The Prayer At Commander’s Palace

One of the best known restaurants in New Orleans is Commander’s Palace located in the historic Garden District. They have been serving delicious French and Creole cuisine in the location since the turn of the 20th century. When Cathy and I moved to New Orleans in 1965 to begin my training in surgery at Charity Hospital we could only dream about dining in a restaurant as elegant as the Commander’s Palace, because we could not afford such luxuries. My salary during those four years never exceeded $500 per month, so Cathy’s salary as an elementary school teacher was our primary source of income. Our few dining-out experiences were limited to small cafes known only to locals, and much less expensive than the well-known restaurants like Commander’s Palace, Antoines, Brennans and The Court of Two Sisters.

We were always thrilled when Cathy’s parents from Florida or members of my family came to New Orleans for a visit. In addition to having fun and getting caught up on all family news, it usually meant going to a restaurant or two which Cathy and I could not ordinarily afford. Most of the time we still avoided the very high end restaurants, because they were too fancy for our tastes despite the lure of exquisite food.

Cathy and I were very pleased but shocked when one evening in fall of 1967 we received a phone call from my brother Berry Lee (Bubba) asking how we were doing, and saying that he would like to come for a visit very soon. He was coming alone because LaNell had to stay home and care for their four children. We told him he could come as soon as he could arrange his work schedule and  could stay as long as he wanted. The thing which surprised us was knowing Bubba was such a home-body and seldom if ever paid a social visit with anyone especially without LaNell. We were elated at this sudden change. What we did not know was Bubba had recently experienced a spiritual conversion, and he was more concerned about our spiritual condition than ever before. He was coming to visit for the purpose of witnessing Christ to his little brother and new sister in law! Had we known what was about to happen we might not have been so eager to have him come for a visit.

Earlier I had received a phone call from an El Dorado business man telling me my brother had recently had some type of spiritual conversion and was acting very strangely at the hospital. Within the first 15 minutes of Bubba’s presence in our small apartment both Cathy and I agreed he was different. All of his conversation was colored with remarks about his spiritual conversion and how the Holy Spirit now had control of his life. Bubba had spoken with me in the past about character and clean, moral living, but I had never heard him use terms like “Savior, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.” These overt changes in his attitudes and conversation made Cathy and me very uncomfortable. Neither of us at the time had been spiritually converted, and whenever possible we changed the subject from religion to something less intimidating.

Bubba suggested we go out for supper that evening, and he wanted to take us to Commander’s Palace. He had been there once, and said he could still remember how delicious the food had been. We heartily agreed this was a good choice knowing he would pay for a meal we couldn’t afford. When we arrived I was surprised how nice it was and what a variety of wonderful sounding food was on the menu. We continued with our conversation which began at our apartment, but with as little focus as possible on spiritual things. We were getting caught up on everyone at home, and what it was now like for him in a solo medical practice without Pop who had died a year earlier.

When our food was brought to the table it looked and smelled wonderful. When everyone was served, I politely began eating when Bubba said, “Wait, we haven’t done something important – we haven’t prayed.” Up to this time in my immediate family we would recite a simple memorized prayer before a meal, but it was always at home. I was 28 years old and had never been in a restaurant when a prayer was said out loud, either at my table or at any other table for that matter. When Bubba started praying, seemingly too loud I was certain everyone in Commander’s Palace was staring at us. In addition what was later typical of Bubba and his prayers, he followed the Biblical mandate of praying without ceasing (or so it seemed)! This was one of the most embarrassing moments ever for me and also for Cathy as she later told me. I was convinced without a doubt Bubba had gone crazy at least in the spiritual realm!

I don’t remember a thing I had to eat that evening at Commander’s Palace, but I do remember his long prayer. I am ashamed of my attitude then toward Bubba’s witness. He was simply being obedient to the command of the Holy Spirit, and I was thinking he had lost his good sense and judgement. We have not been back to Commander’s Palace, but if we ever get to dine there again we will definitely pray before we eat and won’t mind if any heads are turned because of praying out loud. You see both Cathy and I were later redeemed and now sing from experience the words to the wonderful hymn; “We once were lost but now are found; were blind but now we see!”

Dr. John

5 thoughts on “The Prayer At Commander’s Palace

    • Todd: As you remember, when it was time to eat at their home, LaNell would say, “Berry Lee, pray a short prayer. The rolls are in the oven and I don’t want them to burn!” He still prayed a long time, but I can’t remember her rolls ever being burned. 🙂

  1. I remember when all of the grandkids were much younger we would file out one by one to go to ‘the bathroom’ right before it was time for one of his prayers. Our attention spans were much too short for his lengthy prayers.
    Now I only wish I could sit through another one of his prayers!

  2. I can remember Gram asking you to pray–instead of Uncle Berry Lee–so we could eat sooner, or so the rolls wouldn’t burn! 🙂

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