Sunday, February 15, 2009

I. The Mountaintop

Book I

“I will win.”

“You have already lost, as the Most High declared!” Barachiel and Raguel laughed at Mammon’s foolishness.

“Allow us to begin. You shall see that it is so. I will hold the Baton!”

“The Most High holds him. You cannot take him. Now, the Most High will allow you to prove to yourself that it is so.” Raguel goaded him, wishing to slay him. “Yes. Let us begin.”

They departed the Garden in three directions, opposite the other, destined for a common end.

I. The Mountaintop

August 27, 1963

“I would rather go to Hell than to have returned here, to New Orleans,” he muttered to himself. He saw the bartender give him a dirty look, but he did not care. He looked around at his surroundings in disgust and disbelief. He really did not understand how he had been roped into returning. Well, yeah he did.

Sipping his Glenlivet, he frowned. “A Carousel? Amazing.” This is a bar. Why turn it into a child’s amusement park ride? However, the Monteleone was famous for it. Apparently others believed differently than he.

Who comes to a bar for the warm and fuzzy comforts of childhood dreams? Well, upon further consideration, perhaps it was so. The patrons, including himself, came here to escape the horrors of their realities. In any case, it was his mission to do so. A sarcastic laugh escaped him. “At least the bartender pours good drinks.” Under normal conditions, he would have been a little buzzed by now. However, the agony of the day which loomed before Julian Charles Chamberie squelched it.

He had not thought of New Orleans since he left the city as a child. Well at least he had convinced himself of such. Back then, he loved going to City Park, visiting the French Quarter for ice cream. Julian laughed, realizing that he did not always despise the town. He swirled his scotch, thinking. He could not have been any older than fourteen years old when his Mamere…

“Sir, your car has arrived.”

“Thanks,” he said to the bellhop, finishing his scotch. Although his fifth one, they still had not taken the edge off. This was going to be a fucked up day and he knew it. There was no getting around it.

“Here is something for your trouble,” he told him, placing a fifty dollar bill on the bar as he turned to leave.

“Sir, your tab is only…”

“We’re square,” he said continuing on his way.

“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!”

Grateful, he reclined in the merciful comfort of the air-conditioned limousine. Its plush, black leather seats soothed him as the car slipped into the late morning traffic on St. Charles Street.

A few days ago, he had received a wire from Suzette, his Grandmere’s longtime maid and companion, stating that she wished to get her affairs in order prior to her death. Why now? God! It angered him that he would be forced to miss the greatest event in Afro-American history since the Emancipation Proclamation because he had to attend to his Grandmere.

It surprised him that he remembered the way home. “God, I thought that I had blocked out all of this years ago.”

Home, although pretty on the outside, brimmed with pain and heartache on the inside. He once believed that everyone lived as he did. He blinked hard and shook his head, blocking out the memories.

“I’m not going to think about all of that. I am going to the closing tomorrow and finalize the contracts with the nursing facility. That’s it. Oh yeah, I must sign the contracts and set the auction date with Christies.” But things are rarely occurred as they should.

Fourth Street. He saw the sign and felt as if someone had hit him in the stomach. “Driver, how much longer until we arrive?”

“Just a few more blocks, sir. Five blocks at the most.”

“Thank you.” So, his gut was right. Fast ride.


How did it sneak up on him like this? Somehow, it had slipped up on him.

Its presence suffocated him…

La Fleur

“…we’re here.” The end of the driver’s sentence finally registered in his brain. The driver opened the door and the humidity immediately engulfed his face like a wet feather pillow. He could not breathe for a few seconds, and then his lungs adjusted to the humidity.

Although smaller than he remembered, La Fleur was still quite imposing. One could not get any more southern or more ante-bellum than this place. He sighed. Oh Mamere…

“Look at ya’! My, you’se a grown man now! What happened tah my li’l boy?” Julian stared at the middle-aged woman. She could tell that he did not recognize her. “Baby, it’s me. Sissy!”

