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Vermilion Historical Society
Biographies
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 2: Houseflies & Mosquitoes

 

In the early 1930's many houses, especially in the rural areas, did not have screen doors and windows. So there were problems with insects such as house flies and mosquitoes. Besides the nuisance factor of having these insects invade one's house, the threat of typhoid fever carried by the flies and malaria carried by the mosquitoes was very real.

There were no government programs designed to control such insects, so it was up to the population to provide their own defenses. House flies and mosquitoes invaded houses in clouds that numbered probably in the hundreds or even thousands.

The most effective defense against the house flies was the flypaper strip. This strip was about 2 inches wide and was coated on both sides with a mixture of an attractant and an adhesive. The strip was usually hung from the ceiling to about three feet above the table where the family ate its meals. The flies landed on the strip looking for a meal and got their legs stuck in the adhesive. And there they remained until they died of dehydration after days of struggling to get off. As more and more flies were trapped, the efforts of their collective wings made an audible sound, so as you sat at the table eating your coush coush, you could hear a buzz, buzz, buzz. Eventually every space on the strip was occupied by a fly, some dead, some living and struggling to get off. The strip was taken down and dropped into the wood burning stove and a new strip installed.

Square sheets of fly paper coated on only one side were also used. These were placed on tables and shelves throughout the house and trapped flies that had evaded the hanging fly strip. Disposal was in the same manner as the strips.

One home-made device worked but could not handle huge quantities of flies. This was a bowl half filled with soapy water, covered with a cardboard with a small hole in the center and syrup spread on the underside and a few grains of sugar around the hole on the top of the cardboard. Flies would be attracted to the sugar around the hole and somehow discover the syrup underneath, crawl through the hole and walk upside down to eat the syrup. As the inhabitants walked through the house, they would give the traps a "thump" on the cardboard, dumping the flies on the underside into the soapy water.

And, of course, there was one or more good old fly swatters in the house to get those flies that tried to land on the food or in your plate during meal time.

Mosquitoes were an even bigger problem. While not as nasty and repulsive as the flies, they bit and transmitted the malaria bug from one person to another. They existed by the thousands, but it took only one inside your mosquito bar to keep you awake all night with its constant humming and occasional bites. The numerous ponds, puddles and ditches provided ideal habitat for the insects to reproduce and there were no defensive programs to control them.

During those days, both man and beast suffered. Man had the same weapon that our early ancestors used to protect themselves from the sabre-toothed tiger and other dangerous beasts, and that is fire.

Fire, not to scare the mosquitoes, but to make smoke to drive them out of the houses and hopefully also out of the stable and out of the pig pen.

Each night preparations started about the time that the sun was setting. The direction of the wind was noted very carefully and the firewood and green Spanish moss were placed in a position that would allow the wind to carry the smoke into and around the house. The fire was lit and when the wood was burning briskly, the green moss was added and the white smoke enveloped the house and filled every nook and cranny. After a few minutes the mosquito population in that house was probably zero.

Most houses had beds equipped with mosquito netting, referred to as "mosquito bar", but in houses that did not have that necessity, they closed the doors and windows and endured the heat rather than fight the mosquitoes that would reenter the house after the smoke had dissipated. All the houses that received that daily smoke treatment had a distinct smoke smell when entered at any time of the day.


Next: Part 3:  The Economy

 


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