Lifetime Commitment, Part 2

By Willowluvyr

Copyright Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The author does not benefit financially in any way from this story.

Rating: NC-17

Note: My thanks to my beta readers for their wonderful help in writing.

Part 2: The School Year.

I was still too happy to go to sleep. I just lied in my bed thinking of all the things that had happened today. Today had been the best day of my life and I had one person to thank for it, Justine Bordelon. Her Papa owned an old army truck, which was common after the war.

The two and half ton truck that had been produced by the thousands during the war had become surplus after the war, and many farmers in the rural United States had purchased the old deuce and a half’s, because they made excellent work trucks.

The truck was made for utility and not for comfort. Several times I ended up in Justine’s lap from an especially deep pothole. Justine would just smile at me and ask, “You not going to explode on me are you?”

When we pulled up to my house next to the general store, I asked Mr. Bordelon to come in and meet my Papa. He told me that had always been his plan. While the adults were talking, Justine and I went upstairs to my room. I wanted to show her my pride and joy. Last summer, when I didn’t have anything to do, I built a radio from a kit I bought from an advertisement I found in Popular Electronics.

She was very impressed with our electric lights. Of course she had seen them in the city and in a lot of businesses, but they were rare down here in Plaquemines Parish. The movie theater had electricity and even had air conditioning during the summer months. It was an ammonia unit and it stunk to high heaven, but I had to admit it was better than frying in the hot sun on a humid summer day.

I turned on the radio the minute I entered the room. It was on my favorite station WTIX out of New Orleans. I could only receive two other stations: WWL, which was the CBS station and WDSU, which was the NBC station both out of New Orleans. TIX was independent and played modern music. They were in the middle of playing Goin’ Home by Fats Domino.

I had hoped it would be the new guy, Elvis Presley. I had his new record That’s All Right (Mama). A man from Sun Records came by trying to get Papa to sell records out of his store, but with only six record players in town and four of those were cylinder type, it didn’t seem like a very profitable venture. However, Papa did buy four records for me.

What do you think? I built it myself,” I was beaming with pride as I showed off my prized toy.

“You built this ... by yourself,” asked Justine as her wide eyes examined every inch. Her long fingers touched the unfinished cabinet delicately as she casually suggested, “You should stain and varnish this cabinet. It’s good wood, but if it isn’t finished it will be susceptible to insects and the humidity.”

As the song changed to Louisiana Blues by Muddy Waters, I crossed over to my canopy bed. Momma bought this bedroom set for me when I was five. Now it kind of embarrassed me. The set consisted of the bed, a small three-drawer dresser and a small vanity, all in pink of course.

I jumped backwards onto my bed and pulled my teddie into my arms. I absent-mindedly pulled its bear ears while I said, “Papa made the cabinet, the kit didn’t come with one. He never got a chance to finish, but he’s a great carpenter. I’ve never learned how to do things like that.”

Justine picked up the radio and examined the bottom of it. The slight jarring of it caused it to go off channel a bit and Muddy Waters was replaced by static. Justine tried to fix it, but it only got worse. So I put down my bear and went and found the station again. By that time, Pat Boone was singing April Love.

Justine gave me sheepish look and a mental apology. I laughed at her and slapped her forearm and said, “Don’t worry about it silly.

The tall girl shifted her feet and said, “You must be pretty smart to be in eighth grade at 10 years old.”

“Yes.....I am,” I answered cautiously.

“Well, I’m pretty good with tools and you’re not. You’re pretty smart and I’m not,” Justine volunteered, “How about we swap? I’ll teach you how to work with your hands and you help me with my school work.”

I thought for a moment, only to hear myself scream, ‘What are you waiting for? You want to send more time with her and here is the opportunity.’

I was about to answer when Mr. Bordelon called from downstairs, “It’s time to go, Justine.”

Justine cried down, “I’m coming, Papa.”

She looked at with open excitement, while willing an answer, what else could I say, “Of course.”

Justine grabbed my forearm and said, “Thank you so much. Papa’s been on me about my grades.”

When her Papa called for the second time Justine bounded from the room and I followed her like she was the Pied Piper. Once we were downstairs, we said good night and Papa called me into the living room.

