One of the local farmers grew and sold watermelons. Dad and his buddies would slip into the watermelon patch at night to steal and eat the watermelons. Having enough of that and wanting to discourage these young thieves the farmer posted a sign that read,
“ONE OF THESE WATERMELONS HAS STRYCHNINE IN IT!”
Dad, being the kah-nahy kid that he was posted a sign next to the farmers saying,
“AND NOW YOU HAVE TWO!”
Not knowing whether or not this was true, the farmer could sell no more watermelons that season.
(I told you he was bad!)
The old school bus picked up the farm kids in the area daily and took them to the little school house. Close your eyes and picture a typical school bus. Okay, now open your eyes and forget that image because it is nothing like the school bus of old. Dad describes his bus experience like this.
“The cab of the bus was homemade out of wood. They stuck an old engine under it. There were benches all the way around, an 8 to 10 inch board that you’d sit on. There were no windows just tarps. When it was cold Mr. Renee Landry our bus driver would put the tarps down, but when it was hot he would roll up the tarps and tie them up. Air would pass through. We had to pick one kid up about a mile back on a dirt road. When it would rain the bus would get bogged down in deep ruts. Mr. Renee would make the kids get out of the bus and push, only we would pull cause we didn’t want to go to school. When the daddy of the boy would see the bus stuck, he would hook up the mules and pull the bus out. If we misbehaved Mr. Renee would make us kneel on rice next to his seat. It hurt like hell and would leave rice marks in your skin. I had a lot of sore knees.”
That’s my dad!
The school was located behind the church in Leroy. Every teacher, other than the first grade teacher, taught two grades. It was a wooden school building with an outhouse that consisted of “a four or five holder and a pee trough.” There was no toilet tissue, pages from a Sears catalog were used. The kids would line up knee to knee on the “four or five holder” to do their business (And our kids think they have it bad!)
Dad tells this story. “There was a boy in my third grade class named Harold Vincent. The teacher didn’t let him go to the bathroom during class one day so he pulled down his overalls, sat on the teacher’s trash can and did his business.”
So…what do you think would happen if a kid did that today??
In dad’s words, “If you didn’t grow it you didn’t eat it.” That was pretty much the rule of the day. But, occasionally grandma would treat the kids by trading a dozen eggs for a few slices of bologna from Alexander Bonin’s general store. Once home grandma would fry up the bologna into “little cups” and fill them with pork and beans. That was a great day on the farm!
1918! Can you even imagine life in 1918? Think before television and video games. Think beyond telephones and automobiles. Think even before electricity, heating, running water and indoor plumbing. 1918 was the year Uncle Carlos was born. Unbelievable. It is hard to imagine life in those times, how difficult things must have been.
Uncle Carlos, who is called “Uncle” by many, but actually is uncle to none, was born the third child of a doctor and his wife in Illinois. To this day Carlos speaks of his father with great respect and often becomes teary-eyed whenever reminiscing about him. His father was not only a physician, but a scholar and preacher. His father graduated valedictorian of his medical school class and continued studying and gaining knowledge throughtout his life. Carlos’ recalls times when his father was gone for days tending to patients in their homes, unable to make it back to his family. He was a caring, patient man and refused care to no one. Mostly his pay consisted of a chicken or some eggs, possibly a ham or whatever else a family could spare.
Carlos also speaks lovingly of his mother, a hard-working woman who remained at home caring for the children as her husband cared for others. Life was hard for women in those days. There were no gas or electric stoves on which to cook, thus food was prepared over an open fire. There were no washers or dryers, clothing was scrubbed by hand and hung up to dry. Winters in Illinois were brutal and his mother worked diligently at keeping a fire going in order to keep the family warm. Carlos remembers his mother heating bricks over an open fire and tenderly wrapping them in cloth before placing them under the covers at the foot of his bed on cold winter nights to keep him warm and toasty.
It is the stories of his childhood that Carlos loves to share with my family and now I would like to share them with you. Enjoy!
