This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

My Photo
Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Basin Recreation

No matter how hard the work is, once sufficient means are found to support a family with adequate food, clothing and shelter, there is a time for relaxation. How this time is filled differs with each culture and individual personality but there are some things that seem to draw people as a means of gaining excitement and/or relaxation. The Myette Point families are no different in this regard. They sought the things that helped to make the days of hard work seem just a part of the day, not the totality of it. Simple things like the games of children are noted and the pastimes of adults like hunting and coffee-visits all fit into the life on the houseboats, and on land after that. Dancing and music attracted all ages. Sometimes the music was provided by “outside” talent, as when the families had opportunities to visit some dancehall on the edges of the swamp. Often it was up to family members who had instruments like fiddles and guitars and could play them. The gathering places for these small dances were small houses on the bank, in Little Bayou Pigeon for instance, or on board someone’s houseboat. Weddings sometimes had music for the reception. Dot Couvillier looks back on her life on houseboats in the Basin and finds memories of peacefulness in the midst of a rigorous life of self-sufficiency.

“Oh yeah, because, you know, we didn’t know what a movie house was. We didn’t know what school was until we moved across here and went to school. Just didn’t know. We thought that everybody lived that way. And, I look back now and remember those things, and that was the most peaceful time of my life. And we thought everything was fine. Now, of course, Daddy was out there bustin his butt to feed us, and clothe us.” [Dot Couvillier, 1995]

Charenton, St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, is a place that figures prominently in the Myette Point story with respect to music. Charenton Beach, as the facility on the west side of Grand Lake was known, was a highly successful combination dancehall, restaurant, swimming pavilion and tourist cottage venture. For more than 20 years the dancehall featured many well-known bands – bands like Fats Domino and others of similar national reputation and style, as well as country western and French (Cajun) bands. It was the misfortune of the facility that it was located such that it did not fall within the protected land when the flood protection levee was built by the Corps of Engineers in the 1930s. Consequently, it suffered the same fate that the swamp community of Bayou Chene did, yearly flooding and eventually destruction of the quality of life there. The dancehall, etc., comes into the Myette Point story because people from all over Grand Lake knew it was there and would come across the lake in open boats to dance, swim and mix with other people. Putt Couvillier’s father would load up the bateau with wife and children and come all the way across Grand Lake from Bayou Pigeon or Blaise’s Canal to Charenton Beach. Like a beacon inviting respite for hard-working people, you could see the lights at Charenton Beach from miles and miles away across the water.

“They used to have walks, Jim, way out in the lake. They used to have walks, you know, the Old Man and them used to come dance out there. They could see the lights [at Charenton] blinking on the other side of the lake. They had wharfs way out there for you to tie your big boats. And the Old Man would take that old bateau and come across. We’d all come, dance and go to the beach, and uh, you could see em good at night. Get time to go back, come back across the lake.” [Putt Couvillier, 1974]

Charenton Beach returns to the story long after most of that whole commercial thing was closed. The water would come up every year and sometimes it would flood the elevated buildings, but most often it would not. Because the structures were built of cypress they had considerable resistance to deterioration. Consequently, when the Myette Point families were established on land in the early to mid 1950s, the buildings were still there even though most of them weren’t being used for commercial purposes anymore. But the big dancehall with its great floor was still open and was the last of the buildings to offer patrons a place to come together. Living only four miles south of Charenton along the newly built flood protection levee, the Myette Point community took full advantage of this opportunity to dance almost every weekend when weather allowed them to make the trip over the dirt road atop the levee. Having gone to considerable trouble to get there, should the music fail for some reason, someone would drive a car onto the dance floor, open the doors and turn on the radio, and keep dancing to Grand Ole Opry or Louisiana Hayride.

So, there was recreation in the swamp for people on houseboats and on land at Myette Point. Hard work was not the only thing that kept a family together, they played together too. There was social interaction in many different ways, often facilitated by the mobility of the houseboats and the bateaux with Lockwood Ash engines to move people around. People would travel miles by water to hear bands in Charenton or at The Canal in Lake Verret, or let it be known that a dance was to be had, and everyone came to a place on the bayou. They would walk from crib to crib and gather for an evening’s talk or radio entertainment, or they would gather around the wood stove on winter evenings and just pass the time within the family. There are many good memories of these things.

The river is at 14.1 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, staying steady for at least a week. No big changes in the Mississippi or Ohio are noted.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Leslie said...

I love your blog!!!!

I came upon it because I just came back from the river and decided to Google Myette. Now I am a Fan.

May 03, 2009 8:10 PM  
Blogger jim said...

Thanks Leslie. Your comment and kind words are much appreciated. Best, Jim

May 03, 2009 10:17 PM  

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