Mary Ann Berlier Trentecosta, 1928-2005
By Elizabeth Mullener
Mary Ann Trentecosta was a woman of great enthusiasms: for Mardi Gras, for gardening, for shopping, dancing, decorating, cats, fashion. She was a woman who knew how to have a good time.
"On one of my last visits, I remember walking down the hallway to her room and she had Fats Domino playing," said her daughter, Charlene Trentecosta, "and I walked in and there she is, jitterbugging, by herself, to a 45 record."
Her lifelong friend Joyce Campiere, isn't surprised at all.
"Mary Ann was the healthiest 77-year-old I ever knew," she said. "She was youthful in her ways. She looked young, she stayed thin, she was so energetic."
A child of the Lower 9th Ward, born and reared on St. Maurice Street, Trentecosta graduated from Maumus High School and went to work as a clerk/typist for the Navy during World War II -- a government girl, as they were known -- at a discharge station at the Lakefront. Campiere worked in the office next door and the two teenagers had the time of their lives.
"We were young and all the sailors were so happy to be discharged," Campiere said. "We went on picnics and dances with them. We ate in the mess hall. That was a fun job."
The two women found fun as well on Canal Street, where they would get dressed up and spend the day.
"We were shopping buddies," Campiere said. "We'd go to town, have lunch sometimes at Holmes, go to Krauss. Once a year, we'd go to that oyster bar, Felix's, and get an oyster po-boy. Or we'd spend the day in the French Quarter, start off with coffee and beignets at Morning Call and then go to all the little shops."
Later, Trentecosta took a job at the Port of Embarkation on Poland Avenue but soon quit to marry a man who went into the wedding-reception business, as part owner of the Chiffon Room in Arabi and the Tiffany Room in Chalmette. For awhile in the late 1970s, Trentecosta opened a business of her own, a women's clothing store called Purrfect Fashions.
For most of her life, though, Trentecosta cultivated homier pursuits. Although her husband died more than 20 years ago, she had three children, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild and she ran an animated household. Outside, her lively garden was full of pass-along plants: morning glories along the wooden fence, yellow-eyed daisies, angel's trumpets, maidenhair fern, four o'clocks and banana trees. Inside, she kept the rooms spruced up with seasonal decorations: for Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentine's Day, Halloween and especially for Mardi Gras.
"Mardi Gras was one of her biggest things," says her daughter. "She was a member of Pandora. Oh my god, she was a Mardi Gras enthusiast."
Trentecosta had a taste for gambling, too, and made frequent forays to Las Vegas, where she would stay at the Mirage Hotel, play the roulette wheel and take in the big shows.
As Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans, Trentecosta's friends and family beseeched her to leave.
"She turned everybody down," Charlene said. "She didn't want to be run off by any storm. She said, 'Baby, I don't even like to drive to Baton Rouge and that's only an hour and a half.' "
Charlene talked to her mother on Sunday night and again on Monday morning. All was well, Trentecosta reported, and she thought she'd take a nap.
"I think she slept through the whole thing," Charlene said. "I pray she slept through it. The water got about 6 feet high in her house. The bed floated up and turned around and landed by the door."
Five months after the storm, when Campiere returned to New Orleans, she found her telephone among her belongings.
"My daughter looked at the caller ID," she said, "and she said, 'Mama, Miss Mary Ann called on August 28th at 10-something in the morning.' She died on August 29th. I missed her last call."
Published in The Times-Picayune