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Finding an Old “Friend”
I used to be an avid but somewhat selective clipper of either newspaper or magazine articles on different subjects that expressed my exact feelings, moved or enlightened me. Two divergent examples of clipped articles impressed me most back then. Growing up I feasted on Nancy Drew mysteries, and in my 20s, I found myself a little disturbed that this love of mystery had transitioned into what became an almost permanent fixture for me – murder mysteries. I devoured the work of P.D. James, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Robert Parker, Martha Grimes and became convinced that my desire to read these stories showed some kind of deviate trend. And then one day I happened on an article in Vogue simply called “To Bed With A Mystery” that analyzed murder mystery-lovers as salt-of-the-earth types who had a pronounced sense of right and wrong and loved to see justice done. This article made it into my collection. I mention this because looking back, my sampler of clippings represented some milestone or guidepost in my life, no matter the subject. The second example that impressed me came from the Times-Picayune’s food section, published each Thursday.

I use to relish Myriam Guidroz’s pot-au-feu; I kept her vignette of visiting the witch museum in Salem, Mass., that also printed  a recipe for clam chowder. But it was Leon E. Soniat’s “The Creole Kitchen” column that provided me with a clipping I cherished most, one that I would read and read again. Soniat told the story of visiting his three maiden aunts who lived in a cottage on St. Philip Street as a boy. He wrote of their carefully tended herb garden and the pathway lined with thyme that was always crushed underfoot. He said that he could not smell thyme without vividly remembering the cottage with the elderly sisters. But what made me cherish this story most was his description of their front room, which was always shuttered and cut off from the rest of the four-room cottage. The few times he was allowed in, he “smelled God’s presence.” The dark room was lit only by a ruby votive candle that filled the walls with red designs and smelled of scented oil that he described as the “smell of God.” It burned near a table with an upright crucifix, medals and holy pictures. At the time I was a lapsed Catholic, but nothing evoked the memories of my Catholic upbringing as strongly as his story of smelling God in his aunts’ room. The recipe that accompanied this story was his aunts’ bell pepper casserole, a dish I prepared many times. Soniat died in 1981, a year, oddly enough, in which I too faced death, survived and came back with a strong  resurgence of faith that has not left me since, undeserving wretch that I am. Soniat’s column made me realize that writing stories about the treasures of ordinary days would always be worthwhile, enriching and a joy to read.

I lost my collection of clippings many years ago following a move, and from time to time, I would remember Soniat’s story about the shuttered room and his recipe for the casserole but eventually forget about it. Just after last Christmas, by an odd chance at a bookstore, I noticed a cookbook, La Bouche Creole, with his name on the binding and discovered it was a collection of all of his old newspaper columns and recipes. Accompanying the delicious recipes are Soniat’s charming vignettes of growing up as part of a Creole family in the French Quarter with his parents, Mamete and Papete, and grandparents Mamere and Papere. Along with recipes for good old red beans and rice, duck-and-andouille gumbo, shrimp Creole and mirliton salad, Soniat writes of taking the old “Smoky Mary” train down Elysian Fields to the lakefront for a day of fishing and crabbing, cleaning out the cistern with his father and shopping for fresh food at the French Market.

And these stories I don’t need to clip.

La Bouche Creole, Pelican Publishing Co., pelicanpub.com

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Reader Comments:
May 21, 2013 11:54 am
 Posted by  RebMac

Jeanne,

It's nice to see someone take an interest in events from long ago. This accident was the worst the Kansas City Southern has ever had. Thirteen souls were lost that August morning; all six employees in both locomotives, six passengers of the troop train, and the troop train's conductor. Eighty-two were injured, many seriously.

