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 that 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 our four years there never exceeded $500 per month, so Cathy’s salary as an elementary school teacher was our primary source of income, and she wasn’t making much more than I. Our few dining-out experiences were limited to small cafes known only to locals, and much less expensive than the well known places 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 with them and getting caught up on all the things happening in their lives and ours, it always meant we got to go out to eat in a restaurant or two that 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 the wonderful food.

Cathy and I were very pleased and almost shocked when one evening in fall of 1967 we received a phone call from 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 and care for their children while he was gone. We told him he could come as soon as he could arrange his work schedule, and he could stay as long as he wanted. The thing that was surprising to us was knowing that Bubba was such a home-body; seldom ever going away from home to visit anyone, and now he was calling to ask permission to come visit us. We were elated at this change in his personality. What we did not know was that Bubba had recently experienced a spiritual conversion, and he was more concerned about our spiritual condition than he had ever been. He was coming to visit with the underlying purpose of witnessing Christ to his little brother and his new sister in law! Had we known what was about to happen, we might not have been so eager and excited to have Bubba come down for a visit.

I wrote in an earlier post that a businessman from home had called me just prior to this request from Bubba for a visit, and this relative stranger told me, “Your brother has gone off the deep end with some type of religious experience.” I dismissed this man’s evaluation very  quickly, since I knew there was not a man on earth more emotionally stable than my hero brother. Within the first 15 minutes of Bubba’s presence in our small apartment, I wasn’t so sure that the businessman’s evaluation was wrong. All of his conversation was colored with remarks about his conversion, and how the Holy Spirit now had control of his life. Bubba had talked 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.” I had not heard him talk about complete changes that had recently occurred in his thoughts, his actions and his habits. I do know that these changes in his attitudes and his conversation made Cathy and me very uncomfortable, so whenever we could, 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 that was a good choice, knowing that he would pay for a meal that we couldn’t afford. When we arrived, I was amazed how very nice it was, and what a variety of wonderful sounding food was on the menu. We continued with our conversation begun at the apartment, but with as little focus as possible (from our standpoint) 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 over a year previously.

When our food was brought to the table, it looked and smelled wonderful, and I couldn’t wait to taste it. When everyone was served, I politely began eating when Bubba said, “Wait, we haven’t done something important- we haven’t prayed.” In my immediate family we would recite a simple memorized prayer before a meal, but this 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, in what I considered a volume much too loud; I was certain that everyone in Commander’s Palace was staring at us. Also, as was 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 embassassing moments for me and also for Cathy, as she later told me. I was convinced without a shadow of doubt, that Bubba had gone crazy, at least when it came to religion!

I don’t remember a thing I had to eat that evening at Commander’s Palace, but I do remember a very long and loud prayer that embarrassed me then. I am ashamed that I had such a negative response to Bubba’s witness and his praying at the time, but both Cathy and I were able to tell him at a much later date following our conversion, what an impact he had on us, and how thankful we were for his prayers, no matter how long or how loud!. We have not been back to Commander’s Palace, but if we ever get to dine there, we will definitely pray before we we eat and won’t mind if any heads are turned toward us because of praying out loud. We  can now sing from experience and with great assurance, 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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