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From New Orleans to Morning Pointe of Lenoir City: Elaine Sena’s Life of Improvisation and Resilience

photo of Elaine Sena, resident at Morning Pointe of Lenoir City

Jazz is an artform that is all about improvisation, making adjustments as one feels moved. New Orleans is well known as the birthplace of jazz, and it is also the hometown of Morning Pointe of Lenoir City, Tennessee, resident Elaine Sena. Throughout her life, she has done what jazz music does – improvising on the situation presented to her and making the most beautiful out of it she can.

New Orleans

Elaine was born to John Croall and Ola Beatrice Stoof on Jan. 13, 1930, in New Orleans. She was raised by a single mother and had one sister. She remembers growing up during the Great Depression two to three blocks down from Canal Street. Life was at a fairly relaxed pace, she recalls.

“The European way of living was still there,” Elaine remembered. “My sister and I just figured every place was like New Orleans because we didn’t know anything else.”

Her grandmother spoke French, and her mother’s sister owned a grocery store. She remembers getting lots of fish and crabs and oysters. “As fast as you could open those oysters, I could eat them,” she said.

But while Elaine’s mother was strictly a New Orleanian, “I was a wanderer,” Elaine shared. “I always wanted to know what was on the other side of the fence.”

She attended the only co-ed public high school in town, Francis T. Nicholls High School, and there she learned typing. She wanted to go on to college, but the money just wasn’t there. So, she got a job as a stenographer, secretary, and clerk at age 17.

“I went to the school of hard knocks,” Elaine said. “I’ve learned things I wouldn’t have learned in college.” Over several years, she built up her skills and confidence in her career.

In the meantime, Elaine fell in love with a young man she had met when she was 15. He had served in World War II and was living next door to her aunt. He had been married before and had a child, and he was an artist. His name was Edwin Navaille.

The two wed, and although they ultimately divorced, they had two children together, a daughter named Renee and a son named David. They lived in San Francisco for a while.

Panama

Elaine remarried a man named Orlando Sena, and they had a son together named Richard. When Richard was 3, David was 9, and Renee was 12, the family moved to the Panama Canal Zone when Orlando got a job there. Elaine herself traveled halfway through the canal and found it very impressive.

She worked for about a week but then mostly took care of her three children.

Life in Panama was very different and very hot. They lived in the Central American country for several years and experienced both the wet and dry seasons. The animals were a bit different too. Elaine recalled seeing an iguana on a fence and saying, “Look – a little dinosaur!”

Ships would arrive from New Orleans every 10 days with provisions, including frozen food.

The family returned to the United States in 1972.

photo 2 of Elaine Sena

Becoming a Massage Therapist

After raising her children, Elaine went back to work. She worked for a chiropractor for 23 years and became intrigued with massage therapy. “Just a small amount of massage makes a difference,” she said. “I got a massage and saw how therapeutic it was. I thought about it for years.”

Finally, at age 66, Elaine went back to school to become a massage therapist. “It’s not an easy course,” she said. “I almost quit, but others encouraged me.”

Elaine earned her licensure. She owned her own massage business in St. Bernard Parish and enjoyed her practice very much. “I helped one young man who was playing guitar at one of the casinos, and I got to work on him. He was saying how much it helped. That’s what satisfied me – hearing feedback like that.”

She retired after five and a half years of massage therapy work.

Coming to Morning Pointe

“Hurricane Katrina came in 2005 and changed our lives overnight,” Elaine said. Thankfully, her New Orleans house was not destroyed by the storm, but it was damaged. She found a buyer and had to decide where she was going to relocate. Her son Richard and daughter-in-law Penny were in Lenoir City, and her son David and his wife lived in Longview, Texas. She moved to Texas, into a mother-in-law apartment connected to David’s house.

However, when she was visiting Richard in Tennessee, the plan changed. “They could sense I wasn’t as strong as I used to be,” Elaine said. While she was there, her family drove around to look at local assisted living communities, and one of them was Morning Pointe of Lenoir City. Two residents there told her how good the community was, and the family was impressed.

Elaine moved in in February 2022.

“The wonderful thing about this place is that they try to do everything they can to please us,” Elaine shared. “All my needs are met. There’s no place else I’d want to be. My family can travel – they don’t have to worry because I’m being taken care of here.”

Elaine enjoys watching movies at the community, as well as playing bingo and walking outside when the weather is nice. She has made friends and also enjoys the food.

Elaine enjoying Mardi Gras at Morning Pointe of Lenoir City with her son and daughter-in-law
Elaine enjoying Mardi Gras at Morning Pointe of Lenoir City with her son and daughter-in-law

This year, as Mardi Gras rolled around, the life enrichment director, Katie Johnson, consulted Elaine as a native New Orleanian for how to celebrate. She thoroughly enjoyed the music, dancing, food and beads, bringing back the great parts of attending the parades in her younger days.

As she looks back on her life, she is the proudest of her children, and she points to her faith as the force that has helped her in each improvisation, including dealing with the loss of her daughter, Renee, to cancer. “Prayer has seen me through so much,” she said. “God saw me through it.”

Just as the movements of jazz music from her hometown, Elaine’s life has taken several twists and turns. Through it all, it plays a beautiful melody, and Morning Pointe is privileged to be part of that tune.

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