The track upon which this wreck occurred is abandoned, now - it is located a mile and a half north of the LA1 intersection you describe (the photo you published is actually of a location about two miles north of the actual wreck site). In fact, you will follow the existing tracks there north a couple hundred feet, then follow the still evident abandoned roadbed that diverges to the right/north up in to the woods. I would be sure to be prepared for the wildlife, for the area becomes heavily timbered and is swampy. The wreck location is just a hundred feet or so south of the tree line that opens upon a large open field. You will clearly be able to see the old roadbed continue across that field in a broad sweeping curve to the northeast. I don't remember anything that marks the spot, other than an eerie feeling that something terrible once happened in that place.

The worst part about this wreck is that it could have been prevented. I invite you to read the report of the ICC - http://ntl1.specialcollection.net/scripts/ws.dll?file&fn=6&name=S%3A%5CDOT_56GB%5CRailroad%5CWEBSEARCH%5C3419.PDF (you'll have to cut and paste); it tells a story of ignorance, arrogance, and tragedy - especially in light of new technologies of the day.

Thanks, again, for covering this wreck. Thirteen forgotten souls have been remembered.

Pat McCarthy

May 22, 2013 01:26 pm
 Posted by  JMFrois

Dear Pat,

Thanks very much for your kind comments and additional details about what happened. It's very gratifying to for me to receive a sensitive and informed response like yours to one of my stories. I always wondered where exactly the wreck took place and now you've given me an excellent picture. I think some kind of marker should be there; or even a historical marker on Hwy. 1 where the track crosses, because, paraphrasing your words, these souls should be remembered. I will definitely read the ICC report--I deeply appreciate that you've sent me the link to the actual report and took the time to respond to my story.

Best Wishes,

Jeanne Frois

May 25, 2013 05:12 pm
 Posted by  RebMac

Jeanne,

I was stunned to receive your very kind reply to my note on your piece about the wreck of the Southern Belle - so much so, if felt I should somehow respond.

So, thank you for your reply. My grandfather was a civil engineer for the KCS, and that wreck took the lives of four of his close friends. He grieved over it for years. Naturally, I was drawn to the story; I only wish he had lived long enough for me to talk about it with him.

I just ordered a copy of your book "Louisianians All," and am looking forward to reading it. Thank you, again.

Pat McCarthy
Jackson, Mississippi

May 29, 2013 02:37 pm
 Posted by  JMFrois

Dear Pat,

It was my pleasure to answer you. As a little girl I traveled the trains with my family and can still feel the spell they wove around us; your grandfather was part of the romance--and tragedy--of trains. I'm so sorry he lost four good friends in the wreck and it's only natural he would be haunted by such a loss. I understand why you would have wanted to talk about this with him. I would have loved to talk to him about it myself! Thank you so much for doing me the kindness of ordering my book. "Louisianians All" was a special project to me, a labor of love during a magical time of my life when I was surrounded by loving support on a few sides that I'll always cherish. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

Best,

Jeanne Frois

Sep 1, 2013 03:14 pm
 Posted by  scheely

Jeanne - Thank you for the excellent article. My father is a member of the 1st 90 mm AAA Gun Battalion that served in Korea. He has published a book, "A Brief History of the 1st 90 MM AAA Gun Battalion, USMC". My father included a chapter on the train crash. The book is self-published and he makes additions as he receives photos and stories from Marines when they find out about the book. I would love to include the picture of the track now and a link to your article if you would approve? I am currently working on a 7th revision. He received photos of the crash from a Navy Corpsman, Bill Kayatta who was pulled out of the wreck by use of the rail tie. I was sad to learn of the loss of the boy on his horse. Please let me know about the photo and feel free to pass my note onto the other gentleman who posted. Thanks again for the article.

Jan 24, 2014 01:12 pm
 Posted by  JMFrois

Dear Scheely:

Just found your wonderful post this morning, nearly five months after--sorry! Congratulations about your father and the book, it sounds like a cherished, wonderful project. Give me a few minutes to run your request about the photo and link to the article by my publisher, Errol and I will let you know. Sorry to have kept you waiting so long! Best wishes and I'm so glad you enjoyed the article. Jeanne

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