These parts we live in are among those where 40 years on the same spit of land won’t make you near a native, so far as most folks are concerned. If you weren’t actually birthed here you aren’t of here, or at least that’s what they tend to say.
Laura Browning was not born here, but in Ohio, although you would have difficulty convincing a lot of people of that simple fact. Bubbly and perky, upbeat when the world is upside down and respectable when occasion calls for it, she handles herself in all ways like a true southern lady. You may recall mention of her in this very space, a story about her going to the Kentucky Derby, and what was said of Laura then still reflects the Laura of now.
A teacher, consultant and student of the earth, Laura has made a point of cramming every bit of knowledge she can find historical, cultural and otherwise about our little corner of it here, into a brain always hungry for more.
This month a product of that drive made its appearance, a book called “Faith, Families and Friends: 150 years of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and Montegut, Louisiana.”
It is available at Bent Pages on Barrow Street in Houma, where she had a signing on Tuesday, as well as outlets like Amazon.com. They’ve also been selling it after Mass at the church in Montegut on Sundays.
To be clear, this column is not an objective review. I know Laura. Been knowing her. And it is the knowing that made me appreciate the work that much more when I read it.
In this book Laura Browning breathes life into a community less vital than it once was, but in no way ready to give up the ghost. The history of the Roman Catholic Church in the community plays heavily into the narrative, which is researched flawlessly and is presented faultlessly. This is more than a mere local church history, however. The author presents a story that richly reflects the economic and ethnic diversity of the area. She includes documented facts that will surprise even long-time residents of this land of shrimp and sugar cane.
Telling the story she has chosen to tell – really sharing a few facets of a far more brilliant diamond because of space limitations – Laura has framed the tale well. It is the story of Montegut growing in lockstep with its church, which is precisely how it grew.
I have passed down Highway 55 many a time, and I can make out in my mind’s eye what Montegut must have been like many years ago. This story fills in all of the blanks I had, or at least most of them.
What helps is that she lives in Montegut, on a little piece of heaven suitable for a lady of her type, where she makes a point of drinking in the beauty and peace it provides her. Maybe that is why it is so easy for her to hear the ghosts.
Natives and freedmen, priests and sinners, land owners and land losers, but most of all an appreciation of the diversity that has always made this community and neighboring ones like it, are the roux that holds all the flavors firm to the bottom of the pot as this story bubbles and then cools so evenly. It is a natural predilection for research and proper documenting of fact that make this a book that moves beyond mere anecdotal recitation.
Laura has committed here not an act of literature but rather the act of telling a story simply and boldly, leaving me with an impression far more rich of this community than my initial take for years of oyster boats and crab traps and the vestiges of what must have been a real community and town at some point in its existence.
And that is the beauty of Laura’s book, because while full of facts it is told from the heart, in the way a community’s story can only be told when it is ready to give it up of its own accord.