The Memory Remains: What’s at Stake

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Published: June 9, 2011

Let me preface: I’ve been wanting to say some things for a while, and have finally been inspired to do so by some posts and members of this community, obvious events of the past year, the 100 day challenge, this Jazz article, and this quote from Jac Sperling: “It’s about New Orleans.”

So this is more about New Orleans specifically as opposed to the Hornets, a Hornet, some Hornets, the NBA, the CBA, an ACL, whatever, but I hope you’ll find it as intended if you are a fan of the team or the city from afar. Remember, you don’t have to be here or from here to be `from New Orleans.’



Over the past year, we’ve all been focused on coaches, then managers, then players, then owners, then wins, then ticket sales, then negotiations . . . Sometimes we lose focus of what is important in the wide world of sports. Many good arguments have been made over the years as to why sports as a whole is or is not important, professional or otherwise. I’m not going to make one of either kind, but I’m still going to talk about sports . . . sort of . . .

My friends’ daughter plays tee ball. The league doesn’t keep score or track wins (Herm Edwards would turn over in his grave if he were dead), much less compete for a title of sorts. They are guaranteed the same number of at-bats as everyone else. There is no `sport’ in it. The field is packed with kids, so they don’t run around and get tired, yet they are too far apart to really socialize. So you don’t get back a tired kid, which is what I assumed the point of such things really was. Likewise the kid doesn’t come back as a poised winner, a classy loser, or really with any greater ability to work and play well with others.

Nevertheless, I `accepted’ it, even if I did so with some mumbling-and-grumbling because I didn’t get it, try as I might. Please, don’t try to explain it to me. I wouldn’t even bring it up if I wasn’t making a point and admitting a faux pas.

You see, I lost focus. I was fousing on her learning or getting exhausted . . . something practical. I should have been focused on the fun and joy of a child? Uhhh, no. I don’t even think it’s that fun for anyone involved, frankly, at least not the majority of minutes.

My current thinking says that what she is doing is making memories. That, I think, is what it’s really all about. Sports, that is, and many more things besides.

Well what’s the big deal about the 4-year-old making memories that she won’t even really remember? Are those even memories?

Let’s flip the script . . . in a minute . . .


Dooky Chase’s

The other day I took my ladyfriend out to lunch. This particular Friday, we decided to take in the lunch buffet at Dooky Chase’s. For $18 each we got the buffet, which was phenomenal . . . fried chicken, greens, catfish, and on, and on . . . we ordered all three desserts, eating the peach cobbler there, taking the bread pudding and pecan pie back to the dojo.

While we were eating, the chef came tottering out from the back, mingling with the patrons. That chef is the 88-year-old Mrs. Leah Chase, Dooky’s widow (the restaurant was in Dooky’s family). We chatted briefly with her, and took a picture with her (everyone does), such is customary with the Jackie Robinson of Creole cooking, an American hero to a degree that may never fully be appreciated.

Big deal . . . 42’s finally talking about food that isn’t shrimp and grits . . . whoopie . . .

A long time ago at a restaurant not so far away, my maw-maw and paw-paw sat down for dinner. That restaurant was Dooky Chase’s. The chef was Mrs. Leah Chase.

Now think about that. I was sitting down in the same room my grandparents ate in, maybe at the very same table, talking to the same lady they talked to, eating food cooked by the same hands with the same recipes . . . separated not by space, but only by a mocking gulf of time, a tragically eternal case of just-missed-you.

You see, my two remaining grandparents both took ill last Mardi Gras, on the day, paw-paw lingering on for a year, maw-maw passing on comparatively quickly. Yet, I was able to share a dinner with them, if you view it in the same way you view a Quentin Tarantino film . . . and I do so. Mrs. Leah had no idea about any of that, she just kept on keeping on, but she is an important bridge to me, a weft to our warps, as I’m sure she is for thousands of other `warped’ people.

