Remembering VE Day, May 8, 1945
This past year, I have been privileged to present, with documentary filmmaker, Bonnie Friedman, our historic, related artwork, Mademoiselle Gigi and Operation Sussex. Bonnie and I felt compelled to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944, and the end of World War II, May 8, 1945. It is our intention to honor the men and women whose sacrifice won the war for the Allies. In the past year, we have presented at cultural centers, museums, literary cafés, churches, and libraries from Atlanta to Lafayette. We conclude our yearlong tour at the Alliance Française of New Orleans, Friday, May 8, 2015. World War II ended with the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers on May 8, 1945, which is known as VE day: Victory in Europe.
I open our program with a discussion of my historical novel, Mademoiselle Gigi, based on the true story of Gisèle “Gigi” Carriton. My book recounts Gigi’s early life as a young Jewish girl struggling to survive the Nazi occupation of France. Gigi and her family lived in a lowly garden shed for four years on the edge of Lyon, France. They barely survived the war years on a diet of thin soups and soggy vegetables. At times they were on the run from the Gestapo. After the war, Gigi met and married a Louisiana Cajun soldier in Paris. As part of my presentation I discuss how French-speaking soldiers from Louisiana were employed as translators during the war. Gigi’s husband, Gerald Bertrand, was assigned to the renowned 4th armored division, which spearheaded General George Patton’s army across northern France and ultimately the liberation of Paris. Also, I relate the story of Gigi as a naïve, young war bride arriving in America in the spring of 1946.
Bonnie Friedman follows with a screening of her documentary Operation Sussex, which honors the men and women of an Allied secret spy mission. The documentary was shot on location in France and England with the last remaining participants. The film shows actual footage of what German occupation wrought, and explores how and why a group of deeply patriotic French men and women individually found their way to this volunteer mission. The people and places are seen again for the first time since the operation ended so many years before.
At almost every presentation, we have been approached by people who wanted to share stories of a loved one’s sacrifice towards winning the war. One woman remembered when she was a young girl that her father fought in the war at the Battle of the Bulge. She told us, “Dad never talked about the war for the rest of his life.” A younger brother related. “My brother was a different man when he came home.” The most interesting story came from Nell Calloway, granddaughter of General Chennault and director of the Chennault Military and Aviation Museum on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Her grandfather was stationed in China during World War II and founded the famous “Flying Tigers.” The flight missions against the Japanese saved millions of lives and General Chennault is still a hero to the Chinese people today.
World War II was the seminal event of the 20th century. The effects of the war are still affecting people in the 21st century today. Take a moment to reflect upon those who served and died for our freedom.
I am truly thrilled to announce my short story “Chez Gisele is Born” has been published in Deep South Magazine. The humorous story is a novel excerpt from my second novel,, “I ♥ Gigi.” Please share this link to find out how three little scrawny gay boys changed Lafayette’s gay history. It’s hilarious. http://deepsouthmag.com/2014/03/chez-gisele-is-born/
The play and the book celebrate the life of Gisele “Gigi” Carriton. I have to think Gigi is in heaven, smiling. Thank you Rick Rowan for your fantastic, artistic vision of my play. You and the cast have taken it to a new level. Last night, the guest
audience at dress rehearsal laughed, cried, and hooted and hollered their approval. Thank you Ted Richard for all your hard work as producer and the PRIDE festival for choosing and supporting my play and book about Gigi’s life. I know we’re going to have an awesome three-week run and my heart overflows with happiness at the goodness my artistic endeavor has brought to fruition.
Yesterday, I had the honor of being a guest on Cheryl Castille’s show, The Exchange.
We discussed my journey as an artist/writer and the incredible, fortuitous luck I have had as an author of plays, books, short stories, and poems. Please click on the link below to hear my interview by Cheryl Castille on the KRVS radio show, The Exchange.
The inaugural Acadiana PRIDE Festival celebrates the life of a Lafayette legend, Gisele “Gigi” Carriton, with a March 27-April 11 production run of Dennis Ward’s play, Chez Gisele, at the Cité des Arts Theater. A special premier night, Thursday, March 27, 2014, will feature the novelist and playwright, Dennis Ward, discussing the life of Gigi, his writing journey, and signing copies of his latest novel, Mademoiselle Gigi.
The late Gisele “Gigi” Carriton (1928-2008) is a beloved, historical figure in the Acadiana community. She was owner of the first gay, cabaret nightclub in the decades 1960-1970. In an era of emerging gay rights, Ms Carriton provided not only a place of entertainment, but her nightclub was a safe haven from discrimination and persecution for her gay friends. Gigi even took the extraordinary measure of sheltering gays in her home who had been abandoned by their families. Dennis Ward’s award winning play, Chez Gisele, is a portrait painting of those years and will have its third production since 2010.
Who was this French woman who married a Cajun soldier after World War II in Paris? She was the only child of an upper class financier of the early aviation industry in France and lived quite comfortably before the war in a lavish apartment in an area of Paris known as Les Gobelins. Her Jewish family had immigrated to France at the turn of the 20th century during the time of the pogroms in Russia. Dennis Ward’s first novel in the Gigi series, Mademoiselle Gigi, recalls Gigi’s struggle as a young Jewish girl struggling to survive the Nazi occupation of France. The novel is set in France from 1940-1946 and is the first volume of the Gigi series. Fast forward twenty years later, the same Gigi finds herself the owner of the infamous gay cabaret nightclub, Chez Gisele, championing the cause of her gay friends.
