Louisiana and then a Detour!
Apr 24, 2014
|We left Caddo Lake State Park on Monday morning and headed through Shreveport to Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-ih-tish) named after the Indians who lived there. The address to our RV Park was Bypass 1 and neither our Garmin nor Mapquest recognized that. We had been told that the park was behind a Chevron Station and we floundered around until we found Nakatosh RV Park behind a Chevron Station. There was no one in the office so we followed the self check-in instructions, picked out a site and got settled in. The office opened at 3PM so we went in and registered. It turns out that there are 2 Nakotosh Campgrounds – #1 on Bypass 1 and #2 on Highway 6! We were in #2 but we had actually reserved a spot in #1, which didn’t seem to matter to the management. We checked out #1 when we ran into it accidently behind another Chevron Station! It is right on the highway, very exposed, and we didn’t even see an office. Our park has roomy level sites with trees but the Chevron turned out to be a busy truck stop. We found that trucks idling all night long can lull one to sleep like white noise and trucks pulling out at 6AM can wake one like an alarm. The office is unpredictably staffed only a couple of hours a day and there weren’t even any picnic tables. We would have to say this is not a campground we would return to or recommend.
Tuesday was a beautiful sunny day and we took off for Melrose Plantation, built in the 1800’s, as suggested by 1000 Places to See Before You Die about 15 miles away. Melrose Plantation was built by and for freed slaves most of whom had been fathered by their owner and then freed. It was sold a couple of times and eventually became an artist’s colony, founded by Carmelite Garrett Henry (Miss Cammie), for painters and authors. Their cook, Clementine Hunter, began to paint at around 50 years old and became the South’s most prolific and celebrated primitive folk artist. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside because one of the most interesting things was in one of the bedrooms – a chair made for a polio victim at an angle so that when she sat, she appeared straight rather than tilted due to her shorter leg tilting her pelvis and shoulders! The whole place was full of paintings, books, quilts, and weavings. The guide told us that artists and authors could stay as long as they kept working and they were quizzed at dinner. If they went 3 or 4 days without producing something, they were asked to leave. The big Live Oak tree in the front yard is estimated to be 370 years old and it is covered by Resurrection Moss which gets brown and appears dead if the weather is dry and then perks up and gets green after a rain.
Natchitoches is famous for their meat pies and Lasyone’s Meat Pie Kitchen is recommended by 1000 Places to See Before You Die, so we stopped in for a late lunch. They are 80% beef and 20% pork with creole spices and deep fried in a delicious dough. It was fabulous! So good, we had to go back to try the crawfish meat pie! The red beans and rice and gumbo were great too. Natchitoches, a town of about 18,000 and the oldest town in Louisiana, is celebrating its 300th Anniversary this year with special activities every second Saturday. We weren’t there on a 2nd Saturday but we enjoyed the town all spruced up. There was also a beautiful campus here, Northwestern State University, which started out as a school for teachers, Louisiana Normal. They were having spring football practice so Brad went to watch a practice while I walked the picturesque campus.
The historical district of Natchitoches is full of interesting shops and restaurants right along a beautiful river front. There were hundreds of pots of tulips everywhere. Steel Magnolias was filmed here in a home that has been turned into the Steel Magnolia B&B. Our guide at Melrose Plantation told us that he had stood in the hot sun for 5 hours hoping to be an extra but he was not selected. He assured he wasn’t bitter, though. We enjoyed watching Steel Magnolias on DirecTV and recognized the house and the riverfront!
