Avery Island, Jeanerette and the New Iberia airport
17.12.2004 - 18.12.2004 10 °C
Friday 17 December continued
We got back on the road, and went on the New Iberia, and checked into the motel - the BW Inn & Suites. Best Westerns tend to be somewhat uneven in quality because they are individual motels and not really a chain. This one is a cheap motel - it was the least expensive thing I could find in the AAA book. After taxes etc, the $59 a night room was $66.39/night. It also has a pool which I think it's a bit cold for that right now. There is a restaurant on site but we didn't go to it. There is parking for the big rigs and it is right off the highway with a number of fast food places around it. There is no frig. no elevator (2 story hotel) and our room smelled of stale smoke each time we entered. I think maybe the cleaning people smoke. In its favor, I didn't hear a lot of noise from other people through the walls. it has free local calls and an expanded continental breakfast (although not VERY expanded).
We didn't check with the visitor's center which was across the street, and it didn't appear to be open the next day - Saturday.
We had dinner at Duffy's Diner.
This is something like Bert's in Mechanicsville except with Tabasco sauce and red beans and rice. Very cheap and good. They said that they had a new soup - a corn shrimp chowder. So I ordered that. Unfortunately, it only came as a bowl - I could not get it as a cup.
And because it was good, I ate almost all of it, so then I had no room for the two piece chicken dinner and red beans and rice I ordered, and could not eat it all. I also had a brown cow (a float).
I specified root beer, but they also make it with coke. Bob had a shrimp basket and a hot fudge sundae. The whole meal was $22.73.
Then we went a filled up with gas at the Raceway station near the motel. Gas was $1.689/gal
We first came to New Iberia in June of 1960 because Bob was stationed here to do the last part of his pilot training with the US Navy for the S2F anti-submarine airplane. When Bob finished pilot training in Pensacola, he had such a high rating that he was allowed to chose whatever aircraft type he wanted. His instructor there was devastated that he did not choose jets (because that's what he -the instructor- had wanted, and he ended up as a flight instructor instead. That was not nearly as cool.). The base was closed soon after we left. We wanted to see whether the airport (such as it is) in New Iberia was the old NAS field. Apparently it was a pork-barrel project for New Iberia. Neither the Navy, nor the sugarcane farmers who were displaced really wanted to have a base there.
Saturday 18 December 2004
We ate our breakfast at the hotel. They have toaster waffles and french toast, microwave sausage biscuits, two types of juice (apple and orange), milk, coffee, cold cereal, plain bagels and some pastries. Not as good as the Hampton Inn or the Sleep Inn or even the Super 8. Then we started off for Avery Island. On the agenda for today (after we visit the Tabasco factory and Jungle Gardens) is to go to Jeanerette and try to find the house we lived in, and then visit Shadows on the Teche.
Getting to Avery Island was easy - the road was paved and well signed. The road has deep ditches filled with water on each side.
They are harvesting cane this time of year, and we see bits of it on the highway, and the plumes of steam from the factories stand out on the skyline. They are also burning over the cane fields.
There is a body of water near Avery Island (which isn't really an island) with boats in it and a boat ramp, and there is a toll booth to the island,
Bob remembers going halfway there and then turning around and coming home. We have been unable to figure out why. Maybe we just didn't want to pay the toll. Bob was surprised to have to pay 50 cents toll although I had told him about that. It's called an environmental fee.
When we lived here before, only the US highways were paved. We had at least 3 flat tires because the oyster shells that were mixed in with the mud on the roads cut our tires up. But the toll taker said the road has always been paved as long as he's been there so that wasn't the reason we didn't go before.
There were a lot of green tanks and piping all around the island. They no longer give tours of the salt mine. It is now leased to Cargill. Apparently the salt dome also has natural gas and oil, and Bob said that's probably what the tanks were for.
We went to the factory first, which was free. They have a tour every 20 minutes, and show a video tape about the McIllheny family
and the production of Tabasco sauce.
Then we get to go through the factory (which wasn't in operation because it was Saturday). .
At the end they gave each of us a tiny bottle of Tabasco
Then we walked up to the store. I picked up a catalog so I could order stuff and not have to carry it. They had a fish sculpture outside painted in flames swallowing a hot pepper bait. His name was Ta Bass Co. Apparently the local sculpture here is a fish (like the pandas in DC and cows in London).
They had some old photos of the old factory.
Then we drove over to the "Jungle Gardens"
and Bird Island part.
This is supposed to be a fantastic garden with all kinds of wildlife and an very old Buddha. When we asked the girls in the store/visitor's center what it would cost, they said, "It's $6.50 per person, and there are no birds or alligators" in a very dismissive tone. They obviously thought it was not worth the money, although it is given a "Must See" kind of recommendation in the AAA book.
So we took their word for it (I knew it had been too cold for the alligators to be out, and I figured I'd see them in the Everglades), and left without going. I took a picture of a white egret that was standing by the road on the way out.
It was only 10:45, so we drove back to the New Iberia crossroads. I thought we might start where the old NAS was and from there try to find our old house in Jeanerette. So we drove out Admiral Doyle Drive in the direction of the airport.
Bob did not remember anything of what was around, but we eventually found the hangers,
and then the tower which looked to him like the original tower building.
He said that on the map, the runways of the current airport were crossways to the ones he remembered. He said they put down parallel runways, but three out of the four of them sank out of sight into the swamp. We also found the operations building (#92) next to the tower,
and the building that he remembered as the instructional building, which is still a school of some kind,
and a building labeled "Administration #23".
From there, we drove back through New Iberia on Admiral Doyle Drive (it was now about 11:15) towards Jeanerette.
