Stumbling Around

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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