Thursday we visited Cane River Creole National Park and took a very informative guided tour of the Oakland Plantation. He told us that the price of a slave would compare today to the price of a car, which put in perspective the kind of investment plantation owners had in their slaves. Our guide said that while the stories of mistreatment were not exaggerated, he felt they were not as widespread as possibly commonly thought. He explained sharecropping which replaced slavery but didn’t really change life in the South much for the next 200 years until cotton was picked by machines. Sharecroppers farmed the land without paying rent or receiving wages but had to split the profits (in the case of Oakland Plantation 50/50) with the Plantation owner. The sharecroppers only got paid at harvest time, so they were forced to shop at the “company store” where the prices and interest rates were high to provide for their families until then. At harvest they were paid in “script” good only at their Plantation owners “company store” so they couldn’t shop anywhere else and it usually wasn’t enough to cover their bill, so they were always increasing their debt to the Plantation owner. Think of Johnny Cash’s song about coalminers, “Another day older and deeper in debt. I owe my life to the Company Store”! If they were in debt, they were not allowed to leave the Plantation, so essentially, they were still slaves!
Descendants of the Prudhomme family lived in the Oakland Plantation until 1998 but it hadn’t been updated since the 1960’s. The National Park Service has maintained it as it was since it represents the time when life really had changed on Plantations – also because the house which started out as only 4 room had been added to 7 times and they didn’t want to demolish those additions. Most of the furnishings in the Oakland Plantation home once actually belonged to the Prudhomme family and were an interested mix of items spanning over 200 years. There was a dial phone on a phone stand right next to a wooden wall phone and an old TV set in the living room. There was a fan attached to the ceiling in the dining room that a slave child would have had to push and pull to operate. Our guide told us it was called a “punkah” and an East Indian gentleman on the tour confirmed that “punkah” means fan in Indian! No one knows how the “punkah” came to be on the Oakland Plantation. Some of the beds were purchased on a furniture buying trip to Paris and others were purchased in New Orleans. Plantation owners at that time maintained a “Stranger’s Room” for traveling gentlemen so they could get the news. It was always located so that the “Stranger” wouldn’t have access to the home, like off a porch, but they could stay overnight and share meals with the family in exchange for the news from wherever they came from. There were newspapers but no rural delivery, so people in the South depended on travelers for their news.
And finally, we toured Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site where the French protected themselves from the Indians. The French apparently tried too hard to convert the Indians and ended up alienating them, whereas the Spanish who appeared on the scene later made more of an attempt to gradually win them over and absorb some of their culture.
One thing we saw in both plantations and in the fort was “bousillage” walls which are made from a stucco like substance made from Spanish moss, clay, and sometimes animal hair. The Prudhomme-Rouquier Home, built in 1760, on the Riverfront in Natchitoches is the largest known home made from “bousillage”. We remembered the “tabby”, the plastery stucco that we had seen in St. Augustine made from shells. It is interesting to see how resourceful our ancestors were finding ways to use whatever was available to build their homes.
We had two nights of high winds and really hard rain. Hail was predicted for the 2nd night but never materialized. We watched the weather radar and made the decision that the Chevron Truck Stop was closer than the laundry building and probably sturdier in case we felt we had to make a run for it! In the middle of the storm on the 2nd night, a really old Airstream Motorhome pulled in right next to us. It turned out to have an Indiana license plate and they stayed for only 1 night. They were from Lafayette, Indiana and were here because their son just moved to Natchitoches to take a position at Northwestern University!
Our fresh water tank seemed to leak for no reason and Brad determined that the valve that diverted the city water provided by RV parks to either fill up the fresh water tank or supply water to the RV was worn out. We still didn’t have the part to keep the hood open on the front of the RV when adding fluids, etc., so we located a mobile RV repairman and got an appointment for our next RV Park.
After realizing that the next RV Park we planned to stay in was too far from Lafayette, Louisiana where a lot of things we wanted to see were located, we cancelled our reservation, found a different park, and let our new mobile RV repairman know. Monday we took off for Pioneer Acadian Village in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. It was as easy drive on Monday on a beautiful sunny day. The RV Park is right off I 10 so there was some traffic noise but the gravel sites are level and TV reception is good. There is free WiFi and the office is staffed all day Monday through Saturday. It is under new ownership with beautiful new bathrooms and laundry facilities, lots of new plantings, and wonderful customer service!