My father’s ancestors were originally from La Chausiee, Loudun Region, France. Around 1640, the family departed France, arriving in Port Royal, Acadia, now known as Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. In the mid 1700’s the family was deported to Maryland and later made their way to South Louisiana. Through the years the family continued to speak their native language, thus dad grew up in a French speaking family. As a child I remember going to my grandparents’ farm every Sunday for lunch and not being able to communicate with my grandparents. We would smile and say hello, but other than that I don’t recall ever having a conversation with them. I think that my grandfather did pick up a few words of English once the grandchildren came along, but my grandmother never really learned the language.
Since the majority of the farming families in the area were also of French heritage, French was the only language spoken amongst the people in their community. It was not a problem until the children started school. Dad began school not knowing a word of English. He sat there dumbfounded, not understanding anything the teacher was saying. “It sounded Greek to me.” Initially, the students were allowed to communicate to each other in French, but after a few weeks the principal announced that not a word of French would be tolerated making it difficult for these students to learn. Dad did not even know how to ask to be excused for the restroom. At recess, the boys would sneak behind the outdoor commode in order to communicate. If they were caught they were punished. They were shamed and looked down upon, therefore the French language became an embarrassment to all those in that area.
Try as he might dad could not put the French language behind him. It was imbreeded in him. Even while in the Navy every word went through his head in French and then translated into English. He only learned to recite his prayers in English after he married my mother.
Growing up my father and mother refused to teach me French. It was still embarrassing to them. The only time I heard French in our home was when my parents were talking about things they did not want me to understand or when one of my father’s siblings called. I picked up a few words here and there and, of course, learned the curse words, but other than that never learned the language. To this day I regret not being able to speak French. And to this day my father still thinks in French before speaking in English.
The difficult farm life got even harder once the family moved to the new place. Besides cotton they began planting rice. My grandfather owned six mules that were used to ready the fields and plant the rice – he used two, Elridge (my father’s older brother) used two and dad used two. They pulled single ear plows in circles around acres and acres of land, turning over the fertile dirt. Once the dirt was readied, they again walked behind the mules pulling a piece of equipment that resembled a king size rake. It consisted of iron claws connected to bars. Two or three pieces of wood were placed on top of this rake, then sacks of dirt were placed on both sides to weigh it down. Again they went round and round with the mules breaking up the dirt. When all of the dirt was as fine as silk, a “drop” was used to plant the rice. Rice was poured into the drop which basically was a bin on wheels, and paddles inside would turn and drop the rice, thus the name, “drop”. Once the rice was dropped, my grandfather, dad and his brother hand raked the entire field to cover the rice with dirt. They then rushed to flood the fields before the birds ate the rice.
The water used to flood the fields came from the Vermilion River. The water was pumped into Hunter Canal, which curiously enough was owned by private individuals. The farmers were forced to pay the owners for use of the water. Gates were used to control the water and a man on horseback rode up and down the canal daily keeping track of whose gate was open and whose was closed. The farmers would then owe the owners of the canal a percentage of their crops, depending on how much water was used. At harvest time, the only person with a steam tractor was, of course, good ole’ Alexander Bonin, the local crook. The steam tractor pulled a thrasher which was used in harvesting the fields. Mr. Bonin also took a percentage of the farmer’s crops.
In dad’s words, “Whoever said those were the good old days!”
Dad’s mother handed him six eggs in a paper sack one day and sent him to Alexander Bonin’s store for some black pepper. Dad jumped on his horse, eggs securely in hand and rode horseback as quickly as possible. Once there dad told Mr. Bonin, “Momma wants three eggs worth of black pepper and three eggs worth of candy.” Mr. Bonin began scooping black pepper in the little canister – he kept scooping and scooping and scooping, filling the container. Dad thought to himself, “Wow, look all of the black pepper momma will get for three eggs and I’ll get my candy too!”
Mr. Bonin then looked at dad, poured all the black pepper back into the barrel, handed dad the little container and said, “Here, smell this cause that’s all the black pepper you get for three eggs. Now what does your momma really want?” Dad, standing there with his head between his legs replied, “Six eggs worth of black pepper please.”
Lesson learned – Don’t lie to Mr. Alexander Bonin, a crook recognizes another crook.