God, this place has not changed one bit since I left, he complained to himself.

“Charlie Boy?”

“Yes, Sissy?” Remembering his manners, he gave her a quick detached hug, as well as a polite peck on the cheek. She just kind of looked at him, picking up his distant vibe. However, she put it all aside and gave him the benefit of doubt. “Well, let’s git inside outta dis heat,” she invited him, a little less emphatically than before.

“Oh yes. Inside,” he muttered as he followed her. He knew that he had offended her, but he let it go. He was tired. A sparkle caught his eye. Following the gleam, his focus came to rest on the doorknob, embossed as a flower. ‘Hmmm, another one.”

“What’s that Boy?”

“The flower on the doorknob, another peony.”

“Yo’ Mama loved peonies, even mo’ dan roses, I suspect. Dey surrounded dah whole place at one time. She partic’ly favored dah pink ones an’ dah white ones too. But she didn’t care fo’ dem mixed togetha’…” she recalled, becoming lost in the past somewhat, while pondering that strange fact. “You’se would thank dat she’d like dah mixed one. She didn’t hate it, just nevah cared tah have ‘em around. Humph. Well, let’s get yah inside an’ settled, Charlie Boy.”

Charlie Boy. He had forgotten that name, at least he believed that he had. Now, she had addressed him by his boyhood nickname at least five times in less than five minutes.

“Charlie, it’s too hot out hare. C’mon in dis house, boy!” Julian tried to cross the threshold, but his feet would not move. His head spun, taking it all in, suddenly transported back to his childhood…

“I had forgotten.”

“What? What did yah say?” Julian did not look well. “Charlie, what’s da mattah wit ya’?”

He did not hear her speaking to him, lost, engulfed by the past. He remembered, looking around the ornate entry hall… the winding staircase, the Baccarat crystal chandelier, the mahogany woodwork, the ornate baroque plastered ceilings, cornices and moldings, museum quality antique furnishings. But then, in the center of the foyer floor lay a huge mosaic relief of a pink peony. Spying it, some unknown force triggered him to look upward.

She took his breath away.


“Mamere? Boy what? Oh.” She followed his gaze, riveted to the life-size painting of Josephine, spanning a large portion of the stairwell wall, just beneath the second floor window. “Child, don’t ya’ ‘member dat paintin’? It hung dere ‘fore you’se was born. Well, maybes yah don’t. I couldda swo’re dat paintin’ was dere whens yah was small… ‘Member, one of yo’ Mamere’s friends… Who was it now, oh yeah, Mis’sur Cheval painted it. Don’t ya’ ‘member us tellin’ ya’ dah story?”

There, in its gold gilded frame hung a portrait of his mother, posing as Venus de Milo, or Eve in the Garden of Eden. A few peonies her only covering, strategically placed to conceal her. In the background of the pastoral scene stood a man, perhaps Adam, looking at his Venus or Eve longingly, desiring her but knowing that he could never have her completely. The peonies were in full bloom, while others budded and still others having lost their petals.

“I thought that Monpere had destroyed it. He hated it so,” he asked, trying to sort out the details of his suppressed past.

“Naw. Yo’ Mamere just took it down an’ put it in the attic.”

“Why did you bring it down again?”

“I didn’t. Lela did. Ask her fo’ yo’ self aftah ya’ get settled in. I’ll call Theo to take yo’ bags tah ya’ room,” she said, wondering where the rest of his things were.

“Oh, I’m not staying. I have a room at the Monteleone.”

“I thought dat ya’ checked out?”


She pursed her lips as she looked him up and down, parting them as if to say something. She held her silence. “Well, I’ll take ya’ tah see Lela, so dat you can be on yo’ way.”

They began their slow ascent up the huge, winding cantilevered staircase. He still found it all to be very beautiful, plastered with motifs of peonies and angels. Mamere always believed that white peonies covered heaven.

Looking up to the third floor, he noticed that a section of plaster did not match. He looked away.