Sarge, our new mobile RV repairman met us at the RV Park Monday afternoon. Sarge was able to install two new plunger/supports to hold the hood open but decided that a Winnebago dealer needed to take a look at the valve. In the meantime, the mascerator on the black tank in the ½ bathroom stopped working during our last dump yesterday so we had already decided to try to find a Winnebago dealer to look at that and also check our levelers since they have sounded their alarm twice while we were driving. It turns out there is a Camping World in Hammond, Louisiana right on our way to Slidell, so we have an appointment there next Monday. We’ll have to live with only 1 toilet until then!
Wednesday was a sight-seeing trifecta – all 3 recommended in 1000 Places to See Before You Die! And everywhere we went the wisteria and azaleas were blooming spectacularly! We started with Shadow-on-the-Teche, a beautiful antebellum home in New Iberia on the Bayou Teche (pronounced Tesh and meaning Snake) built in 1834. 85% of the furnishings actually belonged to the David Weeks family who made their money on sugarcane. We learned that Spanish moss can be “cured” so there are no bugs and is typically only used for mattresses in the summer and then changed to duck feathers in the winter for warmth. The first generation David and Mary Weeks Moore had 8 children, 6 of whom lived to adulthood. David died and she successfully ran the Plantation for 7 years until she remarried Judge Moore and turned the running of the Plantation over to her 19 year old son. Much later, she was allowed to live in 2 rooms upstairs during the occupation of Yankee soldiers and when she died was actually buried by the soldiers. Most of the outbuildings had been destroyed by the soldiers but since they knew Mary they couldn’t bear to destroy her home – they just closed the door and walked away when they no longer needed it. The highlight of the tour was a door that the 4th generation, great grandson David Weeks, asked his guests to sign when they visited and attended one of his wild parties. The door was rescued from the housekeeper one day when she decided to scrub it down so the only signatures remaining are on the top half of the door, but they included Walt Disney, Tex Ritter, Elia Kazan, and many more.
We then drove on to Avery Island, which is just salt that rose out of the Gulf, to tour the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory that we saw on 60 Minutes and were told by our new brother-in-law not to miss. Tabasco Pepper Sauce has been made by the McIlhenny family for 7 generations from capsicum peppers grown on site and in Central and South America from seeds sent to them from Avery Island. The peppers are processed the same day they are picked, mashed with salt from their own salt mines, and aged for 3 years in used whiskey barrels. Vinegar is added and it is then stirred for 28 days and bottled. They bottle 700,000 bottles a day only 4 days a week and we were lucky enough to be there on bottling day! It is shipped to 165 countries with labels printed in 22 different languages. We ate Crawfish Corn Maque Choux, recommended by our guide at Shadow-on-the-Teche, and shared a boudin sausage from their food wagon – delicious! Maque Choux is a sweetcorn mixture served over rice and boudin is a pork, typically including the liver and heart, and rice sausage.
We had passed the Longfellow Evangeline State Historic Site on our way as we passed through St. Martinville and decided to make a quick stop on our way back. This is part of Louisiana’s oldest State Park and we were pleasantly surprised, thinking all we were going to see was a very old oak tree which legend says was the meeting place of the ill-fated lovers Evangeline and Gabriel in Longfellow’s 1847 poem. There is actually a Creole home from the 1800’s which was part of a sugarcane plantation and a reproduction Acadian Farmstead. We learned that Live Oak’s get a name when they become 100 years old and join the Live Oak Society! Evangeline, the 350 year old oak, was magnificent.
