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Jeanie, My Favorite Cousin of All

I still think of Jeanie all the time. I guess she was about as close to a kissin cousin as I will ever come. My very first memory of her takes me back to when I was five years old. I reckon that was back in 1953. We were deep in the woods along the Muddy Mississippi River.

Our family deer hunting camp was near Esperanza Point and Glascock Island about 20 miles south of Vidalia Louisiana. Daddy drove our green and yellow 53 Chevrolet car from Monroe through cotton farming towns like Winsboro, Wisner, Clayton, Sicily Island, and Ferriday. Ferriday was the boyhood home of three famous cousins, Jerry Lee Louis, Mickey Gilley, and Jimmy Swaggart. It always seemed like the longest drive ever. The happiest days of my young life were the opening day of deer season, the day after Thanksgiving. The saddest days of my life were the last days of deer season.

I kept asking Daddy, "Are we there yet?"

"Nope Son, Count the telephone poles. We have about a thousand telephone poles to go."

So I lay down in the seat and looked upside down at the tops of the telephone poles and counted. I was always happy when we passed the town of Ferriday and the Mississippi Levee appeared along side of the highway. Pretty soon we would come up in front of the Huey P Long Bridge going from Vidalia to Natchez Mississippi. Then we would get up on the levee and drive about 20 miles through the woods.

The woods were much denser and wider than they are today. The air smelled like moss, humus, and earth. The trees were all virgin. They were thick, you could not put both arms around them. They were tall and proud Cypress, White Oak, Pen Oak, Water Oak, Beech, Hickory, and Loblolly Pines. Once while walking though these woods in a Pin Oak Flat, I saw over a hundred deer eating acorns. Today most of those trees are gone. Replaced by soybean fields, pastures, and pines that mature and are ready for harvest in 10 years. But the woods were thick then. A young boy had to fear wolves, bear, and screech owls. One could get lost easy except for the few oil wells and gas generating stations that hummed nearby.

At night after we turned of the generator, you could hear the sounds of the orchestra of crickets and locust. You could hear the coyotes singing. You could hear the wise owl wooing- who, who, who are you.

The camp was a three-roomed tin building with a dirt floor. We did not have running water, nor telephones, nor cell phones. We did have lights- bare single light bulbs hanging in each of the two bedrooms and in the makeshift kitchen. My grandfather was Roddy White and he ran a logging crew. The camp was his old logging camp. Roddy converted a brand new Model T Engine into a generator for electricity. I did not mind walking alone at night because the generator hum always said where the camp was. All of my family and friends were there. Momma put me to bed early, but the sounds of the poker cards and chips hitting the old wooden table in the kitchen kept me company.

Jeanie was ten. Her Daddy was Guy Sievers. At the time he had been a cop and he had gotten my Daddy his first job on the Monroe Police Department. Guy had also been a football coach at Northeast Louisiana State College. In 1953 he had quit both jobs and owned an ESSO station there on Jackson Street. Jeanie’s Momma was Shirley and she was my Momma’s older sister. Guy’s two brothers were also present- Warren and Bunny. Bunny is the father of John Sievers, one of my best employees.

Jeanie was my favorite cousin. She always took me hunting, fishing, and horseback riding through the woods. The first memory I have of her, we were hunting deer with plastic guns that shot Ping-Pong balls. We took several imaginary deer that year and put them in the freezer. I have old movies of us shooting and toting the deer together.

Later on, Pop Walker, one of Warren’s co-workers at the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s office joined our hunting club. He brought along his son Sam Walker. Sam and Jeanie were about the same age. They developed a hunting camp love. They were fist loves and I felt sure it would last forever. So did they. Sometimes they would take me along riding horseback, the three of us- and me hanging on to the tail. We were on one horse.

Sam and I became good friends. He helped me break horses and he taught me what he knew about baseball. Sam and Jeanie grew closer and closer with each passing year. We all knew they were meant for each other and they would be getting married soon.