The living room was my favorite room in the house, being a large room with huge screened windows. The windows were opened and there was a strong breeze coming through the wire screens, which kept the insects outside. Two large attic fans generated the breeze by circulating the cooler outdoor air with the warmer house air.

The room was dominated by a massive sectional sofa set, which could open in three double beds. My parents bought it two years ago when my Aunt Tom, my Uncle Randy and my cousins Keith and Kevin came to stay with us for four months until Uncle Randy found a job in New Orleans. I felt a shiver run up my spine as I thought about my cousins.

Papa sat in his favorite stuffed chair. It didn’t match a thing in the room and Momma was always on him about getting rid of it, but he’d just tell her that she could change anything she wanted, but not his chair. He said it was too much trouble to break in another chair.

He asked me to sit on his lap, while we talked. I liked sitting on his lap, it made me feel safe. I knew that soon I would be too old to sit on his lap, so I decided to take advantage of a good thing while I had the chance. So, I hopped up into his lap and buried my head into his chest, while he talked, “Princess, there is no easy way to say this, but your new friend is not a nice girl. She has a repetition for trouble and I hate to see you get into any trouble because of her. I won’t hold anyone’s past against them, but I don’t want you hurt either. I just want you to be careful and don’t do anything you know to be wrong.”

“Papa, I don’t know what they say about her, but they are wrong. Justine showed me nothing but good character all day,” I defend my friend and look my Papa in the eye and said, “Papa, don’t ruin this for me, please.”

My Papa pulled me into his arms and gave me a big hug and said, “Ah, cher, I would never do that. I just want you to be smart, besides her Papa told me that if her grades don’t improve he might just pull her from school, so she can help with the farm.”

“Her grades will improve, Papa. She has asked for my help,” I said with determination as I sat up and looked into his eyes, “And Papa she will do well.”

Papa was fifty-three years old. He and Momma had been surprised by my birth so late in their lives. Papa always told me that they had started to wonder what it would be like to be without any children in the house. Both of them told me it was a blessing that would never have to find out.

Papa was a quiet, but strong, man. He was only 5’8”, but could lift a barrel of flour with ease. His coarse black hair and deeply tanned skin were gifts from his Cajun heritage, but his piercing green eyes came from his Irish great grandfather, who came to America to escape poverty and starvation in the 1850’s.

My reddish blonde hair and green eyes also came from that same ancestor, who wore his hair long and braided to taunt the Comanches when he fought them for the United States Cavalry. The Old Irish Sergeant didn’t marry his Cajun wife until he retired from the Army when he was forty-two. They had six children. So late children weren’t new to my family.

We were proud of our heritage and knew every bit of it. A family Bible started by the first Maxion, who walked the Evangeline Trial, when the French Arcadians where driven from Arcadia by the English, records every birth and death in our family. A short tale is written about each name in it. Papa read stories from that Bible every Sunday, so that we would know and keep our heritage.

The Bible has been passed from youngest child to youngest child for nearly two hundred years. The idea being, that the youngest would be the last to die, so would be the best record keeper. One day, I would inherit the family Bible and that made me smile. For the hundredth time I promised myself I would do a good job.

Papa pulled me close with a big Papa hug and said, “Ah, cher, I wish you nothing but happiness.”

Papa got up from his chair with me snugly in his arms and he carried me to my bedroom. I had left the radio on and The Crew Cuts were singing Sh-Boom. Papa put me down and said, “You get ready for bed, Princess.”

He went to turn off the radio and stopped to examine the cabinet. He sighed, “One day I will get to finish this cabinet.”

As I pulled out my nightgown, I replied, “Don’t worry about it Papa. Justine and I will do it. She said she would show me how.”

I don’t know when I finally got to sleep, but it wasn’t too long after that that Momma was pulling back the covers and getting me up. I wish I could say I was a quick riser, but that would be more than a lie. I leave the comfort of my blankets only under the strongest of protests.

