Let The Good Times Roll… Watson Style!

Saturday, I had the opportunity to participate in a great event, the 5th Annual Watson Bird and Sausage Gumbo Cook Off. I had the privilege of cooking in the first Annual Watson Bird and Sausage Gumbo Cook Off and have made every one since.  I even won Second place one year, and I would not miss it for the world.

Last week, I wrote about our trip to Cafe’ des Amis in Breaux Bridge. One of the things I talked about was the Louisiana value of “Joie de vivre” or the joy of life. Another Cajun saying is ‘to live is to eat’.  Both of those sentiments were very prominent in Watson on Saturday.

In case you don’t know about the Annual Watson Bird and Sausage Gumbo Cook Off, it is a big deal. It was started 5 years ago by Bobbi Jo and her husband Berlin.  They were looking for something fun to do with friends around here around the first of the year.  January is the ‘dead season’ in South Louisiana. After Christmas and before Mardi Gras is in full swing. It is also ‘gumbo weather’.  So, they decided to throw a party at the barn behind their house, invite some people to come cook gumbo and pass a good time.  And, they decided to make it a fundraiser for a worthy charity.

That first year, a couple of hundred people showed up, 15 teams cooked, first place paid $230, the proceeds went to St. Jude’s and everybody had a good time.  Saturday, a couple of thousand people showed up, 50 teams cooked, first place paid $1000, the proceed went to Raven’s House, a shelter for homeless veterans and everybody had a good time. My how times change in a few years. And, at the same time, the more they stay the same in some ways.
Bobbi Jo and Berlin who work very hard to pull this thing off
Bobbie Jo and Berlin, who work very hard to put  all this together!

The rules are simple and have never changed.  Any type of bird and any type of sausage. No other meat of any kind. Make your own roux, no precooked ingredients.  No glass, no pets, and no pets in glass bottles, please. Turns out it took a couple of years for some people to figure out that shrimp, crabs, oysters, tasso and the like are not a bird. But now everybody pretty much gets it. People often ask me what time does it start and when is it over. My answer is always the same. Cooking starts at 9:00, judging is at 3:00 and it ends sometime early Sunday morning with the Sheriff’s Office shows up and tells everyone it is time to “get the hell out of here and go home”.

The teams cooked and there were 4 live bands through out the day, and even a dance floor that got a lot of use. Supporters came out, paid $10 for an arm band that entitled you to taste all the gumbo you wanted, plus everything else that was being cooked by the teams, like jambalaya, barbecue, boudin, grilled chicken and burgers.  There were games and a slide for the kids. You could even get a funnel cake or fried Oreos for $3, all proceeds going to Raven’s House.  From the size of the crowd, it is an event most folks around here don’t want to miss.

My day started early. I got to the venue about 7:30 a.m.  After the second year, it got to big to stay at Bobbi Jo and Berlin’s house, so it was moved to a bigger location.  Although my day started early, it started even earlier for the staff, including my wife Jo Ann.  They all got there about 6:00 a.m.

Some of the staff getting ready.

It still makes me proud that in a small community like Watson, so many people will give up their Saturday to make something like this happen and support a good cause.

I unloaded my stuff, set up my canopy and kitchen and got ready.  It was a cold crisp morning, but the weather was beautiful and the sky clear. My first task for the day was to cook breakfast for the staff.  I was ‘voluntold’ to do that by Jo Ann.  I got started.  Two dozen biscuits in the dutch ovens and a big Mountain Man meal in a cast iron pot.  Mountain Man is real comfort food. Ground sausage, hash browns, a dozen eggs and 2 lbs of shredded cheese.  Yes, it tastes as good as it sounds.

Got breakfast done and everybody full. Then it was time to start cooking gumbo!

I could smell the delicious aroma off cooks all around us getting the pot going.

My first step was to get my chickens ready for the pot. This year I decided to roast them in my infrared fryer and then de-bone them. Had them cooking and wasn’t long til they were ready.

We started cutting vegetables and slicing our good andouille sausage, so everything would be ready at the right time. About that time, the official photographer, The Picture Lady, came around taking team pictures.  We posed for ours.

In case you were wondering, that good looking guy in the middle is me. The other two are my friend Calvin Jones and my youngest son Joel. My middle son Matt was also on our team.  He helped us a lot later, but after a hard week, he slept in and missed the picture, so I took one of him myself.


With all the prep work done, it was time to get cooking. There are many great recipes in Louisiana. Funny thing is, at least half of the best ones all start with the same phrase “First you make a roux..” 3 cups of flour and 3 cups of oil, turn on the fire and we were ready to go.

Got the heat up and then, as Vernon Roger’s momma used to say, “Braise, braise, braise”, which in English means “Stir, stir, stir!” Before long we had a traditional Cajun brown roux.

Fried the onions and stuff, the it was time to put the ‘juice’ in.

Once we that simmering good, in went the bird and sausage.
Now all it needed was time to simmer and getting the seasonings right.

By this time, the party was really getting started. The first of the bands took the stage, people were lining in to get in and cooks were hard at it from one end of the place to the other.

And of course, as always, Bobbi Jo was keeping everything running smooth

“Move your car if you are parked on Arnold Road!”
Which brings us to what the Gumbo Cook Off is really all about. Yes, it is a fundraiser for a good cause. And, yes we serve up some good gumbo. But what it it really about is a good time with friends and family. Spending a nice day with friends you see all the time, reconnecting with old friends you haven’t seen in a long time, making new friends and spending some quality time with family. I would estimate that there were upwards of 2,000 people out there Saturday, and you could just look around and see they were all “passing a good time, Watson style”.

You always make some new friends at the Gumbo Cook Off. Saturday I noticed a guy standing near my pot, with a big smile on his face, just taking it all in. I did not know who he was but he obviously having a good time. When I was seasoning my gumbo, getting opinions, I asked him if he wanted to taste. He did and we struck up a conversation. He admitted that he was just standing by my pot because it smelled so good. Turns out he was a charter bus driver from Marrero, Louisiana, who had driven a group of people to a wrestling match at Live Oak High School. He was looking for something to do and heard about the Gumbo Cook Off. Like everyone else, he was having a blast, passing a good time, Watson style. Another interesting thing about this is that at least 3 of the 5 years, I have had the opportunity to serve some foreigner from “up North” their first taste of real, sho’ nuff gumbo. Saturday was no different.


