Monday, December 29, 2008

WRITER ON THE BAYOU


During Christmas holidays, Morris Raphael, New Iberia writer and long-time friend, invited a few people over for a soiree, and I enjoyed my annual Christmas visit with him, his wife, Helen, and daughter Roseanne who had come in from Berkeley, California. Morris is now 91 and still writes a column for “The Daily Iberian,” an upbeat commentary that highlights people and events in Teche country. Through the years, he has been one of my most ardent supporters in this writing venture we share, and he always tells visitors about our mutual admiration society as we “scratch each other’s backs” about the books and newspaper articles we’ve written.

Morris has published thirteen books, ranging from Louisiana history to several mysteries based in Cajun country. One of his novels entitled “Mystic Bayou” is about Hitler being transported in a German sub to the swamps of south Louisiana and hidden there at the end of WWI. It has always been my favorite of his books, and I think it’s worthy of a movie version. His “Battle in the Bayou Country,” concerning a Civil War battle near Franklin, Louisiana, has been his biggest seller and is in its fifth printing.

Morris and Helen fell in love while they were stationed in Brazil – he served as a construction project engineer with Copebras and Helen as translator with the U.S. Information Agency, and they met in Santos, Brazil. Helen, a Californian, was on her second tour of duty; Morris, a native of Natchez, MS, was on his first assignment to build a carbon black plant near Cubatao, Brazil. His memoir about the Brazilian years is another of my favorites and encompasses the Raphael storybook romance on the beaches of Gonzaga in Santos and Copacabana in Rio. In 1985, 27 years after living in Brazil, the Raphaels visited old friends and former Copebras officials in Sao Paulo. As Morris is a Civil War enthusiast, he visited Vila Americana, located northwest of Sao Paulo, which is a place established by Confederate expatriates who left the USA because they didn’t want to live under Yankee rule. Morris found several graves of former St. Mary Parish Louisiana residents who had settled in Vila Americana and includes a chapter about this visit in “My Brazilian Years.”

Among the visitors at the Raphael Christmas party was Will Chapman, publisher of “The Daily Iberian,” who commented that he had given Morris carte blanche to write about anything he wished in his column because he had increased the readership of “The Daily Iberian” tremendously since he launched his column several years ago. I can understand Morris’s popularity because he recognizes the accomplishments of many Iberians in his stimulating column. Each time I publish a book, Morris gives me a “puff” in “The Daily Iberian, and it’s usually a glowing review. He has friends throughout the U.S., and many of his books are distributed abroad.

Morris is past president of the Attakapas Historical Association, the Iberia Cultural Resources Association, the New Iberia Kiwanis Club, and the Jeanerette Rotary Club. He served on the Council of the Shadows-on-the-Teche at New Iberia, and has served on the board of the St. Mary Chapter of Louisiana Landmarks. He has been a long-time member of the Louisiana Writers Guild, the Louisiana Historical Association, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He was one-time city editor of the “Franklin Banner-Tribune,” and received the Jefferson Davis award from the United Daughters of the Confederacy in recognition of his historical works in 1979. In 1985 he was inducted into the Iberia Parish Second Wind Hall of Fame, and in 1991, he was honored with the Cajun Culture Award for his efforts to advance Cajun culture.

Helen is Morris’s best reader and supporter – she’s an omnivorous reader with an encyclopedic mind honed at Monmouth College in Illinois and at UCLA. In addition to her stint with the U.S. Information Agency, she once worked as an engineer at North American Aviation, as well as taught math at Mt. Carmel High School in New Iberia. A gourmet cook, Helen sets one of the best tables in New Iberia. I’ve never seen the Raphaels perform on the dance floor, but I’m told they’re really dazzling dancers, especially when the band strikes up a Latin American tune called “Quando, Quando, Quando!”

Recently, Morris fell and broke his arm while he was delivering his column to “The Daily Iberian,” and I understand he wrote a column at Christmas, despite his handicap, and had his daughter Roseanne email it – a “first” for him. He’s a role model in stamina and dedication to the writing craft, and I hope he finds time to publish a collection of Civil War stories, accompanied by his original drawings of battles in Teche country, during the New Year. Salud, Morris!!
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