Tuesday, October 27, 2015

SETTLING IN WITH HOORAH PLANTATION

When you spend spring/summer seasons in one state of the U.S. and fall/winter in another state, transitions from one place to another are often difficult. However, every time that I move back to Louisiana for the fall and winter seasons, I go through a little exercise that helps me “settle in.” I dust off my shelf of Louisiana books and find one that records the color and culture of my native state and sit down amidst the upheaval of moving to read.

This return trip I picked up one entitled Hoorah Plantation by New Iberian Al Landry. Al published the memoir several years ago for his children and grandchildren, and, as Al says, “the children and grandchildren of my friends and relatives so they might have some knowledge of their background and heritage.” The memoir covers the years from 1930-1945, a time that I’ve been writing about in my last two books of poetry — the era of no computers, televisions, central AC, cell phones, and other modern conveniences, but as Al writes, “we did have… one telephone in the house used almost exclusively by adults, ten or fifteen cent movies…a large console radio, good school clothes…”

Al explains that Hoorah Plantation is about the ethnic and cultural differences and relationships among the various peoples of New Orleans, the River Road, and Acadiana. His father was one of the descendants of the original Spanish settlers of New Iberia, and his mother a descendant of the Acadian exiles. One of his ancestors, Raphael Segura, built a home on the southern shore of Spanish Lake west of New Iberia and lived to be 98 years old. Al is a descendant of one of Raphael’s three marriages, described in New Iberia as a descendant of “the first bed.” (Can’t beat that for homespun aptness!)

Al is known as one of New Iberia’s outstanding raconteurs and in Hoorah Plantation, he provides amusing glimpses of the local French culture; e.g., a chapter entitled “Wad He Say?” This chapter is defined as a section that explores the misuses of vocabulary in south Louisiana. He records a few colorful examples: 

-I had to put my wife in the hospital — she was full of Noxzema — but they gave her an epidemic in the rectory and she’s getting better.
-I don’t know why I’m gaining weight, I just eat one French bread for breakfast and put skin milk and sacrament in my coffee.
-He’s so rich he must be a typhoon.
-Well, you’ve buttered your bread, now you have to lie in it.
-My aunt died of a cerebral hemorrhoid.
-I got nothing but seer-sucker vines growing on my fence”
 
Hoorah Plantation was the name of Al’s Grandma’s house, and his recollections of his grandmother are hilarious. He recalls that his Grandma spoke entirely in French, except for the phrase she used when Al and his family arrived or left: “I can’t believe.” Al described his grandmother to me one night when I had dinner at Lagniappe Too, the café he and his wife Elaine owned on Main Street of New Iberia. Al often acted as the host of the café, moving among tables and entertaining local patrons, as well as visitors from throughout the world. He later included this description of Grandma he had related to me in Hoorah Plantation: “We could never sit on her lap because it began at her chin and ended at her knees, one enormous, softly-rounded mass. She usually wore black, shapeless, full-sleeved, long dresses, with her important keys fastened to a white rope around her middle. She was only 4’9” tall. When the servants needed a key to unlock the pantry or a storage room, they would have to search for the collection of keys somewhere around Grandma’s middle. This intense search would tickle Grandma, and she would giggle like a school girl until the keys were found…”

Al Landry, who graduated from Tulane University with a Bachelor of Architecture degree, practiced architecture in New Iberia for many years and painted pictures of local characters, night life, and social activities in Acadiana. His wife Elaine taught private piano lessons and created soft sculpture dolls called “Grunchkins.” The couple opened Lagniappe Too Café in New Iberia in 1986 and operated it for over 25 years before retiring. I understand that Al is still playing the role of a raconteur at Garden View, just down the road from the point where his ancestors landed in flatboats and established Nueva Iberia.

From the above excerpts, readers can see how such reading provided my immediate re-immersion into the culture of Teche country. I am one of those who tasted bayou water 51 years ago and was destined to always return, despite the mosquitoes dancing on my window panes, the mud and flood week-end, and the humidity that enveloped me after I descended from The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee.  







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