But I knew that the covers being pulled back gave me thirty seconds to get up before the pitcher of cold water was poured on me. If you ever got woken up by a pitcher of cold water, you don’t want it to ever happen again. So, reluctantly and using protesting muscles I rolled out of bed and onto the floor.

Mama laughed as usual and said, “Petit, you have to learn to get up on your own. Momma will not always be there to wake you. You better hurry, Justine and her brothers are eating all the pancakes and bacon.”

The name Justine registered and my eyes flew open. I ran to my dresser and pulled out clean undies and clothes. I ran to the bathroom and was showered and changed in record time. I flew down the stairs and ran right into Papa, who caught me. He lifted me into the air and asked, “Where is the fire young lady?”

I was caught. I knew better than to run in the house, so I said the first thing that came into my head, “Justine and her brothers are eating all the pancakes.”

Knowing my penchant for food, Papa laughed as walked toward the kitchen, “Oh, cher, we cannot have that now can we? But if they have, I think we can convince Momma to cook a couple more. What do you think?”

I nodded as I wrapped my arms around his thick neck and kissed him on his cheek. He pecked me on the head and put me down before we entered the kitchen. As I went through the kitchen door, I felt him slap him gently on my bottom. So, I kind of stumbled through the door, much to my embarrassment.

The Bordelon children were eating pancakes and bacon, when I came in. They looked up and said in chorus, “Good Morning, Noel.”

Justine was smiling evilly, so I knew she had put them up to it. So, I decided to ignore the whole thing and said as I went to sit down with my chin high, “Good Morning.”

Momma put a stack of six pancakes and a plate of crispy bacon in front of me. I put a patty of butter between each pancake and one on top of the stack. I spread the butter over the top pancake and then poured cane syrup, liberally, over the stack. Then I began to wolf them down. My appetite is something of a legend in my house and I had to live up to it.

I was finishing my fourth pancake and fifth slice of bacon, when I noticed the quiet. I knew they were staring at me again. So without looking up and I said, “I will not explode, despite popular opinion.”

I heard the chuckles, but chose to ignore them. I wanted to finish my breakfast. After drinking my second glass of milk, I looked up and found four amazed faces. Justine had her head propped up on hand while resting her elbow on the table. She looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Where do you put all that?”

I shrugged my shoulders and went to get my books. I was halfway to my room, when I heard my parents talking in the living room. I don’t know why, but I knew what they were talking about, so I crept by the door to listen.

Momma was saying, “...don’t care, if she is Satan’s spawn. Our daughter has a friend. You know how lonely she has been and I will not sacrifice that for any political favor. I am warning you Frank, if you cause any trouble between those girls, you will sleep with the dog and your only comfort with be from her as well.”

It was getting late for school night and I didn’t want Papa and Momma to catch me listening through the keyhole, so I eased away from the door and went upstairs to get my books. After I had my books and kissed Momma and Papa good bye, the Bordelon kids and I went to school. We arrived together and to our dismay, Boudreaux and his big brothers from the high school greeted us.

It looked like there was going to be trouble for a minute, but my Papa came up behind us and asked, “Aren’t you Thibodeaux boys late for school? I would hate to have to arrest you for truancy. You better get going.”

Papa was the postmaster, truant officer and deputy sheriff for this area. Uncle Claude took care of Papa, and Papa was very well respected in area. He was liberal with his credit at the store and was always first in line to help if someone was in trouble. This made Papa a very popular and powerful man.

The high school boys didn’t want to be so easily defeated, but they knew my Papa and sure didn’t want to face their Papa when mine brought them home. So, the three older brothers quickly made their way toward the high school. Papa walked up to Boudreaux and put his arm around the boy and said, “Boudreaux, now, I know you weren’t going to do anything to harm my little girl, again, because if I thought that, then I would have to go see your Papa again. Maybe we would have to talk about putting you in the Home. Now, you be a good boy and RUN to school, okay?”

Now Boudreaux was slow and a little stupid, but he wasn’t a total moron. So, he quickly caught the threat and ran towards the schoolhouse. Papa smiled at us and mussed up my hair with his hand before he left. He knew this irritated me, but he did it anyway. Justine laughed as I mumbled while getting the brush from my purse.

