For the Romans, it was simply “L.”
For me, it’s 50, the number of Christmases at Madewood I’ll celebrate this year, beginning with our annual Christmas Heritage Banquet, when we welcome the public to our festivities, this coming Saturday, December 14, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
I remember how in December 1964, Mother hung every painting she could lay her hands on in the ballroom to disguise the peeling walls of the mansion she’d acquired just six months before. Draped cloths over tables that would have to wait to be refinished years later. Piled greens from the grounds in open fireplaces. And set up a tree that would have overwhelmed the living room of our home in Old Metairie, but looked like nothing more than an ornament in Madewood’s lofty parlor.
I was a freshman at Yale; and when a member of the famed Whiffenpoofs singing group, planning the singers’ Southern tour for the Christmas holiday, heard about Madewood, he asked if they could sing for their supper in the faded, but still glorious, mansion. So we had a concert in what could have passed for an ancient monument, peeling paint and all. I thought I was in heaven.
We didn’t have much of a kitchen that first year, but we managed a turkey and sang carols around the tree.
One December, we hosted a Thibodaux-based antiques fair with an Indian-sounding name in the house. By then, I was at Oxford, and our housekeeper, “Miss Dorsey,” wrote me that, “Madewood had bells on this weekend for the Ta Wa Si (smiles).” Francis loved to add visuals to her notes.
We got fancier and fancier. A children’s fair in which a cousin got severe acne from staying too long inside a stifling “Palligator” costume that was part of a unique presentation of “A Cajun Christmas.” Just once.
A torchlit procession to the front of the house after carols from the rear balcony. Great except for the cold. And a variety of choirs through the years.
Such memories flood my brain as we prepare for this year’s Christmas Heritage Banquet. The ceiling-scraping trees are up in the parlor and ballroom, fresh garlands are strung within and out, and the Old Kitchen is preparing to welcome guests with a roaring fire and hot-buttered rum punch.
This year is our “Anne Rice Christmas” at Madewood. Millie knew Anne Rice before she became ANNE RICE. For several years after her return to New Orleans in the 1980s, Anne, her husband, poet Stan, and son, now-celebrated-novelist-on-his-own Christopher, attended Christmas Heritage celebrations at Madewood.
Millie was thrilled to learn this autumn that Anne had dedicated her new novel to her and three other friends. In an interview with Times-Picayune/nola.com writer Chris Waddington, Anne described the effect Madewood had on her and her family:
“When Anne Rice wrote ‘The Wolves of Midwinter,’ she found herself thinking about Madewood Plantation in Napoleonville, La., an antebellum residence that she visited in the late 1980s after moving her family from California to New Orleans. ‘The owners of Madewood invited me to a wonderful Christmas gathering. I wanted to emulate the magic atmosphere of their party at my New Orleans houses. Their party also lives on in my new novel’s holiday celebrations’, she said.”
We hope that the benevolent spirit of Colonel Thomas Pugh, builder of Madewood, will hover over our celebration next week. We may occasionally hear a coyote (f’ true) in the canefields, but werewolves, and vampires, are unfortunately excluded from the festivities.
For information on Madewood’s Christmas heritage Banquest, go to www.madewood.com.