Thursday we drove to Lafayette and visited the reproduction Acadian village, Vermilionville, which was Lafayette’s former name. The Acadians were driven from Canada in an attempt to purify the Canadian people and became the Cajuns of Louisiana. They differ from the Creole’s who were born in Louisiana during the French and Spanish periods and can be descendent of European settlers, enslaved Africans, or of mixed heritage which could include African, French, Spanish, and American Indians. The term Creole can also refer to food, music, architecture and more. We didn’t go to the museum but walked through the 23 acre 18th and 19th century historic village. There were docents in most of the buildings that gave us lots of information along the way. There were a dozen or so buildings including a church and a school – one big home owned by the rich cattle rancher and several smaller ones.
Acadian families attempted to have 14 children and could typically expect only 9 of them to survive into adulthood. Children were given work to do as young as 3 years old picking the rough brown seedy stuff out of cotton, then when they were 5 or 6 they began carding the cotton breaking down the fibers making it suitable for the older girls to spin into homespun thread. It took about 50 hours to make a mush ball sized ball of thread and it took 6-7 balls to make a man’s shirt! Clothes were not ever discarded but passed along to others until they were completely unwearable. Older boys began working with their fathers outside farming and picking cotton. It took a man typically 2-3 days to pick a 500 pound bale of cotton. Once the girls mastered spinning, sewing, and weaving, they were taught to cook. By the time girls were 13 and boys were 16 they had learned all the life skills they needed and were ready for marriage! At the age of 12 boys or “garcons” were sent to sleep upstairs in the loft or “garconierre”. If people made it into their 20’s and 30’s they would very possibly live into their 60’s or 70’s. The village was completely self-sufficient with woodworkers, blacksmiths, etc. and everyone had their own garden. When visitors came they came by boat and would stay for days.
We ordered the Daily Special at the La Cuisine de la Maman in the village which is always representative of a typical Acadian meal. We had a cup of gumbo, smothered rabbit, rice, black-eyed peas, and bread pudding. It was good, if somewhat unusual!
Friday, we drove to Coushatta Casino where we had planned to stay this week at their Red Shoes RV Park. We are so glad we didn’t stay there because it is really far – about 60 miles! – from Lafayette and all the things we wanted to do. But we had a nice lunch and spent some time in the Casino. On our way back and forth, we noticed flooded fields that we decided were rice fields after seeing signs for “Rice Palace”, “Rice Arena”, and signs for “Supreme Rice”. There were some round orange things sticking out of the water in rows. According to the internet, those are crawfish traps! Farmers use their rice fields as crawfish ponds, too!
Saturday was Music Day for us due to great suggestions from 1000 Places to See Before You Die! We started with breakfast at Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge where they have live Zydeco music on Saturday mornings. Zydeco is the Cajuns’ music. We arrived at 8:30 and the band was already playing. We paid our $5 per person cover charge and were told there was an hour wait for breakfast. We ordered a Mimosa and a Bloody Mary and enjoyed the band and dancers. By the time we were seated, the place was packed with a very eclectic crowd including a lot bikers and the floor was vibrating! They evidently hire dancers (3 men and a woman) to get the party started by dancing with patrons. We sat with a couple from Vermont who were as amazed as we were and a group of ladies celebrating one of their 50th birthdays. We both had boudin patties and loved them!
Then in the late afternoon we drove to Eunice for the weekly Saturday night show, Rendezvous des Cajuns, in a 1920’s vaudeville hall, Liberty Center. We bought our $5 tickets and went down the street for dinner at Nick’s on 2nd which has apparently been bought by Ruby according to a new sign. We were pleasantly surprised at how upscale it was and had a nice dinner with a glass of wine for me and a cocktail for Brad. The show is broadcast on a couple of radio stations and lasts only 1½ hours. Two different Zydeco bands played and the announcer allegedly told some jokes. It was a mixture of French and English so we really didn’t understand much! The fun part was all the Senior Citizens who got up and danced in the area between the audience and the stage. And when I say “Senior”, I’m talking about 80-somethings! They weren’t quite as lively as the crowd we saw dancing in the morning, but it was fun watching them!
