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Hard Hats, Ten Gallon Hats and Radio

Hard Hats, Ten Gallon Hats and Radio

Although oil was struck in Leeville in 1929, jobs were scarce for Cajuns from 1938 to 1941. Better jobs were given to “Texians” who came in droves. For those with no experience in the oil field, the few jobs available were roust-abouts, basically helpers doing the hard and dirty jobs.

The idea that “they take our jobs and our women” was believed justification for forming vigilante gangs to fight the outsiders, not an honorable part of our past. Rebstock’s dance hall was a prime battle zone on Saturday night.
By World War II “Texians” had married local girls. The natives had learned the oil field business, which meant better jobs. Eventually many Cajuns retired with healthy portfolios. As locals became uncles, cousins and neighbors to the outsiders from Texas, they realized, “Hey! These guys are O.K.”

Offshore drilling brought the boat business, more jobs and local prosperity. The cultures and lifestyles merged and as societies mingled. Views on food, music and sports were exchanged. We got Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Texas Hold ‘Em and big belt buckles, and they got gumbo, “booray” and a new language. Quid pro quo! Them versus us became we and as in most Walt Disney movies, “they lived happily ever after.”

My father finally got a roust-about job in the oil fields with Jimmy Wood, a wildcatter. These were small time entrepreneurs who operated on a shoestring looking for the big strike. Some found it, but many went bankrupt.

This happened to Jimmy Wood. When checks starting bouncing, Mr. Wood disappeared. In desperation, dad and his co-workers formed groups and drove to Texas trying to find him. They returned unsuccessful, disappointed and broke.

I was eight-years-old when dad unloaded what appeared to be a large piece of furniture.

“I bought a second hand radio,” he said.

Jubilation reigned in our household! The moment we had dreamed about. There was only one problem—it was electric and Lockport Power and Light had not gotten to our house yet, so it sat silently in the corner for a few months.

My uncle had a battery operated one to which we would sometimes listen. During big events, especially prizefights, he would put the radio in his window and the men in the neighborhood would listen from his lawn. I remember the second Joe Louis / Max Schmelling fight and the Joe Lewis / Billy Conn fight. My uncle also had a phone that we all used.

Electricity arrived and the radio played sunup to sundown and beyond. My favorites were Jack Armstrong, The Lone Ranger and Gang Busters. Betty, my sister, liked Let’s Pretend. Soap opera time was Mom’s favorite. Helen Trent, Our Gal, Sunday and Ma Perkins were daily rituals.

Before America entered the war, we heard Edward R. Murrow’s nightly program, This is London. It was broadcast from British rooftops with Nazi bombs exploding in the background. It was chilling. America sympathized but stayed neutral until December 7, 1941, when “it” hit the fan.

On Sunday nights we sat semi-circle and watched (yes, watched) the radio as Rudy Vallee, Eddie Cantor and Bing Crosby entertained. Our own imagination played a part in radio’s popularity.

After the Jimmy Wood episode, dad went to work for Nat Collins, Sr. at Golden Meadow Oil Company, delivering gasoline and oil to docks and service stations. Mr. Collins was a good boss, but the work was hard and dirty. Every morning mom made sure that his Texaco cap and uniform were clean and pressed.

Dad sometimes brought me on his truck route.

One day when we were stopped in Golden Meadow I heard, ““Roosevelt, we need your truck!”

Probably destitute because of the times, a good friend had convinced someone to tie his hands behind his back to “play a game”. The bound young man then jumped into Bayou Lafourche and drowned. He left a wife and children. My father and other men loaded him into the truck and dad drove him to Dr. John Gravois’ office where he was pronounced dead. As witnesses, we waited for the coroner to travel from Thibodaux. It was all quite a shocking experience for a 10-year-old boy.

Ending on such a sad note, I composed an axiom to sum it all up: Pleasant memories always rest gentle on our minds; tragic ones relentlessly endure; some are dormant, waiting for a Déjà Vu moment to flash back. Everything else is blowing in the wind. This axiom has a name. It’s called LIFE.

Bye now.