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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 1: Gypsies and Turtles

 

My boyhood on Coulee Kinney was lived without radio, TV, video games or Ipods (whatever that is), but looking back, life wasn't all that dull. I had fun, and I learned a lot about nature and about people, many of whom were in a struggle to survive during the Great Depression. These memories are not being related in chronological order in my life but as they come to mind.

The Gypsies: Each winter a group of them would drive down from the midwest (according to their license plates) and set up tents on property owned by Mr. Durph Primeaux, where the old Kaplan Highway and Highway 14 come together just south of the Coulee Kinney bridge. Usually they stayed several weeks. This included men, women and children. The men wore work clothes but usually had a red bandanna on their heads or around their necks. The women wore brightly colored dresses. Whereas the Abbeville natives rode in horses and buggies, model T and model A fords or Chevrolets, these people drove big cars, like Cadillacs, Packards and Buicks.

One year the gypsies were accompanied by 10 or 12 attractive teen aged girls who wore ankle length, brightly colored dresses. They put on demonstrations at one of the movie theaters and at a lounge called "The Forest Club" in Grosse Isle on how to dance the "Big Apple." In this dance, the dancers, both male and female, started by forming a circle then "shuffling" in a clockwise direction, holding up the index finger of the right hand and shaking the hand and shuffling the feet. Then they changed direction and individual dancers would shuffle to the center and back to their positions. It seemed to be great fun and the locals picked up on it fast.

Many of the local people did not trust the gypsies as they felt that some or maybe all of them were thieves.

Word was that when the gypsies left the area, they stole everything they could the night before, including clothes hanging on clothes lines. Maybe so, maybe not. Some people felt that local thieves might have masked their own activities by taking advantage of the gypsies' reputation.

One gypsy lady visited our neighborhood offering to tell fortunes for a fee. My mother wouldn't have any of that, so the lady moved on. But one neighbor reported that when the gypsy visited her, she asked for a drink of water. The neighbor used the aluminum cup that hung near the water bucket for family use, thinking that she would throw the cup away after the gypsy left. After the gypsy lady had drunk the water, she surprised the neighbor by saying, "Why don't you give me this cup. You know you are going to throw it away after I leave." That really shook the neighbor up as she figured that the gypsy had read her mind.

My father had an experience with a man who was driving a truck with an out of state license plate. There is some suspicion that it might have been a gypsy. There was a leak in the roof of our house that my father, who was a carpenter as well as a school bus driver, had not been able to locate. One day this fellow drove up in a truck with several drums of "roof repair material". He told my father that he would cover the entire roof of the house with the material, which looked like coal tar and would harden and seal any existing leaks and prevent other leaks from forming for about $100. So my father gave him the order and the guy got up on the roof and sure enough when he was through the roof looked like a beautiful solid asphalt roof. So when Pop went to pay him, the price went up to $120, as he claimed that he had to use more material than he had estimated. Well, that went against the grain, but since the fellow had done such a good job and Pop was so glad to get rid of the leak, he paid the man the extra $20.

My father was so proud of the new roof that he told all his friends about it, including the part that he wouldn't have to worry about that invisible leak any longer. And then one night there was a down pour, the rain coming down in buckets. And drip, drip, drip, splash, splash, splash, there was the old roof leak again. The next morning we went outside, and there was no evidence of any rock solid asphalt material on the roof. It had all been dissolved by the rain. The rain barrel that we kept on the side of the house to catch rain water for special applications looked like it had been filled with black ink.

The slop barrels: Many of the farm houses in our area had slop barrels. These were wooden barrels or metal drums positioned on the outside of the kitchen window nearest the place where the dishes were washed, which was usually a dishpan on a shelf or small table. Before dishes were washed with homemade soap after each meal, they were scraped to remove all remaining food and rinsed with clear water, all of which was poured into the slop barrel. Also, when meals were prepared, all peelings and pieces of anything not cooked were deposited in the barrel. This swill became food for the pigs. Many times the farmer would add a few pounds of corn or bran or other feed to the swill.

But the most interesting thing about the slop barrel was that most people would add an ingredient that did not go to the pigs but to the family table. That ingredient was—turtles. Turtles were very plentiful and sometimes there were four or five in the barrel at the same time. They stayed afloat and fed off the stuff that went into the swill and got fat. And come Friday, when Catholics were not allowed to eat meat, the turtles, which were allowed, wound up on the table in the form of turtle stew. (I never heard of anyone making turtle soup).



Next: Part 2: House Flies and Mosquitoes

 

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