Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter Sunday in Swamps of Louisiana

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When I think of Easter weekends, my favorite memories are of those spent at my Uncle's camp, Rae-Lee - named for his two youngest children. It was situated on a canal in French Settlement and the Amite river could be seen from the front side of the property.

Some of the Easter highlights: In my twenties, we all decided to go on a bar crawl on Easter. That might seem contradictory in some parts of the Bible belt but not in Louisiana, especially considering many of our favorite haunts are best accessed by boat.

"You haven't been on a real bar crawl til you've crawled in a boat," as my uncle used to say.

The funny part is that none of us are real big drinkers but you could hear the best music and dance and usually find something really good to eat. It was just a magical day, the perfect temperature to be outside, being gently jostled about by the water. Seeing all the critters in and around the swamp, the Spanish moss dancing in the breeze.

We'd pull up to a bar, order something to eat or drink (or both), dance a bit and move on to another spot to do it all over again.

There was another Easter when my uncle was building a big church (or a school?) for Jimmy Swaggart. I was in college and deep into my not-going-to-church-cause-there's-too-much-hypocrisy-there phase. Knowing my uncle was working for Swaggart, I knew we would be expected to drive into Baton Rouge for church on Easter Sunday. I had no intention of doing that so I deliberately packed only shorts, tank tops and bathing suits for the whole weekend.

There was quite a commotion and a lot of words exchanged (shouted) between me, my mother and uncle that morning when it was discovered I did not have church appropriate clothing. Since the only member of the family my size was my cousin Rhonda and she only brought one dress, it was finally decided that I would be left at camp alone while the rest of the family went to church.

My uncle thought quite a lot of Swaggart at the time - this was before the infamous sex scandal - I was certain my uncle would want to stay after services and introduce his big sister - Mom - to the Reverend. With drive time to Baton Rouge, this meant about four blissful hours alone on the river for me. And I intended to do some serious fishing.

I didn't find out until later in the afternoon that the whole family - on the way to church - took bets on how many fish I would catch. We ended up with the strangest three way tie with three different numbers. The winners were deemed my aunt, uncle and my younger cousin, Perry.

My aunt (betting late in the game) bet that I would catch one fish. The van erupted in laughter and then she explained her logic.

"Creekhiker doesn't like to take a fish off the pole. We do it for her. She'll catch one, put it in a bucket of water still on the line and leave it for us."

Everyone started to regret the higher numbers they bet, including my uncle who had predicted the highest number - 18 fish. But Perry was the last to bet. He knew me best of all. He knew that I'd figure a way around any obstacle. So he bet 9 - using his mother's logic - "'cause we have 9 poles at the camp. One for each of us and an extra for company."

In the end, the three of them were the most right: I caught one fish, put it in a bucket still on the line and baited another pole. But the fish were really biting that Easter Sunday and I was soon fishing with three poles at a time. As soon as I caught nine, it was killing me knowing the fish were biting so well. And my first few perch were on the small side. I had to learn how to take the fish off the pole. I ended up with 22 fish, adding my uncle to the winner's circle. We had the nicest fish dinner that night. I was so proud to have caught enough fish to feed the whole family.

But my favorite Easter at the camp was the very first one we spent there. We had all met at my uncle's in Denham Springs and caravaned to the land he had purchased. As we pulled to a stop in front of the very woodsy locale, I was shocked. The land was the most overgrown thicket I had ever seen. There was no water visible on this waterfront property! The brush was so thick, it was impossible to see through it, much less walk through.

Before I was even out of the car, my brother-in-law had unloaded his three wheeler and was slowly driving in a circle around some of the trees near the road, flattening the brush. Perry had his machete and started working off to the side. We unloaded the lawnmowers my uncle and mother had and, in just a few hours, the canal was visible and this strange piece of property suddenly looked like a good deal.

We pitched tents and built a campfire. After all that work, we turned in early. Saturday was a blur, fishing, hauling debris and checking out this wonderful place on the river that was to become our home away from home. Easter Sunday was the best. Before sunrise, my aunt was up and stoking the fire. I snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag as she started the bacon and eggs and was dreaming when my aunt started screaming, "The Easter Bunny came! The Easter Bunny was here!"

Everyone came stumbling out of their tents to see what was going on. My aunt exclaimed, "I just found an Easter egg, and I bet there's a few dozen more out there."

Perry, the youngest, was 12... was a little too old for an Easter egg hunt. But all of us joyously searched for eggs that morning. Even the grownups seemed like children running around and squealing with delight when they found an egg. Thus began our family tradition of hunting Easter eggs on the river.

The camp would take up many of our weekends for years to come. A Johnny house was built first, then we poured the foundation... and waited. During spring floods the next year, we would dutifully boat out with a stick of chalk every weekend to mark the flood waters on the Johnny house. The Amite was at peak flood stage and the next year, we built the camp 10 feet higher than the flood line.

Our days were spent boating and fishing; our nights filled with laughter and gin rummy. Our family would pass many milestones in this place built with our own hands and lots of love. To me, it is always Easter there on this land that brought us so much joy after being discovered a treasure, well-hidden in the brush.


Anonymous said...

Holly, what wonderful memories! I'm so glad you shared your Easter stories - I really enjoyed reading them. And I could almost smell the fish!

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Hey Jackie! I hope you had a wonderful Easter!!!

Linda@VS said...

Your words made me feel as if I were right there with you on those Easters you spent at the camp. Very, very nice memories.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Velvet, I would imagine you probably know this area well as French Settlement is right through the woods from you. It was just around the corner from Fred's. (I guess that's still the name.)