Sam played fullback for the Northeast Indians football team and we thought he had a chance to go pro. He quickly became a college favorite and a big man on campus. He and Jeanie talked about getting married- and then it happened. I was in my dormitory room at Northeast when I heard the announcement on the public address system. "Sam Walker has just jumped off the trampoline inside the gym, busted his brains out on the hardwood floor, and died."

Seems like some people’s lives are just destined to be full of tragedy. Jeanie’s older sister, Gay was a beautiful girl. She reminded me of Pocahontas. She was thin, she had jet black hair, a lovely smile and green eyes. She was full of fun and she made me laugh. She wore those horned rimmed glasses that were popular back in he 50’s. I think the glasses made her seem shy. She eventually got married to a man much larger than my 270 pounds. His name was Lewellen and he was a schoolteacher in Shreveport. Lewellen owned 80 acres of great hunting land near Holum Louisiana. From time to time he and I would go deer hunting or rabbit hunting there.

One night Lewellen was cleaning his 12-gauge double-barreled shotgun in the bedroom where Gay was sleeping. The gun went off and Gay was dead. When the police arrived their three children were crying on the front porch saying, "My daddy shot my momma." Seems like some people’s lives are just destined to be full of tragedy. Jeanie and her family were in shock. They never got over it.

Seems like some people’s lives are just destined to be full of tragedy. If we knew what was in store, we would probably just quit. Jeanie was heart broken. She was just so depressed for so many years. In a rebound she got married the fist time. Several unhappy marriages followed quickly. Seems like she could never find true happiness. She had five children. The tragedy never stopped.

I taught her oldest son, Donnie how to deer hunt. He taught me how to scuba dive. I told him, he should never hunt on a deer game reserve and that he never should hunt on a pipeline. There are far too many people hunting on game reserves who have never hunted. You can see three miles down some of these pipelines and some people shoot anything that moves along them.

Donnie was hunting on a pipeline on a game reserve near Farmerville Louisiana. He got in the woods before daylight. Near 10:00 AM he climbed down from the tree and bent over to pick up his climbing stand. He was wearing an orange hat and an orange vest as required by Louisiana Law. A hunter shot him through the neck with a 30:06. Later the man told the sheriff’s officer he saw something move and thought it was a buck. He did not walk down the pipeline to see if he hit it. Donnie was 34.

The funeral was sad. I had to get a suit from the Salvation Army and wear a girdle to keep my belly from flopping around. Everyone else including the preacher wore camouflage-hunting clothes. Donnie loved to deer hunt. He had two children. Jeanie had lost her first-born son. The tragedy never stopped.

A few years later, I encouraged Jeanie to bring her granddaughter Tiffany to visit us in Baton Rouge and then go to New Orleans for Mardi Grass. Tiffany was nine and my daughter Heather was five. They were cousins and good friends. The day before Fat Tuesday Mardi Grass we all went to the Mardi Grass Parade in Baton Rouge. We were standing in the huge crowd along the sidewalk on North 3rd Street. Police had set up barricades along the road to keep the crowd in check. Several in the crowd had crossed the barricades and were in the street.

An eighteen wheeler truck with a float of people on the back could not make the turn on the corner of 3rd Street. The driver stopped to wait for the police to clear a path to turn. Several minutes went by. Catherine and Heather said they were going to the restroom, and headed towards on of the porta-potties that lined the parade route. I waited impatiently for the truck to make the turn. People on the float were throwing Mardi Grass beads into the crowd. Tiffany was in the street picking up beads with her back to the truck. Then it happened in slow motion- I could see it coming, but there was nothing I could do. I was frozen like a deer with his eyes drawn to the headlights.

A red Toyota pickup with people throwing beads form the bed of the truck was behind the eighteen wheeler. I saw the red truck come around the eighteen wheeler as if to pass. I said to myself, "There is nowhere for the truck to go." I vaguely remember two motorcycle cops standing beside their Harley-Davidson cycles waiting for the eighteen wheeler to make the turn. They made a last minute jump upon the hood of the Toyota to avoid being run over. I was frozen in my tracks and cold not move. The Toyota missed me by six inches and crashed into a monument on the side of 3rd Street.

The Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper said the driver had passed out for no known reason. I gathered form the story that the driver had been drinking celebrating Mardi Gras the night before. I think he simply fell asleep while waiting on the eighteen wheeler and his foot hit the accelerator.

I found Jeanie in the startled screaming crowd. We could not find Tiffany. Then we saw a spot of mud try and rise to her feet. Tiffany had her back to the Toyota and did not see it coming. The Toyota ran across her leg, chest and head, drug her across the pavement, jumped a curve, and drug Tiffany into the grass. Jeanie ran to her side and tried to hold the silent child. The crowds said not to pick her up- don’t move her.

A man appeared beside Tiffany and Jeanie. He said he was a doctor. He made a quick examination of Tiffany and said. "Pick this child up, hold her close." He did not think she would live.

The ambulance seemed to come out of nowhere. The sirens screamed. I was not thinking right. I did not know where Heather and Catherine were. I was in shock because I was certain that Tiffany was going to die- and she was there because I had invited her. The ambulance crew and Jeanie asked me where to rush Tiffany to the Hospital. I had heard commercials for the Lady of the Lake Hospital. Daddy had gone there for his first heart attack. All I could think of was the Lady of the Lake. I said take her to the Lady of the Lake. I did not know that the Lady of the Lake had the best trauma unit in Louisiana and that they had a special unit for children.

The doctors rushed Tiffany into surgery and repaired several internal injuries that cold have killed her in fifteen minutes. Then they came into the waiting room and said they were concerned that Tiffany may eventually loose her leg. Her pelvis was crushed and this had disrupted the flow of blood through the artery that fed the leg. They thought they could fix it but only time would tell.

After ten days in the Lady of the Lake and several surgeries, Tiffany seemed well on the road to a full recovery. I built her a ramp for her wheel chair. She would have a huge cast and be bound to a wheel chair for several weeks. The last time I saw Tiffany I did not even notice a limp. The last time I saw Tiffany was at her aunt’s funeral. Some people’s lives seem so full of tragedy.

Delia was my favorite of Jeanie’s children. She had blonde hair, green eyes, large dimples and a laughing smile. She was always so full of fun. She had a great job. She worked in a surgery clinic in West Monroe. She was very happy. She adopted a daughter. Life seemed very good for Delia.

Then Delia got mixed in with Methamphetamines, the bathtub drug some say is mixed with Drano. She went downhill fast. She lost her job. She lost her daughter. Some say she lived on the streets.

Eventually, she tried to come down. She moved into the camp on Woolen Lake in Hebert Louisiana with Jeanie, Guy, and Shirley. Delia was having trouble keeping food down. One starry night she walked out on the porch by the lake in her housecoat. Nobody ever saw her alive again.

I drove by the camp a few days after she disappeared. The Caldwell and the Ouachita sheriff’s department had been searching for her. The wildlife and fisheries had drug Woolen Lake. My brother, Ricky lived nearby in Columbia and he had joined the search party. There was no sign of Delia. Two weeks later they found her face down dead in a cotton field between the gravel road and the blacktop from Hebert to Rayville. The autopsy report said her liver had failed. She was 34. Her funeral was exactly five years after Donnie’s. Now Jeanie had lost two children. Will the tragedy ever stop?

Guy Sievers, Jeanie’s father was a loving man. I knew him most of my life. He took me fishing and hunting more times and places than I can forget. After selling the ESSO station, Guy got lucky in the real-estate business in Dallas Texas. He struck it rich. The family moved to an exclusive expensive house on a lake in Irving. Guy took me to a few Cowboy games and he was the greatest Cowboy Fan ever for most of his life. We sat in his living room and watched Tom Landry and Roger Stauback take the Dallas Cowboys to become America’s team. Guy was a recliner quarter back and head coach. He called every play. He was also quiet a golfer right up to a ripe old age.

