Whistling Past the Graveyard

A note from Curt

We continue with stories from ten years ago, as chronicled in our book,  Hearts across the Water.

Yesterday’s post,  Grandma Rodrigue, touched many of you, including me.

If you missed it, click here.

Today’s post is humorous.

It’s a true story of what happens when cultures collide.

I’d appreciate any of my Smyrna friends sending a photo of their church and the Garrett Collins Recreation Center. I’d also love a photo of Smiling Garrett.


New cover of 'Hearts across the Water' ebook.
New cover of ‘Hearts across the Water’ ebook.


Whistling Past the Graveyard

It’s ironic:  New Orleans folks are as scared of our rural graveyards as we are of theirs.

After Katrina, shelters filled up all over our part of Louisiana; there was a need for new shelters to open. My favorite shelter story comes from Smyrna Baptist Church. They were excited to open their family life center to evacuees. They waited for days for word of evacuees sent from the command center in DeRidder. Finally, several folks from a New Orleans group came to inspect the Smyrna facility.

Now before moving forward, let me tell you about our area. Smyrna is near the hamlet of Sugartown. Like Dry Creek, this area is extremely rural and all white. Our school of nearly 1000 had less than ten black students.

So this New Orleans group of black evacuees drives out in the dark to Smyrna Baptist. A fine welcoming committee is awaiting their arrival. The inspecting folks get out and walk around.

The Garrett Collins Memorial Family Life Center is lit up and the smells of a country supper greet everyone.

But there is one thing the four inspectors cannot quite take their eyes off: the graveyard.

It is adjacent to the church and life center.

As they return to their cars, they warily eye the graveyard with its white tombstones glistening in the moonlight.

Their last words are, “Thank you. We’ll get back to you.”

As you can imagine, that was the last we heard from the New Orleanians.

The country graveyard was a little too much for them.

Now before you are too hard on me, or think I’m a little too hard on them, let me confess: The one place I’m most scared of in New Orleans is their old cemeteries.

I’ve never been in St. Louis Cemeteries 1 or 2.

St Louis #1 Cemetery  New Orleans, LA.
St Louis #1 Cemetery New Orleans, LA.

As a boy I read stories of tourists being robbed while touring among these aboveground vaults. Driving past them, I could just see a mugger waiting behind each one for a lone stranger like me.

I’ve also seen too many movies where crimes happened among these N.O. Cemeteries.

I can still see poor Ashley Judd getting put away in one in the movie “Double Jeopardy.”

"Double Jeopardy" starring Ashley Judd and Tommie Lee Jones
“Double Jeopardy” starring Ashley Judd and Tommie Lee Jones

As I think about it, isn’t it ironic that these New Orleanians were scared of our cemetery while I am scared of theirs?

Many times I go to our Dry Creek cemetery at night to mark a grave or turn off the water.

It’s not really spooky to me.

But put me in New Orleans in the dark and I’d jump at every shadow.

Isn’t it amazing that whatever we are unfamiliar with often scares us to death?

Whistling past the graveyard we go . . .  whether it is at Smyrna Baptist Church or the St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery.



  1. I recall as a child visiting the Pleasant Hill Cemetery. One grave had a photo of the woman right on the face of the tombstone. A picture of the person buried there gave me the creeps. Somehow it was like looking down into the coffin. Still think about it when I drive by.

  2. I have been to both cemeteries in NO and took lots of photos of the grave sites and, as you, I was sure that something or someone was behind one of those structures. Structures for sure because none resembled graves as I knew them. I was never really scared but imagined what I would do if the rapture occurred at that time! Would I leave my camera there or take it with me? Or would I even go? Probably mostly Catholic buried there and did not know if they believed in the rapture. So I walked along the edge of the graveyard so that I could see daylight on one side which made me more comfortable. I did not stay very long. My father had a fish camp down on old River, south of Merryville on Bancroft Road. I spent many an hour there fishing, hunting, and just exploring the slues, lakes, and woods for the treasure that pirates had left along the river when it was truly the Sabine. As we turned off Bancroft road west toward the river, the road passed just behind a small graveyard with very old burials. There were various hardwood and pine trees surrounding the graveyard and when I stopped and examined the grave markings a clear singing came from the pines which I took to be mournful sounds from the remains of the bodies buried there. My father always said. ” Don’t worry about the dead ones, its the live ones you got to watch out for”. I captured some of my experiences, on the river, in detail in two books namely; “A collection of Short Stories” and “Little Berry Cooley”. Makes good reading if you are a Cooley or Cooley kin and not familiar with life around DeRidder and Beauregard Parish LA.
    Look for Jimmy Earl Cooley on google for details. JEC

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