Stumbling Around

Friday, September 29, 2006


In a recent column, I wrote about my grandmother Celestine nee Stevens and how she had left Ponchatoula for the “big city” and then returned to be buried in Sand Hill Cemetery. In that column, I wrote about how my parents would brave the old Manchac highway several times a year driving from New Orleans to Ponchatoula to visit relatives near French Corner. Imagine my surprise when I received a call from 89-year-old Anna Hoover, the wife of my father’s cousin Joe Hoover, now deceased, one of the very people we used to visit.

I arranged to visit with her and was joined by Gene Stevens, the son of Pete Stevens, one of my grandmother’s brothers, and the former Olivia Brown. People with Tibadeaux Road will know their home. It was the one with the airplane in the front yard a few years ago. The airplane was destroyed by Katrina, I think. Gene is my father’s cousin and is, therefore, my second cousin. He was quite familiar with me from old family stories although he couldn’t remember me – nor I him. As best we can figure out, the last time we saw each other was about 63 years ago.

Gene was born four days before I was so we were babies together.. Anna and Joe baby-sat him often in his infancy. When my parents came to visit after I was born, they would frequently spend the week-end and put me in a playpen with Gene. As babies do, we would get into fights over toys and things. Anna told me that my mother was very protective. As long as I was getting the best of Gene, my mother wouldn’t interfere, but, if he was getting the best of me, she would take me out of the playpen.

Since I had mentioned the Sand Hill Cemetery in my column (which Gene carries around in his wallet), Gene wanted to show me where his mother is buried. We went to the cemetery and found her grave. Imagine our surprise when we realized that her grave is in the next row and is right new next to my grandmother’s grave (about two feet apart).

Gene came to visit me today. Imagine his delight when I showed him a picture of my grandmother on the wall. He said that he had heard about her his entire life, but this was the first picture of her he had ever seen.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Dilworthtown Inn

(This column was not published in the Daily Star.)

In Pennsylvania, I lived Southwest of Philadelphia in the Chadds Ford/West Chester area in a very small village called Dilworthtown. Television shoppers will recognize West Chester as the hometown of QVC and art lovers will recognize Chadds Ford as the hometown of Andrew Wyeth and his family. Others may recognize the area as the location of Longwood Gardens, the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum, the Brandywine Battlefield from the Revolutionary War, and numerous old DuPont family mansions It is a very interesting, historic, and lovely area. You could go canoeing down the Brandywine one week-end and flying over it in a hot air balloon the next!

For several years, I lived next door to the Dilworthtown Inn. My home was the first house in Dilworthtown and originally was a log cabin built by James Dilworth, a blacksmith by trade, about 1740. In 1754, Dilworth built what is now the Inn as additional living space for his large family. In 1780, his son Charles applied for a license to use the building as a tavern. Since opening in 1780, the Inn has always offered warm hospitality, candlelit atmosphere, roaring fireplaces and exceptional, imaginative American cuisine. Over the course of the next 50 years the Inn was called the Sign of the Pennsylvania Farmer, The Black Horse Tavern, Sign of The Rising Sun, and Cross Keys. The present name, Dilworthtown Inn, came to use in 1821. During the American Revolution, the Inn played an important role after the Battle of the Brandywine as British troops occupied the Dilworth Town area for five days, “raiding the countryside for horses, cattle, grain, and other provisions, and using the Inn as a storehouse for other foodstuffs.”

In 1969, the Inn closed for a full restoration to colonial times. My home was also restored and modernized. Since 1972 when it reopened, the Dilworthtown Inn has welcomed guests with the same accommodating hospitality and gracious dining as enjoyed by its first patrons. The Dilworthtown Inn carries a reputation for elegant, handcrafted decor. The colonial ambiance is exemplified by the workmanship of American artistry and Continental craftsmanship. Each of the three floors and fifteen dining rooms have been authentically restored, one by one, to provide patrons with intimate candlelight dining with an old world charm. Today, the Inn with its tuxedo-clad wait staff is a popular place for marriage proposals and to celebrate anniversaries.

The Dilworthtown Inn is a favorite with the folks at QVC. It’s a safe bet that the various guest celebrities who appear on QVC have probably dined the previous night at the Inn. So you never know who you’ll run into. The former stables at the Inn has been converted into an outdoor area for casual dining and drinks.

