Bayou Chene Reunion
The story of the Bayou Chene community is a well-known one to those with connections to the Atchafalaya Basin, and doesn’t need a detailed description here. Suffice it to say that there were many reasons why people ended up in a place that was only reachable by boat. There were farmers in the early days, when the logjam on the Atchafalaya River kept the annual water cycle to a minimum – there was a good bit of dry land in the Basin then. When more water began to come into the Basin, commercial fishermen added their energies to Bayou Chene. There were people associated with the timber industry, and some that were there just to take advantage of the money to be made in any community. There were saloons, and grocery stores (kind of). There was a school, and a cemetery. The saloon doubled as the funeral home when disputes within its walls became fatalities. You could drink at the bar at night and see someone you drank with laid out on that same bar the next day, so they say. There was never a formal government in that community, the St. Martin Parish sheriff took care of what official law was needed. And the sheriff was a long boat ride away most of the time. With this in mind, you often hear that Bayou Chene was a place of refuge for any number of people hiding from something, or someone, on the outside of the swamp. I have seen no documentation for this, but it is an easy thing to believe, true or not. And when the sheriff showed up, you can imagine a certain loyalty within the group of people who lived in that community, even with the bad blood between some that must have existed – human nature being what it is. It might have been the “I can kick my dog any time I want to, but don’t you dare kick my dog” thing. At any rate, the people who lived along the bayous at Bayou Chene had to be a tough people with the willingness to flourish in a frontier situation. And not only did they flourish, but the bond that was created between the families still exists all these years after the final dissolution of the community. It shows itself to be alive and well each year at the reunion I went to today. This gathering celebrates a way of life more than a common ancestry, and it celebrates something not many of us have today – a sense of community.
I was struck by several things today. What impressed me the most was seeing the age groups all mixed together; some very mature people nearing 90 were sharing conversations with two and three (and maybe four) generations that were less in years. Maybe the following was the most notable, though. From this group of very diverse people living on Bayou Chene, these very close-to-the-land-and water people, a degree of sophistication has risen in succeeding generations that might not have been predictable. Here are a few examples of what I mean.
The man in the white shirt next to Edward (on the right) is Bob Vuillemont. He is the son of a one-time resident of Bayou Chene, Dew Robert Vuillemont ,who eventually became one of the fish boat operators in the Basin. This man (and son Bob) ran the boat from Morgan City far up the Atchafalaya Basin twice a week to buy fish from commercial fishermen and sell them groceries and other goods they might require, like shotgun shells and bolts of cloth. That was in the middle 1940’s. Now here is his son Bob in Morgan City today talking to me about the oil business at a world class level (not that I can understand it at that level). This man went to SLI in Lafayette (remember?) and got a degree in petroleum engineering. From that base he traveled over much of the world as a consultant to the oil industry. Quite a change from life on the bayou bank in Bayou Chene. And to add further interest, his son adopted a European lifestyle, and lives in Paris with his French wife. So, Bayou Chene to Paris, a long road, and a short one in some ways.
Another. While I was waiting in line to get my serving of jambalaya and white beans, I overheard the man behind me discussing his profession with the man behind him. The first man was telling the second one a lot of detailed information about his part in getting astronauts ready to fly in space, and his part in the activities aboard the shuttle. I’m listening and thinking “this started in Bayou Chene”? And it did.
Then, sitting at the table eating the jambalaya, I overheard (it sounds like I spent the whole day eavesdropping) another man being described as a top flight mechanic who works on the big commercial jets we will be flying on next week.
I’ll bet you could repeat this kind of observation 50 or more times if you knew this group of people really well. My point is, if you take a geographically isolated group of people of this genetic makeup and forcibly disperse them, they will probably find a way to flourish in the new environment. These people did.
I went to the event with Edward and Lena Mae Couvillier, my old friends from Myette Point. We met the Carl Carlines at the pavilion in Lake End Park. On the way there we stopped at the Anlsum brothers’ cypress wood location and they were slicing logs to make boards. Slicing is the right word. The big horizontal bandsaw would cut a board off of the squared-off log just as smoothly as it can be done. I asked them what was to be done with the boards they were selling from this log and they said the wood was being purchased for a fence. Really. Truly, to each his own.
The river is at 2.1 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, falling to 1.1 by Wednesday. That is LOW, but it won’t stay there. The Ohio and Mississippi are both rising pretty much all the way up and we’ll get a little of that water.
Rise and Shine, Jim