I am writing these stories to present to my brothers and sisters and our children when we hold our third annual Meaux/Gisclar reunion in November. I hope everyone enjoys reading them.
I remember going to school barefooted with patches on my pants. I remember coming back from school with oil on the soles of my feet. Mr. Bernard Touchet, janitor at my school, used to put oil on the floors to control the dust. Mama could tell if I had gone to school just by looking at my feet. I remember coming home from school and Mama had hot bread or biscuits with homemade butter and Steen's syrup for us to eat. I remember doing my homework outside in the front yard so I would not have to do it in the house by the light of a coal oil lamp.
I remember the outdoor toilet we had in the back yard that I had to clean with a scrub brush every Saturday. I remember how we buried our trash in the back yard. We dug a hole in the ground and put our trash into that hole. When one hole was full, we covered it up with dirt and dug another hole. I would love one day to dig up that yard. I bet we could find some Big Shot pop bottles. I always wanted to find a Big Shot Pop bottle. One day I mentioned this to my niece, Cissi, and she brought me one, which I will always treasure. Of course, in those days, in order to buy a full bottle, you had to turn in an empty bottle. Pop was five cents a bottle, but we couldn't afford one too often.
I remember the fig tree Elie planted on the west side of the house. When Mama washed clothes with homemade lye soap in a #3 galvanized tub, we would dump the soapy water underneath the tree. Boy, you should have seen the earthworms come out of the ground! It must have been good for the fig tree, too, because we picked buckets and buckets of figs off that tree and Mama and my sisters made home made fig preserves. And to top it off, we couldn't leave one ripe fig in the tree! It was also my job to keep the birds out of the tree with a slingshot loaded with China balls or gravel. I remember planting a garden in a 10' x 10' patch of ground. I always planted Kentucky Wonder pole beans. Grandma Gisclar called them "les haricots a Tee-Roy" (Tee-Roy's string beans). And I ate many a tomato right off the plant.
I remember going to the movie at the Dixie Theater on Friday evening after my chores were done. I'd stop at Bill LeBlanc's Grocery Store and ask Papa for fifteen cents to go to the show. It cost nine cents to get in and five cents for a big Power House candy bar. Boy, that was a real treat for me! I loved the cowboy movies that starred Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers. Of course, I also enjoyed the Three Stooges and Our Gang. Papa had to borrow the fifteen cents from his next week's salary. Can you imagine raising seven children on $12.00 a week? But this experience taught me the value of money, and I learned that when we couldn't afford things, we just had to do without. I feel that I am a better person because of this.
I remember Francis and I delivering the Beaumont Enterprise for Mrs. Emery (Cootchie) Theall. They dropped off the papers at the Audrey Drug Store about six in the morning. Mr. "Tee" Chauvin, who worked at the concession counter in the drug store, tells me that he remembers Francis and me waiting for the papers in the rain and cold . We then had to fold the papers so we could throw them on the customers' porches. We got to be pretty good at throwing papers. One morning I took off on my route. There was a hotel where Young's Eye Clinic and the Parish Library are now, which was operated by Alphonse Moore and his wife. I remember there were swinging doors on the building. Well, that fateful morning just as I threw the paper on the porch, out walks Mrs. Moore, through the swinging doors, and the paper hit her right in the stomach! She hollered out "Hey, Boy!". Well, this "Boy" didn't stop. I just kept on going.
I remember when Papa opened a meat market at 600 Hawthorne Street, on the corner of Hawthorne and Clover. This was the same place that Sam Russo had operated a grocery store, then Nelson Hollier, then Papa. When Papa built his market at our house at 407 Vermilion Street, Loreal Landry opened a store at the Hawthorne Street location.