I lived with Scooter, a loveable, 24-inch-tall, half Pekingese and half Peekaboo dog that looked like a golden-haired Lapsa Apso. He was intelligent, gregarious, friendly, loveable, playful, and always ready for a good-time. His antics, like trying to make his way through a 3-foot snow fall (He jumped like a rabbit.), were hilarious. Scooter was not my dog; he was my friend. On Saturdays, I would take Scooter to the drive-through at McDonald’s for a hamburger. He loved it.

Scooter’s only fault was that he couldn’t resist the wonderful smell of grilled stake coming from the Inn at dinner time. Let him outside for any time at all and he would disappear. I strongly suspect that some members of the staff at the Inn were giving him table scraps. The only trouble was that owners Jim Barnes and Bob Rafetto weren’t too happy having Scooter roam around their fine establishment when customers were there.

One afternoon, Scooter disappeared so I went to look for him at the Inn. Sure enough, I found him in the Stables with George Hamilton (you’ll remember him from “Dancing with the Stars” and the movies) petting him. Susan Lucci and Loni Anderson had both been at the Inn in prior weeks. I scolded Scooter for his poor timing.

A few years later, Scooter got old (17 years) and died -- while lying on the floor with his head nestled in my arm. I cried at the loss of my friend. Today, Scooter is buried next to a large pine tree in the back yard of that wonderful old home next to the Inn.

The Inn and Scooter will live in my heart forever.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Roots Brings (sic) Writer Back Home

Author's Note: I don't write the head-line for published articles, someome else does, but I do submit a suggested head-line. For this column, I liked mine better:
"Roots: It’s Hard to Move the Old Family Tree".

I’ve been asked why, after living elsewhere, I would return to, of all places, the Tangipahoa Parish area. Aside from my daughter Robin’s medical condition (which I’ve already described in an earlier column), my decision to return can be summarized in one word: roots.

My father’s mother was Celestine Stevens, the daughter of Millard Stevens and Emily Hoover. He farmed near French Corner, east of Ponchatoula. Her father’s ancestor was Uriah Stevens, the ancestor of most anyone named Stevens in this area. The first ancestor of her mother in this country was Jean Christof Huber who came to New Orleans on the good ship “St. Andre” in 1721. Born in Brussels, Belgium, he settled on the Mississippi River near Taft in the area known as the German Coast.

Sally, as she was sometimes called, grew up on a strawberry farm and, like many people growing up on farms around the world throughout history, she could hardly wait for the day she could leave the farm for the lights and excitement of the big city. She got her chance at age 22 when Louis H. Fournier, a seasonal strawberry picker working on her father’s farm, offered to take her away from it all. He was from Fall River, Mass., which was near Boston, which was “up nawth”, and it didn’t sound like there were any strawberry farms up there.

What she did find in Fall River was a community of hard-working, newly-immigrated French Canadians, her husband’s wonderful family (including his mother Eulalie Dion, a relative of the future Celine Dion), a very cold (by her standards) and snowy climate, and a husband who was not too successful earning a living (unless he was down in Louisiana picking strawberries or somewhere else). She soon found herself disillusioned and pregnant. After the birth of my father, Louis J. Fournier, she did the unthinkable in Catholic Fall River. She obtained a divorce after only two years of marriage and returned to Louisiana. Too proud to return to her father’s strawberry farm, she found an apartment in New Orleans and raised my father as a single mom working as a waitress until about ten years later when she got married a second time -- to William Durbin from the Independence/Tickfaw area.

Although Celestine lived the rest of her life in New Orleans, she never tired of visiting relatives in Tangipahoa Parish -- Ponchatoula, in particular. She wanted her son, Louis, whom she called by his middle name, Joseph, to know his Stevens, Hoover, Poche, and Lavigne (and other names) cousins. When my father reached adulthood and married my mother, Irene Jeanette Meyers of New Orleans, he continued the tradition of braving the bumpy, swampy Manchac Road to travel several tines a year with his family (including me) to visit cousins in Ponchatoula. Most of the time, it was fun although travel over the Manchac road wasn’t as easy as it is today.

Today, Celestine Stevens Fournier Durbin, her second husband William, both of my parents, and my brother Rene (who died in an accident) are all buried – guess where – in Sand Hill cemetery . . . in Ponchatoula! After all of her efforts to get away, at the end Celestine finally returned home. She returned to her roots.

I guess it runs in the family.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Archaeologist May Have Helped Protect Pyramids From 9/11 Attack

Exploring Egypt - Dr. Zawi Hawass, the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, in front of the
Giza Plateau in Egypt.