That young man in the Michigan State shirt was there with his wife and a friend. They all teach at Glen Oaks High in Baton Rouge. He is a transplant from Detroit, ergo the Lions ski hat. He loved my gumbo and admitted that they ain’t got nothing like this in Motor City.

Later in the day, it was time to announce the winners. Actually, at that point it really didn’t matter, because everyone who participated was a winner, especially the displaced veterans at the Raven’s House. Just to show you how this works, one of the ‘prizes’ was the 50/50 Raffle. The lady who won claimed $757, and immediately handed the money back to Bobbi Jo to go the charity. You gotta love people from Louisiana. In case you are wondering, no I didn’t win anything, but like always, I went home with the real First Prize.

I went back Sunday morning to get the rest of my stuff and help Bobbi Jo and Berlin clean up. Bobbi Jo asked me how I thought it went. I told her it thought it went great, especially when I evaluate it like I do some of my wife’s extended family get togethers. Not too many people got real drunk, there were no fights, the cops only got called out once, nobody went to jail or the emergency room and everybody had fun. I would call that a successful day!! If you understand that analysis, maybe you should check out the Gumbo Cook Off next year. If you don’t, maybe you should avoid the Gumbo Cook Off and any future Herrington family reunions.

Cest la vie!

A Louisiana Saturday Mornin’……

As I grow older, the more and more I like to ‘sleep in’ when I can on Saturday mornings.  Yesterday, I didn’t get the chance and boy am I glad I didn’t!  By 8:00 a.m, I was in the heart of Cajun country, sitting in a restaurant with a full service bar and a live band.  Joie de vivre, my friends.!

Our friend Sharon had a birthday last week. So, she decided to throw herself a birthday party and invited Jo Ann and me. Turns out that the birthday party was in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and started at 8 a.m. Since moving “back home” a year or so ago, Sharon has pretty much forced Jo Ann and I out of our middle aged, empty nest, suburbanite rut.  Sharon has a “Louisiana Bucket List” and has included Jo Ann and me on some of those adventure.  Turns out she wanted to have her birthday party at Cafe’ des Amis in downtown Breaux Bridge.

Cafe’ des Amis (which means coffee with friends in Cajun French, by the way) is a quaint little restaurant located in what was an old dry goods store in the heart of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, right on the banks of Bayou Teche.  Most of the buildings in the area date from the 1890’s or so. The cafe is a typically nice, local eatery most of the week.

What makes it special is what happens on Saturday mornings.  Starting at 7:30 every Saturday, the cafe’ opens for breakfast with a live Zydeco band playing and people lining up outside to get in. We got inside, paid the cover charge (yeah, I know.. first time I ever paid a cover for breakfast) and found Sharon inside.

It didn’t take long to figure out that this place was not only rockin’, it was special too. First, where else but South Louisiana would you find a cafe’ open for breakfast with a full service bar and a live band.

People were dancing and having a good time early on a Saturday morning. It wasn’t long til the next part of our party arrived, my buddy Jeff Gill.

At this point, maybe a little culture and history lesson are in order for my friends and relatives from “up North”; like Monroe, Shreveport or Dallas. Breaux Bridge is in the heart of Cajun Country, west of the Atchafalya River, located Bayou Teche. Also known as Acadianna, it is the part of Louisiana settled by the Acadiannes, French speaking people who were expelled from Canada when England took over that part of Canada in the late 18th Century.  The King of England wanted them to swear allegiance to him. As Justin Wilson used to say,  they wouldn’t swear to him, but the swore at him pretty good, I guarontee!. So when they were expelled, most of them headed for the French colony, La Louisianne.  New Orleans was not for them. They were not city dwellers.  They were farmers, woodsman and fisherman.  They were proud, independent and wanted a place where they could live their lives and raise their families  in peace and solitude.  So, they migrated west and settled along the banks of Bayou Teche, on the edge of the Atchafalya swamp.

They built a culture which was based on hard work, family, good friends and good times.  They worked hard and, when the work was done, they played hard.  The motto of the Cajuns was and is “laisezz le bon temp rouler”, which loosely translates as “let the good times roll”.  They learned to cook wonderful, simple food using a few spices and things that were readily available to them, like crawfish, crabs, fish and vegetables. They had their own kind of music, a fast chank-a-chank beat, heavy with fiddles, washboards, accordions and bells. Later, black people in the area adapted that music to a little faster rhythm and some different lyrics and Zydeco was born.  The biggest thing that the Cajuns/Acadians brought to Louisiana was an outlook on life that is summed up as “joie de vivre” or the joy of life.  It means that a man may have to work to live, but life is really about eating and drinking with family and friends, music and dancing and good food. Enjoying life, in other words.

Now, back to the story at hand.  Jo Ann, Jeff, Sharon and I spent our wait time having some Mimosa’s and dancing. I took a minute to wander down the street and discovered that Cafe’ des Amis was not the only place on the block to have live music with breakfast. There were actually two more. By then, Sharon’s college friend  Billy and his friend Chrissy were there. When our table was ready, the rest of our party was not there yet, so they seated us at a table with two other couples we didn’t know.  One of them was from Louisiana and their friends, John and Anita were visiting from Seattle. They brought them down to Breaux Bridge for a little culture shock.  It didn’t seem strange sitting at a table with strangers.  That is another Cajun thing. Good people and good times, it doesn’t matter whether you know them or not.

We continued to dance and pass a good time while we waited for our food. At one point, I headed outside to get some air and take a smoke break.  On the sidewalk I encountered an angel. There was a young couple there, with their 2 year old daughter Hannah.  Even Hannah was having a good time.

You could hear the music outside on the sidewalk and Hannah was definitely enjoying it too. I couldn’t resist showing her a few steps and before long, she was definitely getting her Zydeco on.
Hannah enjoying the music!
I come from a Baptist background, where dancing is a huge no-no. But it has always seemed a little odd to me that as soon as they are old enough to walk, you don’t have to teach kids to dance. Actually, you have to teach them NOT to dance.

As I headed back inside, I ran into my high school buddy and Sharon’s sister, Susan. She had her daughter, the ‘other’ Hannah, in tow.

