This year’s celebration of the annual French holiday marking the storming of the Bastille was smaller, more intimate than some of the former big blowouts, but it had a character all its own.
In fact, Schneider Hospital nurse Cindy Rice, who was attending Sunday’s annual celebration for her first time with retired nurse Evelyn Quetel McLaughlin, caught the spirit of the evening.
Looking around the Joseph Aubain Ballpark parking lot, once again transformed into a brightly decorated miniature ballroom for the night, Rice said, "It’s like a private party, almost like a family reunion here, roped off in the parking lot. It makes me feel special."
The evening, in fact, is a family reunion of sorts, with many of the same families who mostly live in the neighborhood, everyone from grandmothers to teenagers greeting each other as though they hadn’t seen each another in years, as opposed to yesterday. That’s the fun of it.
The Frenchtown Civic Organization, under the watchful eye of president Henry Richardson, hosted the evening in style. Instead of everyone bounding for the refreshment stand in a stampede, Richardson asked all to sit at the tables adorned with red, white and blue tablecloths, where they waited to be served by local youngsters passing out canapes, lending an elegant touch to the evening.
Highlighting the evening was a performance by a group of the Sebastian Majorettes, including C’Anne Hunt, Richardson’s granddaughter. The 12-year-old and five others are on the way to the National Twirling Competition at the University of Notre Dame America’s Youth on Parade showcase next week in Indiana, under the guidance of the legendary Helen Sebastian Gabriel, who has run the well-known local group for the last 66 years.
The young women raised some money for the trip, selling little confections they had made under a mini-Eiffel Tower at the center of the lot.
While Richard Berry’s Get Together Quelbe Band kept folks on the make-believe dance floor, champagne flowed freely all evening, and a few political personalities – Delegate Donna Christensen, Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis and Sen. Myron Jackson – offered well-received remarks. Everybody was French for the evening.
Evelyn McLaughlin recalled many, many Bastille Days she spent across the street at the late Bar Normandie, which was owned by her father Anthony Quetel, the Frenchtown patriarch.
"Bastille Day was my father’s birthday," she said, "and every Bastille Day we were awakened by the Community Band marching in playing Happy Birthday. It was a tradition."
The evening wouldn’t have been complete without a few dances from octogenarian Elizabeth "Lellel" Aubain, who never misses a dance. Sunday she had a special partner, her nephew Michael Andrion, visiting from the states.
"Well," she said, "Michael isn’t really my nephew. His grandmother was my sister."
On the northside, French Heritage Week festivities were celebrated at Hull Bay, which was the site of the 25th Annual Bastille Day Kingfish Tournament, organized by the Northside Sportfishing Club.
A Northside Genealogy Chart was on display at the Hull Bay festivities, one of several Northside family histories being worked on.
The chart includes the first known French Berry names to arrive in the Caribbean from France. It covers approximately 293 years – 14 generations – of their descendants spanning both the island of St. Barths and St. Thomas. It includes 814 people, and more are being added as an ongoing project.