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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 16: Friends IV

During my preteen years and early teens I had two very good friends who lived not on the coulee but in the town of Abbeville. They were Warren "Boo Boo" Frederick, a first cousin, to be referred to as "Boo Boo" and Warren Theall, to be referred to as Warren. I went to town to be with them more often than they came to the coulee. All three of us were born in 1922, just a few months apart.

When Boo Boo came to the country, he loved to ride my horse. There was a law at the time that required the owners of all cattle and horses to "dip" them periodically to help eradicate the wood tick, which carried and transmitted diseases that killed livestock by the hundreds each year. The dipping vat for our area was located on Coulee Kinney Road, about a quarter of a mile from my house. So on the designated day for dipping Coulee Kinney Road was clogged on both ends with livestock either being driven to the vat or being driven away from the vat after dipping. This is where Boo Boo really shone. He rode up and down like John Wayne giving a hand when ever and where ever extra help was needed. He was work oriented and was really good with tools. Give him a hammer and a saw and a few pieces of lumber and he could build you a tree house that you could be proud of. When one of my younger friends lost control while riding my brand new bicycle and damaged the front fender, which looked like a closed accordion, Boo Boo took out his tools and fixed it. He could milk cows, spade the garden, fix fences—just like he had grown up on a farm.

Warren, on the other hand, was more like me—an explorer, a big game hunter, an adventurer. His visits to the coulee invariably took us to the fields and the woods, gun in hand. At first it was BB guns, then 22 rifles and then later shotguns. It was with the 22 rifles that we had the most fun. Rather than hunt for food, we concentrated on eliminating predators. In those days, many of the farms along the coulee raised rice, and that required man made canals from the coulee to the rice field. Those canals had fish in them. Also in those canals were numerous snakes that preyed on the fish. Some of the snakes were the poisonous cotton mouth moccasin, but most were non-poisonous water snakes. Warren and I stood on the levees and popped away at the snakes as they swam around or as they raised their heads out of the water. The fish population increased as the snake population decreased.

Another predator that we went after was the chicken-hawk. Those birds are probably protected by law today, but at the time if there were such protection, Warren and I were not aware of it. We were aware that chicken hawks were very aggressive and would fly into a farmer's yard and snatch young chickens and carry them away. This meant loss of income to the farmer, and in those depression years, every cent that a person could earn was needed. But I will admit that we did not get good shots at very many hawks. Those birds were smart. I can remember being successful only twice—once with a 22 rifle and once with a shot gun.

Besides the water snakes, there were a lot more land snakes then than there are today. The poisonous ones that we ran into were the copper heads and the ground rattlers. Both of these species are related to the rattle snake. They were found in the woods, in the fields and in house yards, especially around trees. We never came across a corral snake, the deadliest of the Louisiana snakes, or a rattlesnake. We could identify the poisonous snakes by their arrow shaped heads, slit eyes and stubby tails. The king snakes, garter snakes, glass snakes, blue runners and other species we left alone.

In all our hikes through the woods and the fields, we never once came across an armadillo. I don't believe that there were armadillos down here at that time. That animal migrated to this area years later. The armadillo is one of the primary reasons, along with loss of habitat, that the snake population has been so drastically decreased. Armadillos' main diet consists of worms, and armadillos apparently look at young snakes as just another big worm. Another thing that we did not see was a "chicken tree". I might be the only person still alive who knows how that pest the chicken tree got started in this area.

One afternoon my father and I were in the yard when an old Buick automobile with Arizona license plates pulled in. The driver was an older man who introduced himself and said that he was going around giving bags of seeds to residents who owned chickens. According to him the seeds would grow into trees that would provide enough seeds to feed the chickens each year. There were dozens of brown paper bags filled with seeds in the car, and the driver said that he intended to give them all out to interested farmers, which he apparently did, as today the area is full of "chicken trees", considered more a pest than a blessing. One good thing about the "chicken tree". It is one of the very few trees in our area whose foliage changes color in the fall and winter—- from green to a bright red. If you have a chicken tree, check it out in about December and January.

On one trip to the coulee, Warren did not have a gun. What he had was a nickel and he was hungry for watermelon. It so happened that I also had a nickel and I knew of a farm about two miles down the road that had melons for sale. So we walked to the farm, and I told the lady, in French, that we wanted to buy a ten cent watermelon. She replied that she did not have any melons at the house, but "give me your ten cents and ya'll go to the melon patch and eat all you want for as long as you want". That was about nine in the morning. When Warren and I got to that melon patch, there were melons by the hundreds. We didn't have a pocket knife, so we broke the ones we selected with our fists and ate only the hearts. There were trees along the fence line that provided plenty of shade, so we stayed there all day, eating water melon and resting in the shade. That was absolutely the best bargain that he or I ever made.

William Weill
William "Topsy" Weill

When I went to town to see either Warren, the other would invariably get involved. Sometimes the three of us would go across the street from Warren's to play with William "Topsy" Weill. Topsy was a couple of years older than we were, a real nice guy, and very interesting to play with. He liked things military and had built a fort in his back yard, which bordered Bayou Vermilion. One day I rode Pony to Topsy's and tied him to a tree in the yard. Leonard, who was one of Topsy's older brothers, saw the horse tied to the tree and told me to take the saddle and bridle off and to put Pony in an enclosed pen where a couple of calves were grazing in some thick, green grass. That sounded great to me, but after the horse was grazing along with the calves, Bob, another of Topsy's older brothers came over and told me to get that mangy horse out of the calf's pen or he would get his shotgun and blast him. So I ran to do what Bob said, but Leonard came out and said don't move a thing. Leave that horse there. Which I did. All the while Bob was threatening to get the shotgun. During all of the time that I was spending with Topsy and the two Warrens, I was listening for that shotgun to go off. Of course, the shotgun never did go off. I am convinced now that Leonard and Bob were just having a little fun with me. Topsy participated in ROTC while in college at LSU and served as a commissioned officer during World War II. He was killed in combat during the Italian campaign.

