How many times have we heard it?
New Orleans is different.
Folk in other places think we’re exaggerating. But we know: New Orleans is different.
Over my many years here – decades, really – I have read, observed, even been party to some seriously only-in-N’Awlins stuff. But recently one thing happened that shot to the top of my New Orleans-is-different category.
Spoiler Alert: An irreverent, dark, somewhat quirky sense of humor is required in order to read on. If you do not have any, or better, all of the afore-mentioned attributes, do not read on.
Background: For the past several years I have watched a longtime friend battle a debilitating disease, a battle she finally lost right before Mardi Gras. Nothing funny here.
According to her wishes, she was cremated and her ashes were delivered to her family. Nothing funny here, either.
Since this friend was also a neighbor, it was inevitable I would encounter family members in the days after her demise. Offering my condolences to one of them, imagine how startled I was to hear with a sort of wink-wink in his eye that “yeah, we buried her in the backyard.” Whoa, a bizarre sense of humor there. Really not funny. Well, maybe grief does that, right?
The next day my friend’s out-of-town sister and I met for what likely was to be our last meet up — lunch at Galatoire’s. It seemed like an appropriate venue to raise a toast to my friend in that most New Orleans of New Orleans culinary establishments.
“So,” I asked. “Any thoughts about a memorial service?” Only to hear that it could happen sometime in the spring. “No rush now since we buried her in the backyard,” the out-of-town sister said.
Whaaat!? My jaw dropped. I clutched my wine glass tightly so as not to spill it all over the white tablecloth. I tried to comprehend. My friend really is planted in the backyard?
So think about this for a moment: I am sitting in Galatoire’s eating a Godchaux salad while my friend’s sister is picking at her oysters en brochette and describing the burial event.
It seems the gardeners were around the house a few days after the ashes were picked up, so taking advantage of their presence and having them dig a hole in the backyard seemed a smart thing to do. After all, my deceased friend never did want to leave her house. Six years in bed proved that to be true.
So there they were the out-of-town sister, the out-of-town nephew, the normally very jolly gardener, his New Orleans boss and my friend’s longtime helper (a lady of intense religious faith), standing around a hole in the ground.
Now my friend was known for a prodigious affection for all things alcohol. At all times of the day and night. I mean, when you’ve been in bed for half a dozen years, it’s hard to tell the difference between day and night. So no one was surprised to hear the church lady helper (who’d been bringing her the booze day and night for years) say: “I wish we had some vodka to put down there with her. Whoa, I believe we might have one more bottle of white wine though. I’ll go get it.”
And, I am told, she did.
Placing it reverently alongside the ashes, she, like all present, “said a few words” and buried my friend with her last bottle of white wine.
Now think about this for a moment: A Mexican gardener of limited English language skills, his New Orleans boss, an out-of-town nephew, an out-of-town sister and a church lady buried my friend in her backyard…with a bottle of white wine!
I’m sorry, but that is funny.
Oh, one more thing: Rumor has it that, in true New Orleans tradition, they buried the bottle upside down.
So you see, New Orleans is different; don’t care what you say.