Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Born to Drive

Even though I grew up on a farm, I’ve never been comfortable driving an oversized vehicle. I’ve steered clear of jobs that would require me to do so, often missing out on good opportunities. So this week, I decided to face my fears and find out what it takes to be a professional truck driver.

I didn’t have to look far to find one, because my brother Ray has been driving for over eight years for Acadiana Shell and Limestone. The company, located at 930 South Henry Road, is owned by brothers Kim and Eddie Young.

When I reached their office for my interview with Ray, I imagined the two of us racing across the open road like in the movie Smokey and The Bandit. I’d even come up with a C.B. handle (Green Goose) and saved my money for souvenirs and bumper stickers at truck stops. But due to unforeseeable circumstances, we were only able to ride around the gravel parking lot of Acadiana Shell and Limestone.

“How old were you when you started driving?” I asked Ray as we bounced around in the cab of his tri-axel dump truck.

“Daddy let me drive the tractor to plow the fields when I was about twelve,” he said. “I drove rice trucks at sixteen, and combines at seventeen.”

All of my brothers and I were educated at the Andrew Couvillon Farm Equipment Driving Institution. In my dad’s school, a mowing machine was kindergarten and a combine was graduating with honors. I was expelled during my tractor year when I might or might not have caused a collision with my brother, Mike and his International Harvester.

“I farmed for several years until the economy got tough,” Ray said. “I always enjoyed the driving aspect of it, and decided to pursue it as a career.”

In addition to years of experience, Ray also posses a CDL license, which he attained after training, and passing an exam. He drives mostly around South Louisiana carrying everything from shell to gravel to sand.

“I like driving because I get to travel to different towns,” Ray said. “I also enjoy being alone and listening to music. If I wasn’t a driver, I’d want to be a song writer.”

Ray drove past mountains of shell, limestone, and gravel, which lined the edge of the Vermilion River. I wasn’t used to riding so high in a vehicle, and in a weird way it reminded me of riding on the neck of an elephant.

“The one thing I don’t like about driving a truck is the danger,” Ray said. “When traffic cuts me off, it’s hard to stop on a dime in something so big. Especially if there’s a load.”

We approached a small wooden bridge, which didn’t seem much wider than the dump truck. It made my stomach queasy, but Ray confidently controlled the large steering wheel of the truck as if it was an extension of his hand.

“I feel very lucky that daddy taught me how to drive almost anything,” Ray said. “It allows me to support my family, and do what I love.”

It was then that I knew I didn’t have what it takes to be a truck driver; a steady hand, an ability to react at any given moment, and a true passion. Yet I was inspired by my brother to maybe one day go back to farm equipment driving school and get my combine degree. And when I do, I hope I’m lucky enough to have Ray continue my education where my dad left off.

For more information on the products and service offered by Acadiana Shell and Limestone call 337-893-1111. For information on a CDL license, check out

Monday, December 28, 2009

Strength to Race

Whether to battle an illness, overcome obstacles or simply get through the grind of everyday life, a person needs strength. But what is it exactly? Where does it come from? How can I find it?

In my search for these answers, I recently spoke with a thirty-six year-old gentleman named Dr. Jeremy Romero. In addition to being a chiropractor with offices in Kaplan and Abbeville, he is also a triathlete. When he’s not working, or spending quality time with his family, he is peddling, swimming and running to train for his next race.

“Your typical triathlon is about 1.2 miles swimming, fifty-five miles on the bike, and thirteen miles of running,” says Romero. “But some, like the Iron Man can be double that.”

Romero ran on a regular basis through high school and college, but stopped to start a family and build his business. When he reached age thirty-two, he became concerned about his health.

“My blood pressure was high, and I had gained weight,” says Romero. “I went to a cardiologist and found out I had acid reflux. When I left his office, I had an epiphany that it was time for me to start running again. I wanted to be a good example to my little boy and girl, Landon and Lene Claire. But most of all, I wanted to be healthy so I could give them and my wife the energy they deserve.”

Romero started out running short distances, but within a year was competing in 5K runs. Each year he ran longer and longer ones, until he decided to start competing in triathlons.

“The uncertainty of my first race scared me,” said Romero. “But I love a challenge and getting out of my comfort zone. It helps me find out about myself, and what I’m made of.”

Romero picks his races based on location. He’s already run in Napa Valley, and plans to run in Hawaii, Panama City and New Orleans in the next few months.

