Friday, June 15, 2018

No Concerts...But Perhaps the Most Deeply Moving Day Yet. Thursday on the Music Mission

Some new faces down for breakfast this morning.  Caroline and Kelly ate together with this family.  It was beautiful.

We didn't plan any concerts for Thursday.  I usually have one day where that's the case.  Shout out to Jessica VanLanduyt who suggested we go to the Whitney Plantation.  It was our first stop of the day, and it was profoundly moving.  That is an understatement.

The Whitney Plantation is focused on memorializing what slavery really was.  Its stories are told by people who actually survived slavery.  Hearing them is like hearing a survivor talk about Aushwitz.  You hear about the brutality and the awful, and you wonder how the human spirit could survive it.  And yet they did.

We split into 2 tour groups.  Each group took a different path through the plantation.  One group went through the house first and then to the memorials.  The other went to the memorials first.

This is the big house.  It would have been visible from the Mississippi River and was, for the time, opulent, including two buildings in the front that were used for housing pigeons.  Many of the buildings around the house are original, including the blacksmith shop, the kitchen, a barn, and a few other buildings.

Two of the slave houses were relocated on the property.  The rest were moved from other plantations.  There would be anywhere from 14-24 people living in one of these houses (depending on the time of year).

Most of the survivors who told their tale were children when they were enslaved.  As a result the Whitney Plantation focuses on children a good bit.  There are, throughout the property, sculptures representing the children who would eventually tell their stories.  I will also say that the sculptures are haunting.  Not in a scary way.  More in a sad way.  My kids are bigger than these kids.  I can't imagine what it would mean for them to live like this.  Or maybe I just don't want to.  As a parent, it also hit me that this would be a whole additional level of suffering for parents who had to watch their children endure a life like this.

These cells were more common in New Orleans.  They weren't used for punishment.  They were used for storage of goods.  There would be five men in a cell...or as many women and children as possible.  They would be held here while they were conditioned for sale.  It could be as short as a day or as long as a couple of months during the slow season.  Most of these were found in New Orleans, which was built primarily on the slave trade.

There are a number of sculptures around the plantation.  Most of them are outside.  This one is inside, and it's not quite ready for display yet.  There's no information around it.

There are four memorials.  The one we went to first was a memorial for the slaves who actually built and worked this plantation.

All of the memorials have stories written on them.  These are first-hand accounts.  They range in content.  They are not presented to show the brutality of slavery.  Not all of the accounts are brutal.  What they do...or at least what they did for me...was to begin to explain how the enslaved managed to keep existing. 

I noticed when I looked at this picture my own reflection.  The juxtaposition of the story and my image is a reminder of my interaction with this story--a reminder of my privilege.

On the way out of the first memorial we each rang this bell in memory of one who perished on the plantation.  The life-expectancy on a sugar cane plantation was 10 years or less if you worked in the field.

The second memorial is a memorial for all those enslaved in Louisiana.  Louisiana actually has fairly detailed birth and death records by way of the Catholic church (baptism and death records within the church).  And they also have a lot of information on the sales, which had to be certified by notary.  Still, despite the myriad names on this memorial, they believe it represents only a fraction of the whole, as there is much more research to be done.  The slave population significantly outnumbered the white population.

This is a sculpture at the back of the memorial.  It represents the long boats on which the slaves were brought.

A third memorial is for infants who died in enslavement.  I found my birthdate 3 different times, and each time it was listed only "male child."

The final memorial is for a slave uprising.  It is a gruesome representation of exactly what happened to the slaves who rose up.  Their heads were put on pikes all around Louisiana as a cautionary tale to the enslaved.

I'll admit when I walked around the fence and saw this it punched me in the gut, and I wanted to steer the youth away from it.  I wanted to hide it from them--to protect them from its horror.  But that's exactly what we have done.  For far too long.  We have ignored or hidden the parts of history that are uncomfortable.  So much that the history itself is in danger of extinction.  And so we have to confront this.  We have to look at it.  We have to understand not just what happened, but what has happened since as a result.  It's not that we need to make sure it happens again, although we do.  We need to understand how profoundly our society--today--is shaped by it.  And we must do better.  We. Must. Do. Better.  This memorial, like all my favorite memorials, humanizes that which is calls to memory.  Humanizing it reveals its horror.

After the tour all are invited to leave thoughts on sticky notes on this wall.  The wall is itself a display.  A living history that connects past to present.  I wish I had the space to put them all in the blog.  But the most profound one, to me, was signed someone from Jamaica and said how thankful she was that she could leave if and when she wanted.

They ask for you to share, the three words you find on your way out of the property.  Freedom.  Education.  Family.  These are their mission.