Sissy eased the door open. “Ma’Dame, guess who’s hare?” she asked as she opened the door to the darkened room. She stepped aside and allowed him to enter.

“Who is there?” A weak, raspy voice inquired.

No, this could not be the same voice, the same woman who would put the fear of God in him, he lamented. “Grandmere, it’s me.”

“Julian? Is that you, darling?” Life itself returned to the room, giving her yet another chance.

“Oui, Grandmere. C’est moi!” he collapsed on top of her, weeping bitterly. She was so old and frail now. What happen to her? Had it truly been that long, he wondered.

“Oui, mon fil. It has been just that long. Time has no immediate effect on the young, but it is unkind to the old. I am a very old lady now. I was already old when you were born. I was a little younger when your Monpere brought your Mamere to me…”

“Grandmere, I’m sorry.”

“Well, you should be. But I understand. I would not have returned either, if I were you. I was not sure if you would come now, but the Lord said that you would come to see me before I died. Why the Lord would keep his promise to me is beyond my understanding, but I guess that He loves me too,” she laughed sadly to herself. “The Lord cared for prostitutes so much, that he saw fit for Rahab to become the Grandmere of Jesus, long before David was born.”


“It is true. Read your bible. It is written in the book of Joshua.”

Julian could not believe that his Grandmere would blaspheme against the Lord. Not that he was religious, because he was not. He could not remember the last time he attended Mass. But for the love of God, he would never say that Jesus’ mother was a prostitute! Then again, he had never read the Bible. Frankly, he did not care to read the massive book. Who cared?

Lela winced at his thoughts, as she struggled to sit up in bed. “Are you hungry, darling? I can have the Mario prepare something for you.”

“Grandmere, there is no need for concern. I ate at the hotel before coming here.”

“Hotel? Where are you staying?”

“I’m at the Monteleone.” She glared at him. “Grandmere, I am tired and I want to get an early start tomorrow. I just wanted to check in on you and say hello,” he said, wishing to wrap up this most unpleasant visit.

“Oh, I see.” Lela lamented for her great-grandson’s cold heart. Well, understandably so. Not many children could witness what he had and remain the same. He reminded her of her father. He had shut down as well, upon witnessing the sins of his mother. “Well, you have seen that I am alive. I am old, and if the Good Lord wills, I will die soon. Au Revoir, mon cher.”

God, why had he come here? “Grandmere, I did not mean to…”

“Au Revoir, Monsieur Julian.” She turned from him staring at the ceiling, dismissing him.

“Well, okay Grandmere. I will see you tomorrow, if you are feeling up to a visit.”

She stared straight ahead, unresponsive.

He left her bedroom, closing the door quietly behind him. He stood in the hallway, holding yet another highly polished brass peony doorknob in his hand. Allowing his eyes to roam, he looked up at the fresco of his mother’s pastoral home on the ceiling, somewhere in Northern Louisiana. At least, he believed it to be. He gazed at the crystal chandelier hanging in the stairwell.

As he focused on the crystals, Julian could see the reflection of his mother, Madame Josephine Roussard Chamberie in her prime, demurely smiling down on all who entered the house in the full blossom of her beauty, youth and favor. She dominated everyone who walked through the doors, but somehow, one never truly realized it. They were all simply grateful to be in her presence.

However, she had loved Monpere to her own destruction. What happened?

“Robert, he is lying! HE’S LYING!!!!”





“I gotta go!” He bolted down the hallway. Descending the stairs, he felt as if he would lose consciousness. His vision tunneled as if in a Warner Brothers cartoon’s closing trailer, where the circle shrank smaller and smaller around Porky Pig.

Almost out…

“Julian, where are you going?”

He ripped open the front door to freedom. Stumbling down the steps, he crossed the front lawn, staggering as if drunk. Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder…

Crazed, he whipped around blinded by fear, by the horrors of his childhood crashing into his reality once again. “Do not touch me!” he growled with his hands clinched into fists, ready to pummel anyone who attempted to prevent his escape this house of horrors.

