- Read Out Of The Shadow Of Leprosy The Carville Letters And Stories Of The Landry Family 2013
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Landry, leper, 1 33, male, married, sent forward. Signed Dr. The letter initiated a week of official correspondence leading ultimately to Edmond G. Landry's voluntary incarceration in the national leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana. On October 10, Landry, accompanied by his father and paternal uncle, left his home, his wife, his two children ages two and five , and his mother-in-law for the national leprosarium.
According to official correspondence during the week of October , Edmond Landry went "anxiously" and "voluntarily" Landry, medical records. His own letters to his family do not attest to that same anxious interest in his fate. I do believe, however, that he went voluntarily; to do otherwise would have meant to be interdicted and perhaps shackled. I can only imagine his emotional state on that October day, but he must have gone with his eyes wide open, knowing that he would probably spend the remainder of his days in voluntary incarceration in Carville.
His brother, after all, had died at the leprosarium only eight months earlier, and Edmond had been diagnosed with leprosy two and a half years prior to his admission to the hospital. During his final year and a half at home, he had been deemed totally disabled and was perhaps bedridden. His daughter, who was five years old when he entered Carville remembers, "I just know he had been sick for a long time" Manes. Edmond Landry was my grandfather. He died at Carville in December , thirteen years before I was born.
I grew up with silence surrounding him. I knew that he had "died in a hospital" and that he had had leprosy, a truth I learned painfully when I was nine or ten. However, the truth that I absorbed most keenly was that we did not talk about him.
Read Out Of The Shadow Of Leprosy The Carville Letters And Stories Of The Landry Family 2013
On the few occasions when I ventured to ask about him, I would experience a silence filling the room, and I would hear the same mantra repeated, "He died of kidney disease in a hospital. Even when I became an adult, we did not talk about grandpa, and today I often still resort to euphemisms and circumlocutions when I speak to strangers about him. However, in , seventeen years after his wife, my grandmother, died, I began a deliberate study of my grandfather's life. I examined a collection of letters that had been in my immediate family for twenty-one years—a collection left to us by Edmond's brother Albert who also died in Carville, as did all of Edmond's brothers and sisters.
When I first read the letters, I was captivated. My grandfather began to live for me. His letters from Carville were short, the longest being six and a half handwritten half sheets of paper. They revealed to me the grandfather I had always yearned to know. That experience led to my study with Dr. Marcia Gaudet at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, to an appreciation of the richness of this narrative material, and to a realization that grandpa's story had broader implications than simply satisfying my long held curiosity.
I thus began a more committed journey to know this man whose absence had shaped my life. Landry as he told it during his eight years and two months in Carville, Louisiana. I do this not simply as Edmond's granddaughter, but as a scholar who hopes to illuminate this one man's life as he constructed it in a context that was both isolating and stigmatizing. This article will examine Edmond's performative narrative, told in the primary way available to him, letters written in his own hand without any expectation that they would endure.
These letters give immediacy to Edmond's lived experience and enable me as a student of his letters to examine the life he built and the way he described it. This account contributes to the scholarship that has already been done on Carville by Marcia Gaudet, Zachary Gussow, and other scholars, by looking at the way one man shaped his life in Carville in a period when there was no successful treatment for leprosy, and when he as a patient had been diagnosed as "suffering from a disability which is probably permanent in nature" Landry, medical records.
I intend to "think with" the letters as Arthur W. Frank notes that thinking with a story "takes the story as already complete [and] experience[s] it [as] affecting one's own life and. Allesandro Duranti, in Rethinking Context , affirms the necessity of paying attention to the context of a narrative. The primary context of these letters as I understand them is the United States Public Health Services Hospital in Carville, a total institution administered by the United States Public Health system and serviced by the religious order, the Daughters of Charity.
This total institution was built around the stigma and mystery of leprosy, a mildly contagious condition that in the early twentieth century evoked virulent fear and prejudice in a curious public. The letters indicate that my grandfather's life was contextualized by his separation from family, his presence in the hospital, and the anonymity that it encouraged.
However, those same letters indicate that his identity was not controlled by that context. His letters show a man who continued to direct his life with the limited choices available to him. As such, his letters could be considered what Hilde Lindemann Nelson, in her text Damaged Identities , calls a counterstory, for they represent a man telling his own story in his own words, not succumbing to the attitudes, prejudices, or stories that were prevalent about leprosy patients in the early twentieth century.
While Edmond spent the last eight years of his life in Carville, Louisiana, he maintained contact with his family through their visits to him, his two visits home, and his correspondence with his wife, parents, and siblings. His thirty-eight letters from Carville represent an incomplete collection most of the letters to his wife have been destroyed , but they are his presentation of himself in his own hand. They are from a man who wrote despite the fact that he, as he expressed it, did not always feel like it, got the blues when he did write, and put off writing when he did not know how to answer questions from his family.
