Saturday, October 8, 2011

Let's Talk About The DuPlessis...

The phrase 'old money' was coined for families like the DuPlessis'. They have seemingly been around forever in the Gulf South, mostly around Pass Christian, Biloxi, & New Orleans.
Arriving at the family mansion on Audubon Place, Bitsie & Ivan DuPlessis step from the town car into the New Orleans heat. A gasp escapes Bitsie's lips, shocked at the heat & the quality of the air. Ivan takes no notice. Their assistant Schramm quickly opens the front door, sending a corridor of chilled air towards the couple. The DuPlessis' return; and a dark cloud crosses the sun.
Once inside, Bitsy stops inside the foyer to take in her surroundings while Ivan marches directly into the office & closes the door. Quite the place, she thought. Classic Georgian floorplan, terrazzo tiles, penchant for Louis XIV furnishings, berber carpeting--is that a Ming vase? No, but a damned good replica.
Schramm breezes past his mistress with the first load of luggage and a curt "this way Mrs. DuPlessis, to the master bedroom." Automatically she follows him up the steps, cataloguing the entirety of the house & holdings. For the next few days, she and her husband would move as separate entities, sharing only the ministrations of Schramm.

1.) Elizabeth Lenore "Bitsy" Pritchard DuPlessis
There is virtually nothing of Bitsy Pritchard's life to tell until she made it to Loyola University. Born to a middle class Florida family populated entirely with accountants, CPAs, and middle management, Bitsy was raised in the most unremarkable way in central Kentucky. There is not a single unique or truly memorable event in her life before moving to New Orleans, as she will be the first to inform you. The only small part of her existence was her relation to a very popular mayor in her family's hometown of Elizabethtown, KY. These were also her only fond memories of her childhood, spending every Easter with Great Uncle Seuss Pritchard, searching for eggs in his expansive yard with the comparatively interesting children of the city. Early on, she discovered a talent for needlepoint & knitting that would serve her well personally, not socially.

But she did make it through the central Kentucky school system with some ease and was forced to attend the University of Kentucky by her family, who demanded that she stay close to home. She earned a BA in art history, the only subject that held any fascination for her. After her 4 years there, she meandered through her job at The Speed Museum, first as an Junior Assistant Curator, to Senior Assistant Curator, to Vice-Curator. She was able to rattle off the important facts on every single display, each piece in the building with a disinterested ease that most people took for genuine exptertise. Her meteroic rise in prominence at The Speed made her a sought-after student for the Master's program at every university in the country. When Tulane called however, she jumped at the chance to live somewhere that oozed life, and soon took up residence in the Riverbend of New Orleans. It was here that she met her future husband and changed her life forever. Granted, it took several months to make him realize that she alone was the answer to his life's questions, and in 2003 they were engaged to be married. Being goal-oriented, she enjoyed a satisfaction that such personalities relish for decades as she walked down the aisle of St. Louis Cathedral in May, 2006. She would come to remember very, very little of the actual ceremony, her mind cataloguing & classifying every inch of artwork in the minor Bascillica with unconscious precision. She would also come to remember their wedding night as the night she lost her virginity and thinking 'what's the big deal?'

2.) Ivan Sargent DuPlessis
The most influential moment in young Vannie DuPlessis' life happened because of his uncle, The Colonel. It was a memory which he eventually would hold dear...then come to loathe in private. The summer of his eighth year a distant cousin had engaged the family in a land deal in Pensacola. The deal was counterfeit from the start and several members of the family lost a lot of money; but not the cousin. The Colonel was the only one who hadn't invested, being stationed overseas in Berlin. However, upon finding out the details The Colonel literally showed up at the cousin's mansion and 'convinced' him to reimburse his sister and the rest of the family. No one knows exactly what happened but family legend says that the cousin never looked the same after his encounter with The Colonel. When he asked his uncle what had happened, he replied: "Its bad taste to screw your own family, but its a kick to the balls to make them pay for the opportunity. Never take a kick to the balls, boy." Years later, he would take the revelations about The Colonel as a kick in the balls.