Not long after that, our food arrived. Food is not only nutrition in Louisiana, it is a cultural experience. My breakfast looked delicious.

Cheese omelet, with crawfish etoufee on top, homemade biscuit and cheese grits with tasso. For any New Jersey Americans reading this, tasso is a Cajun spiced ham that can add great flavor to anything.

Before and during our meal, both Sharon and Jo Ann got offers to dance from some of the Cafe’ ‘regulars’. These guys seemed to be dancing with every woman in the place. We later figured out that that was their job. They were supplied by the cafe’ management to get folks dancing and having a good time.

By that time, John and Anita’s food had arrived and they were getting their Cajun on!

About that time, the rest of our party arrived, Jean Ann and Lisa.

Some more food and fun ensued, and some more dancing.

I even got to dance with Susan. By my calculation, the last time that happened was 1979, in the gym at the old Live Oak High School. 🙂

Eventually all good things come to an end and Jo and I had to head back home. But it was a wonderful time and I would definitely recommend trying Cafe’ Des Amis if you are looking for something to do on a Saturday morning. Plan on going early and staying late! That is a Cajun thing too!

Here are a couple of other young at heart girls who couldn’t resist dancing!


Jo Ann


Apparently the fun kept going after we left.

In 1814 We Took A Little Trip….

Yesterday, my buddy Jeff Gill and I took a little trip down to the Chalmette National Battlefield for the celebration of the Bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans.  Our wives were on a day out with some girl friends, so Jeff and I had to babysit each other. So, we decided to check out the battlefield.  We are both history buffs, but on the way down there we discussed that, while we both had passed the battlefield on the highway and on the Mississippi River, neither of us had ever actually visited the site itself.

For most of us, what we know about the Battle of New Orleans comes from two sources.  The first is an old country song that was a no. 1 hit for Johnny Horton in 1960.  We all know it and most of you probably recognized where the title to this blog comes from as soon as you read it. The other one is our history lessons in school, where the Battle of New Orleans was treated as pretty much a footnote to the War of 1812.  We learned that the battle was mostly irrelevant, since the war was already over and, although it was a big victory for the Americans, it did not really mean very much.  It turns out much  of what he ‘knew’ wasn’t entirely accurate.

So, perhaps a ;little history lesson is in order.  Louisiana became part of the United States in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase.  President Jefferson wanted New Orleans, but Napoleon wanted to sell the whole thing. So, the United States bought the entire French territory of La Louisianne’.  The territory was defined as all of the land drained by the Mississippi River. Turns out that is a little over 1/3 of North America.  As real estate deals goes, this one was the grandaddy of them all. Almost 530 million acres for about 4 cents and acre. Not a bad deal at all.

Statehood for Louisiana took another 9 years, until 1812. Part of the reason why was an uneasy feeling on both sides.  From the American viewpoint, all other states were English speaking, predominantly Protestant, and the   free people were overwhelmingly white and  descended from English settlers.  Louisiana was different.  Its people were French speaking Catholics. They were a mix of French, Spanish, Creoles and Free People of Color, almost all whom had previously been subjects of not one, but two European kings.  They doubted their loyalty.  They looked at Louisiana like you would a crazy cousin with an unclear progeny.  You did not know what they are going to do and, despite what you have been told, you are still not sure who that boy;s daddy really is and if he is really one of us.

From the perspective of the Louisianans, the Americans were a backwards people who spoke an uncivilized language.  And they were like that cousin at a family reunion.  They knew what everybody was saying about them and had serious concerns that if a fight or feud broke out, that the rest of them would actually be willing to get their knuckles bloody to defend us.  Such was the relationship between Louisiana and its sister states in 1812.

The decision for the United States to declare War on Britain in 1812 was not an easy call.  The United States was barely 25 years old and was taking on the richest and most powerful nation on earth. The causes of the war and its history prior to 1814 are too complicated to go into here. But, suffice it to say that it was like the littlest kid in school deciding he was tired of being bullied and taking on his principal tormentor.  A gutsy but not necessarily smart move.   President Madison probably realized this when he had to flee Washington, as the British Army officers ate all the food in the White House and then burned the place down.

By the end of 1814, Britain had defeated Napoleon in the Seven Years War and had a large and experienced army and navy with nothing to do. So, they decided to send them to America and try to capture New Orleans.  There were a lot of reasons why the British decided on New Orleans. But mainly they looked at New Orleans and understood what everyone else, from Iberville and Beinville to President Jefferson, also understood.  If you controlled New Orleans, you controlled the Mississippi; and if you controlled the Mississippi, you controlled the interior of the United States and everything west of the Appalachian Mountains.

To lead their campaign, the British selected General Sir Edward Packenham, an experienced and capable soldier.  Packenham was a professional, well educated, experienced and connected. He was also a gentleman, and was knighted by the English Crown with the The Honourable Order of the Bath.  He had capably led troops against Napoleon during the Seven Years War.  He was the brother in law of the Duke of Wellington, who finally defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

To defend New Orleans, the Americans chose General Andrew Jackson.  Everything Packenham was, Jackson was not.  He was born a poor farm kid, was self educated, had no formal military training and his previous combat experience was limited to commanding militia fighting renegade Indian tribes.  And, he was no gentleman.  Jackson was a dueler and a brawler, who did not suffer personal insult well.  In fact, when he arrived in New Orleans in December, 1814, he was still nursing broken bones and open wounds sustained in a brawl, apparently also involving firearms as well as fisticuffs, in Nashville a month earlier.

When Jackson arrived in Louisiana, there was distrust on both sides.  The Americans were not sure the Louisianians would fight for their new country. The residents of New Orleans were not sure that America would actually commit troops to battle to save their homes from Great Britain. Fortunately for both sides, Jackson’s first act upon arriving in the city was to mount a French Quarter balcony to address the citizens.  He told them that he could not guarantee that the British would not occupy New Orleans, but he could promise them that they would only do so over his dead corpse.  The people of New Orleans knew that President Madison had sent them a man who was not afraid to fight and they responded.  They were in for the long haul, ready to be on the team.

