Inverted Interrobang

Inverted Interrobang
December 14
video / poesía / bilingüe


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AUGUST 29, 2010 8:07AM

Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense

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This is Pierre Auguste Gentieu. A really great, great great grandfather of mine.


Pierre Gentieu

At age 18, circa 1860, he left Orthez, Basses-Pyrénées, France, for America. He carried a letter of safe passage and introduction with him, which his granddaughter, my grandmother, Harriet Sarah Gentieu, showed to me, when I was very young.

Also, she told me this story...

Upon arrival, he went to live with his uncle’s family, in Brooklyn, above their Bakery. But growing restless, he moved to New Orleans, where many more people spoke French.

Pierre was young and adventurous, so he joined the New Orleans Artillary. After all, his grandfather and granduncle had fought alongside Napoleon!

But he didn’t realize that his regiment had become a Confederate militia. Just then, Farragut, Butler and others began the Siege of New Orleans. 

His company was ordered to leave, so they left and hastily bivouacked at a place called Thibodeaux, Louisiana. There, Captain Theard called his men into formation. 

He told them that they were about to cross state lines, and that if any had reservations about fighting for the Confederate cause (such as it was), they could leave now. 

After some discussion and a little translation, Pierre stepped out. He waited alone, struggling with his conscience, his pride, and his sense of self preservation. 

He was ready, at any moment, to receive a musket ball in the back. After awhile, twenty or so more stepped forward, only to be met with jeers and insults. But, the good Captain Theard

held his men in check, until Pierre, with the others following, had disappeared into the woods. Making his way back to New Orleans, he enrolled in the 13th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

He fought several years for the Union, and saw many men die, much human suffering, and senseless tragedy. At last, he himself was wounded. But, finally the war ended, 

as all wars do (only to begin again). Meanwhile, he had taught himself photography and become a skilled draftsman. He married, got a job with Du Pont de Nemours, and settled in Delaware. 

In the hallway outside my bedroom, when I was a boy—on windy nights, with the branches of tall oak trees brushing against the sides of my grandparents big, old, victorian house 

—I used to stare at his paintings, that hung there, in antique, carved, wooden frames. Depictions of civil war camps, teepees and horse and buggies, muskets and ammunition... 

And I always thought, isn’t it a wonder—I’m here at all?

HSG my grandmother.

some links to Pierre Gentieu:

NB-I have never met the above Gentieu family members, but I am grateful for their informative sites; which helped me to corroborate, and add some detail to this post.

::A day after the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. 

::Nina Simone

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::Thanx Linda~mouse on hip~the fastest commenter in the OS! Really, I do appreciate. Only problem is; I'm still so lousy at this, that I've already made about twenty edits... plus I had to change the video for another 'cause the first wouldn't play!!!¡¡¡???¿¿¿
I dare say... diana!~~~Thanx for stopping by.
:IslandJan and cathwen; Just noticed your comments this afternoon and have attempted to PM you. But am having some issues with massiveMS updates, and general OS wigidiggery, etc. Trials and trib's of the cyberworld! What a surprise though! It's late now, here in Venezuela, so it may have to be for tomorrow... I will respond! ~WG
Dear Janice and Mary Jane: Since my PMs don't seem to be reaching you I'll try another method and paste my PM to you here in my comments section (I suppose at this moment really "our" or "Pierre's" comment section. Since now I know you names please unstand some of the misdirected contact. Let's keep trying!

Hello IslandJan and cathwen and what a pleasant surprise. Just when one thinks, one is alone in the world, these broken links of chain come back to reunite, if only virtually. Well, not really “alone” alone, I’ve my own little family here, but the family I grew up in, broke apart, and was left behind long ago.

I wrote, actually, a long PM, as they call them here at OS, last night. I sent it, and it promptly disappeared. Will I never learn. So here, I’ll try to recompose and remember, copy and paste it tonight. Better.

My own small branch of the “persimmon tree” reaches back like so: I am the son of Patricia Carolyn, who is the daughter of Harriet Sarah Gentieu, who (I was told) was the daughter of Frederick Gentieu, who was the son of Pierre Gentieu. Which, (if I haven’t missed anyone!) makes Pierre my great-great-grandfather and me his greatgreatgrandson.

I wish my wife was here, she’s back home in Trinidad right now visiting family. She’s much better at these calculations than I am. Trinidadians have to be, they have huge families!

Harriet had two other children. My mother the youngest. My Aunt Jean (Maude) the eldest, and my Uncle Robert (Laird) in the middle. My mother was born in Havana, Cuba pre-Castro, where Harriet and my grandfather Howard John lived for a number of years. They also had lived in Brazil and the Philippines.

My grandmother Harriet was an avid collector of memorabilia and chronicler (in voluminous “scrap” albums) of their world travels.

My parents divorced and for many years (basically, grew up in) I lived with Harriet and Howard in a large, old, Victorian house in Island Heights, NJ. The house mentioned, at the end of “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”.

Harriet Sarah Gentieu lived into her nineties, although she suffered from severe alzheimer’s for the last two decades (at least) of her life. She passed away in a nursing home in Vermont, and was buried in Berlin, NJ. I was one of the pallbearers who helped carry her to her final resting place (in fact, the only family member who volunteered).

Forgive me, this was many years (decades), and many adventures and life transforming experiences ago. I was only around ten to fifteen years old, when she told me some of the history about the Pierre Gentieu and family.

Anecdotally, I can relate the following histories that form, in part, (Gentieu) family folklore to which I was exposed.

