Cajun History

Acadian Reminiscences – Chapter 1

 

Acadian Reminiscences
by Felix Voorhies, 1907

 

The Acadian Reminiscences, is a word painting of the life of the Acadians in the Teche Country in the long ago.

 

The plain, simple frugal life of these people, their devotion to principle, their unbounded faith in the goodness of God, their love for each other during all their misfortunes and perilous wanderings, appeal to the heart.

 

The simple pathos of the grandmother’s story comes to us with such consummate art, that the eye unwittingly grows moist, as the reader follows the journeyings of this little band, self-exiled and noble in their poverty, from desolated homes on the bleak Acadian coast, to their final destination in the hospitable valley of the Teche.

 

Chapter 1 – Acadian Reminiscences
with the True Story of Evangeline

 

It seems but yesterday, and yet sixty years have passed away since my boyhood.  How fleeting is time, how swiftly does old age creep upon us with its infirmities.  The curling smoke, dispelled by the passing wind, the water that glides with a babbling murmur in the gentle stream, leave as deep a mark of their passage as do the fleeting days of man.

I was twelve years old, and yet I can picture in my mind the noble simplicity of my father’s house.  The homes of our fathers were not showy, but their appearance was smiling and inviting; they had neither quaintness nor gaudiness, but were as grand in their simplicity as the boundless hospitality of their owners, for no people were more generous or hospitable than the Acadians who settled in the magnificent and poetical wilds of the Teche country.

My father’s house stood on a sloping hill, in the center of a large yard, whose finely laid rows of china trees, interspersed with clusters of towering oaks, formed delightful vistas.  On the declivity of the hill the orchard displayed its wealth of orange, of plum and peach trees.  Farther on was the garden, teeming with vegetables of all kinds, sufficient for the need of a whole village.

I can yet picture that yard, with its hundreds of poultry, so full of life, running with flapping of wings and with noisy cacklings around my mother as she scattered the grain for them morning and evening.

At the foot of the hill, extending to the Vermillion bayou, were the pasture grounds, where grazed the cattle, and where the bleating sheep followed, step by step, the stately ram with tinkling bell suspended to his neck.  How clearly is that scenery pictured in my mind with its lights and shadows!  Were I a painter I could even now portray with striking reality the minutest shadings and beauties of that landscape.

How strange that I should recall so vividly those things, while scenes that I have admired in my maturer years have been obliterated from my memory!  Ah! the child’s mind, like soft wax, is easily molded to sensations and impressions that never fade, while man’s mind, blunted by the keenness of life’s deceptions, can no longer receive and retain the imprints of those impressions and sensations.

If this be true, does not a kind Providence suggest to us, in this wise, the wisdom of molding the child’s mind and intelligence with the fostering care of parental solicitude, that he may become an upright man, a good citizen and a reproachless husband and father.

My father was an Acadian, son of an Acadian, and proud of his ancestry.  The term Acadian was, in those days, synonymous with honesty, hospitality and generosity.  By his indomitable energy, my father had acquired a handsome fortune, and such was the simplicity of his manners, and such his frugality, that he lived, contented and happy, on his income.

Our family consisted of my father and mother, of three children, and of my grandmother, a centenarian, whose clear and lucid memory contained a wealthy mine of historical facts that an antiquarian or chronicler would have been proud to possess.

In the cold winter days, the family assembled in the hall, where a goodly fire blazed on the hearth; and while the wind whistled outside, our grandmother, an exile from Acadia, would relate to us the stirring scenes she had witnessed when her people were driven from their homes by the British, their sufferings during their long pilgrimage overland from Maryland to the wilds of Louisiana, the dangers that beset them on their long journey through endless forests, along the precipitous banks of rivers too deep to be forded; among hostile Indians, that followed them stealthily, like wolves, day and night ever ready to pounce upon them and massacre them.

And as she spoke, we drew closer to her, and grouped around her and stirred not, lest we lose one of her words.

When she spoke of Acadia, her face brightened, her eyes beamed with a strange brilliancy, and she kept us spellbound, so eloquent and yet so sad were her words; and then tears trickled down her aged cheeks and her voice trembled with emotion.  Under our father’s roof she lacked none of the comforts of life.  We knew that her children vied with each other to please her, and we wondered why it was that she seemed to be sad and unhappy.   We were then mere children and knew nothing of the human heart; grim experience had not taught us its sorrowful lessons, and we knew not that a remembrance has often the bitterness of gall, and that tears alone will wash away that bitterness.

She sat in her rocking chair, with hands clasped on her knees, her body leaning slightly forward; her hair, silvered over by age, could be seen under the lace of her cap; her dress was neat and tasteful, for she always took pride in her personal appearance.

She called us “petiots” meaning “little ones”, and she took pleasure in conversing with us.  My father remonstrated with her because she fondled us too much.  “Mother”, he would say, “you spoil the children”; but she heeded not his words and fondled us the more.  These details are interesting to none but myself, and I dwell, perhaps, too long upon them.  Alas!  I am an old man, reviewing the joys and sorrows of my boyhood, and it seems to me that I have become once more a little child when I speak of days gone by, and when I recall the memory of those I loved so well and who are no more.

I shall now attempt to repeat the story of my grandmother’s misfortunes, and as she has related it to us time and again.