Jackson was also a doer.  The next day he started scouting locations south of the city, looking for a place to make his stand.  He finally settled on plot of land about 8 miles down river which, at the time was known as the De Chalmette Plantation.  Although he did not have a military education, Jackson recognized good ground when he saw it.  It was a flat plain, hemmed in by the river on one side and an impenetrable swamp on the other.  He had his engineers blow holes in the bayou levees further south, the make sure that the British line of march brought them right to his defensive line.  He also set his troops to work digging out an old waterway known as the Rodriguez Canal, which cut across the field perpendicular to the river.  The spoil was used to build a fortification 4 1/2 feet high.  The canal and the berm was an obstacle to the British infantry and the back side provided a fortification for the Americans.  The fortified earthwork quickly became known as Line Jackson.

So, the battle line was set.  On the British side, there were 15,000 well equipped,  battle hardened professional troops, fresh from defeating the French.  They were commanded by professional officers and had artillery support.  On the American side, Jackson’s army, if you could charitably call it that, numbered about 4,500.  It consisted of about 900 army regulars and 1500 militia volunteers from Tennessee and Kentucky.  The rest was a mishmash of New Orleans elite, free men of color, Choctaw Indians, a few sailors and Marines and a bunch of pirates.

When Jeff and I approached the battlefield and turned off St. Claude Avenue and drove toward the Visitors Center, the thing that struck me first was how small the place really was.  I have been to other battlefields, like Gettysburg, Port Hudson and Vicksburg, and they are expansive. Distances are measured in miles and some engagements where fought out of sight and out of sound of each other.  Not so at Chalmette.  Line Jackson runs only about 700 yards from the river to the swamp, a little less that half a mile.  It is flat and open, with no natural features or cover.  The best way I could describe it would be if you drove up Hwy 16 to Mr. Alton Easterly’s front pasture, and put 20,000 men with rifles and cannon in there and let them fight.  It is that compact.
Canon on Line Jackson looking across the field. The far tree line is about where the British headquarters and cannon were located. Also got a couple of reenactos in the picture!

There is something special to me to go to a place where history took place and be able to walk around and see it yourself. We started our tour at the river levee, where the River Road used to be located. The plantation house is still standing. Prior to the battle, Jackson used it as his headquarters.

This picture is from the east porch, facing Line Jackson. Probably old Andy Jackson himself stood here on the morning of January 8, 1815 and had this same view, before he mounted his horse and took up position with his troops.

(Of course, those cars wouldn’t have been there, but you get the idea)

We continued walking east. The picture below is from the right end of the American line, near the river. This spot is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, that little bit of water is all that is left of the Rodriguez Canal. More interesting is that everyone knows the story about Jean Lafitte and his pirates fighting in the battle of New Orleans. This spot was the location of Batteries 2 & 3. It was an important spot, since it anchored Line Jackson on the river end of the line. It had to be held at all costs. Batteries 2 & 3 where were Jackson placed the Barratarians and their cannons, under the command of Lafitte’s brother, Dominique You.

You might be wondering, “Where was Battery Number 1?” Jeff and I did too. It turns out that it was on the West Bank of the river. Jackson placed cannons salvaged from a grounded U. S. Navy warship and placed them and their gunners on the opposite bank, where they could put enfilade fire on the British troops. Capturing those guns was a major part of Packenham’s battle plan, one which did not work out so well. More on that later.

The center section of Line Jackson. The black cannon is a 32 pound naval gun that was brought ashore from a U. S. warhip. This was Batteries 4 & 5.

This is the far right of Line Jackson. The cannon is that the location of Battery 6. The is the location where Packenham made his main attack and where the heaviest fighting of the day took place.

The main battle began shortly after daybreak on January 8, 1815.  Packenham knew that a full on frontal assault would not work. So he spent several days shelling line Jackson. It did not do much good. By the time the British ran out of ammunition, Jackson had only lost a couple of cannons and suffered a handful of casualties.  Packenham had another trick up his sleeve.  He knew he needed to capture Jackson’s artillery on the West Bank, both to protect his troops and to use those cannons against the flank of Line Jackson.  He sent Colonel William Thornton and the 85th Regiment out the night before to capture those cannons. Unfortunately for the British, Thornton’s troop ran into remarkably bad luck.  They had tried to dig a canal to get their boats to the river, whose banks collapsed and the dam constructed to divert the river into the canal failed.  This meant that Thornton’s men had to drag their boats through deep mud.  Once they were able to launch their boats, they misjudged the current of the river, which carried them swiftly downstream.  By the time they were able to turn around, get to the West Bank and march on Battery Number 1, they were 12 hours behind schedule.  They were able to capture the guns, but by that time the battle was all but over.

The British were also relying on two things that proved to be untrue.  First, the were contemptuous of Jackson’s ragtag troops and assumed that as militia, they would always do what militia did; they would run when fired upon.  Secondly, Packeham believed that his troops would be able to approach closely to the American line before they came under effective fire. He was wrong on both counts.

One of the things we know that may not be so about the battle is Jackson telling his men “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”.  While he might have encouraged his less experienced troops not to waste their ammunition, he did not have to do the same thing with the mountain men or the Barratarians.  The Kentucky/Tennessee volunteers were expert shots, armed with Kentucky long rifles,  which were much more accurate than the standard military muskets of the day.  Likewise, Lafitte’s men owned their livelihood, and even their lives, to their ability to accurately fire cannon from a moving ship at other moving ships.  The net result was that after the battle, numerous British officer recalled that almost as soon as Packenham fired a rocket to signal the beginning of the attack, they came under accurate and murderous rifle and cannon fire from opposite ends of Line Jackson.

Packehham’s battle plan on the East Bank was simple.  He sent one column of troops down the River Road to pin down and capture Jackson’s right flank and, possibly get troops behind Line Jackson.  The main body of his force would attack the line on Jackson’s far left, closest to the swamp, breach the fortification and sweep the Americans from the field.

That was the plan, but it did not go quite like that.  Packenham did not count on the bravery and tenacity of Jackson’s troops or the run of bad luck that hit him during the battle.

As the attack progressed, Packenham realized that the resistance on Jackson’s left was heavier that anticipated.  He sent word to the River Road troops for the 93rd Sutherland Highlander Foot Regiment to turn and move across the field to support the attack on the left end of Jackson’s line.  As their officer pulled them out of line, formed them up and prepared to move, he was shot dead.  The Highlanders were well disciplined British troops.  They did not have orders to move out and they did not have orders which would allow them to withdraw. So, they just stood there.  Apparently for some minutes, before another British officer saw them, realized what was going on and, taking command, ordered the forward.  Unfortunately, in the interim, many of the had been shot down.

