Wanda Cortez and Lois Sykes
On Sundays, Wanda Cortez and her husband, Mark, a retired fisherman and trapper, drive a block or so along the main drag of Manchac to pick up Lois Sykes for 8:00 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ponchatoula. The two women, waitresses as Middendorf’s for roughly a quarter century, wear black pants and black SAS shoes—part of their work uniform—so that they can safely stay through communion and make it back to the restaurant in time for their standing six-hour Sunday lunch shift. A quick change into a plain white blouse and they’re ready for the barrage of hungry families, limitless fried seafood, and—by their own decree—water for every customer. The women have been sidekicks since Wanda first moved from Slidell to Manchac in 1957. Lois has lived there since childhood. When they were younger, and when Lois’ husband, Earl, was still alive, the couples would spend weekends on the water, running trout lines and boiling crabs and otherwise wholesomely carousing, often at a friend’s fishing camp down Pass Manchac. While their extended families have settled in more populated, less vulnerable nearby towns like Ponchatoula and LaPlace, Wanda and Lois can’t imagine feeling at home anyplace but Manchac. In their seventies, the women talk of retirement in theory only, never mind Lois’ brother’s pleadings and Wanda’s hip replacement and open heart surgery. “I bounced back like a rubber ball,” Wanda says.