Forty years ago this month, March 26, 1969, John Kennedy Toole died at his own hand. Twelve years later, in ’81, Toole was reborn as a writer.There are two main characters in the life story of Toole: John himself, the author of the classic Confederacy of Dunces and, perhaps most of all, his mom Thelma. […]
It has been said that in New Orleans, if you wait on any street corner for just a little while (not to be confused with stoop-sittin’), the weather will change, a parade will go by or someone will invite you to dinner at their house. So here we are, in the middle of Lent – in […]
Timeless at Adler’sOn the heels of one gift-giving season, Adler’s is preparing for another. February called for the locally owned jewelry store to stock up on engraved items and silver fashion jewelry for Valentine’s day, and now March signals time for Easter, First Communions, graduations, Mother’s Day and other spring occasions. The influx of spring […]
5,000Gators released in Iberia’s Bayou Teche for the Great Alligator Race, March 7. 25Number of people who compete in the “Stella!” (or “Stanley!”) shouting contest on the last day of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. 94.7Career passer rating (the second highest in NFL history), of New Orleans-born and bred Peyton Manning, who celebrates a […]
Hostel’s re-vampOn the always-bustling Decatur Street, Hostel has recently burst onto the scene as a hot spot for locals. Owned by Remi De Matteo and Michael Kenny, it originally opened as a lounge, then re-vamped itself by adding a restaurant. “We are now focusing more on the restaurant and private event aspects of the venue,” […]
Like a dentist searching for cavities, we thought you might want explore the methodology in determining who made this list of Top Dentists. We have anticipated some questions and, with the help of the company that did the research, provided answers.
An artist’s touch Lisa Germain D.D.S., M.Sc.D. (above) Endodontics Lisa Germain was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she lived until the age of 11, when her family moved to Silver Spring, Md. She remained in Maryland through college and dental school, earning both her B.S. in 1974 and D.D.S. in ’78 from the University of […]
Ed. Note: Baghdad Dispatch is written by two female Marines with local connections; Marine Capt. Mary Noyes, an attorney; and Marine Maj. Meredith Brown, an Iraqi Women’s Engagement officer. Their respective columns will appear in alternate months. Noyes moved to New Orleans in 2006; Brown is a native of Marrero. I have come to the […]
Tuesday, March 24, Lakeview Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine Center will hold a lecture, free of charge, called “Overuse Injuries in Tri-Athletes: Diagnosis and Prevention.” Orthopedic Surgeon Timothy Devraj and physical therapist Matt Pokorny will discuss common injuries, including physiology and treatment of such injuries. Lakeview Regional Medical Center has picked up sponsorship of athlete Caroline […]
When the Census Bureau releases its latest population estimate for New Orleans in the weeks ahead, it’s sure to be keenly examined by those invested in the city’s ongoing recovery. Estimating the number of people living in New Orleans since it was practically emptied in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been a particularly complex […]
Recently I heard a rumor that there were unicorns on the Northshore, so naturally I hit the Causeway because hey, unicorns. Unfortunately I was misled both about the unicorns and about the magic beans I bought from some guy. On the plus side, I discovered Young Chefs Academy, which seems like a pretty neat spot […]
The Obama administration has promoted the idea that the nation can link environmental issues with economic development to help both areas simultaneously. Closer to home, the Greater New Orleans Foundation is providing grants to put some of that potential into action quickly and locally. The Environmental Fund was first established at GNOF in 1994 with […]
Much of the Italian fare offered in New Orleans has been interpreted through a regional lens; typically it’s southern Italian that draws upon local ingredients such as fresh blue crab, oysters and gulf fish. Some places, such as Ristorante Da Piero in Kenner, distinguish themselves by an emphasis on Northern Italian cuisine. Others, including Irene’s […]
People seeking an antidote to disconnected bureaucracies and ineffective official channels that have plagued post-Katrina recovery can find it in one-time living rooms and dining rooms around the city. These unlikely settings are the offices of the Beacon of Hope Resources Centers, a grassroots network based in converted homes that helps residents return and rebuild. […]
I go to pick up my granddaughter at preschool and her teacher tells me I’m dead. Well, that’s a surprise. This teacher, Ms. Debbi, is one of them kind who’s always very sure about things. Maybe she gets it from talking to 4-year-olds all day. When she says, “This color is purple,” she knows she’s […]
This publication restates its strong support for the VA/LSU hospital project proposed for the area that borders the downtown business district. We do so with the hope that the arguing will soon end and the construction will begin so that the city can more quickly receive the benefits that the complex will bring.Nevertheless, because debate […]
Forty years ago this month, March 26, 1969, John Kennedy Toole died at his own hand. Twelve years later, in ’81, Toole was reborn as a writer. There are two main characters in the life story of Toole: John himself, the author of the classic Confederacy of Dunces and, perhaps most of all, his mom Thelma.
