Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for a memorial service to honor our brother-in-law’s father. While the purpose of our trip was sad and somber, the people of Baton Rouge and the community we visited transformed a potentially difficult weekend into a heartwarming, uplifting and eye-opening experience.
Our flight from New York landed in Baton Rouge during the Friday rush hour. Within minutes, we were greeted outside baggage claim by a lovely couple, Alice and Larry, whom we had never met, and whisked into their car. Alice and Larry, close friends of the bereaved family, could not have been kinder, taking time out of their busy lives to retrieve two strangers from the airport. We chatted amiably during the entire car ride, feeling like we had known this couple for years. Alice and Larry drove us directly to our accommodations, the home of Sandra and Jay, close friends and neighbors who would be our hosts for the weekend.
Sandra and Jay, whom we had also never met, graciously welcomed us (as well as my parents, my sister and brother-in-law) into their spacious, elegant home. From the comfortable private bedrooms and wide selection of amenities to delicious homemade cooking—including a traditional southern breakfast of “grits and grillades” which our hostess cooked over a 24-hour period—we were treated as special guests.
My personal highlight of our stay at this house was observing our hosts relaxing in ‘his & hers’ recliners in front of a ginormous flat screen TV, each with a glass of bourbon in hand, cheering on their beloved LSU Tigers. Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in New York anymore….
Two doors down, we gathered with our extended family to comfort each other, reminisce and share treasured photos, as a continuous stream of friends and neighbors passed through to pay their respects. No one came empty-handed. People brought homemade casseroles of every variety: pasta, tuna, vegetable, chicken & rice, egg & sausage, you name it. There were also salads, meats, cheeses, dips, vegetables, cakes, pastries and other sweet treats. We ate and drank nonstop for two days. Our usual gluten-free, fat-free, dairy-free, healthy eating habits were temporarily discarded as we soon realized that “comfort food” really does soothe the soul.
This was southern hospitality at its finest. But the comfort extended far beyond the food. The entire weekend was an overwhelming testament to a supportive community caring for one of its own families. Yes, people cooked and delivered food for each meal, they shuttled out-of-town guests around (in addition to our airport pickup, other thoughtful strangers gathered my sister and parents from their flights) and they showered the entire anguished family with heartfelt love and support. In short, everyone went above and beyond the call of duty, not because they felt obligated, but because it was second nature to them to step in and help. These kind actions may have been precipitated by a tragedy, but they were not reserved for this sad occasion. Rather, these were typical, everyday occurrences for the people of this community who always conduct their lives with grace and kindness to help those around them. As they say in the South, these are “good peeps.”
In the wake of one of the nastiest, most contentious presidential elections in our nation’s history, it is evident that stark divisions and deep wounds remain that desperately need to heal. In this spirit, the southern hospitality and sense of community that we experienced last weekend is a perfect example of how we should all conduct ourselves…. cast judgments aside, be kind to one another and work together as a team to make those around us stronger—not only in a crisis, but always. Thank you to the people of Baton Rouge for inspiring us and leading the way forward.