Sometimes words fail me

Wesly and I barely, just barely, began to try to imagine what life and the world will be like without our dear friend Mary, and we simply cannot.

Her loss has left a huge hole in the fabric of our lives, and although we’ll never really be able to fill it we can … I don’t know, hold up a big sign in front of it that says, “OH NO YOU DON’T!” and tell Mary stories. Ghu knows we’ve got enough of them.

Countless adventures in New Orleans, basking in the best music in the world and fabulous meals ranging from Commander’s Palace …

Wesly and Mary

Wesly and Mary anticipating our fabulous Commander’s Palace meal in May of ’07, which you can see by clicking on the photo.  While most of it was from the menu, there was a very, very special hours-to-cook main dish that Chef Tory started preparing the day before when he heard Mary and her friends were coming in.

… to bacon-wrapped hot dogs on the street.

A thing of beauty

Mary (and we) ate these beautiful things with gusto and relish (and onions!), and we really wish the LAPD would leave the vendors alone!


That’s Mary on the right, whom you can’t see because she’s quite logically and rightly more concerned with devouring that glorious bacon-wrapped hot dog than posing for my dopey picture.

There was Mary and Steve’s wedding 15 years ago en bas du chêne vert, underneath the big green oak tree behind the home of Marc and Ann Savoy in Eunice, Louisiana. We danced to the music of Marc and Ann and Michael Doucet and several other Cajun musicians, while people pinned dollar bills to Mary’s veil in the old tradition, and then all the assembled guests devoured about 700 pounds of crawfish. Fortunately when you’re already dressed for a crawfish boil you don’t have to worry about getting crawfish juice all over your nice clothes.

There was porkchop-eating and hog squealing in Basile, Louisiana (and the spine-tinglingly wonderful story of Mary happening to come across an old cemetery next to a high school football field, wandering around and wondering out loud where the great Cajun fiddler Dewey Balfa was buried … only to find herself standing on his grave.

There was the New Orleans music box set she and I worked on together, for which we co-wrote the book — she wrote the traveling to and life in New Orleans essay, and I did the music one.  What a joy it was for us to have done that together, and we were so proud of the end result.  For that matter, there was Mary’s endless and passionate love for my home city of New Orleans, a city in which she was not born and was not raised but ultimately became just as New Orleanian as everyone else in that city, and who constantly helped me see and experience and love my own city better.

There was the fact that she’s been responsible for a great deal of content on this weblog over the last 10 years, not only because of lots of mutually enjoyed musical and gustatory experiences, or of her own exquisite food porn often sent my way, but because if I happened to go five days or (horror of horrors) a week without posting, I’d get a phone call. “Hey!” she’d  holler. “Where’s my free content?!”

There was the legendary trip to Las Vegas where we became The Fat Pack, sitting around a big table at the wonderful Rosemary’s Restaurant and all eight of us, without planning, each ordered a different appetizer and entrée, with sixteen dishes orbiting the table all night and much gustatory delight and laughter.  And there was later that trip, when Mary informed us that her editors at Frommer’s had complained that one of the sections of the Las Vegas book was out of date and she’d have to re-review the places in it… so she packed us all up in the minivan and together we made the rounds of three Vegas strip joints.  Good gravy, what a strange night that was.  We have stories. (Hi, Melinda! Your two new gay friends say you’re their favorite non-male stripper ever!)

There were a dozen and a half or more Jazzfests, the Bayou St. John house they owned with Nettie and Diana and so many great days passed there, and on the Fair Grounds so many magical musical moments we all shared, and there was dancing in the rain, which I think made for the most fun Jazzfests of all.

The Fat Pack in the rain

This is how the professionals do it.

There were peaceful, relaxing times at beautiful houses on the Cajun prairie …

Mary and Robin and a serene afternoon at the Seale Guest House in Eunice, LA

Mary and Robin and a serene afternoon at the Seale Guest House in Eunice, LA

A rare photo that includes the entire original Fat Pack. And why is Mary on the phone? Undoubtedly hearing something juicy!