The days just raced by at school. With my new friends to enjoy at recess and lunch, there just wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted to do. We ate lunch at Paw Paw Theo’s house and Justine and the boys got to meet Weedie. My grandmother hated to be reminded she was a grandmother so she had everyone call her Weedie, which was a childhood nickname.

After school, Justine came to my house to do homework. I found out that she was really very smart. Though she was behind in everything, Justine was quick minded and only to be shown something once to learn it. I knew getting her caught up was going to be a piece of cake.

Each weekday, we would go to school and study at my house. Each weekend, we would run our trout lines and catch fish for food and for the cannery. Plus we would take time to do some fun things, like swim, until it started to get too cold and play games. On our first weekend together, Justine started teaching me how to work with wood. The first thing we did was to finish my radio.

It was the middle of October when we had to clear our first hurdle. Justine’s Papa had told her that her grades had to be good on the first report card or she would be forced to leave school and work for him. We studied hard for the tests and we worked especially hard on Justine’s math skills. Justine was so proud to show her Papa A’s in everything except for a B in math.

I could see the surprise and pride in the man’s eyes. It warmed my heart. All he said was, “Follow me girls.”

He went inside the house and handed the report card to his wife, whose mouth opened wide in disbelief. She turned her back used an apron to wipe her eyes. I could see the relief in her face. Mr. Bordelon pulled down a tin can that rattled. I knew it to be the house bank. Momma and Papa had one, too. He took out three silver dollars and said, “This calls for a celebration. We are going to the drive-in. Noel, we’ll tell your folks on the way to town.”

It was a glorious night. It was dollar a car night and we all loaded up in the truck with the canvas off. It was great feeling the wind blow through our hair. Justine, the boys and I sang songs on the long ride to the theater and talked about every stupid thing we could think of.

We played in the playground under the big screen while we waited for the movie to start. We watched a double feature with two shorts and two cartoons. I can still see it in my mind. We had popcorn, cokes and cotton candy. During the ride home we just watched the stars and I told the stories of the constellations that I read from books. Mr. Bordelon escorted me to my door and said, “Thank you for giving us our daughter back. I owe you. If you ever need help, you can count on the Bordelons.”

Papa met us at the door and opened the screen. He motioned me inside and stepped out to talk to Mr. Bordelon. To this day, I have no idea what they said, but that night Papa sat down by my bed and said, “You are a wonderful person, Noel, don’t ever forget that.”

At Halloween, Papa didn’t think that trick or treating was a good idea, because there weren’t that many places to go. So, he made us each a bag of candy from the store and took us to a costume party and hayride in Buras. Momma made me a Fairy Princess costume. Secretly I hated the thing, but Momma put so much work into I didn’t have the heart to complain.

Justine came dressed as Elvis with blue jeans and a leather jacket and her hair in a ducktail. She knew he was my hero now and it warmed my heart. My opinion of my costume changed when Justine told me it me look beautiful. Her brothers came dressed as cowboys, complete with toy guns.

We piled into Papa’s Buick and headed to Buras. We had a great time. There was a fais do do and Papa called a square. I danced with Henri and Justine danced with Andre. The other three boys refused to dance. I managed to get Pierre out onto the floor once, but that was it.

It was all capped off with a hayride that dropped each child off by his front door. We sang and we sang. Justine had a beautiful alto voice. The boys weren’t bad either. I did the best I could, which was terrible. One thing did happen that night, Father Pat was driving the wagon and heard us sing. That night we were drafted into the choir, which practiced every Wednesday night.

It was nearing Thanksgiving and the weather was a lot milder. So we spent a lot of time running trout lines and making Christmas money. It was also harvest time and school was let out so the children could help their folks with the harvest. Papa got all my brothers and sisters and their families together and we went to help our friends, the Bordelons. Momma brought her quilting stuff, so we never saw the Mommas, they were quilting, which meant gossiping. The only sign that they existed at all was when we ate our meals that they had obviously cooked.

The Bordelons raised rice and sugar cane. The rice fields had been drained and harvested. So it left the children to dehusk the rice, while the men and Justine cut the cane. Mr. B, which is what he insisted I call him, didn’t have modern equipment. We had to dehusk the old fashion way, by the crush and sift method.

