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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 10: Band of Families

The families in our little nook along Coulee Kinney were close. I don't know if it was because of the hardships being inflicted on them by the depression or if it was part of the our culture, but when there was a need, there was a deed to meet it.

When Mr. LeBlanc's house roof caught on fire, he had no ladder. He manually pushed his farm wagon against the house. He lifted an empty metal drum, stood it up in the wagon, climbed on top and managed to climb to the roof from there. All the while he and his family were shouting for help. Neighbors heard and came running, but by the time they arrived Mr. LeBlanc had managed to put the fire out with buckets of water his wife and children had brought to him. There was some damage to the roof, and this is where the neighbors came in. They went home and got some tools and some ladders, removed the damaged material and by the end of the day the roof had been repaired.

One interesting sidelight—Mr. LeBlanc tried to duplicate his feat of climbing to the roof from the top of the metal drum and couldn't even come close. Yet when his house was in jeopardy he found the strength and agility to do what had to be done.

One year my Uncle Zack had trouble saving his cotton crop. For a reason that I don't recall he had not been able to have his cotton picked, so he had gone into the cotton field with his wagon and his pickers pulled the cotton filled bolls from the cotton plants and threw them into the wagon. A good portion of his crop was picked this way, and the bolls were stored in a couple of sheds, in one of the rooms in his house and on the front porch. Then friends, relatives and neighbors came and separated the cotton from the bolls so that the cotton could be bagged and taken to the cotton gin. A lot of the work was done at night after the people had finished their own day's work.

When the ladies had to make quilts or card cotton or wool, they could depend on the other ladies of the neighborhood to give a hand. When a farmer had to build a fence or a shed, or make repairs to existing structures, he could depend on help from his neighbors.

Just about everybody raised pigs. So there were a lot of "boucheries", where a pig was butchered with help from a neighbor or two. Usually one pig was selected and designated as the "cochon de graisse", which meant that this particular pig would be isolated and forced fed to make it as fat as possible so that the family's yearly requirement for lard would be met. These critters became huge, weighing up to five hundred pounds, many times unable to walk. So butchering one became a major undertaking, requiring several men and many ladies as well. There were always neighbors available.

The first step was to move the pig to a suitable area of the yard. This meant tying the pig's legs and manually carrying it or placing the pig on a sled and dragging it, either method requiring considerable manpower. There were neighbors there to help. The next step would have made a cock fight or maybe even a dog fight look like a tea party, but it was part of life for those involved. The head butcher selected the longest and sharpest knife and stabbed the pig in the throat, twisting and turning the knife to cause as much bleeding as possible. The poor pig's squeals could be heard for a mile. The butcher's assistant held a pan under the pig's throat to catch the blood flowing from the wound. The blood was used later to make red boudin. The stabbing and twisting and turning of the knife was repeated several times, lasting several minutes before the pig finally expired.

Next boiling water was poured on the pig and several men would use knife like scrapers to remove the hair from the pig. When that was done, the pig was opened up and the organs that were called "debris" and the backbone were removed and rushed to the kitchen. There several ladies pitched in and prepared the dinner—pork jumbalaya, roasted backbone and debris. Meanwhile the men were removing large slabs of fat from the carcass and dropping them into one or more large black iron pots that fires had been built around. The fat was rendered into oil which was transferred to large ceramic crocks that held about five gallons. One by-product of that was cracklins, which were salted and then set aside for distribution later in the day.

The dinner always tasted great. In the afternoon the boudin was made, both red and white. The lean pork was processed into various grades and cuts. Everyone who had come to help was given a package to take home—cracklin, red boudin, white boudin, and a roast.

There was one very unusual incident when several men of the neighborhood came together when called upon. One afternoon late Otis Campbell, my brother in law who lived next door, was followed home from town by three or four cars full of young men. It seems that Otis and one of the young men had some words and the young man had connected with some of his buddies and wanted to fight. Otis wanted to fight, also, but he was alone, so he used some discretion and came home, only to be followed as mentioned. My father had worked as a bouncer at a dancehall a time or two, so he knew something about what to do. So he shouted to the nearest neighbors, who shouted to their nearest neighbors and within fifteen minutes about seven or eight middle aged and older men joined Pop and Otis. The two groups met on the public road, which is now Coulee Kinney Drive. The other group turned out to be some farm boys from another area of Vermilion Parish.

Otis was no beginner as a pugilist. He had grown up in the salt miners' village at Jefferson Island. The miners were very sports minded and boxing matches were some of their favorite entertainment. Otis participated often and he was good. So after the two groups had formed a circle, Otis and his opponent squared off. The farm boy was plenty willing, but he was no match for Otis' speed and punching ability. After a couple of minutes it was all one sided and the farm boy gave up. My father related later that he was so relieved that it ended so quickly and that no one was seriously hurt, and how shocked and distressed he was to hear Otis calmly announce: "Who's next?" And someone was next—a bigger and more experienced guy jumped in the circle and he and Otis went right to it. It was much tighter this time and it took longer but again Otis' speed and experience in the ring paid off. When Otis began to dominate the fight, that guy gave up, also.

My father did not waste any time. He put his arms around Otis and commanded "Let's go home." Some of the people shook hands and that was the end of the episode.


Next: Part 11:  Swimming

 


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