Guy struck it rich, but the money went almost as fast as it came. There was a real-estate bust in Dallas and Guy Lost his shirt. House and everything else too. He seemed to have more faith in God than anyone else I had ever known. He reminded me of Job in the Bible. He just kept going. Lost children, grandchildren. Lost his money. Lost his health and just kept going on faith.

He told me he wanted to buy that camp on Woolen Lake so he could fish in his retirement. He said he wanted to pay cash for it, but he had lost all of his money. He took a job working for one of my best lifelong friends, Duke Andrepont. Duke was a Cajun Gentleman born in Opelousas Louisiana, the home of Jim Bowie. Duke graduated from LSU School of Journalism. He wanted to start a newspaper in Opelousas. Opelousas already had three newspapers.

Duke and his partner went on a journey to New York City to study off line press used in magazines. He started the first newspaper in the world, the Opelousas Daily News to ever use off line press involving photographs. Most newspapers today still use the process. Duke’s first paper is in the Smithsonian Institute. The New York Times purchased the Opelousas Daily News and they still own it.

After Duke sold the newspaper, he started a magazine called the Louisiana Peace Officers. He traveled across Louisiana visiting police departments and sheriff’s offices telling their stories, taking their pictures, and selling advertisements. Duke made the best gumbo and sauce pican you ever put in your mouth. He also could track a deer down like an Indian scout.

Uncle Guy took a job selling advertisement for Duke and made that thirty thousand dollars for the camp in one year.

Before I was born, Guy did three years in the US Navy during World War Two. This entitled him to receive full service in the Veterans Hospital in Dallas and Shreveport. He certainly took advantage of that. He got almost every surgery imaginable including knee replacement, hip replacement, and several cancer surgeries. He survived longer with cancer than anyone else I ever heard of.

Uncle Guy finally surrendered to Cancer and passed away silently in his sleep while I was conducting a smoke school in El Dorado Arkansas. I drove down to the funeral there in Hebert Louisiana. The funeral was in a small Baptist church on a winding blacktop road close to the lake.

After my fist enlistment in the United States Air Force ended back in 1973, I moved into my Momma and Daddy’s fishing camp on Woolen Lake just a few houses down from the place Uncle Guy later purchased. I spent a year on unemployment, food stamps, help form the church. I had a few odd jobs as a soybean farmer for Pennzoil, a carpenter’s helper for Randy Cagle, a substitute teacher in Caldwell Parish High School, and a landscape job planting rose bushes for a man in West Monroe. In a way, it was one of the best years of my life. I skinned a lot of bucks and ran a lot of trot lines.

I went regularly to the same small church where they held Uncle Guy’s funeral. Only then, it was a genuine tongue talking, laying hands on the sick, singing and shouting Holy Roller church Assembly of Good. I had some good times in that church.

During the funeral, I looked at the sign on the wall that said they had 20 people in Sunday school that week. That was about the same number of people we averaged in that church some 30 years earlier.

When I arrived at the church for the funeral, I walked up to the front looking for Uncle Guy’s body. It was not there. I asked Aunt Shirley where he was. She said he had been through so many surgeries that he donated his body to LSU medical school so he could teach doctors.

Jeanie seemed to be taking the death pretty well. I guess in some way it was a release. Guy had been sick for so long. One good thing did come out of the funeral. I met John Sievers again after years of being apart. He had come a long way form that five year-old boy who used to pester me in the woods in the deer camp on the Muddy Mississippi. I hired John and his wife Lorette to help with smoke school. You will love them. John is a lot like Guy Sievers and a lot like his daddy, Bunny. And that my friends- is the way it is.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He's waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
 

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
 

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,
Mercies for you and for me?
 

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
 

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
Coming for you and for me.
 

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
 

O for the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.
 

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
 

Words & Music: Will L. Thompson

 

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