Dennis Ward is proud and humbled the inaugural Acadiana PRIDE Festival chose to open the festival with his stage play, Chez Gisele. The honor confirms the petite French lady, Gisele “Gigi” Carriton, will always be a part of Lafayette gay history. For further details or tickets, contact Cite des Arts Theater at 337-291-1122 or online at citedesarts.org.
I will release and sign copies of my historical fiction novel, Mademoiselle Gigi, December 14th from 5-7pm at Cite des Arts at 109 Vine St., downtown Lafayette, Louisiana. The novel is based on the life of Gisele “Gigi” Carriton, a fictional account of her life as a Jewish teenager struggling to survive the Nazi occupation of France. Gisele “Gigi” Carriton was a resident of the Acadiana region from 1946 to the end of her life in 2008. Dennis Ward’s other major artistic work about the life of the late Ms Carriton is the popular play, Chez Gisele, the story of Gisele “Gigi” Carriton’s years of owning the infamous gay cabaret nightclub, Chez Gisele, in Lafayette during the 1960s to 1970s. In addition, I will read a short segment from my novel and will discuss the aspect of the story of how a Parisian Jewish girl became a war bride and began her new life in Louisiana in the spring of 1946. If you are unable to attend the book launch, the book is available at Amazon by clicking the following link: Mademoiselle Gigi by Dennis Ward.
Since my childhood, my friend, Larry, has always been passionate about river dancing. He was obliged to be in the closet about his love of the Irish modern folk dance because he was raised in a strict Baptist household that held the view dancing was a sin. To Baptists, dancing was right behind axe murder and stealing thy neighbor’s wife and making off to Las Vegas.
When Larry had openly expressed an interest in river dancing to his parents, they responded by visiting Pastor Klumpath, the minister of the Perpetually Burning Souls Baptist Church. He told Larry he had been planted with the demon seed of dance. Dancing was vainglorious and evil. He was placed on a junior league football team to toughen his senses and get him on right track. But instead of blocking and tackling, Larry river danced a fifty yard pass through the goalposts for the opposing team. Congregants prayed over him, and Larry was forced into a cold tub of ice water where he wasn’t released until he swore on a stack of bibles he would never point-hop-toe ever again.
The ice water bath did not deter Larry. He spent long hours in his room secretly practicing river dancing and even stole his sister’s plaid skirt to wear as a kilt. Although I never saw a river dancer wear a plaid skirt, I never mentioned this to Larry. Hey, whatever blows your dress over your head is my motto. Or should I say blow your plaid skirt over your head. Larry would practice for long hours with his arms super glued down to his sides and his legs would knee-jerk up and his toes would crisply land between cardboard swords. Heaping into the air with the grace of a NBA center, Larry would come down hard with a loud thud. Pieces of plaster would fall on Larry’s parents’ heads as they watched the 700 Club. They furiously pounded on his bedroom door screaming, “Larry! I pray to God you’re not dancing in there.” Larry would breathlessly respond, “No, mom, we’re praying hard for those lost souls who dance.”
I’ll never forget the time the Irish river dance troop performed in our city. To attend the concert, Larry had fabricated an elaborate lie, telling his parents we would be attending a Christian rock concert. I wore an entire outfit of green, figuring I couldn’t go wrong for the occasion. Larry wore his sister’s plaid skirt. A mean guy came up to Larry and told him men wore kilts only in Scotland. Larry was unfazed. We both enjoyed the performances of the river dance troupe—especially Michael Flatley. In his skin-tight pants, he was a sort of a Pan coming out of the Irish mists, simulated by fog machines to set the mood for the audience. Then disaster struck, a few members of the Perpetually Burning Souls Baptist church recognized Larry and I in the audience. Later, they would tell Pastor Klumpath and Larry’s parents that their presence at the concert was only for the purpose of saving souls. “We were trying to dissuade those dancing sinners from their evil ways,” they said. “We didn’t enjoy the performance at all.” Not only were Larry’s parents upset about lying about attending the river dance concert, but they went nuclear about Larry wearing his sister’s plaid skirt. Larry was grounded for the rest of high school. TV cameras were installed to monitor his room twenty-four hours a day. He was pulled out of public school and sent to a Christian boot camp, where medieval torture practices flourished upon the wretched sinners who even thought about dancing. Several years went by and I had not seen or heard from Larry. It didn’t surprise me that we had grown apart. Some mutual friends told me he was an over-the-top religious zealot. When I asked them specifically what Larry was doing they giggled and didn’t divulge any details. One day I was driving down a busy highway where I spotted Larry carrying a huge timbered cross and river dancing at the same time. He wore a plaid skirt, but at least it wasn’t his sister’s skirt from long ago because Larry had gained substantial girth. Those point-hop-toe steps weren’t the same from Larry’s youth, but he had a strange smile on his face, and he seemed content in his combined love of God and river dancing.
