The Warm Wave That is Grandma

December 14, 2007
By Alaina Meynard, Destrehan, LA

A child often lifts their gaze to their grandparents in subtle awe. They are human cradles forever opening their arms to embrace their prized possessions of youth. Grandparents are always present when their grandchildren need something or someone to turn to. But as children grow up they tend to stray from the path that leads them to their grandparents’ love, knowledge, and help. I am guilty of this crime, but have come to realize my grandmother is a sea of guidance and compassion.
Barbara Ann Boudin Matherne grew up in Raceland, Louisiana as the oldest of three. She is no stranger to times without vehicles or public transportation. As a child, she was accustomed to using a foot ferry in order to get to school, which was located on the opposing banks of Bayou Lafourche on which she resided. She explains how you would walk onto a ramp that would lead onto the ferry. A man would stand and pull a rope on a pulley that would lead the ferry up and down the river. “It was similar to a Venetian blind, or a curtain, where you’d open and close it,” she explains. As a child, Mrs. Matherne was not one to take a liking to school. She told a story of an occasion when she managed to jump off the ferry at the last minute before it pulled away. When a parent on the ferry turned and noticed Barbara was missing, it was too late. “I was going up the levee, I was going back home,” she said, “I hated school so much.” Children in her first grade class did not make it any easier. A boy sitting behind Mrs. Matherne would pull her long curls and snicker to his friends how they looked like cigars. “I was so embarrassed, I didn’t know what to do with myself,” she proclaims as she raises her hands to her cheeks. She explains she did well in school later on, but has always had an uncomfortable feeling in a classroom.
Growing up, Barbara’s grandfather on her father’s side owned a general merchandise store. There were wooden barrels full of white beans, rice, and sugar, in which he would weigh out on a scale for the customers. Her grandfather would also purchase coffee beans to grind in the store for the customers to buy. “I can remember going into the store and having that aroma of freshly ground coffee,” she told me. In times of Ms. Matherne’s childhood, many parent sewed clothing for their children, so her grandfather also carried clothing material. He also sold alcohol, bread, stockings, and other groceries. Her other grandfather worked at a sugar refinery and would come back from work and bring the children sugar cane and cut them into pieces. They would chew on the pieces, although my Maw Maw admits with a giggle, “I never did particularly enjoy it. I pretended I liked it because everyone was eating it, but it wasn’t that good.”
“I remember living in a house with no electricity,” my grandmother told me, “we used kerosene lamps.” Maw Maw explained how her family had a galvanized tub, marble basins to wash your face in, and out houses. She can recall when her father bought her mother their first washing machine, with rollers and two tubs. Her mother would hang the clothes on a line outside, and when it rained, on a line between chairs inside. “Today we have so many conveniences that years ago we didn’t have,” she stated. Barbara then told of an act of kindness her mother demonstrated to their neighbor. Their neighbor’s sons worked in a field, and their clothes would be caked in mud and dirt, so when their mother would wash their clothes her nail beds would become infected. Barbara’s mother offered the neighbor to use their washing machine so her hands could heal, and they did. My maw maw recalls, with extra emphasis, the woman’s thick cajun accent, and once telling her brother after he was hurt, “Me ti Earl! The bleeds comin’ out ya!”
After marrying her husband many years later, they had their first child. Paw Paw got an engineering degree at Louisiana State University in petroleum engineering. When she was pregnant with her second, and her first child was a year and a half, her husband was called into the service. They moved to Orléans, France, where her second child was born. He was born on a very cold day along the Loire River in a small town called La Chapelle, which means the chapel in French. In fact, the river was frozen over and there was snow on the ice of the river, but it was beautiful clear day when they came back from the hospital. Along the banks of the Loire River were some chateaus, these were French castles. There were no moats around them; just big open grassy areas. My Maw Maw and Paw Paw would take their two boys to go visit a different chateau every Sunday after church. They would pick up French bread from a local bakeries and then go home and have hot cocoa, tea, or coffee with it. “It was a beautiful country, really, really pretty and very clean,” she describes. After the tour in France was finished in 1957, my grandparents came back through the port of New York, and then drove back to New Orleans by car.
After these events, my grandmother and family moved to Florida. My paw paw was offered a job there, and they stayed for four years. The rest of their eight children were born, and then they moved home to Louisiana. Her stories take me by hand as they lead me through years of events and occurrences, through her children’s adolescence and seeing them grow up. She is a remarkable woman who sends waves of goose bump inducing, warm, fuzzy feelings to those in her presence. Though there are so many more, these few stories convey an unknown truth about my maw maw, she is strong and compassionate, everything a grandmother should be.

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