Another thing that Packenham did not count on was his own troops getting in his way.. If the British attack was successful, they would have to have a way to cross the canal and scale the earthworks.  Lt. Col Thomas Mullins was sent ahead with the 44th Foot Regiment, with ladders and bundles of sticks to fill the canal and scale the wall.  Perhaps because of the darkness and fog, coupled with fire from the American lines, the 44th stopped to get their bearings. In doing so, they were right in the way to block and disrupt Packenham’s main assault.  The effect was so disrupting that upon his return to England, Col. Mullins was court- martialled.

Packenham’s attack was falling apart.  He had taken heavy casualties and many of his high officers were dead, including Gen. Gibbs, leading the main attack on his right and Col. Rennie. leading the River Road attack on his far left.  His troops were the ones starting to break and run Packenham probably knew that the battle was lost. But he was an officer and a servant of His Brittanic Majesty the King and he felt honor bound to try to rally his troops.  He mounted his horse and rode forward, encouraging his men.  As he did so, he was hit with a round of grape shot from the American cannons, which killed his horse and wounded him in the right leg. Undaunted, he borrowed a horse from his aide, and as he attempted to re-mount, was struck again in the chest, fatally wounded.
I took this shot from the British side of Line Jackson. This may have been the last sight Packenham, and many other English troops, saw that day.

Both Packenham and his second in command, General Gibbs, were dead, along with many other officers.  Once again, the remaining British troops, having no orders to either continue the advance or retreat, stood out in the open and were shot apart with grapeshot from Line Jackson. After a few more minutes of slaughter, General Lambert assumed command.  Realizing that further attempts would be both futile and costly and ordered a withdrawal. And so, in less than 45 minutes, the battle was over.

The British had suffered over 2000 men killed or wounded, including Packenham, Gibbs and one other British General.  Jackson’s casualties: 3 cannons, several horses, no Americans killed and around 20 wounded. It was a resounding American victory. The British withdrew, buried their dead and left the continental United States for good. Even their dead didn’t stay. Packenham and Gibbs were packed in barrels and sent home to England for burial.  I got a message from Jeff this morning. He discovered that the other British dead were buried south of the battlefield near a spring.  A few years later, the river flooded and washed away all the British graves and their corpses.

On the American side, the battle saved New Orleans and, 13 years later, propelled Jackson to the White House. It ensured America had a port on the terminus of the Mississippi, allowed commerce from the trans-Appalachian region and fueled settlement of the American West. It was the first victory over a European power since Independence.  It gave a very bad bloody nose to the British empire. and showed the world that the United States was not a nation to be bullied or trifled with. And, most of all, it united Louisiana with the rest of the United States in a way that would never waiver.  Both sides found out that the other was worthy of respect and that original American or Louisiana Creole, we all had skin in the same game.

It is a great story. Unfortunately, what most of us know about it is from a corny old song that starts out;

In 1814 we took a little trip,  along with General Jackson down the mighty Mississipp;

We took a little bacon and we took a little beans and we fought the bloody British at the town of New Orleans.

But, even that is a good story. The song was written by an Arkansas school teacher named Jimmy Driftwood, as a way to teach history to students was both funny and cultivated curiosity.  While it does that, unfortunately it becomes for many of us all we know about the Battle of New Orleans. But, there is so much more to the story.

Line Jackson looking west from the Swamp end toward the river and Jackson’s headquarters.

This is Jeff, standing on top of Line Jackson near Battery Number 5, on the far left end. Who knows, maybe 200 years ago on that day, Ole Andy Jackson himself stood in the same place !


It’s All About the Dash

It has been said that when you die, two dates appear on your tombstone. The year you were born and the year you die. In between there is a dash that separates them.  That dash represents what you did with your life. Some people make the most of that dash and some don’t.  This is a word about one who did

Sunday morning, I got the news of the death of a great man, Mr. Buddy Jones.  Mr. Buddy was one of those people I have know almost as far back as I can remember. He was born in Watson in 1935. He died a few days into 2015  While he was a quiet, unassuming, humble man, in many ways. Mr. Buddy  was larger than life. He never lived in  a big house, made a lot of money, ran a big company, wrote a book or held an office.  But he was a great example of how to put a great deal of living into that dash.

From the day he was born, he was both a Jones and an Allen, big families on both sides.  He grew up a poor country kid, like everybody did in those days.  Although he was educated and traveled a lot, he lived his whole life within 100 yards of the spot where he was born. He lived in the same place his whole life, and was the member of the same church til the day he died.  He was married to the same beautiful bride for 54 years.  He lived in the same house for 47 years.  He worked at the same job for 40 years.  There is something to be said for a man who was content with what he had. Mr. Buddy was wise enough to know that when you had been given a blessing, you didn’t need to going looking for something else just because it was new.

I never really thought much about it until yesterday, but my relationship with Mr. Buddy was many fold.  He was an adult and a deacon in the church when I was just a kid.  His oldest son was my childhood and lifelong best friend.  In addition to that, Mr. Buddy and my Daddy became best friends and stayed that way for nearly 30 years until Daddy passed away. When I was younger, our families spent a lot of time together.  We shared meals, special occasions, New Years Eve and the 4th of July.  We took many family vacations together, from the beaches to the mountains.  Later as Calvin and I became more independent, I spent a lot time in Mr. Buddy’s home and was always welcomed with a warm smile, and open heart and the same kind of love and acceptance he showed to  his own sons.  I am not sure whether that was because I was Calvin’s best friend or Robert’s son, but it didn’t matter. It worked for me.

Later, we became sort of peers.  We both served together as deacon’s in our church and served on different committees together.  It meant a lot to me that he let me know, without ever having to say so, that he didn’t see me as a ‘kid’ or one of those young boys, but as a grown man with a contribution to make.  For my part, it did not take me, or anybody else, very long to figure out that while he was soft spoken and didn’t talk just to hear his own voice, when he did speak, you should listen because  what he had to say was always worth listening to.

