Monday, September 6, 2010

A COOL SEPTEMBER MORNING

A few days of cool breezes and 60-degree temps in the mornings provide us “Sewaneeans” with hope for an early Fall. The weather actually reminds me of late September in New Iberia, Louisiana (my other home) when cool, dry air banishes the oppressive humidity and sugar cane farmers begin to talk about “grinding season.” September signals the time to cut cane and take it to the mill for grinding and processing into sugar.

It’s also a time when the Louisiana Sugar Cane festival officially opens for a week of parades, fais-do-do (dancing in the streets at night), agricultural exhibits, art shows, and the crowning of King and Queen Sucrose. The Festival is now in its 69th year and brings visitors from all over the world who want a peek at outstanding parades in the tradition of Louisiana Mardi Gras. At the peak of festivities, a parade of Louisiana’s sugar belles, who have won the crown of “Parish Queen of Sugar,” stand atop floats that roll down Main Street during a two hour show of Louisiana beauties, and they’re accompanied by bands from high schools throughout the state. An earlier parade showcases children and teen-agers from all the dance studios in New Iberia. Cher, I’m talking about children from three to eighteen years of age! New Iberia is a dancing town, and parents enroll their daughters as soon as they learn to walk. My youngest daughter was four when she became a student at Miss Gail’s School of Dance!
The Sugar Cane Festival is a tribute to one of the major crops grown in Iberia Parish. Sugar cane has been farmed in the parish since 1796 when Etienne de Bore began converting cane juice to sugar. By 1835, many of the owners of plantations scattered along Bayou Teche had turned from growing cotton to growing sugar cane as a main source of income from agriculture. The Louisiana landscape began to undergo changes from Acadian architecture to lavish sugar plantation houses, and the grand homes that cotton built in Louisiana could never rival the plantation mansions that sugar built, especially those along the levee road near Baton Rouge called “The River Road.”

Following the Civil War, the most successful sugar planters were those who worked the plantations on a “share system,” and usually the planters manufactured, produced, and processed the cane at sugar houses or mills, several of which still operate in Iberia Parish today; e.g., the M.A. Patout and Son operation near Jeanerette, Louisiana.

Recently, I read an article in the “Daily Iberian” about the destruction of expensive sugar farming equipment and cane stalks by teen-agers riding on three-wheelers who felt that the sugar cane fields were provided for their recreational use. Since sugar cane, like other major agricultural crops in our country, no longer brings in the grand profits it produced during the twentieth century, this kind of destruction interferes with waning agricultural income in this century.

Perhaps someone should sponsor a three-wheeler parade during the Sugar Cane Festival activities, similar to the boat parade on the Teche that was added to the festivities a few years ago, so that the teen-agers could show off their vehicles. Or perhaps heavy fines should be imposed to deter them from entering the fields. During the grinding season just before the cane is cut, farmers already worry about threats of hurricanes that could level their crops, and they shouldn’t have to deal with teen-age pests who are out for a bad time.

But that’s the down side of sugar cane and those pests won’t interfere with this year’s activities, which begin on September 23 and end on September 26, culminating with that colorful Sugar Queen parade I mentioned earlier.

Photo taken from my article entitled “Touring the Teche Country,” in Acadiana Profile magazine, 1998. Courtesy of the Louisiana Office of Tourism.  Also includes is a photo taken of my youngest daughter, Elizabeth, in costume, age three.
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