Saturday, August 8, 2009

VISIT PROMPTS REMEMBRANCE OF PASSAGE IN MARTIN’S TOTEM


Lately, we’ve had an influx of friends from New Iberia, Louisiana where I reside part of the year when I’m not here on The Mountain at Sewanee. This morning we visited with Linda Dautreuil who had come up for a Sewanee wedding and who once worked with me as coordinator of a youth group at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia when I briefly served as Ministry Coordinator. Linda, who has been a Fund Development Director with several schools in Acadiana, is now a Donors Director with Community Foundation of Lafayette, Louisiana. She survived a major hurricane in New Iberia a few years ago, and The Big Wind flooded her Acadian style house near Avery Island. Linda spent several years doing a lot of the repair work herself, renovating and transforming her Acadian cottage into a plantation style home that she calls “A Little Shadows on the Teche.” The Shadows, a National Trust property built in 1834 by David Weeks, a sugarcane planter, is a manor house boasting Tuscan columns that support handsome galleries on the front and is New Iberia’s biggest showpiece. It’s situated on Bayou Teche and attracts tourists from throughout the U.S. and abroad, particularly in the lush Spring season in Louisiana.

Linda says that prior to the hurricane, her home was a tin roof cottage, reflecting Cajun style architecture, but now the home is much grander and has become the “Big House.” As she talked, I began to have strong visions of her Acadian cottage and the hurricane that damaged it. After she left, I went to the bookshelves in my bedroom to search for MARTIN FINDS HIS TOTEM, one of my Young Adult books published last year, which features an account of a hurricane that raged against an Acadian cabin mentioned in the story. Here’s an excerpt of that passage:

“…I was still determined to stay in my bedroom under the eaves of the old cabin built by my great-great grandfather in 1893. Two Cajun carpenters helped my great-great grandfather cut the six-by-six foot cypress beams for the roof and fasten them with heavy oak pegs. I felt secure knowing the old cabin was sturdy.

A church bell chimed in the distance, the lonely peal telling everyone t hat the Big Wind was hovering over the cabin, over all of the homes nestled along the Bayou Teche. I looked out the small window of my bedroom facing the bayou. The gnarled branches of live oaks lining the yard dipped to the ground, almost bent double. Rain slashed at the windows, and the gray outdoors looked like bad photography. It was a hazy film of trees and brush blurring at the edges. The gusts will surely blow us away, I thought. We’re going to go up in a whirlwind, and if that doesn’t get us, a surge of water will surely flood the cabin.

In the yard, a pine tree snapped and hit ground beside the cabin. I shivered as a gust of wind exploded against the window. The hard gust battered the cabin’s walls and seemed to lift them, sucking at windows as if it was going to pull out the house’s insides.

…Make the wind stop, I prayed. Make it stop so that one of us can rescue Grandmother Eulalie. I knew my mom and dad were in the kitchen of the cabin, probably drinking steaming mugs of black coffee. The smell of the French dark roast brew had drifted upstairs during the early morning hours. My mom and dad were probably sitting at the cypress table, my mom’s brown hair falling softly around her face and her green eyes looking quizzically at my dad. Dad, with his large hooked nose and dark eyes, was probably telling her that the winds would soon die down…”

From this safe place on The Mountain, I can recall several hurricanes that I’ve weathered, but I hasten to add that I’m not experiencing any nostalgia for Big Winds. Even now, I’m beginning to feel anxious as hurricane season approaches, knowing that homes in Teche country, Acadian house and plantation home alike, are always vulnerable to winds blowing in from the nearby Gulf of Mexico from August until December each year.
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