A rare photo that includes the entire original Fat Pack. And why is Mary on the phone? Undoubtedly hearing something juicy!

And there were many, many crawfish boils.

You call that a crawfish? That's not a crawfish, mate ... THAT'S a crawfish!

You call that a crawfish? That’s not a crawfish, mate … THIS is a crawfish!

And as Wesly said earlier, there were books and talks and deep conversations and endless amounts of love and so much that she brought to our lives (to name but one, how she gently pointed out to Wesly what a good idea it’d be for us to move in together already … and that went well!).   It’s going to take us 20 years to remember and recount all the stories.

Since sometimes my words fail me  I wanted to bring you some words from Mary herself, first.

On her website there are archives of the articles she wrote for the Los Angeles Times about her initial diagnosis and first two go-rounds with cancer, plus the archives of Merry Maladies, the mailing list she maintained for her Best Beloveds, so that the people in far-flung locales around the world who loved her could keep in touch with what was going on with her, interspersed with regular doses of food porn.  It’s a lot of reading, but it’s really, really worth it … and of course, for a subject so serious, it’s always funny.

Then there was the final Merry Maladies missive, written by Rick, her best friend of 20 years:

Her husband Steve, her mom, her dear friend Nettie, and myself were in the room, talking about how today is Fat Tuesday. I looked over at her and said, “We’re going to go get on a plane and go to Mardi Gras, right Mary?” And she raised her head slightly and then was gone.

She always had great timing.

Rick wrote more on their joint website Plucky Survivors, which recounted their 10,000 miles of travel around the smaller corners of America.

There was the first public mention, the next day on L.A. Observed, and a really lovely brief piece in the L.A. Times the day after, which is a must-see because of the fabulous picture of Mary with her and Steve’s dogs.  That was one I didn’t have, and it’s in my phone forever now.  The Times today published a superb full-length obit, plus their own links to Mary’s articles for them.

There’s the wonderful outpouring from the Threadhead community; i.e., the Jazzfest fans from all over who hang out in the Jazzfest online forum. (Threadhead Records and all the wonderful work Chris Joseph and friends do for New Orleans music sprang from that forum.)

And the love just kept coming in. Tuesday night after she passed, Phast Phreddie wrote Steve to let him know that Dave Alvin dedicated a song to Mary during his show in New York.  The next day, Joel Savoy and family and friends played a Cajun fiddle tune and said a prayer for her at the grave of Dennis McGee, and bade Steve “prends courage.”  And as I write Jellyroll Justice, one of my favorite DJs on WWOZ, has dedicated his show to her.  All of them and many more have comforted us, and our thanks is mighty.

In the midst of our grief and deep sadness I have to confess I also felt flashes of anger. It’s so damned unfair, and we’re really, really sick of cancer. On Tuesday I wanted to break something (when I got really angry as a kid I used to break molded plastic coat hangers, which shattered quite satisfyingly). Fortunately I take comfort and joy, as Mary did, in music and song, and the beautiful words of John Boutté and Paul Sanchez helped to soothe me.

Don’t waste your time being angry
When a moment is better with a smile.

That is the opening line of one of my very favorite songs in the world (and one that Mary loved too), called “At the Foot of Canal Street,” written by John Boutté and Paul Sanchez, and performed by them both, singly and together.  All I have to do is think about her and I’ll smile, and the moment will be made better.

The song sprang from a comment John made when he and Paul were comparing their backgrounds and neighborhoods; John said, “Well, it don’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, black or white, sooner or later we’re all gonna be together at the foot of Canal Street, baby.” That’s because where Canal Street ends in New Orleans is a cluster of cemeteries … also some of Mary’s favorite places. (Her personal tours of St. Louis Cemetery in N.O. and Hollywood Forever here were great.)

