NONC FRANK AND TANTE JEANNE
When Dad opened his machine shop in Kaplan, his younger brother moved to Kaplan from Abbeville and went to work in the shop, too. He was my Nonc Frank and his wife was Tante Jeanne. (His name was really Francois Hughes Theriot and she was Jeanne d'Augereau.)
Not too many years ago, someone gave me a snapshot of Nonc Frank and Tante Jeanne, sitting on the kitchen step of their house in Kaplan, with their twin girls, May and Mabel, and their little dog that they called "Black Bear." That was when I learned that both Frank and Jeanne had twin siblings who had died. I didn't even know that Grandma had ever had a set of twins! And that means that she had 13 children instead of 12! You'd have to have known "Lil' Grandma" to know how amazing that was. She was not even five feet tall, and I am sure she never weighed more than 90 pounds in all of her life.
Nonc Frank and Tante Jeanne were living in a little yellow rent house about two blocks from where we lived when Jerry was born. I was sent over to stay with Tante Jeanne when Mom was in labor, so I would not get in the way. I was told only that my mother was sick and I had to stay with Tante Jeanne until she felt better. Imagine my surprise when Tante Jeanne told me I had a baby brother and could go home now!
Eventually, Nonc Frank acquired a big corner lot near the west town limits, and he built what seemed to me a spacious house for his family. My Dad helped him and on the same lot, they built a small cottage for Grandma and Aunt Marie. (Aunt Marie was disabled. Although she was born a normal child, she'd had what was then called "a three-day fever" which crippled her in mind and body. I think now that probably what she'd had was meningitis.) I remember Aunt Marie's beautiful crystal blue eyes, which I was told she "got from her daddy." Aunt Marie became a much larger woman than her mother, but Grandma took care of her until she was about 35 years old. When the little mother couldn't handle her any more, Marie was institutionalized. She died in 1944, while I was living in California with my sailor husband. Dad wrote me about her death three months later. I guess he didn't realize how much I cared about this aunt with the mind of a little child and the the beautiful blue eyes.
Mom and Jerry and I spent a lot of time in Tante Jeanne's kitchen. We'd go over to spend the afternoon and Mom would make fried doughnuts or she and Tante Jeanne would bake blackberry tarts or make fig preserve cake. And all the time, Tante Jeanne talked and talked! That was the talkingest lady! (I think the expression "vaccinated with a phonograph needle" may have originated with Tante Jeanne.)
Do you remember hearing about the country singer Jimmy Rodgers? Tante Jeanne had every record he ever made, I think. She would crank up her little phonograph and sit in her rocker with her head tilted back and a smile on her face and play his music all day long. (She would have loved Hank Snow, too.) Mom used to say that the only time Jeanne was not talking was when she was listening to Jimmy yodel.
Before I made my First Communion, I went to Grandma's little house every afternoon after school. She was my catechism teacher. Now, I find that strange, because I later learned that soon after she and Grandpa moved to Vermilion Parish, they changed their religion from Catholic to Methodist. I never learned why. Anyway, here is this Methodist grandmother of mine, teaching me my Catholic catechism. Of course, Aunt Marie (named Marie Noel Theriot because she was born on Christmas Day) was always there.
The fashion for little girls in those days was "bloomer" dresses. The dress was short, and the matching bloomers were supposed to reach the knees. This was what I wore to school, and I couldn't wait to get around the corner where Mom couldn't see me, to hike those darned bloomers up! Of course, in the afternoon after school, when I went home or to Grandma's house, I pulled them down to my knees again. I had to be very careful around Aunt Marie, too, because if my dress happened to be too short to please her, she would yank it down and tell me, "Pas beau! Pas beau!"
When business at the machine shop slowed down and the men were not making enough to support two families, Dad turned the shop over to Nonc Frank, and when my family moved to Perry early in the month of May in 1934, Mom arranged for me to stay with Tante Jeanne to finish the school year and to make my First Communion. I did not mind at all, because I loved this aunt.
Nonc Frank walked home for noon dinner every day, and every day he brought with him a five-cent block of ice because every day Tante Jeanne made iced tea for dinner and root beer in the afternoon. One morning we had a hailstorm, and I went out and gathered the golf ball-sized hailstones, and we used that in our tea and root beer that day.
Many years later, after Nonc Frank had died, May and Mabel and their families moved to Orange, Texas, and they took their widowed mother with them. When Tante Jeanne died, she was brought back to Kaplan and buried beside Nonc Frank.
Copyright © 2001 Aline T. Meaux, Abbeville, LA
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