It turned out to be a good harvest. Mr. B had even gotten six bushels of crayfish when he drained his fields. He was so pleased and thankful for the help he insisted on the family, including all my brothers, sisters and their children for Thanksgiving. He went all out and did a Cochon De Lait, which is roasting a pig over an open pit. Mr. B also roasted three chickens and a turkey. Paw Paw Theo brought a gumbo. It was his way and Mr. B’s refusal was totally ignored.

It was the best Thanksgiving I ever remember. We had worked hard, but we had made life long friends. That day the Maxions and the Bordelons became family. Plus for once I got to eat without people looking at me like I was an alien from the movies.

It was nearly Christmas and still didn’t have enough money for the gifts I wanted to buy. So, I got out my traps and I went after two things, pelts and nutria. There was a five-dollar a pelt bounty on the destructive rat and I planned on getting at least three of them, anything else would be gravy.

I didn’t like trapping. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. I didn’t like skinning what I trapped. It wasn’t the chore of the skinning the animal, I could handle that; it was the blood. However, if you wanted the money, you had to do the deed. Then it occurred to me that I could eliminate the skinning and let my best friend share in the profits. So, I went to talk to Justine.

Justine needed money, too. So she agreed to help me in my nutria hunt. We set out our traps. Justine also showed me how set a snare. I had always used store bought traps, all Justine needed was some wire and a little bait. All in all, we trapped six nutria and two raccoons and a fox. We split forty-four dollars.

I bought Momma a new blue stationery set so she could write her pen pals in Thailand. I got Papa a new pipe and leather tobacco case. I purchased Paw Paw and Weedie a new set of dominoes, double nines; they loved to play, but weren’t any good at it. I had to send to New Orleans for a battery-operated phonograph for the Bordelons, they still didn’t have electricity. I got the boys the battery, I bought it from Old Man Touissant, who wrecked his Chevy. I made each of my brothers and sisters a wooden picture frame. Well, Justine helped a little bit. I bought Justine a couple of records and I made her a new trout line. I also something a little more personal for her.

On Christmas Day, we all exchanged gifts. After I whupped my grandparents at dominoes a couple times, I went to take my gifts to the Bordelons. They loved my gift, but protested the cost. I shushed them by pointing out that I loved music and I was there a lot. While they were setting up the phonograph, I opened my gift. I couldn’t believe it. It was an autographed picture of Elvis.

Mr. B beamed as he watched my excitement. He had driven to Sun Records and gotten the picture and had Elvis autograph it personally. It wasn’t a reproduction, it was a real autograph. It is still one of my most prized possessions. I have been offered thousands for it, but I keep to remember Mr. B.

Justine and I went out to the barn to exchange our gifts. She had made me a new dresser. It was five drawers and stained cider, no pink on it. She promised to do something about the bed soon. I loved it. I handed her the records and the new trout line. I was really embarrassed by my gift now that I had seen hers. But then I hadn’t given her my personal gift. It was a picture of us that Papa had taken in one the wooded frames that we had made together.

I could see tears in her eyes as she touched the frame and the picture. She looked up at me and smiled, “You’re getting better at sanding, Noel. I can’t believe how quickly you’re picking this up.”

Justine was feeling the texture of the frame and looking at the picture as she walked out of the barn, forgetting her records. So, I picked them up and followed her to the house, where she showed her family her new prize. I was a little embarrassed, so I decided to put on Shake, Rattle and Roll by Big Joe Turner.

I showed Mr. B how to dance to the song. Then Justine put on My Secret Love by Doris Day. I bought it for Mrs. B, who loved Doris Day movies. Then Mr. B played Rosemary Clooney’s Hey There and This Ole House. By then, the day was getting late, so I had to leave. Justine walked with me to the main road, but before she left me, she kissed me on the cheek and ran off towards the house. My cheek burned the whole way home.

