Jean would always introduce me by saying “This is Caroline – my boss.” For those who knew Jean, you can hear her voice – for those that didn’t know her, just image the classic New Orleans accent, mix in a hint of Victoria Jackson and young Judy Garland - all with an undercurrent of joie de vivre.
Jean was born and raised in New Orleans – a native who knew every street, every restaurant, everything about the city she loved. Jean would tell you where to get the best osso buco, that she preferred K-Pauls over Commander’s - “You know, if you tell ‘em you’re a local – you get in ahead of all the tourists.” quickly followed up with “And doesn’t Chef Paul look so much better after he lost that weight?”
Jean didn’t just know it – she shared it – gladly shared it. It was after calling on this knowledge several times, that I gave Jean the nickname – JeanStar – just like OnStar, except better, and I didn’t even have to pay a monthly fee.
You see, Jean was my go-to person whenever I got lost in New Orleans or any of the surrounding suburbs.
I missed a turn?
I called JeanStar.
I can’t find an address?
I called JeanStar.
I need a beignet in 5 minutes?
I called JeanStar. I’m not making this stuff up.
I would call Jean, and she would talk me through every turn, every merge, every stop light or sign until I reached my destination.
Jean officially became JeanStar when President Bush flew into the city and the NOPD stopped traffic on I10. I was stuck, so I called Jean.
“What should I do?”
After gathering enough information from me…
“What do you see?”
“I’m looking at the cop car in Kenner.”
…Jean had pinpointed my exact coordinates.
“Oh yea, yea. If you can get to the other side, you can ride on the shoulder and take the (I can’t recall which one) exit.”
We decided – together – that I needed to cross the median, go back in the other direction and then Jean would talk me, step-by-step, through my new, alternative route. I gave Jean a play-by-play…”I’m turning on to the median.”
Jean, “Go at an angle, go at an angle.”
“I’m going at an angle.”
“Don’t slow down – you’ll get stuck”
“I’m not slowing down.”
“Keep going…steady…not too fast…not too slow.”
“Keep it just right.”
“Almost there. I made it!”
“Oh, girl. You really had me going. Now, get on the shoulder and head down….”
It was then I first called her “JeanStar”. And we laughed.
You see, Jean was there with me – she was engaged – she was in to it. And that is how she was with everything. She gave herself, opened her heart, didn’t hold back. What you see is what you get. And what you got was pure honesty – in the truest sense of the word. If Jean was happy – you knew it. If her feelings were hurt, she didn’t try to hide it. If Jean was excited about something simple – she shared her excitement with you. Jean lived.
And so, JeanStar... good bye…when I think about the last few weeks of your life, it’s almost as if this poem was written just for you:
I stood watching as the little ship sailed out to sea. The setting sun tinted her white sails with a golden light, and as she disappeared from sight a voice at my side whispered, “she is gone”.
But the sea was a narrow one. On the farther shore a little band of friends had gathered to watch and wait in happy expectation. Suddenly they caught sight of the tiny sail and, at the very moment when my companion had whispered, “she is gone” a glad shout went up in joyous welcome, “Here she comes!”
I had a dream last night that I called you and said I couldn’t come to New Orleans to your funeral today. And you said “Aw girl, that’s alright. I know. I know.” And you know what? I believe you.