“Julian! Mon fil! What is it with you?”

As reality reclaimed him, he focused on the person which stood before him. “Tante Isabel, I should never have returned here. I am going to the hotel now. I will check out in the morning prior to my scheduled meetings. Call me when… Well call me once everyone has vacated the house, and I will return to sell it and auction off its contents,” he blurted, nearly hyperventilating.

Isabel engulfed him in her arms, forcing him to receive her love. “Julian, you cannot run forever! You must face Lela, your parents, and this house. Once you understand what has happened, how and why it all happened, you will be free! You were just a boy mon fil! You do not know or understand…”

“I am free! I understand what happened here! There is nothing else to know!”

“No, you do not know!” She searched his eyes, navigating the waves of pain and sorrow. “Regard yourself!” she admonished him, her French accent growing thicker as she became more animated. “You run from here like a madman! You appear as if you will have a heart attack! Mon cher, regard yourself!”

Slowly, his breathing normalized as the panic subsided. He noticed that his clothes were soaking wet, as if he had just sprinted one hundred miles. He did not work up this much sweat at the gym. He needed his inhaler, but then he remembered that he did not have asthma.

“Maybe you are right.”

“I am correct.” She removed her handkerchief from her apron pocket and wiped away his tears, as she had done so many times when he was a boy. “Now, return to the hotel and rest. Make your decisions in the morning. Oui, mon cher?”

“Oui Tante.”


Julian plopped down on the bed in his suite. What a day. Grandmere looked pretty good; however, she had not changed. People never really did. He just could not stay in that house. More determined than ever, he fortified his will to sell the house and put his Grandmere in a nursing home to get her away from all of that pain. She would be much happier there. Isabel, Suzette, Sissy and Theo would be free to live their lives and not have to worry about caring for her.

He never wished to be in his Grandmere’s position. He never desired for his family to feel obligated to care for him. Perhaps they were using her for her money, hoping for a big payday upon her death.

One could never trust people. His work in the civil rights movement solidified his conviction. Dr. King and Reverend Abernathy had so many enemies, pretending to be committed to the movement while working to undermine it at same time.

Julian picked up the telephone to call Jannette. They had met at Howard University in Washington, DC, during his graduate studies. Although it had been a bumpy relationship, they were still together, somewhat. Sometimes he felt as if she wished to leave him. She even said so one time, during one of their violent fights. He had never struck her, or she him, but he refused to back down and neither would she.

Jannette accused Julian of being unloving and intolerant. He accused her of clandestine behavior. He acknowledged that he never took her at her word on anything, but with good reason. She could not be trusted. There was always some guy sniffing around her, but according to Jannette, they were only friends.

But on a strange level, he trusted and loved her. For this reason, he wished to tell her about his day.

“Hey baby.”

“Hi Honey. How’s your grandmother?”

“Old, but she’s fine. She is mad at me, though.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I will not stay in that whorehouse with her tonight.” She met his response with silence. “Hello? Are you there?”


“What’s wrong?”

“You will not stay in the house with your grandmother?”


“See, that is the shit that I’m talking about Julian.”

“What, Jannette?”

“You are the most unforgiving and inconsiderate soul that I have ever met. She is probably 100 years old, but you cannot tolerate her for an evening?”

“You don’t understand…”

“You’re right, because you will not explain it. So you’re right. I don’t. But I know one thing, if you cannot have compassion for your great-grandmother, you will never have any for me. I have to go.” She slammed the phone on its receiver.

Julian just could not understand women. To be honest, he did not understand anyone. People tolerated so much bull from one another. One minute people hated one another and the next minute they were friends again. It seemed like no matter what people did to one another, sooner or later they would reconcile.

Now, both Grandmere and Jannette were pissed at him because he refused to submit to their emotional torture. He reclined on the chaise lounge, watching the television.

“You know Charlie, everyone who loves you, no matter what, lives in this house.”

“I know.”

“Never forget.”

The sun set below the tree line.

His eyes popped open. He must have dozed off while watching the March on TV.



