The Christmas present I remember best is not the one I received, but the one I was able to give my parents. This gift is still the most special.
My parents were married on Mardi Gras Day 1946. Their wedding invitations were handwritten so that when my father called in from the Navy, the date could be filled in and the invitations mailed. I think the wedding was over before many invitations reached their destination.
I remember seeing a photo here and there of my beaming parents, my dad in military uniform with my mom and their wedding party in my grandparents’ living room, but there weren’t many pictures that I remember having seen from the wedding itself. The reason for the missing photos? Our house in Plaquemine burned down in 1958.
The fire started upstairs and the contents of the attic, including all the old photos, were destroyed. Our house was rebuilt, this time with matching fire escapes to ensure our safety as most of the eight of us slept upstairs. Things that could be replaced were replaced over time. Unfortunately, many images were now just memories in the mind.
Fast forward to many years later when I was at the local baseball park with my three kids. Plaquemine native Orney Hebert came up to me and asked, “Aren’t you one of the Ohlmeyer girls?”
“Yes, I’m Heddie.”
“Well, Dr. Cameron used to take all the pictures in Plaquemine and his wife gave me the negatives when she died. I just found an envelope that says on the front, ‘To Mercedes Postell Ohlmeyer.’ I was wondering if they would like it.”
Imagine my excitement when I opened the envelope to discover all the negatives from my parents’ long-ago wedding!
My mom and dad had raised the eight of us, hosting our weddings at home and giving each of us a wedding album. So, as the baseball season faded and the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons approached, plans quickly formed on how to surprise my parents. I let my siblings know I had this Christmas gift covered. I found a photography studio in Baton Rouge that prints old negatives and chose a wedding album for the cherished collection.
Christmas Eve finally arrived. Gatherings at our house can only be described as organized chaos. The eight brothers had given birth to 22 children of their own, who excitedly tore packages.
Finally, after all the craziness, it was time to give our parents their gift. Crickets were heard as they opened the photo album they hadn’t seen in years; pictures they thought were destroyed when our house burned down.
Needless to say, my parents were thrilled with the album. It was the first time in a long time that they had seen many of the images they were seeing, and we were excited to step back into such a beautiful time in their lives.
With all the excitement and squeals of joy from the grandchildren hanging in the air, I still maintain that my parents’ gift was the best gift of the night.
— Carville lives in Plaquemine.