We have all experienced our Evangeline Oak moments this year.
In 1928 Huey Long, then a little known candidate for governor, stood beneath the St. Martinville oak and made a speech that is a classic in American politics. Referring to the tree made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about an Acadian girl named Evangeline who waited at the oak for her lover Gabriel to return, the candidate captured the emotion of the moment:
…Evangeline is not the only one who has waited here in disappointment.
Long went on to list a series of political promises, such as better school and hospitals, that were never delivered. Then came his sensational closing:
Evangeline wept bitter tears in her disappointment, but it lasted only through one lifetime. Your tears in this country, around this oak, have lasted for generations. Give me the chance to dry the eyes of those who still weep here.
That oak is a symbol of the crises that we all face from time to time, even while living in a state known for its joy and abundance. The cause of Evangeline’s plight was far different, and less viral, than what we are suffering through but in everyone’s hard times there seems to be a common theme of waiting. For us, the role of Gabriel is played by the concept of normality. We long for its return.
This Memorial Day feels different from most. There is more pathos to it. Evangeline, if she was waiting for Gabriel today, might not recognize him wearing a safety mask. And, if they did make eye contact the two longing sweethearts would likely overlook maintaining proper social distance. The time is right for a sentimental moment.
Fortuitously, Brian Gabrial, a professor at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, and whose last name is amazingly only one letter different from that of Evangeline’s beau, sent me a link to a ballad by Canadian Annie Blanchard. It is in French, but the language is so lyrical that it adds to the beauty. There are also great visuals:
This Memorial Day may our lives be peaceful and may all that we are waiting for have happy endings.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.