Suzette returned to Lela’s room, where she found her propped up in bed, staring out the window listlessly. “Sometimes I wondered if I, well if we made the right decision regarding Julian, Suzette.”

“Madame, it was for the best.”

“Was it? Look at him! He is tormented. Just tormented!” she cried. “I thought that he would have a chance to live a life of some normalcy with Robert. But look at him! He is so detached. Yet at the same time, he is emotionally raw.” She rested her head in her hands. “We should have never sent him away.”

Suzette stood by her bed, silently. Wishing to change the subject, Suzette decided to attend to her needs. “Madame, are you hungry?”

She did not hear her inquiry. “They were all so adamant, but now I am left to deal with this. They are all dead!”

“Madame, you cannot change it. What is done is done.”

“But it is still not right! Julian is not right,” she fretted, staring out the window. “He is dead inside.”


“Yes, Sissy darling?”

Opening the door, she peeked inside. “You’se got a visitor.” Suzette and Lela looked at one another, wondering who it could be. She opened the door wide, allowing the visitor to enter the room. Tears sprung into Lela’s eyes.

“Grandmere, if you don’t mind, may I stay here at La Fleur this evening?”

“Darling, this is your home!” she smiled, finding the strength to throw her legs over the side of the bed. Suzette grabbed her arm, assisting her in standing on her own two feet, which she had not done for at least two months. Slowly she stood, a little wobbly, but managing. She walked over to her great-grandson, kissing him on the cheek. “Welcome home, darling,” she cried softly.


Lela awoke early the next morning, smiling. Looking outside of her window, she found two little red birds sitting there, playfully pecking at one another. They noticed her and then quickly flew away. “Suzette, come in for a moment, s’il vous plait,” she called on the intercom.

“Oui, Madame.” Seconds later, she appeared in her bedroom.

“Suzette, I think that I would like to wear my black and white Chanel suit today. Oh, and get my diamond broach out of the safe, the one that… well my favorite… the one that Jamie gave me.”

“Oui, Madame,” she smiled. Lela had not displayed this much spunk in years. Diamonds? Chanel? Maybe she would enjoy her mistress a few more years after all. Julian’s return had done wonders for her spirit. He had given her the will to live again.

Within an hour Lela had dressed. She sighed as she entered the solarium because she had a taste for Nancy’s Eggs Benedict. Mario was a good chef, but not nearly as accomplished as Nancy.

Lela’s life had become so empty without Nancy, well without all of them. Nancy and Nate. She died not long after Robert moved Julian to California. His departure… Josephine… All of it broke her heart. Nate followed right behind her, because how could he live without her?

Poor William, she had never seen a man so heartbroken in all of her life. He cried and cried. He felt so guilty that he had not been around for his Aunt’s last days.

Lela allowed her mind to roam through the years. Jamie and Samantha. That pain was so old and dull that she did not even know it as pain anymore. It had become a part of her.

Toussaint. Now she still had difficulty with him. Once again, he had departed her life abruptly and tragically. Emotions welled inside of her just thinking about him.

But the heartbreaker was Josephine. Just so hard-headed and stubborn! She loved her most of all and now… Lela looked up to find Julian standing before her.

“Good morning, Grandmere.”

“Bonjour, mon fil,” she responded as he bent over to kiss her.

“Wow, you look great Grandmere!” She really did. Yesterday she appeared as if she was at death’s door. Today she looked as if she planned to lunch at the club.

“Thank you, darling.”

He sat at the breakfast table as he considered her. In the light of day, she did not look a day over 70 years old. Then he reasoned that she had lived a life of immense wealth and ease, so why would she not look good?

“Darling, is that what you believe?” she asked with a raised her eyebrow.


“Do you believe that I have lived a life of ease? Is that what you really think?”

He stared at her with his mouth gapped open. “I never said that Grandmere.”

“Darling, you did not have to. You gain some gifts at this age. Life has been far from easy for me. You do not know anything about me or this family.”

