“My grandparents had their truck loaded, figs, canned peaches, rice, some duck meat from the freezer,” says Glenda Smith Huber. “They were ready to go, first thing in the morning.
“The last news bulletin they’d heard, Hurricane Audrey would hit the next afternoon.”
Forms On Tuesday, June 25, 1957
Her grandparents lived at the first curve, at Grand Chenier, house closest to the road.
If you’re not from around here, we need to get you up to speed. A chenier is a geological ridge, high ground, in the middle of marsh and wetlands. In southwest Louisiana, there are two cheniers you need to know about, Grand Chenier, the big one, closer to the Gulf of Mexico, and Little Chenier, smaller, and closer inland.
Calling it “Grand” might lead you astray. It’s just one road, that starts here, and ends there, and on that road early Cajun settlers built their houses.
It was a hard life, for tough people, and French was the family language.
“My grandfather never went to school. He had epilepsy. Back then, they thought he was crazy.”
Uncle P, “So he was literally illiterate?”
“He learned how to count money. You couldn’t cheat him out of a penny. He taught himself some English, but he’d mix things up, “Come see my little mare, she just had three little pigs.”
“How poor were they?”
“Oh, they were poor. But you’d have to be an idiot to starve. You could catch crabs in the ditch across the road. They trapped, fished.
“They had this artesian well, a fairly good walk from the house, and that’s where the women of the community would take their clothes to wash.”
“Tell me about your grandmother.”
“She never cut her hair.”
“Was she Pentecostal?”
“No, Catholic. Just never cut her hair, said her hair was a ‘glory’ to her.” She’s got that look away look, remembering something for which there are no pictures. “She’d sit by the cast iron stove, comb her hair out, then braid it. And then she’d make a little cush cush for breakfast.”
When you live that close to the Gulf of Mexico, weather forecasting could be a matter of life or death, especially long ago, when nobody had a TV, and few had a radio.
“If you dug up a red potato, and it was too big, it meant that a storm was coming.
“My grandmother would take me to the porch, and we’d listen towards the Gulf of Mexico. If the Gulf was roaring to the west, the rain would arrive soon, sometimes just five minutes. If the Gulf was roaring straight ahead, no problems.
“But if the Gulf was roaring to the east, it was too late to leave…”
Landfall, Thursday June 27, 1957
“I loved to drink the water from their cistern. That was the best water.” She pauses, lips move a little bit, been decades, but she’s trying to taste the memory again. Then she continues, “Until I saw them drain it. Rat skeletons, all kinds of little animals, that had fallen in…”
“What was the standard of living like in Grand Chenier before Hurricane Audrey?” (1957.)
“They still had an outhouse, but they’d just got electricity.”
“So they had loaded up the truck, were going to evacuate to Lake Charles in the morning. What kept them?”
“The animals. They couldn’t take them with them, but they’d die for sure if they were still penned up. They stayed for the animals.
“That night, my grandfather woke up, stepped out of bed, the floor had two inches of mud and three inches of water – and this was a house up on piers. He woke my grandmother – “She grabbed her reading glasses and her rosary.”
They headed to a neighbor’s house, who had a two story. Water is rising, all kinds of animals are swimming by. A raccoon latches on to her grandmother’s arm, just desperate to have something to grab on to, took her glasses and rosary, and off it went…
The water rose. Knee high, waist high, by the time they reached the neighbor’s house it was neck high.
“The only reason that house survived Audrey was that my grandfather broke out all the windows so the water could pass through.”
Her grandparents made it, but they lost 22 relatives in one night.
I was about to ask, How high did the water get, when she said, “There were bodies hanging over the electric lines.
Her grandmother’s hair, “was so full of trash, that they had to shear it off…”
What were your grandparent’s names?”
“He was Marcel Benoit.”
“And your grandmother?”
“Tressa. Maiden name LeBouef. But mostly, she was Mrs. Beniot.” She chuckles, “Or just Maw-Maw.”
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is dedicated to the toughness of humanity. We descend from survivors.
Bonus: Married over fifty years, only when signing up for social security did her grandfather find out his wife was four years older than him. “He starts fussing, said, ‘I married an old maid!’ waving his cane around, wants them to take him straight to the bishop, get the marriage annulled.”
Death did them part, after 62 years, many years later…