Enough of that for awhile. No more politics for a time. I had company over the weekend from the great state of California.
About two years ago, Susan and I were kinda hanging out at the house, sometime around Christmas, and the dog sounded the alarm that we had company. I peeked out the window to make sure it wasnít a berserk politician wide-eyed with savage glee. Instead, a nice-looking gentleman was making his way cautiously to the front door.
"Who is it?" Suzie asked.
"I donít know," I said. "Doesnít appear armed, though."
So I opened the door and said, "Hullo!"
There was something familiar about the man who stuck his hand out and smiled cheerily, but I couldnít put my finger on it.
He said, "Hi, Iím Jeff Latimer, Iím from California. My great grandfather was Anatole Stouff."
Good enough for me. "Well," I said, swinging the door wide. "Youíre home."
I realized what the familiarity was then: Jeff was certainly a Stouff. You could see it in his features.
Jeff spent a couple of days in the area and we got to know each other. Turns out, his daughter in Jersey was having a child, and Jeffís wife flew to be there with her, but Jeff decided to take the scenic and heritage route. His wife confided to us later that the family and friends in California thought he was nuts, driving to New Jersey via Louisiana to go look up long-lost relatives who might be at worst axe-murders or at best backwards Cajun-Indian mix, of all the wretched combinations, and try to pawn off our 14-year-old daughters on him in return for a bottle of corn-mash.
My great-great-grandfather, Jean Pierre Stouff, arrived in New York harbor in 1845 with wife Catherine and "children" according to the records. Born here or in France, weíre not sure which, two of those children were Octave Pierre, my great grandfather, and Anatole Maurice, Jeffís great grandfather. Of course, it was Octave who married into Chitimacha blood, so Jeffís lineage is not Indian, but the Stouff facial features are there, the extraordinary intelligence, stubborn bull-headedness and of course, dashing good looks.
We visited a couple of days with Jeff before he continued his drive to Jersey. On the way back a month or so later, he brought his brother Rod through. Though both had been to the reservation as kids, to this very house I now live in, Jeff remembered little of it. Rod had a better recollection and actually recognized the old house, much as itís changed over the years.
Jeff and I kept in contact since then, and when it was time to go back to Jersey, he and Virginia made flight arrangements that detoured them to New Orleans where they rented a car and drove down to the Rez. We all four had a great time. Virginia was an actress for a large part of her life, appearing in many roles over the years. Jeff was a police officer then a private construction contractor.
We showed them the Historic District and a walking-tour of Main Street down where the big houses are. We took a stroll along the boardwalk and had lunch downtown. Of course, I donít need to tell you how delighted they were with our little town, because we know good-and-well everybody is, except most of the folks who live here.
A tour of the Chitimacha museum was a highlight of the trip, then we retired to the old homestead and cooked gumbo for supper. Virginia took detailed notes and I predict the Stouff-Gaudet version of chicken and sausage gumbo will be a hit in the L.A. area soon. They were dog folks, so Bogie was a hit with them, as well. PatchesÖwell, Patches being Patches and all, she stayed out of sight.
They left Sunday, and Jeff was hitting on me hard to get on an airplane Ė possibly the worst fate you could curse me with Ė and go visit them soon. To sweeten the pot, he promised to take me fly fishing with him (yes, heís a fly fisherman, another family trait) in the Sierras at about 7,000 feet, knowing that a fly fishing trip to Montana once coerced me into the wild blue yonder. I donít know if lightning will strike twice in that regard, but weíll see.
Itís surprising that we like so many of the same things, and identified many of the same family traits in ourselves or relations both here and California. Does working with the hands run in the Lousyana branch? Sure does. Does musical ability run in the Californians? Seems so. Hunting, pretty much. Fishing? Oh, but yeah!
Itís not the first time such a thing has happened. Even now, once, twice a year, someoneíll call the old phone number, the same number itís been for decades, just wondering. Wondering what happened to the nice old couple that lived there and ran an Indian crafts shop; wondering about the lady who made the basket; inquiring about what happened to Faye and Emile Stouff, or just plain trying to make contact with people of the same family after being spread out so far across the frontier.
If itís true that, at the very least, we live on in the memories and impressions we have made on others in this life, then itís comforting to know that my parents and grandparents have achieved some measure of immortality.
Me? Iím still working on it. But I do plan to live forever.