Ellen Byron

Was it Memory or Fantasy?

In 1984, after a friend’s wedding in Texas, I meandered my way through Cajun Country on the way to New Orleans and came upon a lovely small town on Bayou Teche. With its grassy square and gracious old buildings sporting wrought-iron balconies, the place had the flavor of a petite New Orleans. I carried the memory home with me, and years later fictionalized it as the picturesque village in my Cajun Country Mysteries series: Pelican, Louisiana.

My husband, daughter and I spent the holidays in Louisiana this year. I couldn’t wait to share with them the place that had so inspired me. I even booked a night in its one B&B. I was filled with anticipation as we drove through the countryside. But as soon as we pulled into the town, my heart sank. It just… wasn’t the same.250

There was a green, but it was less inviting than I recalled. The buildings, vibrant in my mind’s eye, were faded and there was much less lacy wrought iron. The town did have a dignified charm. But it wasn’t the charm I remembered.

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As we took a short walk down some preternaturally quiet streets, I wondered, was there any part of my memory I could trust? Was I even in the right town? Only the bayou lived up to the iconic image that I had locked away — an image that I couldn’t guarantee was set on this particular bayou bank.

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We didn’t spend the night at the B&B. Somehow it felt wrong to all of us, so we retreated to a motel by the interstate. And since I’ve been home, images of the real village clash with the fictional Pelican that I’ve created in my mind. While I’ve shared a few photos, you’ll notice that I haven’t named the town. It wouldn’t be fair. There’s too great a chance that time romanticized the place for me. The reality is that it’s perfectly lovely and I’m sure it’s a wonderful place to live. It’s just not the town of my daydreams.

I think what makes me sad is that I always took great joy in knowing that there really was a Pelican, Louisiana out there. Of course, it was not exactly the same as the “Cajun Brigadoon” I dreamed up, but very close. I haven’t given up hope that it exists, and that my jumbled memories just haven’t allowed me to find it again. Still, I wonder… was it ever real? Or was it a fantasy?

Readers, have you ever had the same experience? Where you revisited a special place that simply wasn’t the same as you remembered it?

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9 thoughts on “Was it Memory or Fantasy?

  1. That’s how I feel about my overgrown hometown. Not a matter of charm, exactly. I drive through there a couple of times a year. It used to be less expensive, less crowded, and most of the residents were a lot less rude. Ugh.

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