It is hard to remember way back for someone you have literally known all your life.  My first conscious memory of Mr. Buddy was when I was 7 years old.  It was Calvin’s birthday party, which was in October. It had a Halloween theme. After the cake and ice cream and opening of the presents, none of the 7 year olds noticed Mr. Buddy had disappeared.  Then we were led on a little hike down by the creek.  A pumpkin jack-o-lantern was rolled under the bridge as we approached.  All of a sudden, a ghost jumped out from under the bridge and yelled “BOO”..  Actually it was Mr. Buddy with a sheet over his head.  Scared me so bad I cried.  But when he took the sheet off his head and we found out it was Mr. Buddy, even for a 7 year old I thought it was funny.

He had a big heart and love was a way of life for him.  His world was Mrs. Norma and his two boys. He was soft spoken but firm, passionate but not boisterous. He was patient and always willing to try to do for others.  Both Calvin and Shannon were pretty good baseball pitchers.  They excelled in high school and both started college on a baseball scholarship. Shannon even went on to play professionally for a few years.  If  you had been around their house when they were younger, like I was, you knew that much of their success was due to all the hours Mr. Buddy was willing to spend out in the yard, sitting on an upturned 5 gallon bucket, catching for them and quietly coaching them and honing their skills. Another thing that always impressed me about Mr. Buddy was remembering that while he did not make all of the boys high school baseball or basketball games, he made it a point to make most of them. Even midday tournament games or early afternoon JV games.  I was in high school and I was impressed by that. Mr. Buddy knew that sometimes work or other things could wait, since there would be a day when there would be no more games to go to.

Another memory about Mr. Buddy was the way he was always cheerfully willing to help others or do something for them. It didn’t matter who you were or where you were.  If he could help you, he would. I remember when my Dad was in the hospital the last time.  Mr. Buddy spent two nights literally sleeping on the floor of the critical car waiting area, not because he could do anything for my Daddy, but because he was not going to leave my Mom, my sisters and me there alone.

Most impressive to those who knew him was the way Mr. Buddy lived a quiet but very real Christian faith throughout his life.  He had the “living” kind of faith, not the talking kind.  His testimony was powerful and real, but it came through not in the things he said but in the way he lived his life day in and day out. Mr. Buddy was a perfect example of the admonition in James 1:22 “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only…”  He was never ‘in your face’ about religion, but was not hesitant to tell you what he believed.  He was not preachy, but was always willing to share with you how to find the same peace he had if you were interested. I thought it was fitting that when I went to his house Sunday night with some food and to check on Mrs. Norma, I found a clipping on the refrigerator with the 7 points of the plan of Salvation, the old Roman Road.

Mr. Buddy was a faithful Christian. Even in the years shortly before his death, when he had much difficulty getting around, he was always in church, pushing his walker down the aisle to the pew he usually sat in. He was still an active Deacon at the age of 79 and was attending Deacon’s meetings into 2014. And speaking of deacons, Mr. Buddy served as a deacon for some 50 years,and at the time of his death, Mr. Buddy was the oldest and longest serving deacon at Amite Baptist Church. Many times over the years, myself and others had sought him out for counsel, both spiritual and otherwise. The New Testament gives us the qualifications for Deacons. A deacon should be a man worthy of respect, sincere, sober, not greedy, holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience, a dedicated husband who rules his children and his own house well.  The Apostle Paul wrote those words 2000 years ago. But he could not have written a more accurate description of Buddy Jones if he had know him all his life.

Mr. Buddy studied the Word and knew it well.  He was a man of prayer. In fact, at time he was so sincere in his prayer life that it was not just a spiritual exercise for him, it was also a physical experience as well.  At deacon’s meetings and other occasions, I observed Mr. Buddy praying, on his knees or on his face, so deep in pleading with the Lord on behalf of someone that he had tears in his eyes, his body quaked and you could hear him groan. And, although I never saw it in person, I know that there were times when he even prayed for me like that.

He also lived by the advice in 1Thesolonians 4:11 – “and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you”.  Mr. Buddy was quiet but not shy. He was friendly but not a busybody.  I saw him get frustrated, angry and just plain flabbergasted at times, but I don’t really recall ever hearing him raise his voice.  He guarded his speech.

I could go on and on, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll share this.  I came across this article on 9 Tips for Living A Christian Life:
Mr. Buddy was always 9 for 9.

Over the past few years, Mr. Buddy’s health declined. But, true to form, he took it in stride. He didn’t complain, kept doing what he could do and was thankful for those who loved and took care of him. Last week he was hospitalized with complications from liver failure and a slight infection. The doctors informed him that they were going to recommend sending him home with hospice care. His race was nearly over. But he met this news the same way he he had always lived: with faith, hope, courage, compassion, kindness and, most of all, a pure and genuine love of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He did not make it home from the hospital. The Lord called him home in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Maybe that was appropriate. It would soon be time for church after all. He took his last breath with one hand holding Mrs. Norma’s and the other raised to the Lord. Just like someone said about a famous man, Hubert Humphrey, Mr. Buddy ” not only showed us how to live, he showed us how to die.”

Mr. Buddy’s family and friends are sad that we are no longer going to enjoy our earthly fellowship with him.  But we also know that this is not good-bye, it is just farewell. If he could still give us advice and counsel, I believe Mr. Buddy would tell us that this is not the end of the road, but is his victory. And he would point us to the Scriptures, where 1 Corinthians 15 tells us:

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ “

As Mr. Buddy himself would have said “Ain’t that the truth.”

What Do Pearl Harbor and Camp Avondale Have in Common

Last week, I had to opportunity to take six Scouts from our Troop to Winter Camp. I was able to spend 5 days in the woods at Camp Avondale, just west of Clinton, Louisiana. It also brought me face to face with an interesting historical paradox that was too good not to share. Turns out there is a direct, tangible connection between Camp Avondale and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Camp Avondale, the Council Camp for the Istrouma Area Council, is 1,200 acres of some of the prettiest hard wood forest in Louisiana, complete with 3 lakes, 2 creeks, several camping sites and an improved Summer Camp area. The Summer Camp area is also the location of the most iconic spot on the reservation, the Dining Hall. The Dining Hall is one of the original structures at Avondale, built when the camp opened in 1958 on the crest of a hill overlooking Lake Istrouma. at least 3 generations of campers have fond memories of the Dining Hall and what it represents. They also have some not so fond memories of the Dining Hall and what it represents.

