Most people go to New Orleans to drink on Bourbon Street, take in the blues in Faubourg Marigny, or savor beignets at Café du Monde. But for my husband, Bob, and me, the city has no meaning without memories and friends. So, we packed our bags—and no work—last month for our own version of The Big Easy.
Unlike my bucket-list adventure to Alaska, there were no tight schedules or midnight excursions to mush dogs or see the northern lights. In fact, there were no plans at all. Except to recharge our batteries in the company of friends. So, we headed over the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway to spend a few days with Chris and Christie.
We met them in New Orleans in 1988—a few years before they became a couple. They and Bob were staff attorneys at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. My colleagues, on the other hand, served the underbelly of the city through programs targeting the disadvantaged at a local nonprofit and the University of New Orleans.
Along with a cadre of other young professionals, we consumed everything the Crescent City served up—Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and hurricanes. Music at Tipitina’s, the Maple Leaf, and Preservation Hall. And food, food, food.
As often happens, though, the old gang dissipated as opportunities evolved, obligations beckoned, and winds of change blew. Yet Chris and Christie stayed, married, and raised their family in an Acadia-style log house nestled in the Mandeville woods.
In many ways, these friends are closer than family. With them, we celebrated birthdays, holidays, graduations, and weddings. We explored fine restaurants in the city as well as simple eateries in Alabama, where we occasionally spent long weekends. We knew their neighbors and families. We flew to Las Vegas for Chris’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party.
Their house reflects our history with them—always the same but always different. Over the years, Chris built a deck, game room, and carport. Christie softened the rustic bones with artwork, a formal dining room, and plenty of Louisiana kitsch. A multitude of instruments that reflect their kids’ interests cluster around a piano. Over it hangs a portrait of Professor Longhair, whose signature songs “Tipitina” and “Go to the Mardi Gras” influenced such prominent musicians as Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, and Dr. John. Bob and I gave them that portrait as a wedding gift.
For our post–Hurricane Katrina wedding in Baton Rouge, Christie gave me something borrowed, something blue, and a penny to wear in my shoe. She and Chris witnessed the vows. Along with the late Justice Luther Cole and his wife, Juanita Cole, they were our sole guests.
And, oh, Katrina. We weathered that storm in their sturdy house, while winds howled and lumber fell from the sky.
But on the bright day of our arrival last month, we settled in to catch up. After a few hours, talk turned to dinner.
“Let’s go to Rest Awhile,” Christie suggested.
She was referring to a restaurant on the northshore lakefront that began life in the 1880s as a hotel and retreat. Ultimately destroyed by Katrina, it was restored two years ago to its original beauty by local restaurateur Pat Gallagher and developers Jill and Barrett McGuire.
The restaurant’s name, menu, and ambiance mirrored our own stories and befitted our reunion. I remembered Old Mandeville in a way I had forgotten. In the 1990s, I had traipsed around Cane Bayou and Fontainebleau State Park, eaten at lakefront restaurants, and shopped along Lakeshore Drive. An old woman who lived in one boutique told me it had once been a home for unwed mothers. It may have been one of the original Rest Awhile buildings.
As we dined on the deck, breezes from the lake mingled with streams of consciousness and Louisiana classics—gumbo, shrimp, crab cakes, fish. With no need for backstories, our conversation splashed like waves on the seawall until we closed the restaurant hours later.
We ultimately eschewed vague notions of touring Cajun country or catching some music. Instead, we chose quieter options, like visiting the Abita Mystery House, identifying backyard birds, wandering over Chris’s manicured nature trail, shopping with Christie, and eating at familiar restaurants.
Each activity reminded me of the comforts of a timeworn friendship. To laugh. To remember. To rest awhile.
Come to think of it, shouldn’t we all rest awhile more often?