No doubt you’ve been wondering: Who are all these people I’ve been referring to at Madewood?
So, before going any further, here’s a guide to the Major Players.
In the coming weeks, I’ll profile staff and community; and, down the road, I’ll reach deep into the past to tell you about the amazing array of characters who have graced Madewood, our plantation house in Napoleonville, over the past half century.
But, for today, here’ a Who’s Who of this evolving saga, with a short profile of Lisa, our “Most Cheerful.”
Madewood Plantation House
Millie. . . . . . . . .. Millie Ball, former Times-Picayune Travel Editor, Wife, and Purveyor of Constructive Criticism of All Things Madewood.
Angie. . . . . . . . . . Angela Bergeron, Venerable Assistant & Keeper of the Flame in My Absence.
Warren. . . . . . . . . . Warren Freeman, Groundskeeper, Sixth-Generation Madewood Resident
and Sugarcane Expert.
Carolyn . . . . . . . . . Carolyn Nora, Defender of Madewood’s Daily Rituals & Sister to Warren.
Mr. Kruse. . . . . . . . . . David Kruse, All-around Construction Guy & Miss Clio’s Sometime Nanny.
Michael. . . . . . . . . .Michael Johnson, Keeper of the Silver & Polisher Extraordinaire.
Lakeisha. . . . . . . . . . Lakeisha Williams: Daughter of Lisa, Whom You Never See Without a Smile.
Lisa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Lisa Williams, Housekeeping, “Greatest First Impression of All Time.”
Clio & Millie Dog. . My Canine Assistants, whom you met in last week’s column.
In April 2000, Lisa was Employee of the Month, the hands-down winner. From the moment she set foot in Madewood for her job interview, Lisa impressed everyone, especially Ron and Eve Jones, who had stepped in at the last minute to run Madewood for us for three months in 1998 after retiring as managing director of the classy London hotel, Claridge’s.
Each morning at Claridge’s, Ron, attired as always in formal morning coat, had held a stand-up meeting with staff to ensure the smooth running of an institution accustomed to greeting the Royal Family with ease and distinction.
For his first staff meeting at Madewood, Ron, still nattily attired, encountered blue jeans and sweatshirts, and everyone was seated. What would Her Majesty have thought?
Around the same time, we placed and ad for additional staff; and Lisa, in her interview, showed the Joneses that the bayou folk could be just as “fahncie” as a Claridge’s guest.
In The World on a Plate, the Joneses’ book about “rejuvenating” Madewood, as well as an English Country home in the Cotswolds in England and an estate on the Isle of Wight, Ron and Eve reprised their delight when Lisa entered the room:
“One lady arrived in her Sunday church-going best: white hat, lace gloves and a smile that set our hearts dancing. She had four children and was eager to work. She would be happy to do ‘anything! I guess I’ll clean or cook, even wait table if y’all can train me, cause I don’t know how,’ she beamed. She lived two miles away and had no transport, had walked to the interview and insisted she would gladly walk to work if she couldn’t get a lift along the way.
“True to her word, Lisa — [who’s just a little over 5 feet tall] — showed up for work on time and with that same smile, every day from then on. Most days she managed to hitch a lift, but when that didn’t happen, she walked. And still smiled. Now and again she would blurt out, ‘I love it here. I just love this job,’ and turn her hand to whatever she was asked to do.”
As time passed, she bought a mobile home and a used Lincoln Continental, which she kept in pristine shape and drove proudly up and down Bayou Lafourche.
After Hurricane Katrina, when tourism nosedived, Lisa was lured away by Church’s Fried Chicken, and now she spends most of her time on the Amelia Belle, the riverboat casino in Amelia, La. Several months ago, she returned to Madewood part-time, enjoying mother-daughter encounters with Lakeisha, as they work together in the kitchen or sharing housekeeping duties.
More than a decade later – after her reign as employee of the month , she still walks in smiling.
“Mornin’, Mister Keith,” you can hearing ringing through the kitchen when she arrives. “You OK? And Millie? You tell her I miss her.”
I can’t help but smile as well.