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“You can’t go home again.”

I suppose most of us have heard the above phrase at one time or the other. Essentially, the gist of the meaning is that once one moves or leaves a certain area they once held dear, it is impossible to go back and capture the feeling and spirit that same area once held. Things change and, when they do, will never be the same again. It’s a simple concept really. It is a premise that slapped me very hard across the face this past weekend when my husband and I took a road trip to Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

Now, to be absolutely honest, Bienville Parish was never my home. I wasn’t born there nor did I go to school there. But, and it’s a big but…virtually all of my relatives were born and raised in the area. Both my mom and dad were born there. My grandparents on both sides lived there. Several of my aunts and uncles lived there…a few great uncles and aunts were in the area. And, countless cousins were, and still are, there. Prior to my mother passing away there was seldom a time when we were out that mom didn’t introduce me to some distant relative I’d never met, or at least remembered. So, though it wasn’t technically my home, if there was ever a place where my roots were it would be there.

My mom passed away in March, 2003. I hadn’t been back up there since a week or so after her funeral and I wanted to. It had been well over ten years. My husband knew that and suggested we do it this past weekend. I took a brief glance at the maps to determine the route and last Saturday we hit the road. It was a pretty straight shot to Natchitoches where, with me driving, we got semi lost. When I finally got oriented we ended up on the main drag in the middle of their Christmas Festival.   We muddled through…on our way to the next stop…Grayson’s Bar-b-Que in Clarence, Louisiana.

The last time I’d been to Bienville Parish via Natchitoches (and Grayson’s in Clarence) was at least twenty-five years ago. As I mentioned the place to Chuck I wasn’t even sure it was still there. But, as we headed out of Natchitoches and turned north on US71 in Clarence there it was. It was the same place…with a couple of hundred smoked hams sitting out on the counter ready for Christmas pickup. We ate there for lunch. I mentioned to the waitress that I first starting coming to the place in college. She said Grayson’s had been in the same place for fifty-five years! A friend of the Ezelle James family in Waterproof, Roy Pilkerton (I think), used to stop by there and pick up hams and bring to everybody on his way down from the Shreveport area to hunt. That was the first time I’d ever eaten food from there…even before college!

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Onward and across Black Lake, we took the time to stop and see if I could find the old camp that my father built back in the summer of 1968. I found the road but when I got to where it should have been there was nothing there. Nothing. And, then I seemed to vaguely remember something from the family years and years ago about the camp being gone…burned, or moved…I don’t remember. Mother had sold it many years before that anyhow. It really didn’t matter. The Bill O’Dell camp was still there, though the O’Dell’s have long been gone.

I wasn’t all that nostalgic over the Black Lake camp; it being there or not mattered none to me. The location is memorable for really only one thing. The summer that the camp was built was the last time I spent any significant time with my father before he passed away. Just a few weeks later I would go off to enter my Fall semester of my Freshmen year in college…just before finals and the Christmas break my father died. I hadn’t seen him since the previous summer.

Following LA 9 we continued on North to Bienville, Louisiana…the town, not the parish. There we took a right and headed out to Liberty Hill Cemetery, where my mother and father are buried. I wanted to pay my respects to my parents. The last time I’d been there was the day my mother was buried. I said a prayer for my parents and choked up. I still miss my mother more than I could ever express. Time has only barely eased the pain of her passing even after all these years.

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Next up was the Sander’s place, where my grandmother and grandfather (mother’s side) lived. Up until the time I was about five or six or so, my grandparents lived in this huge house that was built up on big brick piers…but around that time the house burnt to the ground. The place is way out in the country and all they could do once it was on fire was just watch it burn. They lost everything but a few keepsakes. Afterwards they rebuilt a quite small home on the site of the burn out. I wanted to go see the place. It hadn’t changed much.

Last I heard a cousin had ended up with the property. Mother never said and I never asked how the property thing shook out when my grandparents passed away. I didn’t go to my grandparent’s funerals…I wasn’t told they had died until several days after each of them had already been buried. That habit of not informing me of a major relative’s death (when otherwise I had absolutely no other way of knowing) until days and days and days after they were already buried drove me crazy. It was maddening. Uncles Gene, Bubbie, Olyan and my aunts Pauline and Jo were long buried before mom mentioned it in passing. The same goes for both of my sister-in-law’s parents. And, since mom’s passing, the trait seems to be continuing. My aunt Maria and first cousin Gene have both passed; I only know this because I stumbled across the obituaries on the Internet. How sucky is that? Gene and aunt Maria were hugely important people to me and I find out they have both passed away during an Internet search. Yes, that defines suck for sure.

*just shakes head*

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Next up was Taylor Road. Name sort of speaks for itself. Cousins and an aunt and uncle live (or used to live before they passed away) on this road. My middle brother also has a cabin here. The whole scene hadn’t changed at all. My brother’s place, a getaway cabin, seemed a bit unused or kept up otherwise everything was the same. People were home; we didn’t stop.

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We kept driving…on to the cemetery where my grandparents were buried, just outside of Arcadia. We found their plots. There, I noticed my favorite great aunt, Letha, had passed away last year at 102. Predictably, no one let me know that either. I find out about Letha’s passing by accident, too.

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And, rounding out the trip was a slow drive by the home my mother bought after my father died. It was her home until she passed away 35 or so years later. The home looked kept up enough from the side but the yard was most unkempt and overgrown…definitely sad looking. The next-door neighbor, Ted, was out in his yard. He looked out for mom quite a lot and was a great neighbor to her during her years there. I didn’t stop. I waved though. He didn’t wave back. I knew Ted well; I’m sure he didn’t recognize me. Maybe the Z4 took him aback. Arcadia is not a sports car type of town.

We retired to the local motel there in Arcadia for the night. Once we got checked in I realized the day had been one of the most depressing of my life. I stood on the balcony of our room numb, fully realizing two things.

First, indeed, one can’t go back home again. Or, at least I couldn’t. The entire visit was just extremely depressing to me. Too much water has passed under the bridge. There had ceased to be anything for me in Bienville Parish. It is a place that now holds nothing for me.

And, secondly, I wouldn’t be back. I would never make the trip there again. I felt much like an intruder as we visited all of these old familiar places. Increasingly I felt most uncomfortable, even unwelcome. Effectively, I’ve been squeezed from the fold.  Quite effectively for I have no sense of belonging there anymore.

Husband said maybe it would be closure of some sort for me. I hope he’s right.

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