Papa endured real hardship when he first opened his market, because it was during war time and you needed to have been in business before, so you could have a quota in order to sell a certain amount of meat. For a short time, he was allowed to sell only mutton, and later he could sell beef and pork. He butchered the hogs, calves and sheep, then brought them to the ice plant where he had rented a rack to keep his meat cold, since his market had no refrigeration, except for refrigerated counter that he could put only cut meat in. Every morning he hauled and cut the meat he could sell that day. We cut the meat on a butcher block cut from a big tree trunk. Metal picks held the meat in place while we cut and sawed it by hand. Electric meat saws were unheard of in those days, at least in our neck of the woods. I used to pick up Uncle TeWitt (Whitney) at four o'clock in the morning, when he was available, then we picked up the meat at the ice plant and brought it to the market to be cut, in order to have enough meat ready when people started coming in. Seemed as though we could never catch up. Not many people had ice boxes, so every morning we delivered orders, mostly ten cents and fifteen cents orders, on a bicycle.
During the war, meat was rationed. People had to use ration stamps in order to purchase meat. Also Papa had a quota of meat he was allowed to sell in a month's time, and after he sold his quota, he had to stay closed until the next month. Often he closed for one week, an sometimes even two weeks. Gas was also rationed, too, and he sometimes ran out of gas for his '34 Chevrolet after he had used all of his gas coupons. Uncle TeWitt (Whitney) came to his rescue quite a few times and helped him to get more gas, which at that time cost nineteen cents a gallon, as I recall.
When Papa built his meat market on Vermilion Street, he really had a thriving business. He then started selling groceries, also, and that added to the work. Cotchie, Francis and Elie returned from Military Service, and it took them and Papa, myself, Uncle TeMaff (Murphy) and Uncle TeWitt (Whitney) to keep up with all the customers. At last he was able to buy an electric meat saw, which was really a blessing. We could cut the meat so much faster. He also added on to the market and put in a walk-in cooler to keep the meat cold until it was cut and placed in the display counter. This eliminated the need to go to the ice plant every day to pick up meat for that day's sales.
During the war the ceiling price of seven-steak was fifteen cents a pound. A small loaf of bread sold for fifteen cents, and a large loaf for nineteen cents. Everything you sold needed ration stamps and you had to sell the meat at the ceiling price. He sold lots and lots of cracklings for ten cents a pound. Of course, when I had the chance to get to the "pig tail" before he could sell it, there was no "pig tail" to sell, because I would eat it myself! And there was the boudin and hog head cheese that Mama, Ella, Nita and Annie made! Mama stuffed the boudin mix in the casing, using a cow horn cut to about 4 inches and sanded smooth. She put the casing on one end and stuffed the boudin mix into the other end.
Papa built his own slaughterhouse, and today that building houses my tool house. Mr. "Sweet" Richardson built this unique slaughter house, using a wooden wheel with a rope to lift the animal, instead of the usual two pullleys. With the pulleys, it took two men to lift the animal and with the wooden wheel, one man could do the job with hardly any strain at all. He got the wooden wheel idea from Mr. Aubrey Marceaux who had a slaughterhouse in Kaplan.
First Papa used a horse and wagon to haul the butchered meat to the ice plant. Then he used the '34 Chevrolet with sheets spread on the back seat. He later removed the back seat and installed a box lined with tin to put the meat in. Then he converted the car into a truck and Fernand LeMaire made him a meat box to put on the truck to carry the meat in. Elie, Cotchie, Francis, and I would sometimes butcher up to twenty-two head per day. We had a separate building where we salted and stored the hides. Salting the hides took just as long as butchering the cattle, but that was an added source of income. The "hide" man came with his truck every week or ten days to buy the hides. The holding pen at the slaughterhouse was built of road boards which Black Bergeron helped Papa get. These boards must have been oak, because sometimes we bent ten big spikes before we could drive in one that would hold. There was also a screened room built onto the slaughterhouse where we hung the meat on hooks until we had finished butchering all of the animals.
I remember Cotchie, Francis, Elie and I working in the garden which was where Charlene's house, Keith's trailer, and Rae and Michael's houses are now. Cotchie was hoeing the plants and every once in a while he would cut a plant down. I said, "Cotchie, you cut a plant!" He would answer, "That's a sign that there was one too many plants," and he would keep right on hoeing.
We are having this reunion, Mama and Papa, to honor your memory and to thank you for the kindness, help, love and affection you gave us.
From the hearts of Elie, Ella, Cotchie, Anita, Annie, Francis and Roy
11 November 2002
Copyright © 2002
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