by Shelley Fowler
I returned home a couple of weeks ago. But, like that famous song about San Francisco, I think I left my heart in New Orleans! I’m having trouble settling back into my normal state of being. And I keep having flashbacks!
A couple of days ago I took the dogs to the Munson. It had been too long since all of us had enjoyed the freedom of running and walking on our favorite piece of ground. It felt good to once again embrace the open skies and open horizons.
But then, as I looked towards town, I suddenly saw the skyline of New Orleans, and I yearned to be there. I began running over snippets of what I had seen and experienced, realizing that it wasn’t necessarily the city itself I longed for, but the people I had brushed up against while I was there.
I noticed the woman as Marvin and I walked across the intersection. It was Sunday afternoon and we had just watched a parade winding its way down one of the famous streets. There were hundreds of people walking along the sidewalks, and they seemed oblivious to her presence. But not me. For I was witnessing the glorious shining of a soul!
She was a fluffy, white, little-past-middle-age woman. Upon her white-haired head was balanced a black, short-brimmed straw hat. She wore a colorful dress and if memory serves me right, white anklets and old tennis shoes were on her feet. She was sitting on a small stool and in front of her was an electric piano. And in front of that was a black waste basket!
She was bouncing on the stool, her pretty round face smiling, as she played the piano and sang! She had a rich jazz voice, and I wish I could remember which well-known song she was singing! Our eyes met, as I stood there entranced with her performance! And for just a minute, she was singing only for me! Yeah, right there amidst that swirling mass of humanity, our two souls connected.
I got the satisfaction of watching and listening. She got my ten bucks and the satisfaction of letting her light shine whether anyone was listening or not!
And then, there was Doctor Love!
On one of my last evenings in the Big Easy, Marvin and I dined on the patio of a small restaurant near the Mint, and in the French Quarter. We then went for a walk along the cracked sidewalk of one of the narrow streets. Gone were all the noisy people, the trash and the discarded bead necklaces. Up above, the balconies were empty, and lights shone from beyond their now-closed wooden shutters. It was a nice evening, and Marvin and I talked as we walked through the quietness of the streets.
We ambled by a small bar that sat on the corner of a street. There was a group of men sitting just outside the door, visiting among themselves. As we passed by, both Marvin and I said “hi” and the men returned our greetings. We walked on, then stopped further down the street, just absorbing the atmosphere of one of the oldest places in our nation!
Then, one of the men we had spoken to approached us. He stuck out his hand and introduced himself. His name was Doctor Love, and he was a life-long resident of New Orleans who lived just down the street. He told us he was a “broom dancer” who entertained tourists with his song and dance routine done with a kitchen broom. It was his night off and he was monitoring the streets, making sure everyone was safe.
I can still see him so clearly in my mind. He was a black man, perhaps in his early 60’s, and just a little taller than me. Intelligent and gentle eyes shone from his bearded face. He was wearing a stocking cap and a soiled red silk stadium jacket. But what really caught my eye were all the rings on his fingers and the necklaces around his neck. And mixed in with the jumble of the many strands of beads was one large, silver metal whistle.
And so I asked him about the whistle. He said he handed them out to women who lived in the vicinity. If they should feel scared , he was “only a whistle away”. I then commented on his many ruby rings, and he told me the history of several of them. Mostly gifts from his children and friends. And as we talked, several women walked by and he addressed each of them by name and asked how they were doing. They all hugged him and then went on their way. It was evident that Doctor Love was well-known, and trusted by those who called that street their home.
As Marvin would say, this man, this broom dancer, was a “true soul”. And just for a little while, standing within a circle of three beneath a street lamp, our souls communed! I will probably never see Doctor Love’s shining face again, and I will probably never get to see him do a soft shoe dance with that broom. But, I will always remember the warmth of his hand in mine, and the feel of that red satin jacket as I hugged him and said goodbye.
When I arrived in New Orleans, I told Marvin that one of my desires was to connect with the people, and let them see God’s light shining through me. I didn’t realize that I would be the one who would be so greatly blessed by those who shone so beautifully with that same, sweet Light!