Followers of this blog might remember that we both saw our family doctor 6 months ago in September and all was fine. Then at the end of October, in Poplar Bluffs, Missouri, I discovered a marble sized lump. We went to a walk-in clinic and were advised that it was an enlarged lymph gland which was probably no problem but if it persisted we should see our regular doctor. We did just that in December when we were back in Indiana for twins’ birthday and Christmas. Our regular doctor concurred saying that lymph glands can take a long time to “go away”. Now it was 4 months later and the lymph node hadn’t changed but there had been a few periods of mild pain and Friday, I discovered a hard-boiled egg type “lump” nearby. We did some internet research and found a walk-in clinic in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana near our RV park. So off we went with the printed and completed registration forms to a walk-in clinic associated with a large hospital – Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center – open until 9PM. We walked into an empty waiting room and, after paying $100 because my deductible has not yet been met, we promptly saw a nice doctor who said exactly what we wanted to hear. Yes, lymph glands can take a long time to “go away” or resolve and sometimes they never do – they sort of “scar over”. However, this has gone on a long time and we need to know for sure if this is nothing or something. The problem is he can’t do the necessary diagnostics at a walk-in clinic. He arranged a FULL REFUND for us and suggested that we go to an ER.
We arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center ER right at suppertime and the waiting room was packed. By 6PM, I was registered, triaged, and told there are 8 people ahead of me. Finally around 8:30, I was in a treatment room in a gown (with a remote to my own TV!), having met Collin, my nurse. Pretty soon we met, Herman, nurse practitioner, who was horrified that I’ve had an enlarged lymph glad for so long and said it was huge. He said we’d do some labs and maybe a CAT scan. Again, exactly what we wanted to hear and we felt we were in very good hands. Collin returned to collect a urine sample, install an IV line (without leaving even a little mark!), and draw some blood. Suppertime was long gone and our evening was creeping away but the labs came back fine and I was off to get my cat scan. By then, it was bedtime and Herman came in and told us I had what looked like an abscess and they were going to give me an antibiotic and refer me to a surgeon to see the next day. Collin returned to give me the antibiotic via shot in the hip and said they had to watch me for any ill-effects from the shot and then it would take at least 20 minutes to get the discharge papers ready. It was about 11:30 by the time we got out of there but we were happy with the great care we received. Fast food for very late supper and back to the RV – Home Sweet Home! Quality healthcare seems to be available “on the road” but it may not be as convenient as your family doctor. On the other hand, in about a 7 hour period in a “one stop shop” we did accomplish what might have taken days and several stops with our regular doctor.
The next day, I called Dr. Kaufman’s office, explained as I’d been told to, that I’d been seen in the ER and that I was to see him that day. They gave me an 11AM appointment. He, his Nurse Practitioner, Joan, and his nurse, Veda, could not have been any kinder. They worked with us through their lunch hour doing an ultrasound and needle biopsy. Results were due within 5 days and we were feeling a little anxious, to say the least. But we refused to let it ruin our time here in Louisiana with so many interesting things to see and do. After being gone most of the day, we got a call from Dr. Kaufman’s office 3 days earlier than expected! Results were good but he said would like to remove the lymph gland Monday and have it tested just to be sure. We were so grateful and felt even more confident that we had found a really good doctor. We cancelled our campground reservation in Slidell, and arranged to stay in Breaux Bridge another week.
