Fall 2009
page  7

MemLunch Avec Mr. Doucet	“He came on two horses.” Monsieur Doucet held up two fingers, gnarled and knotty from a lifetime of sharecropping and working off-shore, as he told me about his great-grandfather. “A pack horse and a saddle horse. He came to the Richard community. They liked him, and he stayed. For a long time he had the name John Texas. But that wasn’t his family’s name. He picked up the name Richard. I don’t know if he didn’t want anybody to know where he was at…that’s all I was told. John Texas died 1930 November the 19th. He married a Venable. He had, I don’t know, how many children. Four or five, I guess. My grandfather was the oldest. I’m the oldest grandchild. I was born in 1930, around Richard Community, at a place called Pointe Noire.” 	We sat facing each other at Mns. Doucet’s kitchen table – white and oblong with a red and white checkered table-cloth – in Rayne, Louisiana. On the stove behind him a deer roast had been simmering in brown gravy since sunrise. It was now a quarter to noon. Lima beans and rice cooked while a bowl of beets waited in the middle of the table. Mns. Doucet got a pitcher of home-made Zatarain’s root beer out of the refrigerator and filled our Cypress Bayou Casino coin cups.  Mns. Doucet checked the deer roast; fragrant steam rose around his face. The kitchen and living room occupied a big open area with a highly varnished dark tan wood floor. Under the glass on the coffee table were saint’s cards and pictures of Mary and Jesus. I turned back as Mns. Doucet resumed his seat.  	“I worked at the Evangeline bakery for three years, then went to work in Crowley doing construction, building the rice mill and the rice bends. I was one of the last ones working construction there. Most of the workers were from Kansas, that cowboy town… Dodge City. They wanted us to go with them and keep working, but I didn’t have enough money to go back and forth, so I went back to the bakery for a little while. Then I worked oil rigs out of Jennings until 1967. Then a friend of mine came here one day when I was working the bakery and the oil rigs.  	“My wife had just been operated on and I had to put my son in the hospital seven times in that year for his prostate. They couldn’t find out what was wrong with him. My friend told me I was working too many hours. I told him, I have to make it. He got me an application to work off-shore, and I did that for eighteen years, retired in 1983. Doctor said my back was just over worked.” This was evident whenever Mns. Doucet got out of his chair. His shoulders hunched for a few moments until he took some steps and straightened up. 	After his first two marriages ended with his wives’ passing, in 1995 Mns. Doucet married Bulah Hicham-Bottom. “She was kind of in my mama’s family. One day she called me and said she would like to come visit me. I was living by myself in Rayne and she was living in Church Point with only her Social Security for income. After we met she said she would like to stay with me. We married and combined our benefits. Now she’s in the old folks home, real bad diabetes.” 	Mns. Doucet called Mr. Patin and Cowboy into the house. “It much cooler in here.” They were sitting in the garage when I arrived, and they silently stared at me as I entered Mns. Doucet’s house. The two men now flanked us at the table, Cowboy to my left and Mr. Patin on the right. Earlier, before Mns. Doucet told me about his great-grandfather, he leaned to me and whispered, “Cowboy said he going to the overpass.” Mns. Doucet’s voice broke. “I told him, ‘My friend, no. Not when I got an extra bedroom.’” Cowboy had recently lost his house and possessions – including a 150 year old violin – to a fire, and was looking at sleeping under I-10’s overpass north of Rayne. oir:

by Hardy Jones

           

            “He came on two horses.” Monsieur Doucet held up two fingers, gnarled and knotty from a lifetime of sharecropping and working off-shore, as he told me about his great-grandfather. “A pack horse and a saddle horse. He came to the Richard community. They liked him, and he stayed. For a long time he had the name John Texas. But that wasn’t his family’s name. He picked up the name Richard. I don’t know if he didn’t want anybody to know where he was at…that’s all I was told. John Texas died 1930 November the 19th. He married a Venable. He had, I don’t know, how many children. Four or five, I guess. My grandfather was the oldest. I’m the oldest grandchild. I was born in 1930, around Richard Community, at a place called Pointe Noire.”

            We sat facing each other at Mns. Doucet’s kitchen table – white and oblong with a red and white checkered table-cloth – in Rayne, Louisiana. On the stove behind him a deer roast had been simmering in brown gravy since sunrise. It was now a quarter to noon. Lima beans and rice cooked while a bowl of beets waited in the middle of the table. Mns. Doucet got a pitcher of home-made Zatarain’s root beer out of the refrigerator and filled our Cypress Bayou Casino coin cups.

Mns. Doucet checked the deer roast; fragrant steam rose around his face. The kitchen and living room occupied a big open area with a highly varnished dark tan wood floor. Under the glass on the coffee table were saint’s cards and pictures of Mary and Jesus. I turned back as Mns. Doucet resumed his seat.

            “I worked at the Evangeline bakery for three years, then went to work in Crowley doing construction, building the rice mill and the rice bends. I was one of the last ones working construction there. Most of the workers were from Kansas, that cowboy town… Dodge City. They wanted us to go with them and keep working, but I didn’t have enough money to go back and forth, so I went back to the bakery for a little while. Then I worked oil rigs out of Jennings until 1967. Then a friend of mine came here one day when I was working the bakery and the oil rigs.

            “My wife had just been operated on and I had to put my son in the hospital seven times in that year for his prostate. They couldn’t find out what was wrong with him. My friend told me I was working too many hours. I told him, I have to make it. He got me an application to work off-shore, and I did that for eighteen years, retired in 1983. Doctor said my back was just over worked.” This was evident whenever Mns. Doucet got out of his chair. His shoulders hunched for a few moments until he took some steps and straightened up.

