I never knew my Grandpa Telesphore Theriot, because he died when I was about two years old, but Grandpa Ozeme Park, my mother's daddy, was the love of my young life. He was a tall, lanky gentle gentleman with German blood coursing through his veins. His hair was kind of orange-red, and he had a beautiful handlebar moustache. He always wore suspenders "to keep my pants from falling off." He lived with my family as far back as I can remember, and was still living with us when he died while the family was living in Orange, Texas.
In his youth and during early manhood, he worked as a trapper in Louisiana's marshland, and he loved to fish. He and his wife, Azema Olivier (French) had three sons and one girl (my mother). Azema died soon after the birth of her youngest son, when my mother was about five years old. Grandpa, as far as I know, never showed interest in another woman.
I followed Grandpa around like a chick following a mama hen, and he taught me so many things. He spoke only French, and I spoke only English, but we understood one another. I knew that when he said "Meck ace!" he wanted me to hurry. I was a grown woman before I realized that what he was really saying was "Make haste!"
He was a world class gardener, and he knew that irrigating was a better way than sprinkling, to water plants. I was a preschooler when he showed me (by letting me help) how to build little levees on each end of the rows to flood the space between the rows of vegetables. He said it was the roots that needed the water. Sometimes the hose ran all night.
During the time of the Depression, my father had to close his machine shop, and we moved from the little town of Kaplan to the littler, but older town of Perry. We lived in a small house on the banks of Bayou Vermilion which my parents rented from a Mr. O'Brien. It was a sturdy little structure, put together with square nails and it had hand-hewn weatherboards. The roof was covered with hand-hewn shingles. Grandpa and my father, with the help of the two older boys, built a "store room" on the back of the house. This is where my mother kept a huge pitcher of water and a big bowl and towels, so that everyone could "wash up" before coming in for supper. I used to shampoo my hair there, too, using bayou water and yellow Octagon soap. Grandpa had me believing that is why I had red hair and freckles.
There was a hall down the middle of this house and two rooms on each side of the hall. Only my parent's room had a fireplace. It didn't really look like much, but every time there was news of a hurricane brewing everyone in town came to ride it out in the "little O'Brien house." It's where everyone felt safest.
The first thing Grandpa did when we moved to Perry was build an outhouse, one of those fancy three-holers. (We had the usual Montgomery Ward catalog for paper, but then when that ran out - well, you haven't lived if you have never had to use a handful of moss for toilet paper!)
Grandpa's next project was putting in a huge garden. My mother raised chickens to furnish the family with eggs and meat, and she wanted a chicken yard built to keep them safe, but instead, Grandpa built a fence around his garden so the chickens couldn't get in. He said it was better for the chickens to run loose. He did build a chicken house for them, though, and put a row of roofed nests on the outside of the chicken house.
We did not have running water at this little house. Rain water captured and stored in a huge cistern made of cypress wood, furnished water for drinking and cooking. For everything else, including watering the garden, we used water hauled from the bayou. It was such a chore, hauling water up that hill to do the laundry, that Grandpa let me help him build a "wash bench" down by the bayou. After that, we filled the wash tubs there, and scrubbed the clothes on a washboard. My mother sometimes let us younger children bathe in the rinse water which had been warmed by the summer sun.
Grandpa showed me how to milk a cow and how to rub squash plants culled from the garden on the cow, to "evade' les mouches" (scare away the flies). He showed me how to skin catfish and gar and that the easiest way to scale fish was to use a spoon. He taught me how to pick a squirrel out of the hickory nut tree with a .22 rifle and he showed me how to skin it. He showed me that I should paddle my pirouge directly into the wake of a passing boat so as not to get swamped. He taught me how to put out a trot line across the bayou - "be sure it's deep enough or a motor boat might cut your line."
I wish I'd had the foresight to write down all the stories Grandpa told us while we popped popcorn in a big pot or baked sweet potatoes in the ashes and coals of the fireplace on cold winter evenings. He told tales of searching for Jean Lafitte's buried treasure in the marsh, of jokes he and his friends played on each other when they were spending the winter in the marsh, walking their trap lines.
Grandpa taught me that being honest was best, but that tact was also important, and giving advice when it is not asked for is liable to look mighty like criticism. And that really is the best policy, friends.
I just wish you all could have known my Grandpa Parks!
Copyright © 2001 Aline T. Meaux, Abbeville, LA
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