Plantation Stories

by Wilson J. Gaidry, III

Introduction



Human events are moments in time that exist in the memories of our minds and in the physical reminders that we create. I was fortunate to live in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, at a time when the Acadian French culture still dominated the lifestyle of the proud Cajun people of French heritage in South Louisiana. Writing of my participation in most of the activities that are prominent in the Cajun way of life will help understand and preserve the history of the Cajun culture.

The Cajun people were descedents of French Canadians that were exiled from their land in Canada and came to Louisiana with nothing but the will to survive; they had to persevere unimaginable hardship to tame the Louisiana wilderness and make the land suitable for their families.

The Cajuns were self sufficient people that lived off the land. And no better place for a people to be self sufficient was Terrebonne Parish. In the Parish people had the best of many worlds: the land and the sea; the northern part of the Parish is supplied with fresh water from the Mississippi river; the mid part of the Parish is a mixture of fresh water and sea water and the southern part of the Parish has the salty sea water of the Gulf of Mexico, thus giving the Parish many ecological environments. Fresh water cypress swamps provide timber for homes, fertile land suitable for farming, bayous for transportation and a fresh water supply, marshes provided fur and game, and of course the bays and the Gulf of Mexico providing abundance of fish. The Cajun people harvested timber, trapped, hunted, fished and farmed depending on the seasons. They led independent lives and felt that they were in control of their own destiny.

In the early 1940's the people of Terrebonne Parish were directly connected to nature. They were part of the natural world, tuned to the rhythms of life and seasons. It was a constant struggle to provide the basic necessities for life, clothing, food and shelter, things that we take for granted today. Finding food for every meal was a priority that consumed most of a person's life and almost all food had to be grown, caught or killed. Everyone had a garden, livestock, hunted and fished as a necessaty to sustain life.

Over generations these survival traits were so embedded in the DNA of the Cajun people that today hunting and fishing is a tradition that is important to their lives. I still grow, catch and kill most of the food for my family. Farm families hold a closeness to the land, they worship the land in a spiritual bond that governs their lives and consumed their souls. They are inseparable from nature and the natural rhythm of the seasons. The primary allegiance is to the farm; governments, countries, political divisions, laws all are secondary. A farmer gives his life to the farm and would give his life for its preservation.

In the early 1940's the plantations of South Louisiana went through a transformation into the mechanical age. Horses and mules were being replaced by trucks and tractors, farms were getting electricity for the first time. The wrath of the Great Depression was still being felt; most of the farms were in debt and the people struggled to make ends meet. Life was hard physical labor six days a week just to have the basic necessities to sustain life.

This story begins in the early years of the 1940's and continues to this day. It is a story of gradual change in a people and a land; changes that are felt with mixed emotions as an old culture (le bon vieux temps) was erased and the identity of a people lost to make way for the new American way.


First story The milk wagon