The Dining Hall was built to accommodate 125 persons. It is rustic, with screened windows and no climate control, save a couple of exhaust fans and some recently added ceiling fans. It currently serves around 300 patrons on a regular basis. It is hot in the summer, cold in the winter and generally crowded. The kitchen is beyond capacity. However the amazing thing about the Avondale Dining Hall is that it consistently serves some of the best camp food anywhere. The food service crew does the best they can with what they have to work with. Although they refer to it as the “Road Kill Cafe'”, no one ever has any complaints about the quality of the food. I have eaten camp food all of the United States and, hands down, the meals at Avondale are the standard by which others are judged. As Cookie said in “City Slickers”, ‘the food is hot, brown and plenty of it.”
Interior shot of the Dining Hall

So, it is not surprising that high on the list of capital improvements at Camp Avondale is a new dining hall. Money has been set aside, additional funds are being raised and plans are being drawn up. Last Monday night, we had an adult leaders meeting with our new Scout Executive, Camp Director and several Council Board members to discuss upcoming events, including the dining hall project. During this discussion, one of the Board members mentioned the need to replace and update the kitchen and, in the process, made this interesting statement:
We even have a mixer back there that was on a battleship at Pearl Harbor.”

What? Did I hear that right? That may be the kind of statement that some people let go in one ear and out the other, but not me. Have had the bait wiggled in my face, I had to know the rest of the story. After the meeting, I sought out the camp rangers, who maintain both the kitchen equipment and most Avondale legends, and found out about an interesting tale.

The Hobart Manufacturing Company was founded in 1897 in Troy, Ohio.  For the past 117 years, it has manufactured and sold commercial kitchen equipment, including ovens, stoves, mixers, slicers, griddles, steamers and scales, to name just a few.  Even if you don’t know the name, if you ever strolled through a commercial, school or institutional kitchen, Hobart equipment was all around you.   Hobart built things to last.

So, the first piece of the puzzle is a commercial floor mixer that has been in the kitchen at Avondale for over 57 years.  It is not very sexy, but it works and has prepared no telling how many meals over the years.

This is where the story gets interesting. It seems that a dozen or so years back, someone at Avondale contacted Hobart looking for parts or a copy of a wiring diagram or some other information to keep that mixer running. When Hobart looked up the serial number, it found out some fascinating information. The mixer was originally built in 1936. Turns out that Hobart keeps a list of its longest running equipment that they can locate. They determined that the Avondale mixer was number 2 on the list of oldest Hobart mixers still in use. Number 1 on the list was still in use at the Orleans Parish Jail in New Orleans.

They also discovered that when it was new, the Avondale mixer was sold to the U.S. Navy and was installed on the battleship USS PENNSYLVANIA.

On December 7, 1941, with the Hobart mixer in her galley, the PENNSYLVANIA was in dry-dock at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked and plunged the United States into World War II. Although damaged, PENNSYLVANIA, and the mixer, survived the attack went on to serve throughout the war. For the next 4 years, PENNSYLVANIA sailed the Pacific, participating in campaigns in the Aleutian Islands, Kwajalein, Mariana Islands, Saipan, Guam, and Okinawa. In late October, 1944, she participated in the Battle of Suriago Strait, the last battleship to battleship confrontation in history. During the Guam campaign, she fired more ammunition than any other warship in history during a single campaign. All with our Avondale mixer on board, working every day to feed her 1,400 man crew.

Late in the war, PENNSYLVANIA was torpedoed by Japanese aircraft and was subsequently scrapped. Somewhere along the way, her equipment was salvaged, including one 10 year old Hobart mixer, which eventually found its way to the kitchen at Camp Avondale over 56 years ago. So, as it turns out, our World War II artifact at Camp Avondale is not a ceremonial cannon, ship’s bell, a flagpole or a tank or truck. It is an almost 70 year old commercial mixer that, as recently as last week, was still mixing away, feeding hungry scouts. Pretty cool, huh?

Story note :

It turns out that the floor mixer is not the only piece of Avondale equipment that is in the Top % list. Turns out that we also have a smaller mixer that is Number 4 on the list!

Cruising the Caribbean-Part 2

Today I am continuing my blog about Jon Ann and my recent pre-Christmas sojourn to the Sunny Caribbean. As you may recall from my previous blog, we set sail on Sunday afternoon and made our way down the river as dusk settled.  After dark, it was time for our first dinner in the dining room .

We dressed made our way to Table 669 in the Upper Level of the Scarlett Dining Room. If you have never been on a cruise, one of the best parts is the food.  It is delicious, well prepared and plenty of it.  The dining room is an experience much like a really nice restaurant.  Good service, great choices, tables set with care on fine linen table cloths.  On Carnival, there are standards that are on the menu every night, like grilled flat iron steak, fried shrimp, Caesar salad and shrimp cocktails.  The main menu changes nightly and includes things like Surf n Turf, with Maine Lobster, Chateau Breaun, Caribbean Jerked Chicken, Penne Pasta with Seafood, Escargot, Braised Ox Tongue, Veal Parmigiana, to name just a few.

And the desserts. Oh my Lord, the deserts. Some of the greatest pastries  and sweets you will ever see.  Bitter and Blanche bread pudding, Baked Alaska, Cheesecake, French Silk pie, Chocolate cake.  And, the greatest dessert ever, Warm Chocolate Melting Cake.  Served nightly, it is a chocolate lovers dream.  A concoction of flour, sugar, butter and cocoa, baked until the top and bottom are cake like and the center is still molten and syrupy. And did I mention it comes with ice cream on the side? No wonder everyone in the dining room seems to be smiling all the time.

Another interesting thing about the dining room is the people you meet. If you are lucky enough to be assigned to a table with people you don’t know, you tend to meet really nice people and make new friends. This trip was no different. Our dinner companions turned out to be Eddie and Becky of Longview, Texas, a retired postal worker and his wife who was a dean at Kilgore College, and Francisco and Rebecca, a couple about our age from New Orleans. At the next table, was Mrs. Rose and her husband Gary, experienced cruisers from Meridian, Mississippi. All nice folks and a great bunch to spend a week on the water with.