“I love to travel because of my grandma,” Romero said. “She used to send me postcards from all over the world.”

Romero maintains a diet of nuts, chicken, turkey, lean beef, and fresh fruit and vegetables. His training regiment includes three days of cycling and running, and two days of swimming. In order to avoid interrupting family time, he wakes up at four in the morning, while his wife, Tricia and their two children sleep.

“The most challenging part of the triathlon is the wear on the body,” Romero said. “There have been many races when I just wanted to quit in the middle of it. But I never want to fail. I always want to finish.”

Dr. Jeremy Romero has used mental and physical strength to become the man he wants to be; one whom takes care of himself so he can give more to his family. His story has made me stronger, and inspired me to lead a healthier life by eating right, exercising and spending time with loved ones.

“Knowing that Tricia and the kids are waiting for me at the end of each race gives me strength,” Jeremy said. “My most memorable moment was when my five-year-old boy, Landon, met me a few feet before the finish line. He grabbed my hand and ran across with me. That gave me the strength to race for the rest of my life.”

Always consult your physician before beginning any strenuous exercise program. For more information on triathlons, go to


To earn a little extra money for the holidays, I’ve set out on the road looking for employment. Each week, I’ll explore a different occupation, and learn what it takes to be successful in that industry. No job is too big or small, as long as it gives me the opportunity to get out of the house and meet the good people of Vermilion Parish.

My first interview was for a position as a bingo caller at the Senior Center in Abbeville. Tucked away on Graceland Avenue, the facility is home to the Vermilion Council on Aging.

“What does a bingo caller do?” my momma asked as we drove to the interview.

“They’re the ones who call out the letters and numbers during bingo,” I said. “There’s a game today, so I’ll get to audition for them.”

When we reached the Senior Center, we were greeted by Rachael August, executive director of the Vermilion Council on Aging. With over 20 years of experience with the organization, her main goal now was to help make life easier for the elderly.

“Welcome,” August said to my momma and me. “I hope you’re ready to play some bingo, Ms. Couvillon.”

“I am,” she said. “But you have to promise me that I’m going to win.”

“I can’t promise you that,” August responded. “But I promise you’ll have a good time.”

Our host led us through the Senior Center to a large room with an assortment of tables and chairs occupied by a group of anxious gamers with bingo on their mind. A woman collected nickels in a blue bowl from the players, and behind them, sat a large screen television, exercise equipment, computers, recliners and a piano.

“Do you think these are the prizes for the game?” my momma asked. “Grab my coin purse.”

My momma was disappointed to find out that the prize for each game were the nickels and dimes collected in the blue bowl. But she was happy to hear that she was welcomed to use the resources of the Senior Center.

“We want seniors to stay both physically and mentally healthy,” said August. “That’s why we’ve created a place where they can socialize, use the exercise equipment, or learn computer skills to re-enter the work place. We also have a small park out back for walks.”

According to August, the purpose of the Vermilion Council on Aging is to assist the elderly in maintaining their independence in their own homes by providing them with a variety of services. These include programs ranging from nutrition to transportation to recreation, such as line dancing, yoga and bingo.

“This is Mr. Couvillon and his momma,” August announced to the room. “He’s here to be the bingo caller, and she’s here to play.”

One of the players smiled and said, “If she wins while he’s calling, we’ll know they cheated.”

“He better cheat for me,” my momma said. “I raised him and changed his diapers.”

I apologized for not learning to use a toilet sooner, and then walked over to the regular bingo caller, Clifton Pierson. I had hoped to be able to use one of those round cages filled with balls, but instead he handed me a stack of cards with letters and numbers on them.

“N 15,” I said loudly. “N 15.”

My momma lost the bingo game that I called, and to prevent from being disinherited, I handed the cards back to Mr. Pierson. Instead, I excused myself to Ms. August’s office to learn more about her life at the Vermilion Council on Aging.

“Do you have a most memorable moment from working here?” I asked.

“I’ve had so many great ones,” August said. “But the most inspirational ones were with a woman who used to manage the Abbeville Senior Center. She had a hearing disability, but she taught herself how to communicate by reading lips. Nothing kept her from accomplishing her goals.”

August said that there is never a dull moment at the center, because every day brings on a new challenge. She said that sometimes the lack of resources can be difficult, but that nothing will stand in her way from helping the elderly.

“They’ve given me so much,” she said. “The center is like my home, and the people who work and visit are like family.”

