Sunday, March 22, 2009

Magnolias, Sweet Tea, & Mama

We are now east of the wide, fast-moving, muddy Mississippi River. Crossing by ferry, we unloaded and climbed the bluffs into the village of St. Francisville in Feliciana Parish, one of the most historic corriidors of Southern Louisiana. Long ago dominated by European settlers who became cotton planters on an enormous scale. Most received their plantation lands through land grants from the Spanish government. Our arrival couldn’t have been better timed. It’s the annual Audubon Pilgrammage weekend when more than 30 stately Antebellum homes, some public and many private, are open to the public – many with special programming.

Although camping at the run-down Green Acres (green pool, too) RV park, we did feel the grandeur of the region across the street at the state-run Oakley Plantation. There for $6 admission for all 4 of us, we enjoyed an informative guided tour of the plantatin house by Karen dressed in period clothing. In the slaves quarters, a knowledgeable employee with a long ponytail helped us to imagine how it must have been for the 250+ slaves living on the plantation. Kim enjoyed meeting Gus, a showy turkey loved by all at Oakley. “I’d take him home,” notes Karen as he fans and drums his plumage. “He doesn’t know that he’s a turkey,” she winks. “He thinks he’s a dog.”

The tour was fabulous; very educational for us all. Afterwards, in the kitchen behind the house, they served up turnip root and greens soup, cooked over an open hearth using original plantation recipes. These dedicated State Park employees had all just received notice on Monday of this week that, effective July 2009, all state historic sites would be closed except for two days per week, and 51 of the 70 employees (they did not know which ones) would be laid off. So, despite the enthusiastic sharing of history, a gloom of pending doom hug in the air for all those state employees. “This maybe our last Pilgramage,” noted one sadly. I promised to write the state to let them know how beneficial our visit had been to our homeschooling program. But, trying to imagine keeping these plantations open to the public and running them like living museums, I could understand the state’s fiscal dilemna.

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