By Joe Darby
Last weekend Mary and I had the privilege of attending a memorial service for one of Natchitoches’ true Steel Magnolias. And a very special service it was.
Other memorial services I’ve attended have consisted of family and friends of the deceased, sharing memories, both poignant and funny. Conna Cloutier’s service had those too, of course, but it also had music, singing and dancing. Not your everyday way to remember a loved one.
Some of you readers probably knew Conna better than we did, although we were lucky enough to make her acquaintance not long after we moved here. We met her through Bobby DeBlieux, her former next door neighbor on Front Street. When we visited Natchitoches, before we moved here, we would almost always stay at Bobby’s Tante Huppe Inn.
We met Conna and some of her circle of friends at parade parties and attended a couple of social events at her Front Street home. And, her daughter Marcie, was a faithful dog-sitter for us for a while.
We learned more about Conna from the comments made by some of her friends at the service. We learned that she was an avid lover of the arts, including theater and dance, a love that was paid tribute to by the performance of two young men who displayed their balletic talents at the service, held at First Presbyterian Church. The joy and expressive dancing performed by the young men, Asher Van Meter and Dwight Robinette, was a mirror of her love of life.
Other friends, including Michael Rorex, Richard Rose, Monty and Marsha Brown, Steve Wells, Chris Allen, Andrej Kurti and Sadoc Silva, celebrated Conna’s life in song and instrumental music. Monty and Marsha’s contribution was a Conna favorite, The Natchitoches Waltz.
One thing Mary and I did know about Conna was her love of animals, particularly dogs, an attraction that Mary and I shared with Conna. Several members of her loving “pack” were taken to the church and set up on the church’s front lawn, where they greeted those attending the service.
One of the tributes paid to Conna was by Juanita Murphy, who read a letter “written” by Lexus, one of the many dogs rescued by Conna over the years. Lexus’ “thoughts” in the letter brought a tear to many in the audience, as she, with a little help from Juanita, expressed the gratitude of the animals who have been given a happy home by Conna.
Others paying tribute to Conna’s memory included nephew D.C. Young, Sheena Simmons, Kelly Cohen Lavercombe, Allie Wilson, Marsha Brown, Fraser Snowden, Frank Douglas, Joanna Cassidy and Monty Brown. Their memories and anecdotes were a touching mixture of sadness, happiness and humor.
As I said earlier, I think Conna was a real steel magnolia — a lovely and attractive southern flower but one made of strong metal, able to withstand the slings and arrows of life’s blows. There are a number of such ladies here in Natchitoches, but the loss of Conna cuts their number. It’s a real shame when we lose one of our own very special blossoms.