The letters represent a man who desired to maintain contact with the family that refused to ignore or forget him, isolated as he was in a military hospital for the treatment of leprosy. Each letter is unique in its own right, and all the letters cumulatively present a picture of Edmond Landry's life as he recorded it.
For the purpose of this article, however, I have chosen to pay particular attention to his first extant letter home and to relate it to others in the collection. I have selected the first letter because it is the first extant letter in the Carville collection; it is one of the longest, and its contents cover themes that are present in other shorter letters. In that sense it seems to be a prologue to Edmond Landry's life in Carville.
The letter dated June 5, , begins as all of them do, "Dear Folks," but it ends a bit more effusively than most, "Love and kisses to all, as ever, Edmond. Received Amelie's letter today and was glad to hear from her. I prefer to receive your letters on Friday so I can answer them right away instead of the following Friday. I received the box of peaches yesterday and it is useless for me to say that they were enjoyed.
They are not so big but they are delicious. I gave a few out but kept most for me as they are well preserved. Many thanks for same.
I had gone to the hospital to see Alex who is very low and his friends, mostly all, went back on him and he takes it hard to be without visitors. Last night I ran out of news and went to bed leaving this open in case that I would think of anything else. Reflecting on this first letter, I discover several strands that recur in other letters and deserve attention here. Those themes include: grandpa's identity, his accommodations in Carville, correspondence with his family, compassion for others, and food from home.
Grandpa's signature simply but significantly identifies him by his given name, "Edmond," rather than as "Gabe Michael," his Carville name. Although patients at that time were encouraged to use assumed names, my grandfather never used his in correspondence with his family. Similarly my mother recalls that my grandmother, Edmond's wife, always addressed her letters to Edmond G. Landry, not to Gabe Michael. He maintained his identity despite his condition, and he saw no reason to hide it when he used the United States Mail system.
Since this article was written I have discovered one envelope on which my grandfather uses his alias in the return address. In correspondence with his family he remained "As ever, Edmond. His choice of signature is important; so is his comment about his accommodations. In thinking with this letter, I am struck by his closing paragraph, "Well I must clean my monkey cage for inspection so will have to close.
They reflect a life that is trapped and on display, in a cage which offers little promise of viable escape. Edmond calls his cell-like accommodations not simply a cage, but a monkey cage, as though he felt not only trapped but under observation like a laboratory monkey. The description fit. He was cleaning the cage for inspections, and patients were regularly the subjects of a variety of experimental treatments both sanctioned and unsanctioned.
A booklet prepared by Julia Elwood for the hospital's centennial notes that prior to successful treatment in the s, management of Hansen's disease the preferred term for leprosy included "intensified studies in chaulmoogra the primary treatment in the 30s. Doctors tried heat treatment, x-rays, fever therapy, fat free diets, milk injections and transfusions of blood plasm sic " Patients were not only subject to experimentation like laboratory animals; they were subject to scrutiny, curiosity, and media hype that undoubtedly could make them feel like zoo animals.
In the late s a patient at the hospital was tried for murder. The occasion gave rise to the dilemma of how to try him and yet protect the judge and jury from presumed contamination. Plans were made to set up an isolation booth in the courtroom, protecting those in attendance from his disease, but making the accused a caged spectacle on view by the fearful curious public National Hansen's Disease Center archives. Monkey cage described grandpa's immediate accommodations.
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- Out of the Shadow of Leprosy: The Carville Letters and Stories of the Landry Family.
In another letter dated January 11, , he calls the larger accommodations of Carville itself, "truly a leper's place" and in a letter on February 16, , he acknowledges that he is far away from home and in a place that "[I] have to like with all its disadvantages as much as I could want to be away from here.
This poignant reference to an abiding homesickness explains perhaps the struggles that grandpa experienced when facing the task of corresponding with his family.
As he notes twice in the June letter, he was always glad to hear from family. While correspondence from family was always welcomed, writing home was problematic. Even in this first extant letter, one of his newsiest, he notes, "Last night I ran out of news and went to bed leaving this open in case that I would think of anything else.
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More and more he remarks in one way or the other, "there is nothing new here and I am feeling the same" May 7, Deeper, however, than the paucity of news is the depression that letter writing engenders. In August he notes, "I received several letters from Aunt A. And if I want to get a real good case of hard blue I just got to sit down to write a letter and as I said before this is also one reason for my not writing oftener" 8 August Letter writing also raised other issues, specifically how to answer questions that he did not care to answer.