Ivan had stayed with his great Grandmother Janette during Katrina. She saw no reason to leave since her house had a full generator and one of the neighbors had arranged for those Blackwater fellows to guard the circle to keep out the common criminals. She also had a full wine cellar, months of Meals Ready to Eat, a satellite telephone, several liters of Jim Beam bourbon, & the constant ministrations of Schramm. Ivan, being the strongest of the great-grandchilcren in many ways elected to stay with old Gran, since he would be restarting at Tulane at the start of January when he would send for his fiancee Bitsie. Late on Thanksiging night of 2005, he was awakend by Schramm and told to go to his Gran's suite. He entered the suite, and found her at her desk neatly assembling papers in a folder. On the blotter beside her was a photocopy of a vaguely familiar form, a--what're they called?--a 'telegram?' Her crepe-lined face was solemn and cold as marble. She told him to sit with such force, he instantly obeyed out of shock. Finishing her work, she closed the portfolio and shoved the scanned telegram towards him. It had been emailed by his father's lawyers from a distant cousin in Amsterdam:



Ivan was shocked. The Colonel was dead--how? Who was Mr. Parmentiere & why was The Colonel with him? As the tears mounted in his eyes, Gran stares at him with the unmistakable air of disappointment. Still reeling from his favorite Uncle's death, he could only ask,
"Who is this R. Parmentiere, Gran?"
The old woman peered up at him over her pince-nez with a look of incredulity that he had never experienced. After what seemed like an eternity, she lowered her eyes and turned to Schramm, who had somehow magically produced a very large '73 Valpolicella from nowhere. Creakily standing up to her full, crooked height, she took the glass with an alacrity reserved for the well-practiced alcoholic & conveyed a look to her young manservant that was visible from the back of her head. Without another word, she hobbled her way out of her suite. Alone with the butler, Vannie looked to Schramm with an intense need for answers. In his peculiarly clipped Midwestern accent, Schramm addressed his young charge with brutal yet compassionate tones.

"Master Ivan...your Uncle, The Colonel is what the less-cultured castes of the city would call a-well, a....a "Ginny Woman."

Seeing no recognition of the term, the servant proceeded apace.

"Your Uncle was...'fond' of those like him......He do I say this? It's so difficult really have no idea what I'm trying---" His voice trailed off as the expression on Ivan's face grew more desperate for clarification. With his imposing linebacker frame, piercing eyes & full height of 6' 4" English Creole self, he almost towered over Schramm's 6' Germanic-Irish-Scot being. Yet, being older than his charge Schramm managed to keep an unspoken mastery over his subject as he finally left euphemism behind them & stated,

"Master Ivan, The Colonel was a closeted gay man who found love with this Rony Parmentiere. They have been together for years. And now, your Uncle is dead and Mr. Parmentiere is making certain that his body returns home for a proper burial."

In that moment, the innocence of the favored which had been the life of the adored Vannie died a quick & unmerciful death. Within the confines of that paragraph Vannie DuPlessis was cast down upon a pit of spears, every inch of him impaled on the stalagtites of cold, hard reality. Still breathing, still pumping blood in deafening torrents in his ears, Vannie DuPlessis merely ceased to exist. For a preciously long, almost interminable time there was no one inhabiting the flesh that was owned by that identity. An era passed in silent agony as a sea change happened in the mound of skin, bones, & organs that once played host to the late Vannie. What emerged was a foreign creature that took its comfort in the negative promulgations of countless generations of DuPlessis' & their compatriots. So deeply & quickly were the basic insecurities of his own existence made evident by the scandal of his once beloved Uncle's life, the insecure young man's subconscious mind murdered any & all vestiges of compassionate objectivity in order to preserve his mistaken sense of inherent worth.

In that second of time, warm, giving, loving Vannie DuPlessis succumbed to cold, calculating, vicious Ivan DuPlessis.

And so was the family name & reputation to be carried on, unbroken.

That morning, Janette DuPlessis died of a combination of cirhossis & a severely depressed immune system that allowed a simple virus to stop her withered old heart. Within a week her 85 lbs. body was interred in the last unclaimed space in the Lakelawn Cemetery crypt. Ivan carried her casket with the semblage of brave apolomb across from Schramm; the only other person in the procession who knew that they were also burying young Master DuPlessis' former life.

Five years & 6 states later, the heir apparent would return to the ancestral home in Audubon Place with his trophy wife, his 'faithuful' family servant, and an agenda that will lay the old money of New Orleans bare to his whims in a way not seen for well over a century. For Ivan DuPlessis is on a mission informed by his genetics.

And so is his devoted, yet inherently non-Orleanian wife Bitsie Pritchard DuPlessis. It is her strength that will be the greatest challenge to his unholy birthright.

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