Watch any television show about the pyramids in Egypt and within a few minutes, Zawi Hawass will be on the screen. Dr, Hawass is an archaeologist, the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, and an Under-Secretary of State in Egypt. He is credited with such major discoveries as the tombs of Giza and the Saqqara Pyramids. As a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence he recently helped to reopen the tomb of Tutankhamun so that the mummy could undergo a CT scan to determine the cause of death. He is in charge of the King Tut exhibit now touring the world. Dr. Hawass is THE person to with about ancient Egypt, the curse of the pharaohs, and anything else Egyptian.

A not too well known fact is that after he took King Tutankhamun’s mummy out of it’s sarcophagus in order to perform a CT scan (and then returned it afterwards), he also placed a hand-written note in the sarcophagus with the mummy. The note said “ I, Zahi Hawass, have opened the sarcophagus in order to perform a CT scan on the mummy of Tutankhamun on January 5, 2005.” At the time, Dr. Hawass did not tell anyone about the note. In the note he also said that he hoped in the future no one else will take the mummy out of the coffin and that if they do then the curse of the Pharaohs will be on them.

Dr. Zawass and Egypt may seem far away, but he travels to the United States often. He was awarded a Master’s Degree by the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1983 and a Ph.D. in Egyptology by the same university in 1987. I met him at a conference on Egyptian antiquities in Virginia Beach, VA in 1998. A commercial airlines pilot was a guest speaker and he told a delightful story about Dr. Hawass.

It seems that the speaker was piloting a commercial jet on which Dr. Hawass was a passenger into the Cairo, Egypt airport. The night was beautiful and the sky clear so the pilot announced to the passengers: “On board tonight, we are honored to have Dr. Zawi Hawass, the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. In his honor, we’re going to fly right over the top of the Great Pyramid of Giza and provide you with a great view of the pyramids and the sphinx.” So, that’s what they did.

The next morning, all commercial airlines were notified that a “no-fly zone” was being established in the vicinity of the pyramids by Dr. Hawass. He had decided that it was entirely too easy for a plane to fly over the pyramids, accidentally or intentionally, and that made these Egyptian antiquities vulnerable to attack or destruction.

The message from the pilot was that one should be very careful what one does for or says to Dr. Hawass.

After September 11, 2001, I read that consideration had been given by Usama Bin Laden to crashing a jet into the Great Pyramid either instead of or along with crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Dr. Zawass’ actions in 1998 may have prevented that from happening and saved the pyramids from damage or destruction.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Friend Recalls Fateful Day in World Trade Center

Louis Fournier, Port Authority Engineer Nik Pressley and Port Authorioty Environmental Manager Marvin Kirshner.

Here’s a story that you won’t read anywhere else.

Marvin Kirshner is an exceptional, perhaps gifted, engineer. On Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the second terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, he was working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as their manager of environmental remediation. In that capacity, he was responsible for contracting consulting and remediation firms to clean up groundwater, soil, surface water, air and other environmental media at the airports serving the New York metropolitan area, all subway and train systems serving New York, and a large number of streets, highways, docks and other facilities in the area. In 2001, his office and the offices of his engineers and staff were located in the World Trade Center on floors 72-74.

Considering that the PA already had approximately 300 consulting firms under contract, I considered it to be a sign of divine intervention when Marvin took an interest in a new approach to soil and groundwater pollution remediation that my company had been developing and contracted with us for several projects at JFK Airport. It was in this capacity that I began working closely with Marvin and his staff beginning in 1993. I soon recognized Marvin’s wonderful talent for performing complex mathematical and engineering computations in his head.

Several times, I would stand in Marvin’s office on the 72nd floor. The view was terrific. As we chatted, several types of planes, including commercial jets, would be flying below me as they approached the three airports. “You know, Marvin,” I would say, “It wouldn’t take anything for one of those planes to hit this building.”

He always responded, “We’ve done a lot of computer modeling of various scenarios. The way this building is designed and constructed, a plane hitting the World Trade Center would be about like sticking a pencil through a screen in a screen door. Sure there would be localized damage, but the building itself would survive.” Knowing the unique construction of the two WTC buildings, that seemed to be a reasonable conclusion to me.

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, I managed to get in touch with Marvin. My main concern was whether or not he and his staff had been injured (or worse). “What happened?” I asked.