Right after Christmas was the first King Cake Party. A King Cake Party is a Mardi Gras tradition, for which a donut shaped cake has a small doll baked into the cake. Whoever gets the doll, called the baby, has the next party and they last through Mardi Gras Day. I had never been invited to one before, but this year Justine, Henri and I were invited to Folina Marsoinne’s party. I got the baby from the cake and had the next party a week later. Justine always managed not to get the baby.

For Mardi Gras, we always had a fais do do. The men would ride from house to house in masks collecting ingredients for a community gumbo. Papa and Mr. B rode with Paw Paw Cleveland and Paw Paw Theo. While the men collected the ingredients the women started making a roux in a big iron skillet. A roux is just flour and oil browned slowly to the texture and color of peanut butter and used to thicken the gumbo. Then they made large pots of white rice.

As the men dropped off chickens, shrimp, okra, andouille, and whatever else they collected, the women started cleaning and cutting. Justine and I got two bushels of crabs to clean. When you boil crabs you put them live into the boiling water, but for gumbo they are killed and cleaned. The cleaning process involves removing the upper shell and cleaning away the gills and intestines. The crab’s claws and legs are left on for meat and flavoring.

They had two large pots going one was making okra gumbo and the other was making filet gumbo. I loved them both and to this day, gumbo remains my favorite food. While the gumbo was cooking, the musician started the fais do do with a traditional two step. We were well into the sixth dance, when the dinner bell rang. We all rushed to get in line for the wonderful smelling food.

Justine with her long legs and mean looks had gotten way up in front and signaled for me to join her. Tentatively, I moved ahead of about forty people, who all gave me dirty looks, but Justine was insistent and I was soon only a dozen people from getting my gumbo. Then it started.

After I got my gumbo, I was walking over to the dinner tables when I was tripped by Boudreaux Thibodeaux. I fell to the ground and spilled my dinner. Boudreaux laughed, “Now you’ll have to get to the back of the line like all the rest.”

I was near to tears and I looked to Papa, who was being restrained by Mr. B. I was wondering why when I heard a familiar voice say, “Help her up, Boudreaux.”

He turned white as a ghost and swallowed hard, as he reached out his hand. I took it and he carefully helped me up. I started to retrieve my bowl and spoon, but Justine stopped me by saying, “No leave that and take mine and go eat. Boudreaux and I are going to clean this up. Right Boudreaux.”

I could see that the boy was completely cowed as he nodded his head. Mrs. Thibodeaux came over and escorted me to the tables. She had another bowl of gumbo and rice, which she place before the empty seat next to me, while apologizing, “I’m sorry. That boy will get a tanning for this. You enjoy your gumbo, okay?”

I smiled my thanks as I felt a familiar hand touch my shoulder and ask, “Are you alright?”

I looked up into my friends piercing blue eyes and gave her a weak smile. The truth was my pride was really damaged and I was damned tired of Boudreaux Thibodeaux. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I was going to do something. I heard a familiar voice whisper in my ear, “We’re going to get him that is a promise.”

It was two weeks later and we were in the middle of Lent. For strict Catholics that means no meat during Lent and fasting on Fridays. Lent lasts for forty days and starts on Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras and ends on Easter Sunday. During Lent, we also went to Mass every Wednesday and on the third Wednesday of Lent, we got even with Boudreaux Thibodeaux and then some.

The first step of ‘Operation Get Boudreaux’ was to plant some firecrackers on him. We were in the choir so we had to get Henri close enough to the big boy during Mass to set the bully up. When the priest started the Benediction, Henri clandestinely lit a firecracker and dropped it at Boudreaux’s feet. As we rose for the Blessing, the firecracker went off. Boudreaux jumped and everyone looked at him. His father grabbed him by the arm and dragged him outside.

I dearly wanted to go watch, but knew that would give it away. Several minutes later, after we received the Eucharist, his father led Boudreaux to the front of the church. The big man showed Father Pat the offending firecracker and apologized to the priest profusely.

Then Boudreaux was pushed onto the podium by his angry father and ordered to apologize to the congregation. He was defiant about his innocence. That day Boudreaux went up in my estimation of his character; it would have been easy just to apologize and have done with it, but he stood his ground. Actually, he took some of the fun out of what we did to him. Then I remembered the gumbo and I felt a lot better about what we did.

