In the late 1970s my mother asked me to accompany her to New Orleans. “What are we going to do?” I asked.
“It’s a surprise.” She said.
Three days later we hopped into her car and headed south. It was a trip we had made dozens of times, but this time— as a teenager with a new driver’s license— I was behind the wheel. I didn’t know where we were going, but it didn’t matter because I was skipping Sunday school and church.
My brother was away at college and it was just the two of us. She made reservations at Commander’s Palace and that meal became one of the first fine-dining meals that made an impression on me. It was also the first time I ate Eggs Benedict.
After the meal we went to the Saenger Theatre and, with second-row orchestra seats in hand, saw Yul Brynner in a touring production of “The King and I.” It was the performance cemented my love for theatre and live performance.
That was a great day. Though, at the time, I probably thought it was pretty lame being a teenager having to spend time with my mother on a free Sunday afternoon.
Flash forward 34 years or so. I told my mother not to schedule anything for Sunday August 11th (the day after her 80th birthday). “Where are we going?” she asked.
“It’s a surprise,” I said.
I picked her up early in the morning and we headed towards New Orleans. She had made that trek hundreds of times over the years, many with my brother and me to go Christmas shopping at Maison Blanche or to the zoo. Now it was my turn.
On the way down I tuned the satellite radio to the 1940s big band station. She sang along to “Stardust” “Sentimental Journey” and “Pistol Packin’ Mama” by Artie Shaw, Les Brown, and Bing Crosby. She tapped her feet to tunes by Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
The Saenger was dark so I took her to the Prytania Theatre— Walker Percy’s favorite movie house, and the only single-screen movie theatre left in Louisiana— where we watched the Sunday morning classics showing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in “Key Largo.”
Afterwards we went to Commander’s Palace for a birthday brunch. It wasn’t until then that she remembered the trip from thirty years ago.
It is nice to be at a place in my life where I can begin to repay a few of the things that I was blessed with as a child. We didn’t have much money, but my mother made sure that what little we had counted. As a result, I have a childhood filled with great memories.
She made decisions for me that I wasn’t ready to make myself. Left up to me, my choice would have been to stay home and watch a football game on television and to later play in a pick-up football game somewhere in the neighborhood. Today I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about who might have been playing on television that day. Though there’s a good chance it would have been the Saints and there’s an even better chance that they lost. I certainly wouldn’t be able to give you any details about the neighborhood football game as it wouldn’t have been any different than the one we played the day before or the one we would play the day following.
What I can tell you is that I remember eating a fine dining meal at one of the south’s great institutions. Thirty years later, our restaurant, The Purple Parrot Café, was designated the second-best fine-dining restaurant in the South by AAA Travel Guide. The restaurant that finished in first place? You guessed it, Commander’s Palace.
I can tell you that I was about 12 feet away from one of the greatest actors in American theatre nailing one of American theatre’s greatest roles. In the end I was able to gain an appreciation for fine dining and theatre in the same day.
I can also tell you that I have a huge appreciation for the sacrifices my mother made on my behalf. I hope it translates to sacrifices my wife and I make on our children’s behalf.
I am no saint, far from it. There were hundreds of opportunities where I could have spent time with my mother or grandparents and didn’t. Those missed opportunities are the greatest regrets of my life.
In the end, maybe the best thing I can do in the area of repayment is to challenge you, the reader, to take a day out of your life and spend it with a parent or grandparent. If your parents are gone, spend it with someone else’s parents or someone in a retirement home— a meal, a movie, some familiar tunes, go a long way to make someone’s day.
Football will still be played 30 years from now. Your opportunity to spend time with a loved one could be gone.
This can also be served as a side dish with dinner. It can be made two days in advance and refrigerated. To serve after it has been refrigerated, allow to sit at room temperature for one hour before serving.
2 6-ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts
1 cup yellow onion, minced
1 /4 cup red pepper, finely diced
1 Tbl garlic, minced
1 /8 tsp thyme
1 /8 tsp oregano
1 tsp creole mustard
1 tsp creole seasoning
1 /2 cup Japanese bread crumbs
1 /4 tsp hot sauce
1 /2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 /4 cup green onion, minced
Preheat oven to 325.
Drain artichokes reserving two tablespoons of the marinating liquid.
Place the two tablespoons of liquid in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and red pepper and cook three to four minutes. Add garlic, oregano and thyme and cook two to three minutes more. Remove from heat and cool.
Rough chop artichokes. Whip the eggs and mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
Spread the mixture into a 9” buttered pie pan. Bake 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Cut into 16 wedges and serve.
Yield: 16 small portions, or eight large portions