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How's Bayou? Is your naughty my nice?

Madewood Christmas Heritage Banquet 2012: A time for stories (Photo by Angie Johnson)

Have you seen the new Mercedes-Benz Christmas ad? The one where Santa sends white M-B vehicles out of the production facility under a banner "nice" as red ones move out under a "naughty" sign.

A spiffy, fire-engine-red luxury vehicle under Madewood's ballroom tree, which would tower over it? Sounds like an ad to be bad.

Each year at this time, I wrestle with the fact that I'm not good just for the sake of being good. It's that I know I'd get caught. So either a red or a white vehicle would suit me just fine, Santa.

Sunday morning, as overnight guests from Saturday's annual Christmas Heritage Banquet at Madewood lingered over breakfast, I was reminded how it's best if I just keep to the truth.

As I regaled guests with odd tales of holiday trauma at the mansion of the bayou, one woman smiled as I quipped, "I learned years ago that you don't cross a nun."

That lesson scorched itself into my memory. Nuns from the Ursuline Academy in New Orleans had scheduled their annual Christmas party at Madewood, and it promised to be a lovely event.

But the filming of noted director Bill Condon's first major film, "Sister, Sister," starring Eric Stoltz, Jennifer Jason Leigh and and Judith Ivey, had run weeks over schedule, mainly because the automated "snapper-gator" that was supposed to pull supernumeraries into the swamp around Golden Meadow kept malfunctioning.

On the day of the nun's pilgrimage to Madewood, the schedule was so out of kilter that the producer was forced to wrap the entire house in black plastic to shoot nighttime scenes during the day, and, to accommodate actors' schedules, to strip it back and shine klieg lights into the house to simulate daylight in the evening hours when the nuns were preparing to celebrate the holy birth with a bit of levity.

But the nun in charge was not amused. They had come to Madewood to see the house as it looks on a daily basis, not as a movie set. Condon's offer to allow them to sit in on a scene was accepted, but only as a meager substitute for the real thing.

Rulers flashed from her eyes as I tried to apologize, and I could feel an imaginary sting on the back of my hands. I had a video, filmed by P.M. Magazine that showed each room, and I suggested that I present it to the assembled religious.

No, not good enough.

Out of ideas, I stared the good lady in the eye and intoned, "Now, sister, I can either show the video or not show it. Which would you prefer?"

The letter that I received several weeks later sizzled in my hand, and it was then that I realized the power she exercised. After all, who did she work for? God.

Our guest smiled, and said, "I know, I was there that night."

She confirmed that it happened just as I'd described, and added that the evening was part of the lore of the Ursulines.

Finally, instead of feeling like the worst kind of sinner, I felt, in a strange way, loved, even appreciated. I was part of the history of the Ursuline nuns in Louisiana.

Humbled, I asked that she relay to the angry nun, now retired and living in St. Louis, that I forgive her.

Hear that, Santa?

And make mine red. With a retractable top.

How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.

How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.