When Diana called me with the news, this song broke through the numbness and the tears … I thought, she has laid her burdens down at the foot of Canal Street.

Listen to the song, and listen closely to the words. Now that you know what they mean, you’re a little bit more local now, and you’ll appreciate it a lot more.

“At the Foot of Canal Street,” by John Boutté

And one day, my dear Mary, I’ll see you there at the foot of Canal Street.

(P.S. – If you came here directly and haven’t seen it yet, don’t miss Wesly’s post.)


13 Responses to “Sometimes words fail me”

  1. dietsch said:

    Feb 19, 10 at 4:47 am

    “They married in 1995 at a crawfish boil in Louisiana’s Cajun country.”

    How can you not just absolutely adore that? I’m gutted, Chuck, and so very sorry for your loss. We have two dear friends facing breast cancer right now, so this hits so close to home.

  2. Mike said:

    Feb 19, 10 at 12:49 pm

    Chuck and Wes,

    I heard so many wonderful stories from you over the years about Mary that I feel as if I know her. I’m so very sorry.


  3. Tiare said:

    Feb 19, 10 at 3:21 pm

    What a wonderful post Chuck! love that song and it really helps.I also was angry when the ugly cancer took my mom years ago.But it`s true, its better with a smile.



  4. Mikey said:

    Feb 19, 10 at 3:48 pm

    A wonderful tribute.

  5. Ellen B. said:

    Feb 19, 10 at 3:56 pm

    Oh Chuck…that was a beautiful tribute to Mary’s memory.

    I do remember be stuck in the N.O. airport after Jazz Fest one year. It was raining and raining. The planes could not take off. Many of us L.A. bound people just sat around telling stories of our Jazz Fest experience. Mary and Steve were part of the L.A. contingent. I will never forget her.

    Even though I only met her a few times, I did read Mary’s books and articles. She was a wonderful writer who brought the life of the Crescent City to everything and everyone she touched. Mary will be missed.

  6. Andy R said:

    Feb 19, 10 at 4:28 pm

    A Lovely tribute, Chuck. I wish I had known her better. Ya’ll are in our prayers.

  7. Gary Stockdale said:

    Feb 19, 10 at 4:55 pm

    Thank you, Chuck. What a beautiful tribute. I wish I’d known her better. Please send love to Steve and his family.

  8. Chris said:

    Feb 19, 10 at 9:47 pm

    I looked through my old photo albums from Jazzfest this evening and found some pictures of Mary and me dancing together on the porch at the Savoy crawfish boil in ’97. I think I had only met her on that one occasion, but that evening it was as if we were old friends. There are so few people who possess that kind of light and energy. I’m so sorry to hear she’s gone.

  9. Daniel said:

    Feb 19, 10 at 10:45 pm

    You know I love you, but you really have to stop with the amazingly heartfelt posting here. The writing is making the rest of us look bad.

    Seriously, great stuff. I plan on reading more of her writing as well. I hope when I go (when we all do, and will, for that matter) that someone has half this many great memories of me, and the willingness to share them with someone else. Thanks for doing that here.

  10. Linda wallace said:

    Feb 20, 10 at 8:58 am

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane, bittersweet as it is.

  11. Willie said:

    Feb 20, 10 at 2:42 pm

    Beautiful words about an obviously beautiful woman. Good wishes to you all all of your friends.

  12. The Hoskins said:

    Feb 22, 10 at 3:07 pm

    Words far from fail you Chuck – this and the postings by Wes are beautiful – all we’ve seen these last few days are words by people who know exactly the right stuff to say – only wish we could. Great memories, great pics. We will all miss Mary so much. Big hugs all round in April.

  13. Anita said:

    Feb 24, 10 at 12:11 pm

    I’m very far behind in my reading, but I didn’t want to stay silent just because I am tardy. Your post — and Wesley’s, too — is such a lovely tribute to Mary. I never met her, but your tales make me dearly wish that I had.