Friday, July 22, 2011


"We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies." ~Shirley Abbott~

(Mississippi River Bridge, New Orleans)

What is it about getting older and that longing to search ones roots? Why do we (I) often look back--want to reexamine--take a second look at where we come from and the people, places and things that have been part of our history and how we became who we are? Is this just something old people do? Will I next find myself buried in genealogy books at my local library? Who knows?

(Canal Street)

It seems we spend the first half of our lives growing, moving,ever distancing ourselves, and claiming independence from childhood as much as and as fast as possible. And then the paradoxical happens. We end up spending our later adult years yearning for and looking back on our youths. Longing to rediscover what once was and did we somehow overlook something the first time around.

(Locating the old D.H. Holmes building on Canal)

On a recent weekend my husband and travel companion extraordinaire set out on a mission with me to find Ignatius J. Reilly and the site of my birth place Port Sulfur, La. What does one have to do with the other? Nothing really but perhaps much. And who is Ignatius J. Reilly anyway?

(Meet me "under the clock")

I had just completed reading John Kennedy Toole's "Confederacy of Dunces." I happened upon this book quite by chance on the Amazon website. It was an unusual read for me. A completely bizarre, zany satire whose main character is Ignatius J. Reilly. He is a most unlikeable misfit along with a whole host of equally unlikeable characters as well. It is not a book I would recommend to just anyone to read. What drew me in particular to the book was it's early 1960's New Orleans setting and the pitch perfect dialogue that is unique only to that area. Ignatius family, friends, and escapades reminded me of some of my own long ago and forgotton eras of times past. Of course it helps that I am easily drawn to those that are flawed and Ignatius surely fit that bill to a tee.

(Finding Ignatius)

Because page one opens with Ignatius waiting for his mother under the clock in front of the D. H. Holmes department store, a bronze statue of him was erected there a few years ago. I can't tell you how many times I visited this store with my grandmother as a child. She would buy the best warm cashew peanuts there! The building is now apartment condos but the store front windows are still the same. The clock is in the original location as well.

There is the story behind the story. In 1981 John Kennedy Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for this his first and only novel. Eleven years earlier he had committed suicide. His mother stated that he had become severely depressed because Confederacy of Dunces had been rejected for publication. After his death she shopped the manuscript around for seven long years before finally seeing it to publication.

The Toole family were life long residents of New Orleans. They resided within a few blocks of where I lived as a child.

Sometimes the circle of life can be quite amazing.

"I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search." Psalm 77:6


Anonymous said...

Quiet amazing in deed! Funny how much we can see if we just take the time to seek.
I so enjoyed this journey with you Debra. So well written and the photos helped me to be there.
I loved this one.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting post. I bought the book several years ago, but I live too far away from where you are to get the behind the scenes story. Thank you so much for this post. I remember warm cashews, too, from the drugstore where my friend's dad worked as a pharmacist when I was a kid.

Travis Cody said...

The character sounds so familiar to me, but I don't recall ever reading the book. Perhaps that means I should?

forsythia said...

No other book has ever made me LOL more often. It just keeps rolling along. I love the scene where Ignatius picks up his lute or mandolin and starts to play and his neighbor immediately yells "Shut up!"

Finding Pam said...

I want to know more about this man. He sounds most interesting.

I enjoyed your trip down memory lane. Felt like I was right there with you.

Such great memories about grandmothers and cashews. Mine did the same thing when we went shopping.