Sunday, we cleaned and did laundry and got ready for my little “procedure” the next day. Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Hospital and Dr. Kaufman didn’t disappoint us – they were efficient, kind, and caring. Shayla, Gloria, Ursula and Melody were great nurses. I think it was Ursula that spoon fed me ice in recovery when I said I was thirsty. The surgery went great - two lymph glands removed and apparently no abscess. Samples sent to pathology and for cultures and I had a follow-up appointment scheduled for Thursday. Virtually no pain that day or the days following (not even a bruise from IV!) but we just took it easy. We heard from Dr. Kaufman himself the very next day with some very bad news. He told me I had Lymphoma – not at all what we expected or wanted to hear. As much as I wanted to stay and have Dr. Kaufman treat me, we felt it was best to return to Indiana. The next few days were filled with cancelling campground reservations through June & making new reservations in Indiana. I called the doctor’s office and asked if they might be able to arrange a PET scan so that we would be ahead of the game when we got back to Indiana. They did and I saw Dr. Kaufman on Thursday, the 10 month anniversary of our full-timing adventure, for more details and post-up follow-up. He felt the enlarged lymph node under my arm that the PET scan found and the diagnosis became Follicular B-cell Lymphoma, Grade 3.
We left for Indiana on Friday morning, arrived on Saturday after 2 days of hard driving and stayed at the Terre Haute KOA. We moved to Lake Haven RV Resort in Indianapolis on Sunday and my first appointment with an oncologist (I always hoped I’d never have to say that….) was Monday afternoon. He didn’t have the PET scan and slides from Louisiana and was unable to locate the enlarged lymph gland under my arm so he doubted the Grade 3 part of the diagnosis and talked to us about the “wait & see” approach.
We had been given a plethora of material by a nurse friend of our daughter’s and we didn’t much like the idea that the first doctor couldn’t locate the enlarged lymph node or the “wait & see” approach so we decided to get another opinion. Another appointment was set for the following Monday with a doctor at our daughter’s hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana. We met with him and he agreed with the doctor in Louisiana that I needed chemo. He referred us to a surgeon the same day who scheduled my port and chemo to start on April 29. I’ll have chemo 2 days back to back every 4 weeks for 6 months and then a PET scan to see how it worked. After that will most likely be 2 years of a maintenance chemo every other month. We hope to be able to resume our full-timing during that maintenance therapy if we can get the treatment remotely.
We were so happy to have found a doctor we have confidence in with a plan we can feel good about. I’m also grateful that I continue to be without the typical symptoms of fatigue, night sweats, fever, and weight-loss. And for the first time in my life, I’ve been told not to try to lose weight! So I’ll be hanging on to the 20 pounds I gained back out of the 50 I lost on Weight-Watchers several years ago!
I had planned to do a little “First Year Look Back” but now it will be a “10 Month Look Back”.
• A few things we thought we would do & didn’t:
Come and go when the spirit moved us - we found it more comfortable to make plans.
Stop at open air markets and interesting things we saw along the road – you really can’t just pull a vehicle this size off the road or turn around easily and you can’t back up at all without unhitching the car.
Cook over open fire in our Dutch oven/tripod – probably ate out too much!
Appreciate Sunday nights in the RV park knowing we didn’t have to go to work in the morning – before long every night is Sunday night and we forgot all about work!
Have lots of campfires – lots of parks don’t provide for them, weather wasn’t always conducive to campfires, and firewood gets expensive!
• Things we thought we never do & did
Join other campers for potlucks, etc. – the folks at Surfside RV Park made all the difference! We met some friends for life!
• Places we recommend for vacations (might even want to live!) that had never been on our radar
Custer, South Dakota
Hot Springs, Arkansas
• With little research on the internet – something interesting just about everywhere you go if you dig a little. We found new and different experiences were more satisfying than just seeing touristy “sights”, although we enjoyed that too.
• All in all, full-time RV’ing is all we hoped for. The only downside is missing our kids and grandkids. Phone calls, Skype, and postcards can only go so far. We miss the hugs!
• Life goes on – my mother declined, son-in-law’s grandpa passed away, grandkids grow up, etc. while you are gone……. We get colds, backaches, (or worse).
I am so grateful that we have had this opportunity and heartbroken that we have to detour for now. We were always aware that we had a window of time to “live our dream” and we couldn’t predict how long that window would remain open. We hope to be back on the road in time to become Winter Texans next winter and start a whole new chapter! Stay tuned!