By C. Paul Bergeron
Part 14: Friends II
Roy Pierre Theriot and I started the first grade at the Old School on the same day. We soon became good friends and became even better friends when his family moved to Coulee Kinney a couple of years later.
His mother made great chow chow, and Roy would bring me a chow chow sandwich from time to time. We both liked to read and we would sit around and discuss the stories we read. He had a great sense of humor and would change/add words to nursery rhymes and poems like "Casey Jones" and "The Goose Drank Wine" that would make everyone laugh. It was he who told me about the bargains on pulp magazines and old newspapers that were available at Miss Elodie's Goddard Drug Store on Concord street. Miss Elodie was the pharmacist and sole attendant at the drugstore. She kept a newsstand where an armload of old newspapers could be bought for about a quarter. Old newspapers were a vital commodity to rural families, serving as wrapping paper and
toilet paper. The front cover of out of date pulp magazines were torn off and the magazines, which normally sold for a quarter, were sold for a nickel or a dime. The stories I liked were those about the wild west and those about the aviation battles during World War I. Roy and I especially prized the old Sunday newspapers because they contained the comics, which we called the "funny papers".
Don't let Roy's love of reading and his rendition of funny poems mislead you. He was a tough kid, built like a future fullback and not afraid of anything. We roamed the woods a lot, observing wildlife and enjoying nature. It was he who made my first "camping" experience possible. He invited me and Weston Broussard, a class mate in the fifth grade, to a one day outing. We left his house early in the morning carrying three fishing lines, a black iron pot, a tin can full of chicken gut, a jar of hog lard, a butcher knife, some corn meal, some seasoning, some Irish potatoes, some matches, some old newspapers and a bucket full of drinking water. It seemed like we hiked through the woods for a mile or more, but I know now that the distance was only about six or seven hundred yards. For those who are familiar with the Abbeville golf course, Roy's house was located close to where No. 8 green is now located and the campsite Roy chose was on the bend in the coulee to the left of No. 6 green.
We began to fish and soon had more than enough catfish. It was while fishing that we had the only negative occurrence of the day. While I was rebaiting my hook after catching a fish, I had a particularly nasty experience with the chicken gut. If you have ever fished with chicken gut, you'll know what I mean. I turned away in disgust and plunged my hand into the bucket of drinking water. You can imagine the reaction I got from the other two. To save my life I quickly dumped the water and took off running for the house where I washed the bucket and rinsed it several times before refilling it at the pump and carrying it back to the campsite.
Weston was a couple of years older than Roy and I and had some kitchen experience at home. He prepared the fish while Roy and I gathered the dry wood, built the fire, and peeled and sliced the potatoes. The fried fish and fried potatoes tasted so good. And we had all we could possibly want to eat. For the rest of the day we just lounged around, listening to the birds sing and watching the squirrels and rabbits run and jump. During the several years that I played golf, I always thought of that wonderful episode in my life, when I looked over at the bend in the coulee just west of No. 6 green.
Like so many young men did during the Great Depression, Roy quit school to go to work to help support the family. Some time before Pearl Harbor was attacked he joined the U.S. Navy. He was on active duty in the Pacific for the duration of World War II. He married a girl from California and settled on the West Coast, where he still lives at this writing.
I started smoking before I was ten years old. Don't be shocked! I wasn't smoking POT! I wasn't even smoking tobacco. What I was smoking was corn silk. This material I understand is part of the process of pollination of an ear of corn. When its job is done it dries up, and each ear of corn, when mature, has a tuft of dry corn silk sticking out of the top. That is the part that I used to make my cigarettes. With a corn field in front of my house and a corn field in back of my house, I had an unlimited supply. I kept my stuff in a cloth Bull Durham tobacco bag, like the cowboys used in the movies, along with a "cigarette book" containing about fifty slips of cigarette paper to roll cigarettes with. My parents had no idea that I was doing this. I restricted my smoking to the woods or the corn patch.
I had a friend named B. L. Ledet who lived on the west bank of Bayou Vermillion. His father farmed the land that adjoined our property and hired me and members of my family to pick cotton each year. I liked to visit B.L. because he was a fun guy and there was a lot of farm equipment available to climb on and there was a huge barn with a large hayloft where we could play king of the hill when enough guys showed up. King of the hill was usually played where there was a straw stack. Straw stacks were created when the rice stalks were being run through a threshing machine which separated the rice grains from the straw. The straw was blown onto stacks that sometimes exceeded twenty feet high. It took several participants to make king of the hill fun. It was a free for all activity in which the fastest and or strongest guy would claim the top of the strawstack and push everybody else off. No one got hurt because those who fell landed on straw. B. L.'s father did not raise rice, so we used the hay loft instead.
On one visit to B. L.'s I found him at home alone. His parents were in town. He invited me inside and while we were visiting, he prepared a concoction of dry chocolate and sugar. He gave me a large portion and I found it to taste quite good. After we had eaten I pulled out my Bull Durham bag of corn silk and was about to roll a cigarette when B. L. offered me the real stuff, if I was interested. He said that his father smoked Virginia Extra tobacco and there was plenty around. That sounded good to me. I believe that I had been thinking along those lines for some time, like this was the next important step in my life. So I rolled a cigarette with tobacco, coughed a little but got through it. Then I had a couple more back to back. And then the cigarettes struck back. I ran outside and barely made it out before the chocolate and sugar began gushing out. That turned out to be the cure. I didn't even go back to the corn silk.
B. L.'s father died some time after the incident. One of BL's older brothers had moved to California and had written back that he was making $18 a week and that there were jobs available. So BL and his mother moved to California. They did not move back.
Next: Part 15: Friends III
A Cajun Boyhood, by
C. Paul Bergeron
© 2007 by C. Paul Bergeron