Text by Cherice Harrison-Nelson
The Harrison Family looks and bonds are strong. One look at my Uncle Edwin and you knew he was my daddy’s brother. His spirit will always live in my soul. I have many fond memories of him that I will hold near and dear to my heart.
As children my parents took us see him at the Annual Jolly Bunch Social and Pleasure Club Parades riding literally, “high on his horse.” He would always come over to greet us with a smile and seemed to make his horse nod a hello to us as well. Before I became Queen Reesie of the Guardians of the Flame group, I would watch the Carnival Day Parades on television and eagerly await Zulu hoping to catch a glimpse of him leading the Jolly Bunch mounted division, which he organized.
As a teenager, I would often see him waiting for potential passengers at the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street as I walked from the Desire to South Claiborne bus stop on my way to Eleanor McMain Magnet Sr. High School located on S. Claiborne and Nashville Streets. On more than one occasion, in bad weather, he gave me a ride to school in his super clean Ed’s Cab.
When my daddy, the late Big Chief Donald Harrison, Sr., came out of retirement to establish the Guardians of the Flame, he was right there. I distinctly remember him coming over to bring a bag of white quills prepped the old fashion way, with a hammer made hole and muslin wrapped tip. He was, like my daddy, a traditionalist and an innovator. He was there Carnival Day as the Guardians of the Flame walked out of the door.
He was never too busy to take time and answer questions about the rich cultural traditions of the city. Once, in 1996 I had to give a presentation in New York City about the Mardi Gras Indians and social aid and pleasure club (SA&PC) neighborhood processions. Of course my daddy was my go to for the Indians and my Uncle Edwin for the SA&PC tradition. I went to his house and had my notebook and pen already to take detailed notes. We sat down at his kitchen table and early on he stopped and said, “I have some pictures, you can take them, just bring them back.” It was a treasure trove of history, I had them made into slides and shared them during my presentation. The pictures included images from the 1960 -1980s. One of particular pride for him was a tiered decorated umbrella he created, “Nobody had this, it was new, I got an idea to do it and did it.” I received a rousing round of applause at the end of the presentation.
Over the years he was always supportive. He attended concerts of family members, exhibitions and other events. He was the family ambassador; promoting events and bringing visitors. He was a regular on Carnival Day standing at the door, tambourine in hand singing the traditional chants as a loving uncle and knowledgeable elder.
During the last ten years my relationship with him deepened. Every year he attended the Annual Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame Crystal Feather Dinner at Basin St. Station. He sat at the same table along with my mother, Herreast J. Harrison, and other family members. This year, as I was running around greeting guests and taking care of other matters, he called me. I told him, “one minute, I’m coming.” After a few minutes, I went over to see what the urgency was. He said, “I don’t have a place card with my name on it.” My response, “Really Uncle Edwin, you don’t know your name?” He smiled and said, “I need it.” I wrote and brought him a card that read, “Chief Uncle Edwin.” We exchanged a few words and then took a picture. In the picture he is holding my hand and whenever I look at it, which is often, I smile, close my eyes and feel the weight of his hand on mine. The Creator is masterful, for only the Creator could have given me such a wonderful gift of that last picture with my Chief Uncle Edwin.