The summer of 1932, right after my tenth birthday, my Dad drove me in a borrowed automobile to spend a month in Jennings at the home of my godparents, Clarence and Emelda (Gibson) Lee.  I remember how scary it was driving over the rattling plank bridge at Bayou Que de Tortue, and I remember coming home by train.  

The Lee family lived in a pretty white-washed house which was surrounded by a chicken-wire fence.  Both the front and the back porch were screened.  You see, this house was located in a wooded area and the fence was needed to keep the deer and other animals out of the rose garden in the front yard and the vegetable garden in the back yard.  And because of the mosquitoes, screened porches were almost a must, although each bed in the house was draped with mosquito netting.

Paran Clarence was an engineer and his job was to operate and maintain the water plant that served the town of Jennings.  He had to be on duty seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.  If he wanted to go to town for even a couple of hours, he had to get one of his sons to replace him at the water plant.  He had rigged up an alarm system that rang a loud bell to alert him when something went wrong while he was in the house or the garden.

He was a skilled gardener.  His wife and daughters loved the rose garden he planted in the front yard, but his real pride and joy were the beautiful strawberries he grew in his back yard garden.  Those berries were sweet and red and as big as the fist of a small child. Strawberries don't taste that good any more.

There were several children, most of them older than I, but my special friend was the daughter named Quebelle, who was about my age.  (I always wanted to ask Nanny where she had got the name of Quebelle, but I never quite dared.)  I also liked the son they called "Putsy."  He was a large, pleasant and fun-loving fellow.

We were allowed to play and swim in a pool inside the building which housed the pumps, if there was an adult who had time to supervise us.  The water was crystal-clear and so deliciously cool.  Paran had put curtains up in one corner by the pool where we could get into our swimsuits, and get dressed again after our swim, so we did not have to go into Nanny's clean house all dripping wet.  We also hung our swimsuits to dry on pegs he put on the wall, so they were ready for the next day's swim.

A long dirt road led from the Parish road to the house, and after a rain, the mud that dried in the ruts looked like chocolate fudge.  One day "Putsy" cut some of that dried mud into small squares and told us it was fudge that Nanny had made, but she had forgotten to put in the pecans.  He tried to get us to taste it, but he didn't fool us for one minute!  He thought it was a great joke, anyway, and laughed so hard he got tears in his eyes.

The house, like most in southwest Louisiana, was built high on brick pillars, and Quebelle and I played "housekeeping" under the front porch.  Our dishes were clam and seashells, and we had an old whisk broom to clean our "floor."  My job was to wash the dishes, and Quebelle did the cooking.  I've got to admit that girl made a mighty pretty mud pie.

While I was visiting the Lee family that summer, a local election was held.  It may have been for a Parish election for Sheriff.  Paran was very interested and had gone to town early in the morning to cast his vote.  The polls closed at eight in the evening, and the whole town gathered around City Hall for the counting of the votes.  Paran took us to town in his truck, and we all drank root beer while we waited for the election results.  Paran's candidate won, and he celebrated by buying us hot dogs to go with yet another bottle of root beer.

I remember the neat little red railway station where I boarded the train for the trip home.  My first ride on a train!  I had a wonderful time in Jennings, but I was glad to be going home to my family.
I never knew Quebelle's first husband or any of her children, but a few years ago I visited her and her second husband.  She was as pretty as ever, but seemed a little forgetful and vague.  She and I went to a local restaurant for lunch, but she had to drive around a while before she found the place.  When she ran over the curb getting into the parking lot, I began to feel really uneasy.  We enjoyed a nice meal, and then I had to face the drive back to her house.  Poor "Que!"  I heard that husband died about a year after that visit and then her family placed her in a nursing home.  Wonder if she is still living?


Copyright © 2001 Aline T. Meaux, Abbeville, LA

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