Friday, May 15, 2015

All Good Men

Near the edge of the porch a ragged man stood.  He swung his head toward Pa.  "You folks must have a nice little pot a money."
"No, we ain't got no money," Pa said.  "But they's plenty of us to work, an' we're all good men.”

--John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath

On Saturday night, ten of us gathered around a table in Emeril’s restaurant in New Orleans. The reservation was made under the name “Goodman.” Trying to determine our group leader, the waitress asked which one of us was “Mr. Goodman.” Five hands went up. She could have asked, “Which one is Ms. Goodman?” and every female’s hand at the table would have been raised. There were plenty of us there, and we were all Goodmans.
There is no hiding the fact that
these Goodman men are all related.
Nearly 80 years ago, my father left his home in a small town in Arkansas to move in with his older brother David in a town only slightly larger in Louisiana. The two brothers were far apart in years but close in other ways. And they stayed close in spirit over the years, even when my father left Louisiana and settled in Georgia way back in 1940.

Seventy-five years later—last weekend—my brother and I, our wives, and my children decided to return to Louisiana with two purposes in mind: to reconnect two branches of our family tree, and to sample every way that oysters can be served in New Orleans. I am here to report that we carried out both missions successfully.

The Louisiana/Texas Goodmans and the Georgia/New Jersey Goodmans have gotten together a few times in the past, but this trip was special. This wasn’t a big reunion or a family event attended by lots of outside friends and family members. It was just two nuclear families—all adults ranging from early 30s to early 70s. We laughed; shared some old photos; laughed; filled in gaps in our lives; told stories about the past, present, and future; took a side trip to a gallery displaying my cousin Jonathan’s prints and paintings;


handed out Mother’s Day presents; and ate. Then we ate some more. Raw oysters, roasted oysters, fried oysters, barbecued shrimp (New Orleans style), and some strange concoction that was supposed to be oven-roasted seafood but seemed more like just the breading. (The last item was the only low point in our culinary marathon.) We also did some serious drinking. And we topped things off late Saturday night listening to a remarkable jazz group performing at a fairly empty New Orleans jazz club tucked away on a busy street. (Not to be outdone, we topped off Sunday night with coffee and beignets at the Café du Monde.)
The next generation-- cousins getting closer and eating together.

We spent two-and-a-half days in New Orleans filling in years and building bonds. We plan to do it again soon, “God willing and the creek don’t rise,” as my father would say in his Arkansas folksy accent. Our two fathers came from a family of 12 children whose descendants have spread far and wide. It was great fun for a group of us to be back together.

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