There was a lack of rental housing in New Iberia particularly for student pilots whose training was only for six months. We also found out that we had to buy a stove and refrigerator because in Louisiana at that time an unfurnished rental house didn't have appliances included. We stopped looking for a house to rent and went to buy a stove and refrigerator. While we were talking to the appliance salesman, he mentioned that the local grocer (Joe Grisieffi - an Italian in a French Cajan town) had decided that rental houses would be a good investment so he had built two identical ones, one of which was available. This house was in Jeanerette about 12 miles from the base on an unpaved un-named road, and I got my mail General Delivery at the Post Office. It was $50 a month and had two bedrooms. It was in an old sugar cane field. The road was slippery mud after rains and there was a problem with fire ants. Since the "lawn" was an old cane field (full of fire ants) it took Bob a half day of really hard work in the hot Louisiana sun to mow it with a push mower
There has been so much change in 44 years since we lived there, that we did not really expect to be able to find the place we lived.
In those days, my directions to people wanting to get to our house (which I DID remember - mostly) were to drive out of the base and take that road all the way past where it was paved to where it ended in a cane field. Then to turn left, and go about a quarter mile until they saw a yellow brick school on the left.
Just before they got to the school to turn right and go until they passed a sheet metal welding shop on the left. Turn right and we were the first house on that road, but not on the corner.
These are the photos from 1960 after we moved into the house
Of course the road is now paved and does not end in a cane field, but keeps going. We did find the yellow brick school which is now the Jeanerette Middle School about 11:40, but I did not remember that we were to turn before we got there, so we drove around in circles for about 10 minutes
until I recognized the sheet metal building, and then - eureka - we found the two little houses right where they should be.
It had been remodeled somewhat - Shutters had been added and it had a metal roof instead of a shingle roof. The utility shed had been removed.
But the house next door
was exactly the same configuration as ours had been, so I figured that the owner had repaired or remodeled. The streets also have names. Our old house is on Wattigny,
and the road the sheet metal shop is on is Martin Luther King Drive. We tried to find the grocery store of the guy we rented from, but could not.
We did find
which I thought was where I remembered that I had done my shopping, as the base didn't have a commissary yet.
We decided to have lunch, and after passing up small local seafood chain place, and Sonic (Bob doesn't like drive-in places), we went to Lil's Kitchen
opposite Moresi's Foundry. Neither of us remembered this foundry, and Bob cannot understand why, as it was certainly there as it was established in 1865. The 19th century building is a National Historic Landmark.
They make items such as cast-iron kettles and custom castings for machinery, and repair the huge grinders that crush sugar cane into juice.
Lil's Kitchen had a limited menu (hamburgers, cheeseburgers, a couple of po'boys, chicken nuggets and 5 or 6 lunch plates) but it was extremely inexpensive.
While you could carry the food out, there were also four tables. The food was cooked fresh. There were bottled drinks, and our lunch was served in a cardboard "basket". The Saturday Dinners included Smothered Pork Chop, Smothered Meatballs, Spaghetti and Meatballs, BBQ Chicken, BBQ Pork Chop, Fried Shrimp and Fried Crawfish (in season). Choices of sides are rice with gravy, red beans, sweet potatoes, rice dressing and baked spaghetti. And you get a roll with each dinner. I had a
and Bob had a hamburger, and lunch was less than $10.
I talked to Lil, and she remembered the name of our landlord. Bob thought it began with a W and that's why the street was named Wattigny, but I remembered a G sound, like Joe or Giovanni. But my memory for names is definitely quirky, so I wasn't really sure. The actual guy's name was Grisieffi. His son is still in town she said.
After lunch we saw the Jeanerette Bicentennial Park and Museum and Chamber of Commerce was right across the street, so we drove over there.
According to Baldwin's "Guide to the Museums of Louisiana" 'Le Beau Petit Musee'
Tracing 200 years of the sugarcane industry...also features a Swamp Room, cypress industry displays, and a Victorian bedroom. There are works by local artists and crafters, and an annex includes black history and Mardi Gras Rooms... (every place in Louisiana seems to have a Mardi Gras section) Pictures and artifacts from cypress boom days include the 19th century cypress patterns used in the manufacture of gears for sugar mills, sawmills, salt mines, rice mills, and steamboats..In the Victorian bedroom, examples of turn-of-the-cenutery lace, tatting, crochet and French embroidery, all handmade, vie for your attention.
There was a little old lady there (probably about our age) and she let us in (admission $3 each) and we talked a long time. I remembered the names of the children that lived in the other identical house were Kevin, Margot and the baby Reed, but I didn't remember the first names of the parents other than that they were both Heberts but were unrelated. It turned out that Kevin (who was about 5 when we lived there) was her son's best friend, and she knew them well. They were Ann and RL (Roy). She said they had both died of cancer (they both smoked).
I asked if there had been a Presbyterian church in town, because that was the church we had gone to and we hadn't been able to find it. When I went to the ladies circle meetings, at which I was the youngest person there by at least 40 years, it was pretty common for them to be talking about someone, and when I inquired, they would think a minute and then tell me that the person they were talking about had been dead for some number of years. But there was no longer a Presbyterian church. She confirmed that there had indeed been such a church, but it had also been torn down and those who attended had to go to a neighboring town. She had a picture of it.
She also knew that the grocery store of our landlord had been torn down, which was why we couldn't find it.
She took us back into a little building which was a former bridge tender's house
and showed us a video on the sugar cane industry which actually answered a lot of the questions we didn't know we had.
She gave us a package of raw sugar and two Louisiana oranges.
On the way out of town we passed on of Jeanereatte's sugar mills
And we headed for the last thing on our list for today - Shadows on the Teche