Last night James and I celebrated Halloween by attending the “Boom Boom Burlesque” show at Cite des Arts. Before last night’s show, I was a “Boom Boom” virgin, but the bawdy, busty ladies and two sexy boys readily took care of that aspect. The packed house hooted and hollered their approval of the risqué, sexy performances led by skeleton host master, Rick Rowan. Boom Boom is everything of the old-style burlesque traditions of dance, satire, innuendo, and comedy, and a whole lot more. Their next live show will be “Boom Boom Burlesque After Dark” at Steampunk Maker’s Fair at Cite des Arts, November 9th, the show promises to be sizzling hot! For more information about performances and the Steampunk Maker’s Fair go to citedesarts.org.
Welcome to Dennis Ward’s Writer’s Hat blog. This is my first blog post. I promised this would a blog where you might find a laugh or a chuckle. So I mined a memory from many years ago when I lived in the city of Atlanta; before it was a big international gateway city to our country and the world. In those years, genteel accents could still be heard and navigating the streets was infinitely easier. All the time I lived there, I constantly found myself in strange encounters. They say like attracts like, so maybe I’m a little strange, too. You can bet your bottom dollar. I hope you enjoy this short piece and feel free to comment and peruse my literary garden of books, plays, and short stories.
“Your credit score is marginal, Mr. Ward,” the matronly new accounts manager sniffed. “I’m afraid you do not meet our impeccable credit standards to open a checking account.” How could this be I asked? I had always paid my bills on time. Sometimes I sent extra money just to make sure the next utility bill would be covered in case the apocalypse wiped out civilization. I would be happy dying of radiation poisoning, knowing my Atlanta Gas & Light account was fully satisfied.
Indeed, when I checked my account with said utility company, I owed eight dollars and it had been past due for three months. Yes, I had put in a change of address after moving; however, the postman on my route would later be found guilty of throwing bundles of mail in his favorite ditch. My final gas bill lay unpaid at the bottom of a frog pond. Equifax, deity and master of the credit universe, would brand my credit report for seven years as one of those feckless deadbeats who pay their bills late. Actually, I should have been caned for my credit sins.
Unable to cash my paychecks at a bank forced me to drive to the south side of Atlanta to cash my meager pittance at Pay Day Loans, located in a seedy rundown shopping center. Each check cashed came with an added bonus of an extremely high check cashing fee. I stood shoulder to should with those struggling to live paycheck to paycheck. Some of the customers borrowed small amounts of cash against their paychecks and were obliged to pay interest in amounts equal to buying a fleet of Cadillacs. Pay Day Loans did not flinch at charging interest in excess of three-hundred percent. In the money lending food chain, Pay Day Loans was at the lowest rung. They were a pack of vultures and their victims were spared no mercy. Big burly thugs welding lead pipes and baseball bats battered down front doors to collect grandma’s social security check. No one was spared; even Mother Teresa would have been cold-cocked.
One Friday as I waited in queue at Payday Loans, an attractive lady ahead of me tried to cash a check. The surly clerk behind the bullet proof glass looked at the check as if it had been drawn from the First National Bank of Adolph Hitler. She refused to cash the check. No amount of supplications or identifications changed the officious clerk’s mind.
The attractive woman began unbuttoning her blouse, causing all the men in the establishment to immediately lose interest in The Price is Right. She took off her bra and let it drop to the floor. Behind the bulletproof glass, the officious clerk’s angry screams could not compete with the male customer’s whoops. Mothers covered their small children’s eyes, but they almost suffered their hands being bitten off. Next the slacks were disrobed and when the panties came down a roar rose up that drifted down Stewart Avenue. The attractive lady stood defiantly naked and by this time the small business was packed. There had only been a handful of customers at Pay Day Loans prior to the birthday suit fanfare.
I thought the negative reaction of the officious Pay Day Loan clerk was entirely misguided. The attractive naked lady was not only beneficial for business but soon attracted a reporter from a local news channel. The free publicity was tremendous. She not only should have cashed her check without that outrageous check cashing fee, but maybe she should have been given a house prize, too. A toaster or better yet, a lifetime supply of depilatory crème would have been nice. A minivan and film crew arrived and filmed the naked lady, later blurring her nether regions for wholesomeness for the six o’clock news.
I offered the naked lady a blistering hot cup of coffee; but later, when I returned home, I thought that could have been risky business. I hoped the naked lady didn’t think it was my intention to scald her sensitive erogenous zones. Heaven forbid. Upon reflection, I should have offered her milk. Cold milk would have been much more appropriate. Where’s a good old fashion milk bar when you need it at times like these?
Unfortunately, my naked friend was hauled away by the police. There I was on the six o’clock news offering a cup of coffee to the naked lady as if I were doling out java at Starbucks. My mother was so proud she told all her friends and video recorded the event, figuring that was the closest I would ever get to my five minutes of fame.
In the end, I was glad that postal worker threw my final gas bill in the ditch. I would have never had the pleasure of standing next to a naked lady at a boring bank. The forces of the universe brought us together over a steaming hot cup of Folgers.