When Toole committed suicide, his manuscript for Confederacy had remained unread. It was Thelma who worked to get recognition for the piece. Her break came when novelist Walker Percy agreed to read it, liked what he read and recommended it to LSU Press. The book was published, became a sensation and in 1981, John Kennedy Toole was awarded, posthumously, the Pulitzer Prize for literature. Mom, Thelma, accepted the prize.
As the book became a sensation so did Thelma, who was by that time an elderly and eccentric woman with a penchant for wearing long white evening gloves, even in the daytime, but with a poetic soul and sharp wit.
In an interview I once did with her, I asked what her son was like as a child. “He was born with a face he carried all his life,” she replied. “That’s a rarity. The nurse came into my room and said that she had never seen a baby with such facial expressions. The nurses all marveled at this wondrous baby. He was born a little man.”
Thelma’s star shined so brightly that she was flown to New York City to appear on NBC’s then-late-night program, the Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder. The host was totally charmed by her and ended the interview by suggesting that maybe one day she could return and he would provide drinks and snacks. Snyder was floored when 80-year-old Thelma replied, “Champagne only, Tom. I’m not just someone you can just drag in off the streets.” Later that evening Thelma watched the broadcast of the taped program in her New York hotel. Responding to her performance, she told her companion, “Who was that lady? I’d like to meet her.”
What I remember most about my interview with her was the contrast between Thelma, trying to be so elegant, and her untidy Elysian Fields shotgun home. The most remarkable moment was when I asked to see her son’s Pulitzer Prize. She paused, looked around, and rummaged through a pile of books and papers on the seat of an old, stuffed wing-backed chair. The Prize was buried beneath the clutter. Only in her home should a guest need to be careful not to sit on a Pulitzer.
When I asked about her Christmas memories with John, Thelma recalled that he was only a week old for his first Christmas. She had bought some ornaments that to her seemed to have an old European look. They kept the ornaments through the years. Then she remembered what turned out to be John’s second to last Christmas for which he had purchased a Christmas tree and the same ornaments were used. “He had,” she recalled, “one of the most enchanted childhoods that any child could ever have.”
As a parting gift, Thelma gave me a small bag from the former D. H. Holmes Department store. Inside was a box of chocolate mints. The price tag on it wasn’t from Holmes but from Schwegmann’s, the then-omnipresent budget supermarket chain. That was Thelma, living a Holmes existence on a Schwegmann’s budget.
From the union of John and Thelma came Ignatius Reilly, the Lucky Dog-selling, street-corner-philosophizing lead character of Confederacy, who will forever present his “worldview” to anyone who reads the book.
For whatever fires burned in John Kennedy Toole’s mind there was at least the flash of light that created Ignatius. For whatever hurt Thelma felt, at least she persisted. She indeed deserved a toast – champagne only, please.
“Ignatius On Stage,” a staged reading of A Confederacy of Dunces starring WWL Radio personality and actor John “Spud” McConnell, will take place Sunday, March 29 at 3:30 p.m. at Le Petit Theatre during the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. For ticket information go to tennesseewilliams.net or call 581-1144.