Small Business Saturday

In celebration of Small Business Saturday, we asked author Jessica Schexnayder to write a blog entry about her local bookstore, Cavalier House Books. Jessica and coauthor Mary Manhein will sign copies of FRAGILE GROUNDS at Cavalier House Books on November 25, 2017 from 2-4 p.m.

Fragile Grounds, Fragile Communities

As a Louisiana native, I have always felt a sense of pride in the people who call this state home. Louisianans are resilient; ask any state resident who has weathered a natural disaster and chosen to stay. What is it about this place that compels people to remain in a hazard-prone landscape? The answer is that the people, the land and the communities are intrinsically linked. Over the last five years I have documented the people and communities who refuse to leave despite the risk. With my research partner, Mary Manhein, we GPS located, photographed, and collected histories of endangered cemeteries in coastal and inland parishes. Cemeteries hold valuable clues to the people and history of a region – a fact that is vitally important in capturing the essence of south Louisiana.

Louisiana’s coastal zone is comprised of 20 parishes, one of which, Livingston Parish, is where I reside. Denham Springs is the largest area of development in the parish. It has grown from a small tract of land in the late 1800s to a present-day flourishing city. As a Denham native, I felt I’d be remiss If I didn’t document the cemeteries of my own hometown. In 2012, Mary and I did so, unknowing the disaster that these cemeteries and the city would face a few years later.

Part of Denham’s lure is its main street lined with antique shops, small restaurants and a quaint little bookstore, Cavalier House Books. Owned by John and Michelle Cavalier, they describe their business as a “booky, bookish bookstore”. Locals know this is a special place. The Cavalier’s not only sell books, they offer friendship and are a source of community pride. They know many of their customers by name – rare in the modern age of large chain stores. Small businesses like Cavalier House are a vital part of our tight-knit community.

In August of 2016 an unnamed storm drifted up from the Gulf of Mexico and dumped nearly 32 inches of rain over a three-day period, flooding 90 percent of Denham, including the cemeteries we documented in 2012. The lower half of the city’s main street flooded. But, miraculously, Cavalier House did not. Our city is still in recovery mode more than a year later. The small businesses that chose to stay, or rebuild, are helping to restore our community. This type of resiliency can be seen throughout south Louisiana as residents face natural disaster after disaster and continue to rebuild.

Authors Mary Manhein and Jessica Schexnayder
Mary and I have coauthored a book, Fragile Grounds: Louisiana’s Endangered Cemeteries, published by University Press of Mississippi, which details the connection of people to place in relation to their burial grounds, and the dangers that these sites face. Cavalier House Books has graciously offered to hold a signing for us on November 25, 2017 from 2-4 p.m. as part of Denham Spring’s small business Saturday. Please come out and support not only Fragile Grounds, but the people of our city as we continue to move forward in revitalizing and restoring Denham Springs.