            After his first two marriages ended with his wives’ passing, in 1995 Mns. Doucet married Bulah Hicham-Bottom. “She was kind of in my mama’s family. One day she called me and said she would like to come visit me. I was living by myself in Rayne and she was living in Church Point with only her Social Security for income. After we met she said she would like to stay with me. We married and combined our benefits. Now she’s in the old folks home, real bad diabetes.”

            Mns. Doucet called Mr. Patin and Cowboy into the house. “It much cooler in here.” They were sitting in the garage when I arrived, and they silently stared at me as I entered Mns. Doucet’s house. The two men now flanked us at the table, Cowboy to my left and Mr. Patin on the right. Earlier, before Mns. Doucet told me about his great-grandfather, he leaned to me and whispered, “Cowboy said he going to the overpass.” Mns. Doucet’s voice broke. “I told him, ‘My friend, no. Not when I got an extra bedroom.’” Cowboy had recently lost his house and possessions – including a 150 year old violin – to a fire, and was looking at sleeping under I-10’s overpass north of Rayne.

             Mns. Doucet got plates out of the cupboard and told us to help ourselves. I waited at the table until Mr. Patin and Cowboy served themselves, then, with a little prompting from Mns. Doucet, I fixed a plate. I spooned up two small mounds of rice and covered them with the brown gravy along with a few slices of meat; next to that I put a light green dollop of lima beans to round


out my lunch. I didn’t touch the beets on the table, although the others did. The meat was tender, my spoon sharp enough to cut it, and the brown gravy was seasoned perfectly, leaving noneed to add salt or pepper to it; the same was true of the beans. For dessert we had banana-pudding flavored ice cream.

             Mr. Patin, a short man of slight yet sturdy build, was a house painter and painted Mns. Doucet’s house in 1996; the two struck up a friendship. Both men enjoyed attending the horse races at Evangeline Downs on the outskirts of Lafayette. Mr. Patin had poor night vision and with his work night races were the only ones he could attend, so Mns. Doucet drove them in his new Dodge pickup.           

            The earlier tension I felt from Mr. Patin and Cowboy greatly diminished once I explained that I had family in Rayne, an aunt, uncle and a slew of cousins. But it was Mom’s maiden name, Felice, that endeared me to them. This newfound acceptance opened them up and Cowboy quickly shared with me that he had been a professional musician in the 1960s and 1970s, playing with local legend Happy Fats, who had an afternoon radio program.    

            Mr. Patin did not converse as freely with me. He did, however, speak French with Cowboy and Mns. Doucet. The rapid, smooth sounds of our mother tongue fired around the table. I only plucked out a few words and expressions, but I felt more at ease with them speaking French; it let me know they were comfortable with me. Mns. Doucet would stop periodically and fill me in on what was being said. He even took time to help me with pronunciation, and when I repeated something he taught me, out the corner of my eye I saw Mr. Patin smile.

            Along with the French lesson, Mns. Doucet  took great care explaining that Cajun was not the same as the French spoken in France, which is referred to as standard French, a label I can accept. Growing up, though, I heard standard French called “real” French, a label I cannot tolerate. Granted our pronunciation is not the same, we have many idiomatic expressions and words they don’t have in France, but we passed our language down by word of mouth; there were no grammar lessons or speech teachers working with us. And we were in a new land and not all of the old words were adequate to express the new flora, fauna, animals, foods: the marvelous reality of Alejo Carpentier’s Cuba on the bayou.

After lunch I took a picture of the men at the dinner table, all of them smiling shyly and wondering why I or anyone else would want a picture of them. Cowboy went to his bedroom for a nap and Mr. Patin returned to his house, a block away, to do the same. Mns. Doucet told him to come back that afternoon for coffee. Mr. Patin said he would and we shook hands, his eyes no longer glaring, but glowing at me.

“Don’t let me bother your routine, Mns. Doucet. If you want to nap, I can go.”

            He shook his head side to side. “The last year I miss a lot of naps. My wife, they cut her leg off last August.” His voice trembled, eyes watered, and he ground the heel of his palm into his eyes. “Almost lost her. She was so bad. Couldn’t have salt, and the food don’t taste good, she don’t eat.”

A week later I called Mns. Doucet from my apartment in Memphis. He’d been to the doctor, and on the way home his truck had been rear-ended.

            “I don’t know what I’m going to do, Hardy. Ought to bring myself to the retirement home and be with my wife.”

            “You don’t need to do that, Monsiuer Doucet. You’re  truck’ll be repaired. It’ll run like new.”

            “I don’t know. Ought to bring myself to the retirement home. Die with my wife.”

            “Don’t talk like that. Please, Mns. Doucet.”

            “It’s the truth, yeah. Me, I got to go, Hardy.”

             I called back two weeks later and was happy to hear his voice on the other end. He told me his truck made it out of the shop in less than a week; Cowboy had found work and his own place, and that evening Mr. Patin was coming over and they were going to the horse races. Glad to hear the good news, Mns. Doucet.

 

  

                             END

Hardy Jones' fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Clapboard House, Miranda Literary Review, Sugar Mule, The Furnace Review, Louisiana's Living Traditions, Diamond Sky Dancer, Dark Sky Review, The Iconoclast, The Jabberwock Review, The Delta Review, and Chips'n'Cheese. In 2001 his memoir People of the Good God won a grant. His novel Every Bitter Thing is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. He currently teaches Creative Writing at Cameron University .

home          Table of Contents          Previous Page          Next Page