My grandfather’s black felt Stetson hat is a treasured keepsake of the tall, lanky man with the sparkling sapphire eyes.
As newlyweds, my grandparents traveled the Atchafalaya Basin by houseboat. Squirrels and raccoons caught and trapped for a living.
When his family grew – eventually with three sons and five daughters – he became a farmer and plowed the land with a mule-drawn plow and raised pigs, chickens and cattle. He also enjoyed raising pigeons, letting them fly freely above the pecan tree canopy of the family farm, called “The Old Place”.
Although he didn’t have many years of formal study, Pop Duce, French for “sweet,” could rattle off all the names of trees, birds, and wildflowers. He knew the Basin well, even the “secret” places. Every feature of his property was familiar, from the oldest tree to the section of barbed wire fence that needed fixing because of an obnoxious bull.
It was Pop who gave the family dog the name “Get Back”. Pop didn’t welcome the dog jumping on him; so he often told the beagle mix to “come back” and the name stuck.
Pop bought 100 acres of lush woods a few miles from the family farm and named it “Hope”. What an inspiring name we thought of! Then we learned that the name was actually derived from an early 1900s Louisiana prison farm known as “Hope State Farm”.
Faded denim overalls with a long-sleeved shirt and neatly rolled up sleeves were her daily attire. For formal occasions, he always wore his black suit and tie and, of course, his Stetson.
Keeping abreast of world events, especially Louisiana politics, was important to Pop. He woke up when the rooster crowed and couldn’t understand how anyone could stay in bed under the covers later than 6am.
Once he has finished his diaper or French toast breakfast, he reads the newspaper. He scanned it again before going to bed in case he missed something.
On a beautiful fall day, we took Mom and Dad to the Baton Rouge Zoo. How he liked to whistle, wave his arms and shout “Jo” to the giraffe and the gazelles, as he did to the cows on his farm. Each of his cows on the farm was called “Jo”.
Pop seemed content with his simple life and his cypress cabin. While rocking on his porch on Sundays, he and my grandmother were surrounded by their children and grandchildren to share jokes and news in French. During summer visits, we would often make homemade cherry and vanilla ice cream. Our family’s musicians entertained themselves playing accordions and fiddles and singing along to old favourites.
Pop was well versed in home remedies. During flu season, he concocted an adult tonic that was a mixture of warmed whiskey, honey, and lemon.
I don’t remember my grandfather ever getting sick! And maybe that’s why he lived until the mid-90s.
— Poché lives in Lafayette
Advocate readers can submit stories of approximately 500 words to The Human Condition at [email protected] There is no payment and the stories will be edited. Authors should include their city of residence and, if writing about yourself, a photo.