Eating that meal then looking back, I remembered conversations that had been forgotten. I remembered watching Justin Wilson on paw-paw’s lap, wishing he’d let me off of his fat, meatball-like gut so I could play with Speck . . . and now I wish I could remember what he told me about bay leaves and red beans . . . maybe that will come back to me, too. I remember sitting with maw-maw talking about her life before I knew her, as she had MS for more than my whole life. She would talk about dancing, traveling, and going out to eat, things I’ve learned about in time, learning more about her in the process. Nevertheless, that food, that place, that jewel of a lady, gave me another moment with them that I would not have had otherwise. I got to know her a little more long after her death, amazingly happy and frustratingly sad as that is. They were there the whole time, needing only the proper connection for them to spill forth, each one a tear proudly perching on my cheekbones.

You see, memories remain.

Salvador Dali agrees.

New Orleans is one of the oldest cities in the United States . . . our tricentennial is in 2018. We a fascinatingly rich history, as we have been coveted, fought over for literally centuries, changing hands many times in the process. New Orleans has always been a haven for people who didn’t fit in, for those who were cast out. Anyone in need is recognized as kin; anyone coming to help . . . not so much . . . such people shunned us before, didn’t they? Hmmm . . . .

As people from all over the came here, were welcomed, and immediately became a New Orleanian, they still held onto their history, ever nourishing the culture here. As a result, history and place are very important to people here. Memory is something real. Memories are important. Stories, the oral tradition, word of mouth . . . all important. Where you are from and where you are says as much as what you have done and what you do, how you participate in the life here. As a small city, the connections becomes dense, taking on a life of their own.

And this is what’s at stake. Memories. Not the heirlooms tucked away and forgotten in our cerebral attic, but the ones that haven’t been made . . . yet . . .


La Peniche

Another example: After The Vikings Game (yes, The), I went to La Peniche with some friends and got some fried chicken and cheese grits (also, this is a place Leah Chase goes to eat, so you know they know something!). I was tuned into the Big 870 all the while, and after a guy in the restaurant made a speech about the Saints victory and pending trip to the Black and Gold Super Bowl and the applause died down, 870’s microphone opened to the public at Deanie’s. As it turns out, it opened up with none other than my Hornets mentor, known in a previous post as Passionate Guy. He said that in the wake of the emotional victory, all he could think about was his grandfather, how they watched so many games together, and how he would have loved to experience `this’.

And that uncorked it for everyone. Not a single call didn’t give some shout out to someone in the shadows of history, didn’t reach back past death, deep into time, to touch someone dear to them, to make sure they were still there, to try to use the wonder that was slowly scouring something bleak from the city, defying the permanent winds of change, to share a last moment of pure joy with someone special before snapping back to the now, made more whole by the effort.

If the Saints had left us, that would not have happened for the millions of us. Yes, millions.

Was it about football? Not really. Don’t get me wrong, that game was a classic . . . far from perfect technically, but a perfect game to experience. It was about something in common. It was about a thread of something that we all have in common, stitching us into a pattern we can’t quite make out. It was about something arbitrary to bring us together (this ball crosses that line) to offset something arbitrary that rips us apart. It was about something that an 88-year-old chef and icon and a 4-year-old tee-baller who have never met each other can share: Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints? It was about those guests to Sunday dinner, the church after church . . . the guests in black and gold. It was about seeing joy in your grandfather’s eyes when Rickey Jackson ground up a quarterback like the unfortunate field general was about to go into sausage casing, while the rest of the week he hard as a rock, trying to resist the ravages of a long, hard life.

In my case, one of the last memories I have of my grandfather happy was when LSU started to turn the tide against Alabama. Same thing, really. Right? He was one of those guys who still got excited, mad, nervous watching the replays . . . just like his son . . . and just like his son . . .

At this point, everyone is saying, “Yeah, but this is the Hornets . . . is that really the same thing?”

No. It’s not. Not today.

But it could be one day. It will be if we make it that way.