Oh shit, he thought to himself. Now I must hear about how she had to hoe the back forty acres as a child.

“No darling, I was never a field hand, although there were many days that I had wished that I had been. Life was hard in that house with my father. He wanted to love me, but hated me because I was not white,” she said, freaking him out. “Do you know your great-great-grandpere’s name?”


“Augustus Chevalier.”

“Augustus Chevalier?” he thought to himself. During his undergraduate years at Morehouse University, he decided to take a course on antebellum Louisiana. In the course, they discussed the large Louisiana land owners, primarily because they were large slaveholders as well. He remembered the name Chevalier. “No, it cannot be.”

“Yes darling, it is true. I am the daughter of Augustus Chevalier, one of the largest slaveholders in Floridian Louisiana. We still own the land and the house. A few years after you left, I refurbished the mansion. I do not know why, because I suffered so much misery there, but I had to because it is a part of me,” she laughed a little as she sipped her coffee. “I hoped to turn it into a museum one day, so that the younger generations may understand what it was like to be a slave.

“I managed to save the slave cabins as well, even the little white house where Maman and I lived, next to the mansion. I did that about 10 years after I returned to New Orleans from Paris. It was so run down. It seemed as if only yesterday I dreamed of escaping that house and its horrors.”

Julian sat before her with his mouth open. She pretended not to notice. “Aren’t you hungry, darling? Your Eggs Benedict is getting cold.” He shook off his shock and ate as he listened to her.

“Augustus killed my sister Lily, well my half-sister, attempting to kill me. I loved her so much and she loved me too. Father hated her because he never believed her to be his child, treating her like… well like a bastard child. There is no such thing you know, as a bastard. If God did not intend for that child to be, it would never have been.”

He could not eat, entranced with her story. “I did not have another sister until Elise. We were separated for 30 years after I left Paris, because she believed me to be dead.”

Julian could not respond to all of the loose ends that she had put out there. “Wait, slow down Grandmere,” he asked, gulping down his eggs. “You had a sister named Elise?”

“Well, technically we were best friends, but we were just as close, if not closer than Lily and I.”

“Oh. Where did you meet her and what happened to her?”

“We met in Paris. We would have so much fun together! We could talk about anything and never worry about the one betraying the confidence of the other. Once she found out that I was alive, I visited her in Paris, and then she came here to stay with me during World War II.”

“So why were you in Paris?”

“Jamie and I lived there for many years.” She felt a twinge in her heart, mentioning his name.

Julian picked up the misted crystal goblet, taking a sip. “Who is Jamie?”

“My husband.”

He spat out his water. “Your husband? You were married?”

“Goodness yes! James Roberts was my husband. We loved each other with all of our hearts…”

“James Roberts? I read about a James Roberts in one of my grad courses at Howard. He invested heavily in Union industries.”

“Oui. That is him, probablement. He had loved me since my St Helena’s days. He was a bon ami of Jean Charles,” she reminisced, sipping her cafĂ© au lait with chicory.

He suddenly realized something. “Hey, wasn’t he white?”

“Yes I believe that he was, if my memory serves me correctly,” she responded. Julian sat there with his mouth open. She just looked at him, smiling inside.

“Grandmere, if you have that type of money, which must be worth billions by now, why were you all… well you and Mamere…”

“Why did we operate a house of ill-repute?” she finished for him as she daintily dabbed the corners of her mouth with the linen hem-stitched napkin. “Darling, life’s road is never smooth. It is always bumpy, but it smoothes out over in the end, making us stronger for the ride.”

“I do not understand.”

“Darling, life is grey. Nothing is ever as it should be, as we dream. Nothing is right or wrong. It just is, and we just have to walk the path that we are given… that we choose,” she paused, thinking. “It was never my dream or my choice to become a Madame. But now your Mamere was a different story. Josephine had an ax to grind, and she was not going to be happy until she beheaded everyone around her!” she laughed.

