This column is a birthday card to my neighbor, Miss Jessie, who turns 91 today. Don’t worry if you don’t know Miss Jessie personally. You can still read the card..and sign it at the bottom…because, if you live in New Orleans, odds are you know someone just like Miss Jessie. If you don’t, you should (both live in New Orleans and know someone like Miss Jessie!).
Readers of this column might already be familiar with Miss Jessie. She’s the life savor who pulled me back from the brink of disaster my first night in Treme when she opened my can of Bush’s baked beans, allowing me to have a perfect white trash dinner with my unspeakably dry martini.
She’s also the one who left her family (and neighbors) in a panic when she disappeared for three days to go to a friend’s funeral in Baton Rouge. When I asked her why she hadn’t told her family that she’d be gone for awhile, she responded “Well, they didn’t know the sister who passed.”
That’s Miss Jessie for you. At 91, she still lives on her own. And drives. And, as of Tuesday, votes. Age and arthritis have made her look a little frail on the outside, but I’m telling you, as my grandmother used to say, “she could whip a circle saw around the best of them!”
Every day, when the weather is nice, Miss Jessie brings her favorite folding chair outside, sits down and spends a few hours on her front porch.
From her porch, she offers a sweet “how you doin’?” to everyone who passes by. Well, almost everyone. My neighbor Deborah tells of the time she pulled over in her Jeep to ask Miss Jessie how she was feeling. Miss Jessie leaned forward and said, “Baby, do I know you?” Deborah roared with laughter. “Miss Jessie, I have known you for years.” “Well, OK,” said Miss Jessie. “The sun was in my eyes and I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t going to talk to some stranger.”
From her porch, Miss Jessie knows just the right thing to say. My neighbor Beth says that every night when she comes home from work, Miss Jessie calls out “You done made that day!” And every night, Beth walks up the steps of Miss Jessie’s porch, gives her a kiss and says, “Miss Jessie, you done made that day, too!”
And, from her porch, Miss Jessie misses nothing. One weekend afternoon, I walked by with a, shall we say, gentleman caller from the night before. “Hi Miss Jessie,” I said, “this is Alan.” Alan said hello. Miss Jessie smiled, turned towards me and said, “Now, he’s not the same nice man you introduced me to last week, is he?” That was the last I saw of Alan.
All of us on North Robertson try to do our part to make sure Miss Jessie has what she needs. This week, an email went out that her tv was broken. Within hours, our neighbor John showed up to give her one of his own. When Isaac knocked our her power, Dominique and Kevin from down the street, showed up with a generator. The year before I moved here, the block came together to paint Miss Jessie’s house a sunny yellow.
Now, some would say we do this to take care of Miss Jessie. But the truth is it’s Miss Jessie who takes care of us. She does it by being on her porch every day. By offering a smile, a hello…or a can opener.
Miss Jessie is the heart and soul of North Robertson Street. We treasure her dearly. And, on this day, we wish her the happiest of birthdays because, she done made another year!