When we went back out to the bingo room, there was a pile of nickels lying on the table near where my momma was sitting. She looked up at me and winked, and then looked back down at her winnings and smiled.

When we left the Senior Center, my momma asked, “So did you get the job? It would probably be a good one for you since you seem to like hearing the sound of your own voice.”

Although the bingo caller position was a volunteer job, I hoped to do it again in the near future. The positive energy at the Senior Center was touching, but what impressed me most was that there was a place senior citizens and their families could go for assistance. Be it as simple as a bingo game, which promotes mental health, or as serious as information on nutrition, the employees at the Senior Center were eager and qualified to help.

“They offered the bingo caller job to me,” I said to my momma. “But I turned them down. Instead I’m going to bring you here each week, and just live off of all the nickels and dimes you win.”

To volunteer, or for more information on the resources provided by the Vermilion Council on Aging, call 337-893-2563.

Strength to Fight Cancer

Although I am physically healthy, and consider myself lucky for my life, there are mornings when I wish I could lay in bed all day and do nothing. My body feels drained of energy, but I fight to wake up because a list of daily chores waits for me; walk the dog, make the coffee, get the morning paper, etc. As I walk outside to our mailbox, I take a deep breath hoping that my lungs will fill up with the strength to get through another day.

A few weeks ago, I went to the Abbeville Meridinal with an idea for a column that would explore the concept of strength. I hadn’t written anything yet because I wasn’t sure where to start. But inspiration struck when I opened the glass doors of the Meridinal’s yellow building and saw the general manager, Kathy Cormier.

Cormier was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2007. For the past two years, she’s been through chemotherapy, radiation, and a double mastectomy. But when I saw her a couple of weeks ago, you would have never guessed that she’d been sick a day in her life.

“Where do you get your strength?” I asked Cormier when we sat down in her office.

“Mostly from my family and friends,” she said. “They were there to cook for me, make me laugh and offer support. I also have a mantra, which I wrote on cards and keep in my office, car and bathroom. When I say the words out loud, I feel stronger.”

Cormier originally found the inspirational words in Guidepost magazine, but re-wrote the following mantra for herself:

I am a person recovering from cancer.
My whole life is ahead of me.
I can’t wait to live each day.
I have life ahead of me.

“Did you ever doubt that you could beat this illness?”

“The hardest part of the treatment was the physical exhaustion,” Cormier said. “Sometimes when fatigue set in, I wondered if the cancer had spread. But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m okay.’ As I said it and thought it, it became real. It took two years, but I feel good again. Actually, I feel great.”

Cormier worked full time during the treatment, only taking days off when absolutely necessary. Although the cancer has been in remission for a year now, she still has routine exams to monitor it.

“I just had one a few weeks ago,” Cormier said. “Now that I have a clean bill of health, I’ll forget about it, and enjoy life.”

Although Cormier seemed healthy to me when I worked with her last year, she definitely seemed to have more energy a few weeks ago. In addition to her own thick hair instead of a wig, her voice was strong and enthusiastic.

“Would you say that this has been the biggest challenge of your life?”

“There are so many obstacles in life that affect an entire family that are more damaging,” said Cormier. “Ironically, having cancer has brought us closer together.”

I couldn’t imagine facing a bigger challenge than health issues. But Cormier seemed to have taken life in stride, and was stronger for the experience.

“So you’re saying that in some ways, having cancer has been positive?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” she said. “I learned to appreciate the smaller things in life, accept help from others, and not to assume that I will live forever. In some ways, the cancer has given me more strength than ever.”

My father died of cancer several years ago, and for a long time after, any mention of the disease made me weak and fearful. But Cormier made me realize that maybe the experience had had a positive influence in my life. I also learned that we are not going to live forever, and losing my father did bring me closer to the rest of my family.

“What advice would you give to someone facing health issues?”

“You have to do what is best for you,” Cormier said. “It is your disease, and you have to be comfortable with it. Just remember not to give up, and to accept help from others.”

I had found an example of strength. A woman battled cancer, and instead of war wounds, she seemed to carry around medals of honor to remind her of the difficult journey, and the power of positive thinking and support.

“My dad used to tell me, ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever know is to love, and to be loved in return.’” Cormier said. “I didn’t know what he meant at first, but after all of the support I received from family and friends during the fight against cancer, I finally understand. Love gave me strength.”

For more information on breast cancer and ways to support research, contact Pink Links at 337- 893-1900. You may also check out their Web site at