Doors

The Saints weren’t The Saints in 1967. We all know the first play in Saints history was a John Gilliam kick return for touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams . . . and that we lost that one. We all know Dempsey’s kick . . . I wasn’t alive. We all know he had half a kicking foot (the back half) . . . I never met the guy. These aren’t legendary because of their significance, like Hartley’s kick or Morstead’s unprecedented onside kick. (Boy, do we put the “foot” in football or what?) The team was far from a winning season in those instances and even farther from a title.

They are great, rather, because WE LOVE OUR BOYS. Anyone in the black and gold, most of whom we never meet, we love because of what we put into them, not what they give to us. We make them great. They are us, or at least visions of us that we can pile our dreams onto, the best parts of us . . . battling . . . taking to task the ostracizers . . . showing us how great we can be . . . bringing hope hopefully . . .

Is today Dempsey’s kick? Will the next game be Gleason’s block? Maybe, maybe not, but we can’t dwell on the chances. We have to trust that if we take care of those things that bring us together in great numbers over long periods of time, that they will take care of us even moreso.

Will our children inherit our season tickets? Our jerseys? Our stories of how he won the championship in our own Arena? Our stories of how Mom and Dad had their first date at a Hornets game? My relationship with the ladyfriend can be traced back to one, as a matter of fact.

Will a Hornets game give a father and son something to talk about in those years when Dad gets really stupid before he wises up around the kid’s 20th birthday? Will having a sweet ticket give a couple one last chance at a good night before a family falls apart? Will having the team here inspire someone to greatness? There are so many people . . . probably so . . . this is all true for the Saints, certainly . . . we must treat this team as one with equal potential to tug on our hearts.

This story must not end.

This is why we must fight.

This is why we must win.

This is why we need to make some memories. We can’t go back and capture time in a bottle, as Jim Croce wishes, filling our heads and hearts with things from the road not traveled. Rather, we have to be the stuff of memory. We have to do this for everyone else, like our beloved Black and Gold do for us.

We have to make now the time we’ll talk to our friends about when we our ability to squeeze life from this life has faded. These are the times when we have to meet those brothers-in-battle that will be the heroes of the stories we tell over drinks year after year. Today is the day when we have to eat those meals we share with our children or grandchildren across a chasm of years, cheating death by truly living life. We must begin the fashioning of cord that tethers the future back to us, dragging us forward when we can’t drag ourselves. We must take our place in the living fabric of this great city . . . so great it actually pisses people off, how great we really are . . . now.

All around us are the persitant reminders of things that could have gone the other way, should have happened differently; the sorry lessons of history abound. Rust forms and paint cracks due inattention from anyone besides Mother Nature. Dust settles while we lick our wounds. The tatters of what should have been litter our streets like shingles and the history they sheltered from all but The Storm.

We may be surrounded by strangers, but at any moment you may be chopping them out of their attic, or they may be passing you a sandbag as you build wall to save the home of someone you can’t stand to be around. We are fellow soldiers, drafted into an endless war we did not start and can not end. We can only choose to give up or not. The war will not stop, but it provides our opportunity. As a wise man crooned, “You live for the fight when it’s all that you’ve got.”

Sadly, we can not choose victory outright. We can’t control that. We can, however, carve our legacy, sear out footprints into the path we tread. We can ensure that we, and every step we take, are remembered.

We have to shine now. We have to shine brightly, no matter how quickly we may burn. We have to dance like it’s a wedding while we are surrounded by funeral pyres. We have to sing out into the void while it tries to shroud us in silence. We have join hands like family around the dinner table while divided like strangers in a strange land.

Shine, dance, sing, join. That is our way, and that is our path. That is how we have always fought. That is how we will fight, and that is how we will win.

There is no later. That time has past.

It’s now now.

Our stories will be told, we will be remembered.

Will it be a happy tale? Told over some of Mrs. Leah’s peach cobbler? A la mode?

It can happen just like that . . . all you have to do is say, “Yes, please.”