Apparently, Harriet and my grandfather met when; at the Dupont Powder Plant, Brandywine, Wilmington, Delaware; they were preparing to lay the first stone or brick of a new construction. At which Frederick Gentieu was, in some capacity, involved, or in charge. They had the young workers, of which Howard, my (future grandfather) was one, stand at a distance, and whoever reached first (to cut the ribbon or lay the stone or whatever) won (whatever). So, Howard won! And though (obviously) she was not the prize, in the long run, he caught the eye of Harriet. They began to see one another. Howard was an avid tennis player (I remember seeing the original tennis rackets [wood and steel, strung originally with cat gut! I was told!] in the house) and he taught Harriet, who was quite ahead of her time and unconventional, as it were; a tomboy not a debutante.

Another anecdote (one I find difficult to believe) is that, for some reason, the speaking of French was not encouraged in the household.

I also remember my mother and Aunt Jean talking about an Aunt Celeste who would, on occasion, visit them when they lived briefly in Ventnor (close to Atlantic City), after returning from abroad. They described her as very ridgid, religious, wearing high starched collars and long sleeves in the heat of summer. (Please, as I say, these are just childhood stories to me, I never knew her!)

I also remember, when I was very young, the only time, at least in my memory, that another Gentieu family member came to visit us in Island Heights. I believe he may have been a great uncle, perhaps, to me. I remember him because he had a great sense of humour. My own grandfather, though he had a sense of humour too, was normally, very serious. They were smoking cuban cigars that my grandfather had smuggled out just before the revolution, (he had a huge collection, stashed in the attic of the house, one of my favorite places, full of cedar cigar boxes and stored away history.) Being young myself, and not knowing any better, I believe I remarked on how big his (Great Uncle Gentieu’s?) ears were. He promptly showed me how he could blow smoke rings and make them appear as if they came out of his ears! I loved this guy. Unfortunately, I met him only that once, but he remains in my memory.

When I still lived in the states, I once visited the Brandywine, Hagley Museum, where there is a collection of Pierre Gentieu’s photographs. I was treated as an honored guest by the curator of the day, obviously owing to the gratitude the museum (and Duponts?) must have, for the unique, pictoral history, of the early Eleutherian Mills and Dupont Powder Works, recorded in the lense of Pierre Gentieu. I still have the carnet, that I was given, to access the library and the collection. While there, I was told about Penny Gentieu who apparently was one of the few other Gentieu family member to have visited during that time.

There are, at least, two prominent Gentieu sites that I know of, on the web. One, by Penny Gentieu (Photographer) who has chronicled, quite thoroughly Pierre’s life; and the other by Sally Gentieu Welch. I have never met either. Perhaps “you” are they??? If so, pleased to meet you! If not, pleased to meet you anyway!!

Lastly, please allow me a small, but important clarification.

As, of course, the Gentieu name comes down to me, via my mother’s side, it is not my legal name but my nom de plume, which as I am a writer, I adopted (now decades ago) in honor (and inspiration) of our common ancestor.
And finally, as I am still miserably, inept, with the tools and practice of blogging, I’m still finding myself, constantly scurrying to repair and perfect my posts. My friend Markinjapan has only just sent me a PM on how to make links (which, I have yet to finish reading, since I’m attending to “your” surprise!) You will see an example of this, if you read my long comment/explaination in the comments section of my post “Coriolus Force (sic)”!!aaarrr.... Anyway, I’m trying to catch up, catch up!, and still attend to my daily chores and get sleep too... ! All this, I’m saying, because if “you” are, Penny or Sally (IslandJan & cathwen), I need to apologise, I guess, because I had meant to include your links, just as soon as I figured out how!

So, that’s all I can do for now, and pleased to meet you, and looking forward to hearing from you, perhaps... Hope you’ll consider dropping in on my blog, Inverted Interrobang, once in awhile... mi casa es tu casa... Saludos~Will Gentieu

NB-I will try to put up an image of my grandmother HSG on the same post, as soon as I can scan it.
We've never met. Wilmington, Del. I believe.
Excerpt from The Beatitudes: A Pinch and Scrimp Adventure by Lyn LeJeune, in both Kindle and book. A book for and about New Orleans (proceeds go to The New Orleans Public Library Foundation)

She had grown up in a New Orleans housing project shamefully named Desire. Desire had been constructed in an isolated area northwest of greater New Orleans, bordered by industrial canals and railroad tracks. Pinch often recounted her nights as a young child lying on the floor under a matted blanket listening to gunshots in the night. Desire had been built in the late 40s over the Hideaway Club where Fats Domino had played his first gigs. Pinch swore she could hear Fats sing “My Blue Heaven” just for her. As Pinch’s childhood tumbled forward, she learned survival skills. By the age of twelve, she had tried just about every street drug going and stole to keep from going hungry, acquiring the nickname Pinch. She would have been doomed to a child’s death but for the help of an aged aunt. Pinch pulled herself up, finished high school, and made it through college by working sometimes two shifts as a housekeeper in seedy hotels that bordered the Ninth Ward. A city auditor once asked her why she hadn’t worked in the Lafayette Square District or the famous 625 St. Charles suites. “You could have paid for a Ph.D. with the tips alone.” And she replied: “Well, I guess ‘dis sista just feeling mo’ secure wid da brothers. Ozanam Inn be my place, homeless peoples and all.” Then she rubbed his arm. The poor guy broke out in a sweat, brushed his thinning hair back with an aged-spotted trembling hand, and looked at me for intervention. Later I asked Pinch why she’d stuck it to the auditor; she shrugged her shoulders and replied: “I guess just every once and a while I have to remind myself where I come from. Pride has many forms, love.” Pinch had overcome. She was the bravest person I ever knew.

Elijah Rising
Note: The comments thread on this post, along with most of my other blog posts, was seriously mangled when OS management accidently deleted/restored many of the long standing member's blogs.
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