Marvin explained that he had gotten to work early and was working on his computer. Out of the corner of his eye, he just caught sight of the tail of a commercial jet as it headed for the building a few floors above him. He was acutely aware that the impact would, at the very least, knock the windows from his floor and that the wind at that elevation would likely blow people out the building.

He jumped up and yelled, “Get down. Hit the floor. Get away from the windows. Get to the center of the building.” As he yelled he was crouching down himself. He said that everyone was looking at him like he was crazy. Then the plane hit.

The immediate effect, of course, was that the building shook, windows broke or fell out, and people were thrown to the floor. No one was blown out the open windows. Everyone headed for the stairwell in the center of the building. Then Marvin saw two things that broke his heart. The PA had an aggressive “hire the handicapped” program. Some employees were in wheelchairs and others had other handicaps. They could not possibly walk down 72 flights of stairs. They would have to be carried. I have walked down these same stairs before I was handicapped when I was in good health. It was not easy. I cannot imagine carrying others down.

The second thing that Marvin saw was jet fuel cascading down from upper floors. It was on fire. As the jet fuel poured through the ceiling tiles, it set fire to paper, files and combustibles all over the floor and then descended to lower floors and did the same thing.

The sprinkler system reacted as it should, but it did not help. The burning jet fuel simply floated on top of the water. In fact, the water helped the burning jet fuel to spread.

I don’t think any people or clothes caught on fire, but they had their hands full trying to get down 72 floors themselves while carrying others. A fire drill under controlled conditions is one thing. It is something else under the conditions which existed at the World Trade Center on that day. To add to the confusion, as Marvin’s group descended, they encountered other employees from the floors below them trying to use the same stairwell. It got real crowded, real fast.

Then it got real, real difficult. About half way down, they encountered firefighters trying to use the same stairwell to get up to the locations of the fires. They were dragging hoses and other fire-fighting equipment up with them. It was like two freight trains colliding.

Meanwhile, Marvin was doing computations in his head trying to remember just how soft structural steel gets when it’s heated to 1700 F. degrees, the temperature of burning jet fuel. As steel is heated, it loses strength. He concluded that there was no way that the structural steel in the building could possibly hold up the weight of the floors under those conditions. He didn’t know how much time they had, but he was sure that the building was going to collapse.

When they got to street level, he told everyone to keep walking down the street directly away from the building. He told them not to stop, not to look back and to get as far away from the building as possible.

They followed his instructions and were about three blocks away when the first building collapsed. Neither Marvin nor his people, including the handicapped, were injured that day. My personal opinion is that Marvin had a lot to do with that.

I asked Marvin what they had done after the building collapsed.

“We just kept walking,” he said. “We made it to a bridge and got a ride to New Jersey.”

By that time, there were crowds of people walking over the bridge.
Motorists were stopping and filling their vehicles with as many people as possible. He managed to jump in the back of a pickup truck.

I asked Marvin about the modeling. He responded, “All that modeling and no one thought about including the effects of the burning fuel! Garbage in — garbage out! We forgot about the blankedy-blank fuel!”

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

* * * * Book Review * * * * *

I received a letter today dated September 3, 2006, from Emil _______, a retired environmental regulator with the State of Delaware commenting on my book "The Story of My Stroke." Here is a quote from his letter:

"Omigod, Lou! O-m-i-g-o-d!!! I devoured your book in two sittings! Whatever damage your stroke may have done to your physical well-being, it's obvious that no harm was done to your mental faculties! The result is an engrossing magnus opus with -- I feel -- just the right mix of personal detail, humor, and solid background facts! Your writing style is eminently readable!

"If you haven't already, I believe you should consider sending a copy to the New York Times book review section or some other peer review resource to spread your experience as far and wide as possible. I'm not kidding. I will be keeping your book as a "Stroke Primer" because of all the useful information it contails about who to contact for a "stroke scenario," questions to ask, identifying resources available, etc."

Friday, September 08, 2006

* * * * * Reader's Comment * * * * *

The following comment is taken from an e-mail I received about my book "The Story of My Stroke" and on my efforts both on the book and on writing a column for the Daily Star. This is an example of the kinds of unsolicited comments I'm receiving.

"Do you believe in miracles? I think that you are a walking miracle. It is particularly significant that you can see God’s hand in all of this and respond in a marvelous way to begin to help others. We have had a group of people praying for your healing and our prayers have been answered. We will continue to pray for you. I think you are being used by God to help others. I hope that you see God’s love in all of this and how good he is!"

Dale ________

U.S. Office of Homneland Security