uncle Alvin’s famous red beans and rice with andouille. We have to put on our best poker faces around him because he tells the wildest stories. We can never decipher if he is pulling our leg or not until it is too late; until after he has gotten us.

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I remember we used to drive down those long, winding roads canopied with weeping willows, past plantation houses and swamp marshes and Beware of Alligators signs on our way to eat at Vera’s. I loved to lean my head back and look out the window as the shadows passed over my face so quickly it made me dizzy. Uncle Alvin parked the car on the ferry to ride across into the city, and I felt like I was in an old French home movie.

We found a body floating in the Riverwalk as we were people watching with our toes in the water one particularly hot day. He was full of bullet holes and appeared to have been shredded up by a boat propeller. And I can not forget that little boy’s face on the news who was abducted outside the wig shop I went into, or the exact colour of that blue-black eye shadow I bought while it happened.

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I remember wandering around the neighbourhood with Rachel, plotting to earn shopping money by washing cars for when that new souvenir and costume shop opened up. A lady across the street invited us in to see her collection of ceramic masks that occupied every available inch of wall space in her hallway and living room. Uncle Alvin showed off his collection of Bonnie and Clyde memorabilia, and he would put on talent shows with his cleverly trained dogs, Buffy and Lucky.  Aunt Yvonne and my cousin JR took us to Lenten fish fry nights at  their church, St. Luke’s, and I stared in awe at the beautiful stained glass windows.
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I remember the times we stayed at Grand Casino in Biloxi and spent hours making rounds, flirting with bellboys and pretending we were famous. There was this flamboyant soul singer in their Vegas show who grabbed our hands and tried to pull us onstage. Lord how he was so drenched with sweat, that it dripped all over us and onto our table and into our drinking glasses. Cari and I met an old lady that we helped a few times in the elevator, and later she snuck us into the atrium after she found out we were trying to get in to see Duran Duran. Their Greatest Hits album had just came out and we made my dad drive to every retail store for days until we finally had it in our hands.

I remember standing in the voodoo museum in the French Quarter staring at photos of Krewe parades and hearing Billie Holiday’s “Gloomy Sunday” for the first time. When the words came to me, I knew  I was going to sing the blues too.

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