We never learned what punishment was inflicted upon the boy, but I did notice that he didn’t sit too well during class for at least a week. A couple of days after the incident, I gave Boudreaux a firecracker during recess and smiled. He, now, knew who set him up. The large boy was none too happy, but to his credit he said, “I guess that makes us even for Mardi Gras.”

He held out his hand and I shook it. We weren’t friends, but we weren’t enemies anymore either. The other good thing to come out of the incident was that Boudreaux never picked on any of the other children anymore.

We had Mass every day of Holy Week and being in the choir kept us quite busy. However, we did manage to make some Easter baskets for the boys. With the money we made from our fishing, Justine and I bought each of the boys a chocolate bunny and some Gold Brick Eggs. Papa added some jellybeans and marshmallow eggs. Mr. and Mrs. B boiled and dyed two dozen eggs and hide throughout the house.

After Easter services, we all went for dinner at the Bordelon house and ate our fill of ham, candied yams, rice and cream gravy, ears of fresh corn and of course Paw Paw’s gumbo. After dinner we had an Easter egg hunt. The winner was going to get a new silver quarter. Justine and I search frantically, but we got in each other’s way. Andre won the quarter.

Easter came late in 1954, and finals soon followed. We studied hard, because we had some special tests to see if would go on to high school. Everyday Justine and I would study in my room until it was near dark and she had to go home.

The final week of school was reserved for final exams. The eighth graders went first. Justine and I finished our tests with twenty minutes to spare. We left school knowing we did great, but that grades wouldn’t be posted for two days.

Without any school, we devoted our new leisure time to running our trout lines. By the end of the two days we cleared over five dollars apiece. That afternoon we went to get our grades. We both made over ninety percent in each subject, which meant straight A’s for both of us.

Memorial Day was the day the eighth grade graduated from elementary school. We got to wear caps and gowns in the school colors. Mr. and Mrs. B were so proud they were busting. No one in their families had ever gone to high school and until they came to live here, they hadn’t thought that Justine would be the first.

It turned out to be a beautiful day for the ceremony, which was fortunate, since it was outside. Having an outside function in Louisiana was tricky, you never knew when it might rain. Rain was a constant threat in the springtime.

We were given our diplomas in alphabetical order. Justine was third in line and had to pose for Papa to use his Brownie. Papa took lousy pictures, but a lot of them, so that the law of averages could produce a single good picture. When my turn came towards the end of the ceremony, I too had to stop for the round of Brownie shots.

When the last diploma was handed out, Mrs. Truax made a speech, “Each year, we give a medal to our most outstanding student in the eighth grade. This year was an especially difficult year. We had two excellent candidates. One of the two girls is new to our school and has a spotty academic history. However, this year she has shown her metal and done outstanding work. The other girl is well known to us all; she is the youngest person ever to graduate from our school. We found both girls worthy, so we are giving two medals this year to Justine Bordelon and Noel Maxion. Come on up, girls and get your medals.”

I looked to Papa and Momma and they were clapping up a storm and several of the other children were pushing me towards the stage. Justine reached the stage ahead of me and gave me a hand up. I searched for Mr. and Mrs. B and saw Mr. B holding Mrs. B in his arms while she cried.

Mrs. Truax handed us our medals and motioned for us to make a speech. I went first and said, “Thank you for this. I know it makes my Papa and Momma very happy. I will always cherish this. Thank you.”

Justine wiped her eye with her hand and walked up the microphone. She cleared her throat a couple of times and said, “I know this shocks my Papa and Momma. At the beginning of the year, it looked like I would be forced out of school to work the fields with my Papa, which isn’t a bad thing, but I knew my parents wanted me to finish school. I had no idea how I would do that until I met my best friend, who worked with me, encouraged me and show me what real friendship is about. Thank you, Noel.”

I had no idea she was going to do that and it brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t know how to respond, so I ran to her and hugged her. We pulled each other tighter and then turned to face the audience. With our arms around each other we held our medals high for everyone to see.

End of Part 2


To be continued in Part 3 – My First Summer.

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