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Tombs and Skulls

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Apr. 23rd, 2014 | 02:32 am

Tombs and Skulls (by Darrick Patrick)

On numerous occasions, my mother Rita's friend Perry McAuley would stop by the house when we were living on the corner of Ursulines and St. Claude outside of the French Quarter.  Sometimes it was for dinner, generally it was to drink and then go out to see some bands play at a bar somewhere around the city.

This was in 1995 or 1996, or maybe a bit of both of those years.  I was between fourteen to sixteen years old.  As a teenager, I was into some fairly dark stuff in an attempt to better understand the many aspects of life.  To an extent, I actually always have been.  And of course I am still to a point.  However, at that time I think I would have been down to experience the "Cities of the Dead" in a way that I wouldn't come close to touching now.

One of the things "Uncle" Perry always mentioned to me when he came over was that he wanted to take me out into the night to explore the tombs and gather skulls.  For those of you who don't know, you can't really bury the dead in New Orleans.  With the city being under sea level, it makes the water table very high.  When digging the traditional six-foot-deep hole, it begins to fill with water.  If you do happen to get a decent burial, the rising water or eventual flooding will most likely force the casket out of the ground and back to the surface.

Out of necessity, the bodies of the deceased in NOLA are kept above ground in burial vaults.  Over time, a lot of these tombs begin to contain many people.  To make room for others, the older remains are moved to the sides and back of the vaults.  Collections of bones begin to accumulate inside the rows upon rows of what appears to be miniature houses or little concrete sheds.

As with any structures, natural damage occurs to them and parts of the tombs are sometimes cracked open.  If you were curious enough to be so inclined, you could make your way inside of them.  And that's what Perry wanted me to do with him.  To go shifting through the bones in search of human skulls.

After months and months of suggesting it to me, I figured I would be down for a weird and unforgettable evening with Perry.  I approached my mother and asked for her permission, as it should be when it involves accompanying a parent's friend somewhere.  Especially to cemeteries.

"Hell no, boy," said Rita. "You aren't going to steal damned skulls with Perry."  She shoots an annoyed look at Perry, who shrugs his shoulders.  "You can get locked up doing that shit, ya' know.  If you want to go with him when you're older to get in the coffins, you can then.  Not now.  You're too young," she tells me, "I said no and that's the end of it."

Being my mother though, I was actually surprised she didn't just say, "Be careful, watch out for guys that look like girls, and bring home some milk."  Thankfully I didn't get the nod on that one.  In my adult mind, I wouldn't invade a private area made for showing respect to those who are no longer with us.  The teenage me wasn't thinking that far though.  It was probably more along the lines of just being fascinated with death, and life, how it relates, and what it's all about.

In actuality, Perry might have been bullshitting me the whole time about going out for that particular excursion.  Perhaps my mom was just playing along with it all.  Within the same paragraph though, I've also heard stories of Rita doing that exact thing with Perry and the skulls that she forbid me to do.  I do know neither of them were strangers to graveyards and death.  Truth be told, I never really gave it much thought after that.


Older story involving my mother Rita Patrick (R.I.P.)

For the growing list: http://darrickpatrick.livejournal.com/120723.html


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