Nearly finished with breakfast, Lela admired her magnificent great-grandson. She knew at that moment that she had made the right decision regarding his future. He had turned out well; however, a void still remained inside of him. She was not quite sure how to fix it. A rage lurked right beneath the surface, which could potentially threaten his fullness as a man.

She could see her Josephine in him. God he looked like her! There was a hint of Robert, especially in his nose, mouth and coloring, but then again, Josephine and Robert always did favor one another. But who she really saw was her Jamie. Her eyes welled up with tears.

“Grandmere, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she sniffled. “You remind me your great-grandfather.” She dabbed her eyes with the napkin, which she would never do under normal circumstances, but she did not have any handkerchiefs nearby. “You are nearly the spitting image of him.”

“Do you have any pictures of him?”

“Yes, I will show them to you.”

“You loved him very much, didn’t you Grandmere?”

“Yes darling, with all of my heart,” she sighed, remembering. “Even then, Jamie knew me. He recognized me, seeing me for who I am, long before I even knew it.” She became lost, understanding it all. She saw her love, cuddling a beautiful rose in his hand, careful not to harm its petals. “He tried… He tried so hard to protect his Rose, but it was not to be. He maintained his obedience to Mon Dieu, having the strength of heart to allow His will to be,” she muttered to herself, seeing the truth after 73 years. “My God, he knew and he submitted, fooling all of us.”

“Grandmere, what are you speaking of?”

“Nevermind, darling. One day, you will see it too. But not for many years.”

Julian frowned, realizing his grandmother was senile. She ignored his thoughts.

“In any case, it has been nearly eighty years, but it seems as if he left me today.” Lela took control of her thoughts. She did not wish to mourn the past, but to save the future. “Isabel, darling?”

A few moments later, she appeared. “Yes Maman?”

“Bring the book please.” She disappeared into the house, returning a few moments later with a beautiful leather bound book, tanned to a reddish brown. Embossed upon its cover was the title La Fleur Family History, along with a beautifully intricate flower, seemingly a rose, with many layers of petals. Julian kept his negative thoughts to himself, waiting for his Grandmere to explain.

“This, my son, is your family history,” she said, patting the book. “I began to write this the day that you left with Robert. I always dreamed that you would return here before I died, to talk to me. God answered my prayers and brought you back.”

She handed him the book. Cautiously, he opened it, flipping through. Ette. Masufa. Camille Chevalier. Sammie. Lily and Lela Chevalier. Cindy Fairmont Chevalier. Samantha. Josephine. In another column, she listed the men, parallel to the women. Anon. Nat. Emmanuel Chevalier. Augustus Chevalier. Jean Charles Chevalier. James Roberts. Robert Chamberie. Julian Charles Chamberie.

Then he noticed a column marked ‘Adversaries.’ Augustus Chevalier, Hanzel Johannesen, Anton Lemont and Chantelle Marie Trouvier, Jonas Purvis, Sylvester Thomas. “Grandmere, why did you include ‘Adversaries’ in our family history?”

“Because they are. Without these persons, we would not have become the family we are today nor would we have become the individuals whom we are. These people tested our character.”

He sighed, saying nothing as he continued. ‘Spirit Relations.’ Comptess Elise Micheaux, Monsieur Toussaint Bailey, Allen Pruett, Theo Wilson, Isabel Lee, Suzette Demain, Nancy and Nate Johnson, William Johnson, Marion Clemens. “Grandmere, are these people related to us?”

“Yes darling they are, but not as you understand. Spirits are bonded to one another in ways understood only by God. Even we cannot understand it, but there is a love stronger than any bond that blood invokes. Love is the strongest tie, not blood. But one is required to walk the earth a few years to understand this,” she smiled. “You may not have learned this as of yet.”

Julian thought for moment, remembering his childhood. “Nancy and Nate, Theo, especially Uncle Toot, they were all relatives to me in my heart, even though I understood that they were not of blood related.”

“It is the bond of love, my darling. These ties are stronger than any other known to man.”

