Frances Parkinson Keyes, part one

When I accompanied my husband on a business/pleasure weekend to New Orleans three years ago, I never imaged the buried treasure I would unearth. It came in the form of an author—one whose career spanned close to 70 years, but whose name was unfamiliar to me.

On a free afternoon, my husband and I wandered the French Quarter in search of interesting historical sites. We found a few—interesting, informative, but not soul-stirring. Then we ventured just past the main streets and came upon an antebellum-looking home with a pretty garden side yard. We walked to the front. A sign declared it the Beauregard-Keyes House and announced hourly tours. No one else was around. We ventured up the white steps to the front door.

The docent let us in and left us to wait the five minutes until the top of the hour in a front room. We saw pictures of General Beauregard from the Civil War and read the name Frances Parkinson Keyes. “Who’s that?” I whispered to my husband. He shrugged. No one else appeared and the gray-haired woman returned and introduced herself.

I remember little of the big house—the one that housed Confederate General Beauregard after the Civil War, the one with pictures and artifacts of his family of the time period surrounding the Civil War. What I remember most are the slave quarters behind the house—the ones that Frances Parkinson Keyes, a authoress from New England, claimed as her space during the winters of the 50s-70s. Artifacts from all over the world graced tables. The docent told us of Mrs. Keyes with glowing eyes, telling of her own adolescence in New Orleans, reading Mrs. Keyes’ novels set in that intriguing place. Entranced, a burning desire filled my heart to read something by this woman of such an interesting background, this author so obviously still adored by the elderly docent.

The tour ended in a gift shop, as many such tours do. But this was a gift shop with a twist—this was also a bookstore. But not just any bookstore. Here, many of Mrs. Keyes’ books had been gathered from dusty shelves and sweltering attics to be made available to a whole new generation of readers. My eyes sparkled as I read title after title from fading paper covers. I chose The Royal Box. We paid, thanked the woman and left.

Little did I know I was to discover between those pages an introduction to a woman I would have loved to call friend.