At the turn of the century, my wife and I decided it was time to leave our beloved New Orleans and move to the country. The “country” surrounding New Orleans is either the River Parishes or “across the lake” – Pontchartrain, that is. Now the River Parishes lay between the river and the lakes or between the river and Bayou LaFourche. This essentially translates to swamp. having lived in a swamp all of my life, as New Orleans is on average 3 to 5 feet below sea level, I decided that “across the lake” was a better choice. Here there are actually rolling lands, which, with some imagination, can be regarded as hilly terrain. Between the towns can be found these small hills covered with hardwood and/or pine forests divided by dozens of steams, a few even amounting to rivers.
Culturally, the population here is a mixed bag. Also known as the Florida Parishes, “across the lake” was never part of the Louisiana Purchase. Rather, it was the western part of the Fourteenth Colony. From 1763 to 1783, it was part to the British colony of West Florida, acquired by Britain, as a result of the Seven Year’s or French & Indian War. West Florida’s major settlements, Pensacola, Mobile, and Baton Rouge were captured by America’s Spanish ally, Governor Bernardo de Gálvez of Spanish Louisiana, during the American Revolution. From 1783 through 1803, West Florida was a separate Spanish possession along with East Florida (today’s state). In 1803, when Spain gave Louisiana back to Napoleon, West Florida was not included. The upshot of all of this is that, except for a fringe along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, there wasn’t a Frenchman in sight. West Florida was primarily settled by anglophones (some fleeing from the newly independent American states). These White Anglo-Saxon Protestants cleared the land, built churches, primarily Baptist or Methodist, and established towns with names like Hammond, Franklinton, Folsom, Independence, Covington, etc. Some Indian town names were included, like Ponchatoula and Bogalusa.
The result of all of this is, once past today’s great east-west thoroughfare of Interstate -12, a traveler no longer finds himself in the South Louisiana of seafood, French Bread, jambalaya, Cajun music, Mardi Gras, gumbo, French and Cajun patois, Jazz clubs, The Times-Picayune, Catholic Churches every few blocks, roast beef or oyster po-boys, parades for every occasion. In other words, once north of Folsom, you are back in rural America, with all that entails.
As a writer and retired teacher, I now have a part-time retirement job as a gas station cashier. Once I told a customer, merci beaucoup, after he made his purchase. He didn’t know what I was talking about ! On another occasion, I made some oyster patties one year at Thanksgiving. I brought some to share with my co-workers. They had no idea what they were ! My wife brought up pain Perdue or lost bread one day in a culinary conversation at her job. her co-workers did not realize she was talking about what they call French Toast ! More than once, I have been asked – not where I went to school – but what church did I belong to ! I replied that I was heathen Catholic. And may the gods and goddesses forbid, that the WASPs I associate with ever find out that we follow the old religion. And let’s not even get into politics. Suffice it to say that I was one of the 230 voters in Washington parish who voted democratic (for Bernie Sanders) in the recent primary.
There are many other examples of this cultural divide a scant 30 miles north of New Orleans. maybe I will chronicle them further in future writings. But as Beth and I carve out a bohemian haven here among the WASPs, include us in your prayers and good hopes for the future of democratic and cultural diversity in America.