What’s With the Peacock?

17 July 2017
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I found myself in tears once again as the phone didn’t ring and there were zero emails.   It was early 2007. I was sitting in the middle of the cake room at Cedar Grove trying to figure out how I could have convinced my husband to buy this place with me.   We were cut off from a major part of town just one day after we purchased the building in 2006, when the Huey P. Long Bridge started construction that would last for seven years.   The work at Cedar Grove was and still is insurmountable. Something and everything seemed to break, leak or crawl in every day. The advice from friends, family, and even strangers about how to improve our venue were endless. However, even if we had money to do those things, how would we get people to come to Waggaman?

Waggaman is a beautiful area twenty minutes from downtown New Orleans. It has a country setting where residents still sit on swings watching the stars at night and children still play outside.   That is what I saw anyway. “There was something about this place on old River Road,” and I was convinced that it would be the best venue in New Orleans. So I bought it.

Cedar Grove had roaming peacocks since the 1960’s.   Norma Wallace, a madam who sought refuge in Waggaman in the 1950’s, opened a restaurant in 1964. She called it: Tchoupitoulas Plantation Restaurant housed in Cedar Grove. Just out of prison, she was trying to start living a clean life after promoting prostitution for forty years. It would be a hard transition for the “gentlemen callers” to accept that the red room would no longer be the gateway to their desires. Instead, delicious steaks and craft cocktails were served throughout the house…this was Norma’s new beginning. But, guests didn’t come. It seems that the wives were not quite so forgiving of this building that had been a brothel just months before. Therefore, Norma had to think of ideas to give the building a new identity. One of the things that she did was to purchase hundreds of peacocks to lure in a new crowd. The going was rough at first but soon success prevailed. The restaurant grew in popularity and she eventually sold it for a very nice sum.

There were four peacocks left in 2006. I didn’t know why they were there but they intrigued me none the less. For the most part, they were shy.   Their feathers would remain close to their bodies hiding the beauty underneath. I would not see them for days. But then, I would be walking past the back door and one of them would be standing on the steps with their fan of feathers fluttering in the breeze. And, for a moment, the intense stress was lifted as I stood staring at this spectacular site.

As I sat on a broken wooden chair and a splintering table in 2007, it was my turn to come up with ideas that would lure clients to Cedar Grove. We had no money left to spend after agreeing to a hefty mortgage that would eventually endanger our family home.  We painted and cleaned every corner of the building.   However, the fresh paint on the house was only a start.   There were seven and a half acres of land that needed gardens and lights. Four peacocks to brighten the grounds were just not enough…or were they?

So, I started to cry on that day and pleaded with God to help. I had been in the wedding business for twenty years before purchasing Cedar Grove. My florist and music business were almost instantly successful. It was beyond my understanding how this failure had lured itself into my life. But, here I was not only trying to figure out how we would keep this place without losing our home, but also how I would do that with being pregnant with our seventh child! Yes, you read that right.

I was taken out of my fog by a loud knock at the front door. I looked around to make sure that it was not the ceiling falling in or a raccoon eating through the wall. It was a knock, however, so I quickly dried my eyes on my shirt. I was hesitant to open the door. After all, I looked terrible and felt horrifically nauseated from morning sickness. I didn’t look or feel like any venue owner I had met. Maybe the person at the door would just go away. But the knock just got louder.   So, I unlocked the door and hurricane shutters. When the shutters flew open from the wind, there was an excited lady standing on the front porch. I was confused at first as she professed, “I just had to stop! I just had to stop”!   As I turned my head slightly to the right, there the four of them sat on the railing of the porch. It was the peacocks with their fan of feathers out as if to say, “Look at us. Look at the beauty that we can make if you just give us a chance”.

I can’t remember if the lady on the porch even came in to the building that day. I can tell you that for the first year and a half every time that I was trying to convince a bride to book at Cedar Grove one of those peacocks would be waiting somewhere on the property with its open feathers. Sometimes it would even work! They roamed peacefully until we lost all of them during Hurricane Gustave. But, I’ve never forgotten them.

They were a symbol of hope for me at a time when all things were hopeless. I believe that they were the answer to my prayers that everything would be alright even though it would be years before that would happened. So, you will see little reminders of the peacocks at Cedar Grove. Our logo, feathers here and there on mantles or special colors on our Christmas tree remind me of where I started. I am not afraid to say that I cried many tears and came so close to closing Cedar Grove. Nor am I afraid to admit that every day I continue to climb the mountain even when I’m knocked down a few feet. I believe that there are countless people who are doing the same in business and in life even though our society tells them to pretend that everything is “perfect” on Facebook.   Thankfully, I also believe for all of us there is an “open feathered peacock of hope” waiting on the other side of the door. You just have to put your fears aside and be willing to open it.