Francois Marcantel Immigrates to America

Okay, so this isn’t strictly speaking a piece about writing and/or books, but I am a Southerner with a legacy of literary compatriots (Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor, Lee (a couple of those), Capote, etc.; and you all have read them–right?), so this puts the topic at hand in the ballpark, more or less.  You see, we folks from the steamy environs of Dixie are nothing if not obsessed with our roots and all the various branches on our family trees, probably because said origins tend to be “lost within the very bogs of time” (to quote Florence King, another Southerner).

At any rate, on the “I am a Marcantel” page on Facebook (trust me, it does exist, closed membership and all that), there’s a Marcantels-in-America/Louisiana discussion that’s been doing the back-and-forth thing for the past few days.  The current topic focuses on whither Marcantels, Italy (Marcontelli?) or France (Marcantel?).

Here’s the story I know about my family, and every word is true.  Honest.

The first Marcantel in the New World was one François Marcantel, a French soldier who in 1752 “volunteered” to relocate to the then-colony of Louisiana as a militiaman-settler.  He came from Chambery in the foothills of the French Alps, at the time the capital of the Duchy of Savoy and now a ski resort.  Clear, clean air.  Snow-topped mountains.  Lush summer meadows.  Four distinct seasons.

I suspect that his arrival in Louisiana went something like this:

Welcome to the subtropics, François.  Let me tell you about your new home.  It features alligator-infested swamps, mosquitoes the size of your thumb, 200% year-round humidity so thick that you can see the air move, abundant wildlife, much of it carnivorous, and two lovely seasons: hot-and-wet and cold-and-wet.  And the good news is that hot-and-wet lasts twice as long as cold-and-wet.

Any questions?

At this point something along the lines of “Oh, merde!” must have belched into François’ head like one of those heavy Louisiana bullfrogs. (And if you don’t know what that word means, you need to Netflix a couple of French movies.  Or just one.)

UPDATED: I’m an inveterate editor and can’t leave anything alone.  Perfectionism is my cross to bear.

Francois Immigrates to America Part Deux, or Frankie, Jr.

Continuing the family saga from a couple of days ago:

François Marcantel stayed in Louisiana (he didn’t have much choice; see here) and married and, as usually happens, in the fullness of time had children.  The oldest son also was named François.  We in the family know him as Frankie, Jr.

Along about 1788, Frankie, Jr. became involved with his wife’s sister, and not in a brotherly-in-law kind of way either.  She was married, too, to the Worst Man in Town™, a wife-beating lush who loved to pick fights at the local tavern and owed  money far and wide, which meant of course that everybody quite naturally hated him.  Frankie, Jr., on the other hand, possessed all of the charm and bonhomie common to the Marcantels <ahem>, and so was generally well-regarded.  (I’m kind of making this up as I go along, but then, I’m a writer and all writers are fundamentally liars.  So sue me.)

Anyway, the Worst Man in Town somehow contrived to get himself murdered shortly after he forbade his wife from “walking” with Frankie, Jr., and to emphasize the seriousness of his request, beat pummeled slapped … lovingly caressed her and spoke to her with soft, reasonable words.  Although almost everyone in the surrounding area had a reason to despise him, thereby ensuring their membership on the roster of potential suspects, only one person was seriously considered for arrest in connection with his slaying.

Now, at this point I get a clear metaphorical image of the situation in my head.  Imagine that a pie goes missing, and the nearest authority figure confronts a group of angelic-looking-but-perhaps-guilty kids, one of whom has a circle of whipped cream and chocolate ringing his mouth.

“Frankie, Jr., did you take that pie?”

“Pie?  What pie?” he asks, carefully sweeping his tongue across his upper lip in a transparent attempt to hide evidence of the pie’s fate.

No doubt because they considered the community well-rid of a wife-beating, drunken, deadbeat bully, the authorities clearly didn’t much care whether the killer was Frankie, Jr., little green men from Mars, or the Easter Rabbit.   So, despite his almost certain … involvement in TWMIT’s murder, Frankie, Jr. was never charged with anything, much less hanged.   If he had been, I wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t be reading this 100% accurate account of what happened.

On the other side of my family was a guy who certainly was a lothario and may or may not have been a pirate with Jean Lafitte.  But that’s another story.

P.S.  Details of l’affaire Frankie, Jr. can be found in this legal document, starting on p. 8.  I might have embellished the story just a tad.  (Did I mention that all writers are liars?)

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