It feels odd to go on about our day after what we experienced in the morning.  I almost want to stop the blog one picture ago.  We had lunch after the plantation.  Then we went on a swamp tour. 

We loaded up on 2 boats and set out across the bayou.  There are...lots of alligators.  Most of them are fairly small, but there are a couple of large ones.  Of course the swamp is a vast ecosystem, and there are lots of critters.  Curiously enough, most of them really enjoy eating marshmallows.  Our captain almost got one of these cute little guys eaten by an alligator by throwing a marshmallow to close to the shoreline, but then he distracted the gators with another one, so we didn't have to watch baby Rocky get consumed by a gator.  Whew.

There was a massive  hurricane in 1915 that wiped out nearly all of the population of Frenier.  Many were never recovered. Those that were recovered were laid in mass graves.  This is one of those graves.

And there's also a trapper shack along the way...

But the gators are still the main attraction.  This is one of their larger ones.  Our captain makes him jump out of the water to get a marshmallow.  I actually got a video of this too, but the picture is more impressive.

After we played with the alligator (!), it was touch time.  Our captain passed around pelts and bugs and a turtle shell...all wildlife found in the swamp.

And then it was time to pass around Bruce.  He's a cute baby alligator.  Just over a year old.  I really mean that, by the way.  Something about the way the captain talked about these gators and the way he interacts with them make them a pet.  But make no mistake: they are still aggressive, and the larger one can reach the top rail of the boat if he's properly motivated!

I haven't mentioned our bus driver yet this trip.  We were worried after last year we might not get to work with Mark again because he moved to a new company.  But then we just moved right with him!  I really like how he becomes one of us.  He wears our tshirts and participates with us all the time.  The youth love him!

 We returned to the hotel to shower...because we were swamp funky.  Then it was on to Barcadia for senior night dinner.  This was a little different from how we've done it in the past...we served reception style in a room adjacent to a game room, and I gave the kids some quarters.  This group saved them for later.

I haven't talked much about our chaperones in the blog, but they're awesome.  No finer bunch of people.  They care about the youth as much as they care for them.  Having good chaperones makes all the difference in the world.  They're not all in this picture, but here's some of them.

Steven is not a chaperone...he's an alumnus participant.  But Kelsey, also an alumna, is a chaperone this year!

The youth enjoyed the game room even though a lot of the games are classic (dude...they had Rampage in there!).

 And maybe more than the youth...a couple of chaperones returning to their childhood, and very serious about it!

Then came the time I dread every year.  Saying goodbye.  This year, in addition to saying goodbye to our seniors, we said goodbye to two chaperones.

Michele is our director of children's music.  She never had to come on these things, but she wanted to!  Well after this many of them, she's retiring from tour.  She is NOT retiring from the children's music, however.  Not. Not. Not.

Last year was my tenth tour.  This year is Beth's tenth.  That means she has been on all but one of the tours I've led at Decatur First.  While she reserves the right to travel with us if we choose Hawaii next year...she decided ten was enough.  I'm going to need to have a chat with one of my photographers about this picture...

And then it was time for the seniors.  The youth began taking bets on how long it would take me to cry, and I want to go on record: I didn't cry at all.  Only a little bit on the bus when they were talking.  But not during the gift part.  So yay for me!

I've known Jerry as long as I've been at the church.  He's been in choir the whole time.  He's solid: a great singer and a great guy.  The bass section is really going to miss him.

Owen has also been in choir ever since I came to Decatur First.  He and Jerry were both in my children's choir when I still did that one.  He's been out a lot the last couple of years for soccer and work, but he always lets me know when he's going to miss.  Also worth noting: Owen is the last of 4 Tumperis, and I've had all four of them in my choir!  Truly the end of an era.

And then Garrison.  He's only in choir because he lost a bet to Jerry.  I wish he had started singing with us a long time ago!  But I've really enjoyed these two years, and I think he has too.  At least that's what he said on the bus! 

We're going to miss our seniors.  We'll miss their musical leadership and we'll miss their personal leadership.  But somewhere in the choir, there are people who are standing in the shadow waiting to step up and become next year's leaders.  Even though every year I think is the year we won't be able to go on without this or that person, every year someone surprises me...and we move forward.

I'm writing this from the road home.  I'll have another post about today, of course.  We had a concert, after all...and some very special guests!

We had a devotional time at the end of the evening.  Pictures would look mostly the same.  We talked once more about our day...what moved us and what we were thinking about.  We worked on our notes.  Then we headed to bed for the night.

I want to leave you with a video from the Whitney Plantation and our youth ringing in memory of those enslaved there.  It was a powerful moment on a powerful day, and one that I won't soon forget.

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