My uncle Chip was a skilled piano player and composer. But as he got older, he performed and composed less. Yet he still kept up with his daily practices. The sound of him playing scales in some distant corner of the house was the seemingly constant soundtrack of my youthful visits.
What’s the fun of going through a big old house if you can’t find some weapons. (We’ll get to the hatchets and scythes later.) That’s an 1890s Smith & Wesson 3¼" barrel double action five shot top break revolver with fixed sights, nickel finish, and hard rubber grips. I happen to know all of this because I had to Google exactly what it was to figure out how to open the weird old thing (I hadn’t never dealt with no “top break” revolver before1) and make sure it wasn’t loaded, which fortunately it wasn’t. The ladies found it tucked in the laundry. And I don’t know the story is with the knife. Except that it looks like one should be wearing a Daniel Boone hat while using it.
I’m genericizing the name of the series to “Esplanade”.1 ’Twill include the aforementioned found treasures and curiosities; also ad hoc ruminations; and random snapshots of stuff — such as an assortment of framed pictures, scattered at arbitrary but visually pleasing angles. (In that house right now, you can snap a photo in any direction and stand a pretty good chance of catching something interesting.) The house will be a major theme in our lives for a while, so the series will probably be a major theme for a while too.
1 That reflects our general lingo, referring to the house by the name of the street it’s on. “I’m goin’ to Esplanade…” “I found this at Esplanade…” “I’m feeling stunned and overwhelmed by Esplanade…”
I'm trying to figure out how to describe what going through this Esplanade house is like. It's a little bit like it would have been cleaning out Grey Gardens after the Edith and Edie had passed on. We watched a bit of the documentary the other night. It was weirdly resonant. Sarah, having spent the day cleaning out the Esplanade house, was exhausted and fell asleep. June stayed watching, totally into it.
Cool. Apparently we have a crest.1 What does one do with a crest in this day and age? Maybe I’ll get a t-shirt made. I know these things are chock full of symbolism, but the only symbolism I know here is the the tree on the left: "Olivier" means "olive tree," so I'm figuring that's probably an olive tree.2 I'm curious about the birds.
(So our series is up and running. I promise they won't all be ooh-look-I'm-fancy! There's definitely some fanciness over there but there' also plenty of plain old odd, funny, or curious. On we go.)
2 I don't know who did this rendering. Or anything about it at all. (Maybe somebody just made it all up. But if they did, they did a nice job.) Maybe some scrap of paper amidst the many heaps will explain it.
As mentioned before, my dad’s family has been in New Orleans as long as there’s been a New Orleans. And over the generations, to put it mildly, a lot of family stuff has accumulated. As a child, I would come to New Orleans and visit my grandparents and stay in their big old house1 up on Esplanade in Mid-City. The house was a crammed-full of a jumble of grand old antiques and every day a bric-a-brac. And the house was laid out crazy, all over-sliced into little rooms and halls. A trove of multi-generational treasures and cruft and everything in between.
And when my grandparents passed, all that stuff went to the half of the house where Annou lived, and the other half was rented out. So the already overstuffed contents of the full house became essentially warehoused on the one side, mounds of things with “goat trails” through them. If there was a show called Southern Gothic Hoarders, this house would have been its premiere episode. Annou had carved out a couple of rooms,s amidst the horde, as her own personal apartment (though her rooms were pretty crowded too). But the rest of the rooms were just dusty heaps of the things, great and small.
Our once large New Orleans family has shrunk to a small one, and I am the only grandchild, so I always knew that someday, I would be heir to this legacy of stuff. And with Annou’s passing, so it has become. And Sarah and I spend our weekends, digging through the stuff, trying to make sense of it all.
And so a series! “Found Treasures (’n’ Stuff)”. I’ll post some of the more eye-catching or odd of the items we go through. First up, the Olivier family tree:
This is more at the "gem" end of the gems-curiosities-weird-odds-'n'-ends spectrum, and it may be a tough act to follow, but it's a good place to start. It was made by my grandmother (Daidy to me; Claire to the adult world), around 1970, documenting the Olivier side of the New Orleans family, from the span of 1750 to 1878 (very specific). It's actually a tracing of a more ornate tree that someone else did earlier. (I'll show that later.) I kind of like her traced version. It is certainly one of the more beautiful things we have found, and it's utterly fascinating. (I'm not sure how well you can see them — maybe if you click on it — but the names alone are amazing.)
1 The house itself is a curious entity, apparently an old 1860s structure that dramatically grew and morphed in the 1920s into approximately the structure that it is today.