After dinner, we took in a few of the attractions on the ship, including a stroll through the casino. I will admit that my one character flaw is my inability to walk past a lively craps table, but I will save that for another blog. We decided to turn in early, looking forward to our first relaxing Fun Day At Sea.

I awoke early the next morning and slipped out onto our private balcony. There was nothing else in sight. We were somewhere in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, cruising along on a southeastward heading that would take us to Key West. I waited in anticipation of one of my favorite moments on the water. If you have never witnessed a sunrise at sea, you are missing one of Creation’s most breathtaking moments. It wasn’t long until the dull red glow to west began to turn brighter, the colors changing to breathtaking yellows and pinks. And then, suddenly, there it was.


I could feel my cares melting away as the sun brightened the horizon and began to warm my little corner of Heaven on Earth. Not long after that, there was a knock at the door. Room service was there with our daily morning coffee and pastries. Not a bad life at all.

We had our coffee, dressed casually and then went to the dining room for breakfast. After breakfast, it was time to soak up some sun. We found a spot by the rail on aft end of the Lido Deck and settled in.

Jo and I had our books, sunscreen, sunglasses and all the other essentials.   There were also these really nice crew members who would come around and take your order for a Pina Coloda, Mia Tia,, Cruiser or some other cold libation with rum in the bottom and a paper umbrella on top.. And, if you got tired of sunning and reading, the hot tub was not faraway.  If you got hungry, it was just one short flight of stairs down to the grill or the buffet.  Not a bad way to spend a Monday I think.  We cruised on toward Key West as the sun set to our East.  Nothing quite like a day in Paradise. WHen we got back to our cabin after dinner, we had a nice towel animal monkey.

Tuesday morning dawned as we approached Key West.  Key West sits at the far end of the Florida Keys, the southernmost point in the United States.  It is 60 miles from Cuba and 85 miles from the nearest WalMart. It is an eclectic, old hippie sort of town, where Caribbean pirates and Hemingway both found a hide out, a couple of hundred years apart. As remote as it is, it is easy to see what drew people here and still does. The water is clear and blue, the beaches are white and the sky is like a painting. Bars, including Hemingway’s favorite Sloppy Joe’s, and restaurants dot Duvall Street and the harbor.

Jo and I hit Duvall Street and took a ‘hop on-hop off’ bus tour. We checked out some sights around town and wound up back at the harbor for a conch fritter and fried oyster lunch. We even discovered some local Christmas decorations;

By Noon we were ready to get back aboard and soak up some more sun.


We set sail again and headed for Freeport in the Bahamas.  We arrived before dawn.  One thing about Freeport is that when you are there, you are in the middle of a busy, working port.

You are also on the other side of the island from the beach or anything else you want to see or do. So, Jo Ann and I decided to do a ‘first’ for us on a cruise; spend a port day by staying on the ship. We got up and staked out our usual spot in the sun. We had a good view of the port area, complete with other ships, a shopping area and Senor Frogs, the building with the red roof in the pictures.

It did not take long, and a pina coloda or two, for us to decided we had made the right decision.

One of the reasons I love cruising is that it is, for some reason, one of the most relaxing vacations you can take. Let me tell you, after a couple of days of sun and doing absolutely nothing, neither of us could have cared less about CLE hours, year end accounting issues, what work was on the board, back orders or anything else. We were accomplishing just what we set out to do: relax and do nothing.

The following morning found us docking in Nassua. Nassau is a cool town too. The cruise ship dock is right next to the old part of town, full of shops, jewelry stores and the straw market. We decided to get off and roam around. You never know what you might find in old town Nassau.

After Starbucks and a little shopping, we hit the Straw Market. You can find almost anything there, most of if hand made locally. One of the coolest areas was the alley where the carvers set up. They offer all manner of carved items, from walking canes to statuary, much of it made while you watch.

We got back aboard mid afternoon. We went up on the sun deck to catch the evening sun. While we were there, we were lucky enough to witness the other breathtaking sight, a Caribbean sunset. Just like the sunrise, it is one of the truly beautiful sights on this earth.

We headed back to sea, a two day leg that would take us back to New Orleans.  Friday was a great day.  The sunrise was awe inspiring.

Two things struck me that day. First, I had always wondered what, in the old days of sail, would convince a man to leave his home and family and spend a year or two floating around on a small wooden ship. Moments like I had watching that sunrise make it perfectly clear. Second, when you see the sun behind the clouds, almost like you are in the presence of a divine being, it is easy to understand why some many ancient cultures viewed the sun as a deity.

Saturday dawned cold and overcast. Obviously we were getting closer to Louisiana. They weather was turning crappy. We took advantage of some indoor entertainment and even did a little last minute shopping. At 4:00 that afternoon, we went to the Christmas show in the showroom. It was just the touch to put me in the Christmas spirit, especially the kids singing carols and the members of the crew, all 52 nationalities, singing “Silent Night” by candlelight.

Late that night, before I went to bed, we could see oil rigs off our balcony. We were getting close to home

After a few hours sleep, I awoke early to find that the ship was still moving, making slow turns along the Mighty Mississippi. I had always wanted to watch as our ship came into port in New Orleans. But, this had always alluded me, since every time I woke up, we were always already tied off. safe and snug alongside the Julia Street Wharf. I sensed this was my chance, so I pulled on a pair of pants and grabbed my camera. It was cold and windy, but the sleeping city was waiting just around the bend in the river.

The river front was quiet as we crept up river, back to the wharf from where we had started.

With surprising grace for a ship her size, the Carnival Dream eased up to the wharf in the pre-dawn glow, like so many ships before her, ready to disgorge her passengers and cargo along the New Orleans waterfront.

Then I felt the vibrations stop as the engines shut down. We were home. Our Caribbean adventure was at an end. As I returned to our cabin, I caught sight of the fuel barge coming along side and then the return of our companion ship.

After that, all that was left to do was grab our luggage and be prepared for the quick disembarkation. We carried our luggage off, made a quick stop at Customs (“No sir, I didn’t even know they sold Cuban cigars in the Bahamas”) and then to the car and headed back to Watson. Our trip was done, but we were heading home to family and Christmas and food and love. It was a wonderful trip and we had done just what we had set out to do: Absolutely nothing! So, as the French say it is not goodbye, just ‘au reviour” until we meet again.