I have a family reunion tomorrow. I’m so excited to see everyone, and how their children have grown. I have such wonderful memories of my childhood, and all of those memories are tied to my mother’s family. That was really the only family I had until I was a teenager. Those of you who know me and read my post about my Dad know that I was adopted by my step father at age 14 or so, but he was my dad from the time he and my mom married when I was six. But before that, and for a large part of my childhood, my mother’s family was all I knew.
My cousins and I would play together and conspire together and fight together and make up together. My aunts would fuss at me when I messed up and hug me when I did well. My uncles would stand around the BBQ pit drinking beer and talking about the “old days” with my pawpaw. My grandmother would squeeze my cheeks so hard it hurt, and hug me and tell me that she loved me. It was safe. It was almost holy.
When I started to grow up, the every-Sunday-after-church get togethers slowly dwindled down to a few stragglers every other Sunday or so. And then, they fizzled out altogether. I missed it. I didn’t know why it had to end. Everyone had their own lives to lead, and we all grew apart. I miss them. But that’s only one reason I thought it was important that we reconnect. My grandparents were the best people in the world. A lot of people say that. But when I say it, it’s the truth. They knew nothing but God, work and family. There was nothing else they wanted to do, save for my grandfather’s fishing hobby that I remember him doing often when I was very young, and their shared love of french music and dancing.
When my grandparents got very old, they literally sat in their house and waited for us to visit them, until their Father called them home. Their whole lives revolved around what they had accomplished in their lives, which was their kids and grandkids and great grandkids and great great grandkids. I think that when they died, a cohesive force in the family died right along with them. It made me sad for a long time. I think that to let our family fall distant from one another is to disrespect my grandparents’ memory and legacy. That’s the driving force behind my prompting the planning of this reunion.
When my grandmother died in 2007, it deeply affected me. I knew that she was in heaven, and that was where she wanted to be, but it grieved me to lose her. She was a constant, steady, positive force in my life for so many years. She called me “Shot”, short for my nickname, “Shotsy”. If I had to try to count the times she hugged me hard and said, “I love you, Shot” there wouldn’t be enough numbers. I never doubted her genuine love for me, and for the rest of my family. If she wasn’t cooking or cleaning or preparing for a family get-together, she was at church. She attended mass 6 days a week. She also cleaned the sanctuary and cared for the church as though it was her home. In many ways it was. I remember when she became physically unable to clean the church anymore, which was harder for her to bear than when she’d stop working years earlier. Both of my grandparents were relatively healthy even in their 90’s. The hardest part of the physical disintegration for them was the fact that their minds remained so sharp. When my grandmother fell at home, and my pawpaw didn’t hear her yells for help because his hearing had been long since gone, the family began to think about a nursing home. They were very resistant to the idea, at least my pawpaw was. He wanted to die in his home. My grandmother felt much more frail than he, and I think she was scared. Eventually, she decided that she wanted to go to the nursing home. My grandfather had to follow her, because he’d have been lost without her, but he hated it there.
Years before that, when they began talking about how death would be a blessing, and that they were tired of waiting for it, I went to their house one day, alone, with a tape recorder and a notebook. I sat at their dining room table and asked them to tell me the story of their lives. I have since learned that a few of the facts got mixed up either in the telling of the story or its translation. But for the most part, I got it down pretty well. Several years later, my grandmother died, in August of 2007. I gave her eulogy, which I wrote based in large part on the history I had taken in their home that day.
We will honor their memories on Saturday when we get together and see how much their accomplishments have grown. I further honor them by sharing their story with you here.
“Mary Missie Marks was born December 4, 1915. She had one older sister, Andrea, and 4 other siblings: Marion, Merrick, Norma, and a brother, who’s name she didn’t recall, who died when he was 6 of “dropsy” or congestive heart failure, which was also the cause of her father, Eddie Marks’ death in 1940 at the age of 53. The youngest girl, Norma, died at the age of 2 1/2. Mawmaw remembered that day well. She said that Norma played outside all day, came in at dark and started crying and running fever. They sent for the doctor, who sent some medicine, but before she took the second dose she had died. Later, Mama told me mawmaw had told her that her mother had bought Norma some brand new shoes that day, and Norma wanted to wear them, but wasn’t allowed to play in them that day because she had to save them for when she got all dressed up.
Mary Missie Marks grew up in Leonville, and went to grade school in Notelyville. She went through the 4th grade, and went to two or three days of the 5th grade, when she was told by her mother, Eumea, that she would have to stay home to work in the fields and take care of her little sister. She was about ten years old at that time. She later graduated from grade school with an equivalency diploma. When she was a teenager, she had a boyfriend who visited her, whose name was Joe Lacomb. He was walking to go see her one day, when he ran into a buddy of his, whose name was Charlie LeBlanc.
Charlie lived across the Bayou from Missie’s family at Sackett. Joe asked Charles if he wanted to go with him to visit his girlfriend, and Charlie went. Pawpaw told me that Missie and Joe sat next to each other in rocking chairs, and Joe would used his foot to rock Missie’s chair for her. The next thing either one knew, Missie was Charlie’s girlfriend. Missie lived just across the bayou, and she could see everything that Charlie did, and none of it was any good, but she married him anyway. They met when Missie was 15, and married just after her 16th birthday, on January 9, 1932. Charlie was 21 years old. They were married with Ella Blanchard as the maid of honor and Delma Barron as the best man. The two would later stand in at their 50th wedding anniversary, where they renewed their vows in 1982.