He continued to flip through the book, reviewing the photos and reading his Grandmere’s narratives. “Is this your husband?” She nodded and smiled with tears in her eyes. He studied the picture, not really seeing the resemblance. Then he remembered that the man was not his blood relative anyway. Hearing his thoughts, she gawked at him, but she said nothing. “Why are you giving this to me?”

“You need to know your blood relations as well as your spirit relations.” She decided to have a little fun with her great-grandson. “Mon cher, how old do you believe me to be?”

“Oh, I will not answer that question!” he declined, throwing up his hands laughing.

“I will not be angry. Tell me.”

“God, Grandmere! What, 85 years old? I cannot really tell. You could be in your sixties if I did not know better. However, based on how old Mamere would have been, I would have to say that you must be much older than that.”

“I was born in 1852. I was born a slave.”

“That is impossible. That means that you are…”

“One hundred eleven years old. Yes darling it is true,” she said, smiling.

“That’s impossible! You can still walk! You are not senile! Heck, if I liked older women, I might even ask you out!”

“Oh you are the flatterer, just like your great-Grandpere.”

Julian could not believe her age. “Are you sure, Grandmere? Maybe they told you the wrong date.”

“No, it is very well documented. I was born February 12, 1852. My father Augustus kept impeccable records regarding his slaves, since they were his investments. When Toussaint left the plantation in 1866, he stole all of Augustus’ ledgers along with several valuables and cash,” she laughed sadly as she remembered his story.

“Augustus heard that the Union troops were coming to La Rose. So, he forced Toussaint to help him hide his valuables. However, the soldiers never came and Augustus made no haste in retrieving his possessions.” Her countenance darkened. “Augustus died suddenly. Upon his death, Toussaint went and dug up the gold, using it to purchase the property in New Orleans for his mortuary. He hid the books in his stable for a number of years,” she sighed as her thoughts drifted over the years.

Lela nodded and then refocused on the topic at hand. “Anyhow, he showed me the ledger, recording the date of my birth. I was 8 pounds 7 ounces.”

“Unbelievable. Researchers would kill for that kind of documentation.”

“I know.” She had forgotten her point, determining it to be unimportant anyway. “Well, I am sure that this ancient history is tiring, so I will not bore you. I just wished for you to have documentation of where you come from.”

Julian stared at the book. “Grandmere, can you tell me the story?”

Her eyes lit up. “Darling, it is very long. I am sure that you must have other matters to attend to, such as the sale of this house, finding somewhere for me to live…” she said, running a guilt trip on him.

“Well, I have some time today. If you are not busy, maybe you could help me understand…”

“Why your Mamere died?”


“I am not sure if I can do that. Only Josephine would have been able to explain that.” She watched as disappointment claimed him. “But perhaps, I can explain to you how Josephine became the person she was.”

“That would be great, Grandmere.”

“Well, let’s go in the house where we can be comfortable.”

“If you don’t mind, may we sit on the terrace? It is cool this morning. Maybe we can sit on the swing, like we used to do when I was little.”

“Yes darling, we can do that.” Julian assisted his Grandmere to the swing built for two, under the huge cypress tree. He ran back to the house and asked Isabel to bring out a bottle of her favorite brandy along with some Glenlivet for him.

Returning to the swing, he sat down and rocked it. After a few moments, he laid his head on her, sighing quietly in her comfort. Suddenly, they found themselves in a timeless place without troubles, a place where only reflection and understanding were allowed.

“Grandmere, what happened to Mamere?” he asked after several moments. Tears sprung forth in his eyes, but he refused to allow them to fall. “Why did she have to die? Was I that bad?”

“Darling, of course not!” she comforted him, as she patted him and sighed. “I must start at the beginning. You may be here for a while.”

“I have time, Grandmere.”

She smiled as she looked back over the decades. “Well, I guess that I should begin with myself, darling. I existed. I worked and I existed. I had learned to expect nothing, and I received nothing in return. Then one day, my life changed, unexpectedly, as it sometimes does.”