Moment in Time


I must have been no more than four years old, when I sensed I was a someone--an I, who found herself in a someplace. That place? A rural setting in the Cajun bayou lands of Southwest Louisiana during the early 1950's.

  

Although aware I came from another somewhere, my attention turned to the soft glow on either side of the kitchen which shone onto an old wooden table in front of me. I had no words, but I but it felt like the heart of the room.


To my left, a luster filtered through a window. Next to it sat a ceramic water jug, aloof and tucked away in its cool, dark corner. Something rested on the lip, but I couldn't tell what it was. Over to my right, a battered screen door hung askew.


The door screeched, and I flinched. A tall, wiry man emerged from the brightness. Dressed in khaki pants, a half-tucked-in white shirt, and a narrow-brimmed canvas hat, he  lingered at the door--maybe letting his eyes adjust. Outside, horses snorted and neighed while black gad flies droned. The bright light beyond the porch made me squint--part of a world beyond my reach.


The mysterious man reached into his back pocket, pulled out a white, cotton handkerchief, and wiped the moisture from his face and neck. The smells of earth and sweat filled the room. Gazing upward to his looming silhouette, I stared.


Preoccupied, he walked past me to the ceramic jar and lifted the blue enamel ladle to his lips. Unlike the gumbo-colored bayou waters, two sparkling streams spilled from the edges. His throat gulped as he took in the cool well water. One more hefty swig, and he replaced the dipper.  


Turning to go, he noticed me. Our eyes met; his smile warmed my heart. I didn't know he was my grandfather, Veliar "Papa Teen" Hebert. I didn't even know what a grandfather was, but I knew I belonged to him--and he to me.


He dallied a while longer then pushed against the door which squeaked open and slammed shut. As quickly as he appeared, he vanished into the daylight.


Papa Teen died not long after that, but I learned of it many years later. My father, Eraste, told me the story of his father’s end.


On one scorching hot day, one of his horses refused to be corralled. The mount usually came to him when he extended his hand, holding the rope. But that day, the stallion moved away each time he tried. The seasoned horseman swore at his animal, and neither would give in.  


The longer he grappled, the angrier he got. Reaching out once more, he dropped the lasso, grabbed a fence post with one arm, and clutched his chest with the other.  


From there, the 64-year-old Cajun man limped up the stairs of the  wooden porch, through the hanging screen door, and into the kitchen. Still grasping his heart, he headed straight for the water jug. Only this time, he never reached the ladle, but collapsed exactly where I had stood that day.


He never regained awareness; he never walked out of the old kitchen door; and he never again vanished into the dazzling sunlight.


                                                                                                  by Connie Hebert