Memories of devoted father, husband
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Try as she might, Rose Mahoney Major just could not persuade her husband, Joseph Major, to evacuate with her and their children from their Violet home.
She called, repeatedly. At one point, their daughter Tineisha Mahoney, 16, got on the phone, advising her father how to climb to the attic ? and to bring a hammer ? in the event of a flood.
Tineisha, Rose Major said, was especially close to her father.
?Where he went, she went; what he ate, she ate.?
Father and daughter said their final goodbyes that Sunday night. Their other children also spoke with their father, including Tineisha?s twin sister, Taesha, who urged him to put her school shoes on the top shelf of her closet.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29, flooding most of St. Bernard Parish, including the Majors? home.
Joseph Major?s decomposed remains were discovered in the home about a month later. He was 39.
A carpenter and general laborer, Joseph Major met Rose Mahoney when he was 20 and she was 16. Both were being raised by their grandmothers in Violet, where their mothers were neighbors and where many of their other relatives lived.
Because she was only 16, Rose Mahoney?s grandmother would not let her date, especially a man who was 20 and who had already fathered two children.
Nevertheless, when she turned 18, they did start dating. Soon she was pregnant with her first set of twins, Tineisha and Taesha Mahoney. The second set, brothers James and Jamie Mahoney, were born four years later.
?He was a wonderful father,? Rose Major said.
There were, however, some rough spots.
After the girls were born, Joseph Major went to prison for two years. She said she doesn?t know the crime.
In 1992, he served five months as an accomplice when he witnessed his cousin beating a man and failed to intervene, she said.
Their twin sons were born in 1993 and the couple remained together ever since.
But they didn?t tie the knot until March 12, 2005.
Each of the five times they set a date to get married, someone in their immediate family died, Rose Major said.
Finally, they called their pastor at Corinne Baptist Church and set the date for that Saturday for a private church ceremony. A family member quickly arranged a small reception for that Sunday night.
Each hurricane season, they went through the same routine: Rose Major would urge Joseph Major to pack his things. He would refuse.
Each time, Rose Major would leave with her children. Each time, Joseph Major remained at their home.
Hurricane Katrina was no different.
Before the hurricane, Rose Major, the two sets of twins and an 8-month-old boy, Chaz, who was in their care, went to the home of a church friend, Latrice Morgan.
Then, Rose Major and her brood, Morgan and her two sons, and Rose Major?s two younger sisters and four nephews piled into a van driven by Morgan?s sister, Elisa Morgan, and into a car driven by Morgan for the exodus from Violet.
They drove to Baton Rouge, where Rose Major, Morgan and their children took refuge in the home of Morgan?s aunt.
Rose Major was able to keep in contact with her husband, still urging him to leave.
?He was like ?as long as you and those children are all right, I?m going to be all right,? ? Rose Major said.
They shared their last phone call on the Sunday night before landfall.
?I told him I loved him, he told me he loved me and that was it,? she said.
For a long time, Rose Major maintained hope that her husband survived, especially after a friend told her he evacuated to Texas.
Rose Major spent weeks searching Internet locator services and calling the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross and the Astrodome.
When she learned in early October that a cousin found Joseph Major?s body in their house, she refused to believe it was her husband.
Finally, their family doctor identified the body. Joseph Major was wearing a rubber Save America?s Wetlands bracelet given to him by Tineisha.
The family held a memorial service at a Baton Rouge funeral home on Jan. 7.
Rose Major and the children, including Joseph Major?s daughter from a previous relationship, have settled into a house in Baton Rouge.
They have no plans to return to Violet.
[Originally published Feb 10, 2006 in Baton Rouge's The Advocate. Caption from above: Joseph Major, who died during Hurricane Katrina, sat with his family for a portrait eight years ago. They are, from bottom left, twin sons James and Jamie Mahoney, then age 4; twin daughters Taesha adn Tineisha Mahoney, then age 8; and his wife, Rose Mahoney Major.]
Other stories By Vicki Ferstel:
Taking Care of her Little NaiNai