Thoughts of Grande Isle summers linger vividly in my mind. Growing up in tropical south Louisiana, you have to plan ways of keeping cool. Skipping through water sprinklers and flagging down ice cream trucks on hot summer afternoons to name a few.
But nothing beat days on end in Grande Isle at Poppa Rene and Miss Rene’s beachfront camp. (In Cajun country, wives were addressed by their husband’s first name preceded by Miss)
Heading south on Louisiana Highway 1, my family’s journey to Grande Isle traced the winding waterways of Bayou LaFourche where shrimping boats and tug boats seemed to glide on the slow moving waters on their trip to the Gulf of Mexico. Cypress and mimosa trees lined the route punctuated by many bayouside vegetable gardens. If we happened to catch a relative or friend
tending their garden, they might just wave us down and offer
a bag of their fresh harvest. If it included okra, then grandma
would surely start cooking her “roux” ( slow cooking brown gravy, base for Cajun stews and gumbos) for shrimp okra gumbo as soon as we arrived.
Continuing the journey , our station wagon was abuzz with melodies like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Playmate”. Stopping for fishing bait, we could always convince dad we also needed cold coca colas to “sing better”. But no trip to the island was ever complete without a stop at Dufrene’s Bakery for French pastry delights such as crème puffs, éclairs, and bouille (custard) tarts with fresh strawberries.
At the summit of the Grande Isle bridge, we suddenly gasped as the expanse of glistening gulf waters and sand beaches beckoned us to come and play. It would only be a few miles or so before we reached our beachfront abode, a two story structure with a covered porch the length of the camp overlooking the gulf. The porch was a cool respite where we would “pass a good time” playing cards, hopscotch, listening to Poppa Rene’s tales, and enjoying the “catch of the day” as the sun set.
One of the daily adventures for us five children was bringing in the “catch of the day”. Our favorite catching activity was “crabbing”. That process began with “baiting” the metal traps, then wading out into the water to hang them on a clothesline type apparatus, each trap settling on the sand floor. Then we would head to shore because staying too close would keep the crabs away or their pincers might mistake our toes for the bait!!
Waiting was the hardest part. We could pass the time by chasing small sand crabs, collecting sea shells, or building sand castles. But one particular day, we returned to the porch where Poppa Rene was rocking and praying the rosary. He was a strong man with a gentle smile and sparkling blue eyes who ran a former sugarcane plantation. But most of all he was wise and loving. Poppa often spoke to us in Cajun French trying to teach us his first language as he did with his seven children.
Gathering around Poppa, he inquired “What will be the catch of the day today ? ” My brother chimed in, “Poppa I hope we can fill the whole table for supper tonight, but I’m not sure…” . Sensing our doubt and impatience, Poppa continued, “ Under the waters there are all kinds of activity that you cannot see. That’s how God works. You cannot see Him working any more than you can see those crabs crawling into your traps. But you must have faith for both. Let’s pray for a good catch today, children! ” And so he prayed and in unison we made the sign of the cross.
Scurrying back to the beach, we entered the water and one by one as we raised the traps they were full! We returned smiling
and carrying two bushels of crabs!! It wasn’t long before the table was spread with our catch of boiled crabs, potatoes, onions, and corn on the cob. After our fill of food and fun, it was time for rest.
Stretching across the beds, we could catch cool gulf breezes blowing across our bodies, hear the soothing sounds of crashing waves, and see the moonlight smile down on our idyllic day. This was surely God’s handiwork. What Poppa said is true to this day in my life. Faith always brings a bountiful catch.
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