A lot of good people live along the Atchafalaya. All kinds of people, too. There are white folk, Cajun, Creole, Coonass, and about as many black. After World War II, the U.S. was undergoing a big change but things stayed about the same along the bayou. People fished, hunted, grew crops, and pretty much lived as they always had.
In these parts, people get along pretty well, the blacks and the whites. People help each other, got to. Folks gotta get along and help one another, yes, sir! You never know when a hurricane gonna come, a flood gonna’ happen, even a tornado might pop up now and again.
Simmesport was a town of about 1,200, pretty good size for these parts. The town was laid out near where the Red River runs into the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya River starts out. Some people say the Atchafalaya is the natural course for the Mississippi and they built the big locks up river to make sure enough water ran down to keep
Baton Rouge and New Orleans in deep enough water to be port cities. I hear that the wetland loss along the Gulf is due to the redirecting of the Mississippi.
Anyway, I’m getting off my story of what I want to tell you. The story about one of my friends kinda tells ya what life is like around here. Old man Simoneaux has a farm about five miles down on Highway 1. He and Elvina raised seven kids on that farm. You needed a bunch of kids to help in the fields. I’ll say one thing, though, every one of those kids went to college. They’d hitch a ride on the “dog” (that’s a Greyhound bus) and head on down to L.S.U. The kids had to study hard and fast and graduate early ‘cuz C.B. and Elvina could only afford about two kids in college at a time. Ever’ one of those kids graduated, yes, siree.
The farm does pretty good. They raise corn, some cotton, sweet potatoes, and a few other lesser crops. They keep a few cattle, some hogs, and a couple of donkeys. When it comes time to harvest, people from the different farms along Hwy. 1 help each other until everyone gets their crops in. That’s whites and blacks. Color don’t make no difference when you have crops to harvest.
There’s a big garden behind CB’s house. They grow everything you need for the gumbo – okra, tomatoes, beans, you name it. They catch crayfish, make their own andouille sausage and trade out for shrimp. You’ll never eat a gumbo quite like the Simoneaux’s.
What I started out to tell you is the story of C.B. losing his glasses. Old man Simoneaux has a camp down on the Atchafalaya. The fellows, Arceneaux, Perriloux, Bernard, and the others, like to go down there to spend a couple of days from time to time. There are a couple of boats and a pier so everyone can fish. I was with them one trip. We set out trot lines and commence to fish, drink beer, and chew the fat. When we start talkin’ about the folks around Simmesport, We don’t leave nobody out. After a night of talkin’, eatin’ fish, drinkin’ beer, playin’ cards, we all turn in.
Early next morning we check the trot lines and do some fishin’. Before headin’ out, everyone gathers around the radio and listens to live Cajun music from Fred’s Lounge in Mamou broadcast over KUPI in Ville Platte. The show runs from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. It’s all done in Cajun French. The show stopper song, of course, is “Jolie Blonde,” played for a packed house that is spilled out in the parkin’ lot. After a few Saturday morning Dixie Beers and a head full of good Cajun music the folks at Fred’s head home. We break camp then and do the same—head home.
On this one particular Saturday afternoon, Elvina and C.B. have cleaned the fish and got the gumbo pot heated up. C.B. is walkin’ around in the kitchen pattin’ his pocket and lookin’ lost. Elvina say, “Daddy, where’s your glasses? You look like you lost and need ‘em.” Ol’ C.B., who is as laid back as they come, says, “Ma, they’re in the truck.”
“Well, go get them if you need ‘em.”
After a few minutes, Elvina looks out the kitchen window and exclaims, “Daddy, where is the truck?”
C.B. answers, “In the bottom of the Atchafalaya.”
“What’s it doin’ there?”
“Well, you see Elvina, we were backin’ the boat into the river when the brakes gave out. I jumped out just as the truck went under. We saved the boat, though.”
“Daddy, what am I gonna’ do with you?”
“Jus’ do what you always do. Shake your head a little and keep on takin’ care of me.”
This story ends when several of C.B.’s friends got a wench and pulled the truck out o’ da’ river. They towed it over to Port Allen. After dryin’ it out and puttin’ fresh oil and gas in it, it started right up.
C.B. left it with the mechanic, ol’ David Melancon, and it sold the very next day. Truck was never heard from again. Oh, C.B. found his glasses. They were still sittin’ in the front seat of the truck
That’s how life is along the Atchafalaya.