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Vermilion Historical Society
Up 1. Gypsies & Turtles 2. Houseflies & Mosquitoes 3. The Economy 4. Elementary School 5. Sleepovers 6. Sackcloth, No Ashes 7. Teachers 8. Mardi Gras & Horses 9. Bootleggers & Moonshine 10. Band of Families 11. Swimming 12. The Boxing Experience 13. Friends I 14. Friends II 15. Friends III 16. Friends IV 17. Depression Softeners  
A Cajun Boyhood

By C. Paul Bergeron

Part 15: Friends III

  In 1932 I made my first Communion, after one year of studying catechism with my sister Mabel three times a week and attending catechism classes at St. Mary Magdalen church for two hours each Saturday morning and one hour each Sunday morning. There were about one hundred ten year old kids learning about our religion that year. About half were doing it in French and the other half in English. I was in the French group, and each one of us was assigned to a certain place in a certain pew. One of the boys sitting next to me during the year was named Jean "John" Dartez. We got along fine and could have been great friends, but we went to different schools and lost contact after the religious instruction was finished.

About a year later my father and I noticed that someone was moving in to the house on the Baudoin farm that bordered Coulee Kinney across from the golf course. My father wanted to meet the new neighbors so we walked over to the place where we could see the father of the family standing with three boys. When we got closer to the group, I heard a familiar voice say "Well, hi, Sell - rrrrriv". I looked over that way and there was my old friend John Dartez of catechism time. He called me Sell-rrriv because that was the name that he knew me by in catechism. My mother had been disappointed that my name had been changed when I started school, so when she enrolled me in the catechism class, she gave the name Sell-rrriv, which was also her father's name. This was the last time that she ever tried to bring the name back, as even the young priest who conducted the catechism classes called me "Celery".

That day I met Ralph and Louis. John and I were eleven, Ralph nine and Louis eight. We had some great times playing in the woods that bordered the coulee. A movie about Robin Hood came to the Frank Theater, starring either Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. or Errol Flynn, I don't recall which, and that gave us plenty of material for fun. The woods were transformed into Sherwood Forest. The good guys battled the bad guys with wooden swords and cardboard shields. Arrows from Robin Hood and his men flew in all directions, and how one of us did not lose an eye in the process is still a mystery. Then came a Tarzan movie, and in this one Tarzan's chief adversary was a huge "bull ape". So the woods went from being Sherwood Forest to an African jungle, and Tarzan's famous call could be heard in four different voices. The bull ape's roars could also be heard in four different voices.

The next thing we did was more scientific. We strung a telephone line from their house to my house. The line was made of cotton string from feed sacks. The telephone instruments were two tin cans with the two ends cut out and one end covered with frog skin. And when we tested it, it worked—if we shouted loud enough. Of course, if we shouted loud enough, we didn't need the telephone. But it was fun just the same.

Mr. Dartez owned several heads of cattle, including some milk cows. He found out that our milk cow was dry and insisted that my father send me to their house each evening to get milk. So every day I went to the Dartez house with an empty one gallon syrup can and came home with a gallon of milk. This went on until our cow became fresh. It was always a good trip for me, as I sat in the Dartez kitchen while waiting for the milk. It always smelled so good. Mrs. Dartez was usually baking corn bread or home made bread, and she would give me a slice while I waited. I am not sure, but I believe that John did the milking. That is one chore that I had diabolically avoided at home. I hated to milk a cow and I had contrived to convince my father that I was too awkward to accomplish the task. I was left handed and my father, like so many others at that time, thought that people who were left handed were also very awkward as well as being a little slow upstairs. I am sorry to say that I did nothing to correct that impression. He fired me one day and banned me forever from the cow milking area when the cow accidentally stepped in the milk bucket that I had put on the ground because I had developed a cramp in one of my legs.

One of the heads of cattle was a young bull, and one day somebody in the group said something like: "I bet it would be fun to ride that bull". I think we all agreed that it would indeed be fun. So John and I, being the oldest, decided that we would ride first and break in the bull so that it would be gentle when Ralph and Louis got on. John got on first, bareback, no rope to hold on to and went flying off after a couple of seconds. I then tried, with the same results, except I had a badly skinned elbow and knee. So John and I talked it over and decided that if we had a saddle, we could ride that bull. I went home and got the army saddle that my father had bought when he bought Pony. We put that saddle on that poor bull, cinching the saddle up real tight. John and I tried it again, with the same results. After throwing us, the bull was furious. He rolled over several times in the barn yard and when he got up the saddle was under his belly. It took a while before we could approach him to get the saddle off.

After about a year the Dartez family left the farm and purchased some property and built a house on the Kaplan highway. It was John who helped me get started as a caddie. Ralph and Louis were also caddies, so my relationship with the Dartez boys continued for several years. All three of them served in the military during World War II. John and Ralph served in Europe. John lost his life as a result of the Battle of the Bulge. Louis was in the Air Force, serving as a tail gunner on a B-17 but the war ended before he got into combat. After his discharge he reenlisted and became a fighter pilot, flying the hot P-51 Mustang. Later he owned and operated his own business in Houston and is now retired. Ralph went to LSU after the war and got an engineering degree. He worked for a mining company and retired as a high level executive and presently lives in the New Orleans area. Both Ralph and Louis have maintained connections with the Acadiana area.

Next: Part 16:  Friends IV


A Cajun Boyhood, by
C. Paul Bergeron
© 2007 by C. Paul Bergeron