In my September column, I offered memories of my southeast Louisiana roots, delving into the rural side of my upbringing north of that “Creole-Caribbean-Mediterranean mélange that is New Orleans.” But there’s more to the city’s historical demographics than the exotica of white Franco-phones and Black Africans. Like all port cities, the textures of New Orleans — language, food and customs — are multi-layered. One of those layers I offer here are my German maternal roots in that curious city.
My mother’s mother was Elsie Brink. We called her Nanny. She was the only child of Anna and George Brink, both Louisiana-born but with direct links to immigrants who sailed from Bremen to New Orleans in the 1800s. Anna was a typical hausfrau — scrubby Dutch to the core. Her stoop was swept clean each morning on the corner of Laurel and Toledano Streets in the Irish Channel, that current-day gentrifying neighborhood between the river docks and Magazine Street originally settled by working class Irish followed by Italians and Germans. George was a commercial baker, turning out those unique New Orleans French loaves.
Nanny used the occasional French word though she didn’t speak the local dialect but for cooking. My German grandmother stirred up a perfect crab and okra gumbo.
“Beaucoup,” she said routinely, though never with “merci.” If something was abundantly overdone she pegged it as “beaucoup” as in the children caught “beaucoup” beads at the parade. Except she pronounced it so sweetly as “boo-coo” in that distinctive New Orleans patois.
A second French term she used was “brouhaha,” a word, according to some etymologists, stemming from Hebrew “blessed be he who comes into the temple.” Coming into the temple apparently was refuge from the chaos — brouhaha — of an ungodly world.
Nanny passed away just shy of 100 in 2001. I wonder what she would think of the brouhaha that has become our country in general and politics specifically.
On the other hand, her daughter’s commonly used word was an English one: provoked. Mother was seldom outright angry. A church organist and flower show judge, she held a decorum inoculating her from outright anger. Regardless, we children were ashamed if we provoked her.
Mother wasn’t political, except to the extent that my father was. She fully supported him when he ran successfully for his parish school board seat, and she dutifully assisted at state election events that he dragged her to.
With age she evolved into a woman of her own opinions. In 2016, Mother looked forward to seeing the first woman elected to the White House. She and Daddy came to accept that their son, who had tilted toward conservative once employed in corporate smokestack industry and settled into red state life in Arkansas, would usually vote Republican. They would probably have more easily accepted me had I married outside my religion, race or both than knowing their son voted for Ronald Reagan and G.W. Bush.
As the 2016 election approached, Mother cornered me during a phone call.
“Now Ted, I hope you’re not going to vote for that horrible man who curses on TV and talks so badly about women.”
My younger sister had been correct: Donald Trump turned our otherwise mild-mannered mother into a militant feminist. The obedient son answered, “No, Mother, I will not.” On Election Day 2016, I covered my nostrils and chose Hillary Clinton. Mother passed away eight months later.
A vote in Arkansas for a Democrat in a presidential race is sometimes a vote tossed away. But I’m not ready to hurl the Electoral College into oblivion because an occasional anomaly creates a victor without the popular vote count. No. I’d rather stubbornly hold to the forefathers’ system of fairness by geography than to have elites from zip codes starting with 0, 1 or 9 decide as a mob.
Nevertheless, come Election Day 2020, my sainted Mother’s voice will join me again in the voting cubicle and I will choose insipid Joe as I did shrieking Hillary. And pray that someone, anyone, will be an undisputed winner thus avoiding post-election chaos as in Gore v. Bush.
Many Christian scholars tell us that in the hereafter earthly relationships are not reestablished. Rather, we join one body of believers. I’m not taking any chances. Perhaps an inscription above the pearly gates will read in the original Hebrew “blessed be he who enters the temple” escaping mortal brouhaha and Nanny will be there with “boo coo” hugs and kisses for her grandson.
And Mother, unprovoked, will smile at her obedient son.
Ted Talley is a resident of Bentonville who has lived in the Ozarks more than 25 years. His email is [email protected]