Entry for September 04, 2005

Looking for the Louisiana Strawberry Ambassador after Katrina

Finally reached my friend Ms. Lucy Mike of Hammond, Louisiana,  a little over an hour north of New Orleans under normal cicumstances.   There’s a hole in her roof, no electricity, she can’t call out, water’s getting short, the Hammond airport has been embargoed by the National Guard, it looks like someone “machined-gunned” the trees in her yard and she’s in good spirits.  Her niece in North Carolina, who she hadn’t heard from in 25 years, has been relaying messages for her.  She says the Mayor of New Orleans is hopping mad.  She heard him on the radio Thursday night.  You can hear him, too, by listening here.   Ms. Lucy farmed strawberries for eighty years, since the age of four. If you’re in Louisanna,  you can read about her in the archives of the Center for Southeast Louisana Studies (selu.edu) and/or I’d be glad to hook you up with an introduction.


 I met Ms. Lucy cooking for the Zatarain’s exhibit. at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in  2004.  I was hiding from the sun after a bad burn from the previous day despite spf 30.  When I asked her to autograph a booklet of recipes, she gave me one of her cards and invited me to Hammond on my way back home.


Not knowing that she had given up farming, I phoned her the next week about buying some berries.  She called right back after finding some from neighbors.  What she missed most about growing, she told me, was not having berries to give friends.  After pound cake and coffee (General Foods International French Vanilla Café instant, alas) at her kitchen table, besides loading us up (my ex and me, but that’s another story) with at least a half-gallon of the most perfectly ripe strawberries for which she would take no money, packed in a nest of newspaper on ice, she sent us back to Virginia with a strawberry cake decorated with florets and a box of strawberry glazed cookies. 


I last called her August 13, and this year, besides ambassadorial duties, she was â€œjust” cooking, having delivered a wedding cake yesterday to “a girl who’s getting married today up in Tickfaw and all sorts of goodies and a lasagna” this morning to a woman who’s having a party tonight, she didn’t say where, but perhaps Ponchatoula, which, although it’s just 6.6. miles down the road, vies jealously with Hammond for being the Strawberry Capital of the World and may have stolen the title over the last 35 years with its elaborate Strawberry Festival  which at least had the good graces to honor Ms. Lucy last year for having been “inspirational to the strawberry industry and the Strawberry Festival.”)


Hammond’s other claim to fame is its connection with “In the Heat of the Night”.  As for the filming of the first season  there, she remembered “those were big doings down here although they’re filming something just about year round between here and New Orleans.  The latest is  a sort of horror movie, oh what’s its name, it’s opening this week, oh yes, “’The Key!’” ( “The Skeleton Key” And speaking of heat, “It’s been 95 and mucky for the last two weeks, it feels like 105, eh?” (No wonder I’m sweating, who thought we’d be having LA weather in the VA mountains.)


When I closed, telling her I’d better let her be about her business, Ms. Lucy replied, “Thanks for calling darling.  It’s so good to hear your voice.  You call back anytime.  I’ll always remember you.”  As my friend Debrah says, “What a gal!”




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