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Saving Memories

Desiree Cooper

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Edwin Harrison
(Curt Peters)
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This weekend, New Orleans native Edwin Harrison is relieved. The cab driver was only a month away from moving back into his home that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina when the city was evacuated as Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Gulf Coast. This time, his house was spared. It wasn't easy to leave everything he'd rebuilt and flee to Atlanta to wait out the storm. But there was one thing Mr. Harrison didn't have to worry about this time. Because earlier this summer, he had entrusted one of his prized possessions to a stranger.

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In July, my family had its 30th reunion in New Orleans. My cousin Curt Peters, who lives in North Carolina, was one of the planners. He made a couple trips ahead of time to get everything ready.

One day when he was leaving his hotel, he was directed to get into one cab. But another driver caught his eye.

"Quite honestly, he looked like a cousin of mine with the bluish eyes," said Curt. "I said, Hey, I'll ride with him."

Mr. Edwin Harrison, the cab driver, remembered that moment, too. "So he came out and there was a Yellow Cab in front of me, and he said 'Can I get this cab?' I said sure, man, get in. I had no idea he was going to the airport. I had no idea he was going to be the best load of the day."

They hit it off right away. On the way to the airport, Mr. Harrison showed Curt the lasting neighborhood devastation from Hurricane Katrina.

The next time Curt was in town, Mr. Harrison took him to see his old house. It's nearly renovated now, but after Katrina, it was a bathtub filled with eight feet of water. He'd lost everything, even his dogs, Sweetie and Jumbo.

Curt begged Mr. Harrison to tell his story at the family reunion. He reluctantly obliged. Afterwards, he decided it was time for HIM to ask a favor.

He wanted Curt to duplicate the videos and pictures he'd managed to collect from friends and family after Katrina had ruined all of his. After the reunion, he handed them over.

I asked him, "Why did you give him the package?"

"I trust that guy," Mr. Harrison said.

"How could you trust him? You only met him a couple times in the cab."

But for Mr. Harrison, it was just a feeling: "There was something about that guy," was all he said.

There's no way that Mr. Harrison could have known that Curt's passion is photography. He's documented our family for the past 30 years. For Curt, pictures are art, history, love and connection.

"Well, if I can take a moment and capture and see something that others haven't seen, I'm richer for it, no matter whether people ever see my work or not," said Curt. "I know that I did it and I captured God's glory."

Curt took the package home and started going through the images. He was especially struck by pictures of Mr. Harrison's wife, Rose, who died about 16 months ago.

"I saw her there in this beautiful green leather outfit with a bunch of yellow flowers and a mink stole and a beautiful white hat around her, and she became alive," he said, his voice faltering as he began to cry. "I saw Mr Harrison strutting down the street with the Black Men of Labor and jazz funerals, and it was just a privilege to take these moments of his life into mine."

Last week, Curt finished the project. He called to let Mr. Harrison know just as Hurricane Gustav was threatening the city. But Mr. Harrison told Curt to hold onto them until the storm passed over. Now that all's clear and Mr. Harrison is back home, Curt plans to mail them.

"In fact, I've got them in my car to take to the post office today," he said.

But the package will be missing one thing.

"Mr. Harrison and I don't have a picture together," said Curt, choking up again. "But you know, I got in my mind the moments we've shared. When he gets this package, his eyes are going to light up, and I'll know that I made those blue eyes light up."

I asked Mr. Harrison what it's going to be like when he receives the photos back from Curt.

"Oh, it's going to be a wonderful thing, because I can share that with my children," he said. "It's going to be a wonderful thing."

  • Music Bridge:
    Butteryfly Effect
    Artist: Dave Douglas
    CD: Keystone (Greenleaf)

Comments

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  • By Jean & Ted Gorczyca

    From Edison, NJ, 01/18/2012

    Today,my husband and I were blessed to meet Mr. Harrison, when he gave us a ride to the airport. What a gentlemen! We were walking down Burboun Street toward 'Bon Maison', where we were staying and we spotted a line of cabs. Of all the cabs in New Orleans,we were lucky to pick his. We asked if he could pick us up at our hotel in about 15 min. He said,"Why don't you just hop in right now. I can give you a ride to your hotel, no charge and I'll wait for you while you pick up your bags." Wow, I thought how nice is that! Talk about hospitality. As we jumped out to get our bags, he jumped out too & started chatting with man cleaning the street, asking him if he was having a good day. I remember thinking, what a kind, sweet man. Then,on the way to the airport we learned about his life and I realized just how special he was. People on the street & at the airport greeted him by name and with great fondness. We will remember our visit to New Orleans for many things, but one of the highlights will always be meeting Mr. Ed Harrison. God bless the joy he shares with those he meets. street and they seemed genuinely happy

    By Muriel Hebert

    From Moscow, ID, 04/22/2011

    My husband and I had the pleasure of riding in Mr. Harrison's cab to the New Orleans airport this week. His strength of character was evident. He is a survivor and a man of great dignity. God bless him.

    By Brad Philipson

    From New Orleans, LA, 11/16/2010

    I stumbled upon this because I was fascinated by Mr. Harrison's stories just this morning (I had left my car at work and needed to take a cab in). He, himself, is a member of the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame, as is his late brother, the esteemed Donald Harrison, Sr. His nephew is the renowned jazz musician Donald Harrison, Jr. I cannot imagine a better profession for such a great ambassador of our city.

    By Marianne Jackson

    From Chapel Hill, NC, 09/08/2008

    I have had the wonderful pleasure of having been introduced to Mr Harrison through my sister Carol R. who was befriended in just the same way as Curt - through Ed's heartfelt instinct about people he can trust and help. He has remained a dear friend in her family. I am so pleased to have seen this documentary piece. Please, if you have a way, let him know I saw it and my comments. Marianne

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