A Bear Named Napoleon

It’s official. We broke a record for the coldest temperatures in New Orleans and surrounding areas. Low temperatures were in the mid-teens in most of the area for the past two nights. With icy roads, staying home was just about the only option most of us had. My little house is on piers. Combined low temperatures and wind were too much for the heater. During the worst of the storm, the heater could only push my house into the upper 50s inside.

Well, it’s almost over. Temperatures tonight will be bearable, hovering just below freezing. After that things will warm up to a more moderate level.

What does that have to do with bears and Napoleon? Nothing. But it’s worth noting it’s been wicked cold here just like in most of North America for the past few days.

Ursin Napolean Matherne.jpg
Ursin Napoleon Matherne

Now, on to Napoleon and bears. A few weeks ago, I wrapped up a photo/essay book about my father’s family. Probably the most intriguing ancestor in the book was Ursin Napoleon Matherne, my great- grandfather. Ursin is a derivative of Ursa, which means bear in Latin. And yes, his middle name was Napoleon.

Ursin’s life spanned the 19th and 20th century. He was born shortly after the Civil War ended, and he died as the Great Depression took hold of the country.

Ursin Napoleon Matherne was a conqueror of hearts, not nations. Ursin had many lovers, and many sons and daughters, too. He was officially married only once, to my great-grandmother, Clinda.

However he had lovers before her and afterward. He even seduced his wife’s sister during his marriage. She had his child, a boy who would forever live with a cloud over his head due to his father’s bearish ways.

His last lover was an Indian woman. She loved him fiercely, and he died with her. When he died, she cried over his body, and scarcely could bear it when the rightful, legitimate sons came to take his body away in a horse-drawn cart.

A bear when it’s angry can be fearsome. Ursin was fearsome in his love. His love, that had no regard for law or fidelity, wounded all who were close to him.

Irene Matherne school.jpg
Schoolchildren in front of Matherne School, cerca 1925.

In between ravaging hearts, Ursin Napoleon also found time to be quite successful. He started life as a hunter, selling hides to his uncle in New Orleans. When he died, he owned enough land to be measured in square miles, not just mere acres. He founded a school and a graveyard. He was a charter member of one of the sole Protestant churches in the region.

Church, you say? Yes. Ursin returned to his wife and sought forgiveness in the church over and over in his lifetime. One of his closest friends and confidantes was the pastor and founder of the Bayou Blue Methodist Church, in the midst of the community he lived. My mother tells me that the old folks used to recount that Ursin, when he was repentant, prayed most eloquently. Despite his faults, he managed to also be somewhat of a pillar of their little community.

matherne cemetery
My eventual resting place

I am a descendant of Ursin Napoleon Matherne. I was christened in the church he helped establish. One day, I will be buried in the cemetery he founded. And when the spirit moves, I can pray quite eloquently.

This essay concludes the family series. If you’re interested in this occasional series, find the tab marked family above to read the posts about the Matherne family.

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The White Flower

MargueriteToday’s post is a repeat of a post I wrote in 2012 when I lived in Honduras. 

Yesterday, a little girl named Marta handed a flower to me. At first, I demurred. My hands were full, literally, as I served plates of beans, eggs, and other goodies.

I passed her by a few minutes later to distribute fruit to children as they exited the building. Her hopeful face scanned mine, and then her eyes fell. I hadn’t taken the flower she had in her hand.

Then I stopped. I took her flower, tucked it into the side of my headband, and hugged and kissed her. Marta is like a daughter to me. I love her dearly. I am the closest thing she has to a mom, as her mom is occupied with working constantly to support their large family.

Without our help, Marta and her siblings would be far hungrier than they are now. Marta has received clothes, shoes, a school bag and other school supplies. Most days I don’t have time to read the Bible to her. And really, I don’t need to use words. She knows the love of God and of our team through our actions.

Yesterday afternoon, I was bombarded with other concerns after I tucked the flower behind my ear. Someone has stolen the water meter and connection to my house. Therefore, I had no water. With our level of bureaucratic nonsense, I can’t say for sure when it will be replaced. In addition, I had multiple demands on my time: a sick child in the hospital, a patient at our nearby clinic needing transportation, a woman needing comfort over a husband who was shot at work. (He is home, thank God, having suffered mainly superficial wounds.)

On the way home, I stopped to buy five gallon containers of water. As I lifted the bottles of water, I touched the flower. Yes, my life is sometimes one big headache. Honduras is a violent, crime-ridden place. Hunger, robbery, shootings, even murders are a daily backdrop of my life here.

My little flower is battered and just about done for. But the hope it represents! That’s the reason I am where I am, doing what I do, loving whom I love.

So we are not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfailing grace. . . there’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see will last forever.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Message Bible. 

This post was from 2012. My little friend eventually left our ministry, mainly because I encouraged her to receive the meals, education, uniforms, etc., that she was receiving through the work of a local Catholic charity. Her family was indeed one of the poorest in our neighborhood, and the Catholic charity there was doing an excellent work meeting the needs of her large family.