Missie and Charlie lived at her parent’s house for a while after they were married. Missie became pregnant with their first child in September of 1932. When she found out that she was pregnant, she and Charlie had separated. She told her daddy that she didn’t want to raise a child without its father, and she went back to Charlie. She said that Charlie and her mother didn’t really get along, so they moved to an old house across the bayou from his parents, Joseph Wilmer LeBlanc and Mary Bernhardt LeBlanc. They worked as sharecroppers on the land on a 1/2 rate with Charlies’s family, who were working on a 1/2 rate with the landowners. Mary Helen LeBlanc was born during this time, on May 14, 1933. Not long thereafter, Charlie and Missie decided to move into the woods to raise hogs. They lived about 5 miles from Port Barre, on the Ogee River, in a log cabin that they built themselves from the land. They lived there for about two years, and it was not working out. So, they moved to Waxia, where their second child was born, Joseph Everett LeBlanc, on July 29, 1935. They paid about $1 per month for an old black paper covered house, and Charlie got a job at Sherbin’s Veneer Mill across the Atchafalaya River, making 15 cents per hour. He worked there for about three years. Then they decided to try farming again, and they moved to Ellis Lane on “Juice” Manuael’s property, working on a 1/2 rate, farming cotton and corn. missie was taking in laundry / ironing to make money. At this time, their third child was born, Charles Eddie LeBlanc, on August 6, 1940. Helen was 7, and Joseph was 5. They worked for Mr. Manuel for about a year, and then moved to Henry Tweedell’s farm and sharecropped at this place for about 2 more years, and then decided to move to Krotz Springs. They lived at Marsele Ducote’s place and sharecropped there on a 1/2 rate with Mr. Ducote. At this time, their fourth child, John Irvin LeBlanc was born, July 28, 1943. Charlie’s brother, Joseph, worked with Charlie for the first year, which meant that he also split the profits, so the second year Charlie and Missie worked it alone, but the backwater flooded the crops, and took about half the field. (Fall of 44).
They then moved to Maringoin, where Charlie worked for the Veneer Mill there, making 50 cents an hour. Pawpaw remembered that the workers at the mill striked, shutting down the mill for 3 or 4 days, until they were given what they demanded, a 5 cent per hour raise. They lived in Maringoin for about two years, and at this time, their 5th child, Vincent Harvey LeBlanc was born, August 27, 1946. Helen, the oldest, was 13 years old, followed by Joseph, 11, Charles Eddie, 6, and John Irvin, 3. Missie was still taking in laundry/ironing for money. Charlie then got a job with Standard Oil Company in Shreveport, worked there for about a year, then moved the family back to the Tweedell’s farm to sharecrop once again. This time for only about a year, when Charlie went back to work at Marino’s Sawmill, which was next to the first veneer mill that he worked at across the Atchafalaya River. He was making about 50 cents an hour. It was sometime during this period when Missie became pregnant with her sixth child, which she remembers carrying for about 11 months, and that child was stillborn on July 26, 1949. Charlie got a job on a tow boat that ran from Baton Rouge to Debuque, Iowa. He said that he would work a run there and back and then be off for a month. He didn’t like this work very much, and soon thereafter they moved “down the river” at Krotz Springs and sharecropped again.
At this time, the seventh child was born, Patricia Lynn LeBlanc, January 22, 1951. When Patsy was 5 months old, and Helen was 18, Helen married. Charlie worked for Leland Quibodaux, stacking groceries and helping in the meat cutting/butcher store. From 1950-1960, Missie worked at the area stores, Leland’s, Dreyfuss, and Jim and Ray’s. They moved into the house on Seventh street in 1957, when Patsy was 7, and the oldest boy, Joseph was 22. Not long after that, Joseph enlisted in the service and was sent to Korea. Charlie started working at the Krotz Springs Elementary School as the janitor in 1955, when he was 45 years old. He worked there until 1975, when he retired at 65. Missie started working at the school in 1965, where she worked in the kitchen until 1985. She had heart surgery in 1984, and tried to return to work, but could not do it for very long.
They spent their golden years at their house on Seventh Street, waiting for Sunday dinners and other special visits to roll around, listening to French music, even guest starring on the radio to play the harmonica and sing French music. They loved to dance together, and did it as often as they could. When they weren’t at home, you could find them at church. When peace came to take mawmaw home Monday morning, she had lived a long and devout life. The rest that she is taking now is well deserved.”
My grandmother died in August of 2007. My grandfather’s health declined rapidly shortly thereafter, and he died in January of 2008. My grandparents had been married 75 years. They had buried two children, had 5 living children, 23 grandchildren, many many more great grandchildren, and even a lot of great great grandchildren. While they are gone, they are never forgotten.
I can’t wait to see how much their legacy has grown and blossomed in the years since, when I see and visit my family again tomorrow.