Sometimes we played at Armand Frank's house, usually some form of baseball or football. That usually included Henry "Potsy" Landry, who was a next door neighbor. I believe that Armand is now a retired Sears executive living in Dallas. Potsy is a retired dentist, living in the old homestead. He served in Korea during the Korean War. We have coffee together every Tuesday morning.

Sometimes the three of us went to Dudley LeBlanc, Jr.'s house. We played tennis or some form of football or baseball, and this usually included Roland "Poley" LeBlanc, Dudley's younger brother and Richard "Big Boy" Fleming, a next door neighbor. Dudley had an extreme interest in aviation and the model airplanes he built were outstanding. He became a flyer in World War II and also flew airplanes in his occupation after the war. Poley served in the Pacific as a Navy Corpsman attached to a CB battalion. He joins me and Potsy for coffee and reminiscing each Tuesday morning. Big Boy left the state for employment and went to Atlanta, Georgia, where he died some years ago.

Many times we went to Boo Boo's house where we were joined by others from the neighborhood for some form of football or baseball. The house was located on a very large lot, so there was plenty of room for plenty of boys. When it rained, Boo Boo's was the ideal place to be, because the house reputedly had been built by a medical doctor who used the first floor to house his family and the upstairs as a clinic. The Frederick family did not use any part of the upstairs, so that huge area was available for us to continue our activities when it was raining outside.

In the summer of 1937 the two Warrens informed me that they were going to spend two weeks at Cheniere au Tigre, where there was a nice beach and a hotel to house those fortunate enough to go there. Besides the swimming and sun bathing the fishing was also great. I sure envied them, but that was not the type of thing that my family could afford. So on the Saturday night ending their first week at the Cheniere, I went to the Evangeline League baseball game at the Abbeville baseball park. I bought my ticket and walked to the bleachers where we usually sat when we attended together, and there sat Warren Theall. He explained that he and Boo Boo had to come back because Boo Boo was pretty sick. He didn't know what Boo Boo had. So I sat with him and as usual we each put up a nickel and bought a bottle of R. C. Cola (because the bottle was at least twice as big as the Cocoa Cola bottle) and a bag of peanuts, which we shelled. We passed the cola back and forth until about half of it was gone, then we put the peanuts in the bottle. We continued to pass the bottle back and forth, trying to get as many peanuts as we could with each swig. After the game we went our separate ways.

Next morning, Sunday, Father Daull announced after Mass that Boo Boo had died during the night. I was in a state of shock. I couldn't believe it. When I went to visit after his body was laid out, I saw that there was a glass plate over his coffin. The reason—-- he had died of spinal meningitis, a very contagious and deadly disease. This was the first time I had ever felt overpowering grief at someone's death. I had never lost anyone close before. This was years before Paul "Brother" Bruno's death. I had lost a class mate named Austin of a ruptured appendix in the second grade and a school mate named Rex of blood poisoning in about the third grade, but these kids were not really that close to me.

I had been told about some family members who had suffered additional grief and anxiety when their mother's casket was placed in a flooded grave and had to be held down by two men standing on top of it in order to bury it. And I had witnessed the grief of family members whose mother had died of complications in child birth at five AM and whose body had not lost its body warmth or become rigid by the time it was to be buried that afternoon. And the doctor was called to the house and he checked all vital signs and again pronounced her dead and she was buried as scheduled. I still shudder when I think of it. I am sure my grief was nothing like that, but it was my first real experience with death.

A day or two after Boo Boo was buried, I received another shock. News got to me that Warren had been found to possess the bacteria that caused the disease and had been taken to New Orleans by the people with the board of health to be detoxified. Right away I remembered the baseball game and the pop bottle going back and forth, but I never said a word to my parents. At one point I could feel my back getting sore, but I kept silent. Nothing bad happened, I am happy to say.

Warren Theall and I continued our friendship through high school. He was in college when we got involved in World War II. After graduation he enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to a PBY flying boat that flew anti- submarine patrols in the Atlantic Ocean. When the war ended he was transferred to the Shore Patrol and stationed in New Orleans. One day I picked up a copy of the Times Picayune, a New Orleans newspaper, and read that a taxi cab driver had reported to police that he had transported a sailor to the middle of the Huey Long bridge over the Mississippi, and that the sailor had given him his watch, saying that he would no longer need it. When the police investigated, a sailor's hat with Warren's name on it was found, along with a pair of shoes. No one saw him jump, nor was his body ever recovered. But he was never seen or heard from again. A few days after I read the story, I saw another story in a newspaper that might shed some light. This story told of a wedding that was to be held in the near future. The girl getting married was someone Warren had corresponded with during the war.

I mentioned the military service of some of those named in this "memory". That I did not mention military service in connection with someone named does not necessarily mean that the person did not serve. It simply means that I did not have specific information.

Next: Part 17:  Depression Softeners

 


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