Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jacques Couvillon Journal Write


Through a series of writing exercises we'll journal the adventures of our lives. Discover the "I" in WRITE.

When: Thursdays, July 8,15,22,29
Where: Abbeville Meridional
Time: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $40 for four weeks
Info: Call 646-387-2558 to reserve your write

Brother of Johnny Appleseed Resides in Abbeville

Some of our most valuable assets in Vermilion Parish are our trees. The Spanish moss covered oaks have books written about them, our cypress have built homes and barns, and our pecans are eaten all over the world.

But there are certain trees like apple and eucalyptus that you don’t see too often along our roadsides. That is unless of course, you’re visiting the Abbeville home of gardener, Todd Travasos.

“I planted around three hundred trees on the property,” says Travasos. “I want my house to feel like it’s in the woods.”

Travasos moved to the 6.3 acres in 2001 and began planting his garden. Initially, it was a small forest filled with a variety of oaks and other wild-growing trees. But many of them were knocked over during a hurricane, and Travasos suddenly had more light and freedom to create his own vision.

“I’ve been gardening since I was a kid,” says Travasos. “After a hard day’s work, I relax by going outside and being in nature.”

The garden consists of trees, bushes and plants that provide fruits, vegetables, flowers and shade. There are cypress, oak, crepe myrtle, river birch, hackberry, red maple, eucalyptus, avocado, sweet olive, fig, apple, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, kumquat, Japanese plum, pomegranate, persimmon, pear and palm trees. Blueberry, blackberry and raspberry bushes thrive in sunny spots throughout the yard, and muscadine grapes, cucumbers, cantaloupe and sugar baby watermelons cling onto fences.

“The hardest part of maintaining the yard is providing proper irrigation during a drought,” says Travasos. “My favorite part is seeing the expression on people’s faces when I give them the excess produce.”

The advice Travasos would give to a new gardener is to provide proper drainage to trees, especially fruit bearing ones. He also suggests buying your trees, bushes and plants from someone who knows about their product and can provide information on growing conditions, fertilizing and watering.

“There are a lot of fruits like apples and blueberries that need cross pollinators to grow,” says Travasos. “If you plant one without the other, it won’t bear fruit.”

My mom and I recently visited the garden of Todd Travasos. The long driveway to his home in the woods is lined with sago palms, Jane magnolias and colorful crepe myrtles. In the front of the house, a large scented eucalyptus shimmers its mint green leaves, and a four-tiered fountain cries with tears of joy when visitors arrive.

Travasos had given me a summary of his garden prior to my arrival. It all sounded interesting, but what peaked my interest the most were the apples trees. When I stopped the car, I told my mom how excited I was about photographing them.

“My maiden name is Apple,” my mom said. “There’s only one living male Apple in Vermilion Parish.”

“I know,” I said. “But we’re here to learn about apple seeds. Not the Apple seed.”

Travasos ran out to meet my mom and I as we were walking up the drive. He welcomed us into his home where we met his wife, Brigette, and several colorful Persian cats.

“Did your son tell you I grow apple trees?” Travasos asked my mom. “Just like your maiden name, Apple.”

“There’s only one living male Apple in all of Vermilion Parish,” my mom replied.

After hearing a twenty-minute history review of the Apple seed, (complete with charts, graphs, and a Power Point presentation) Travasos led me outside to discuss seeds of a less uncomfortable nature. We started with citrus.

“I have a story and reason for every tree in the yard,” said Travasos. “For example, I plant my lemons and limes on the south side of the house because they don’t like the cold.”

Then Travasos showed me something called a trifolia tree, which didn’t bare fruit and resembled a large shrub. He said he was growing it for its root system and that he would graph different citrus trees like lemons, limes and oranges to it.

It took several minutes of questions and answers for me to understand that one tree was going to grow three different fruit. I wondered what would happen if I ate an orange from this miraculous tree. Would I become the super hero, Citrus Man, and begin fighting crime by squirting villains in the eyes with acidic juices.

I thought that could be interesting, so I asked Travasos to see more of his creations. Next stop was the apple orchard.

“My Golden Dorsett apples cross pollinate with my Annas,” said Travasos. “I don’t spray them with any chemicals, because I want all of my produce to be organic.”

When it came time for my mom and I to leave, Travasos handed her a bag filled with cucumbers and one apple. He told her that it was for her in honor of her maiden name.

It seemed ironic that just as one Apple was beginning to disappear in Vermilion Parish, a different kind was just starting to be grown. Not for monetary reasons, but simply to produce a gift for others.

“I thought that was a very nice gesture of Mr. Travasos to give you an apple because of your name,” I said to my mom on the car ride home. “Maybe you met him for a reason. Now you can have peace in the fact that apples will be in Vermilion Parish for a long time.”

“That’s a beautiful way to look at it,” my mom responded. “But I’ll just get one of my grandsons to change his name to Apple.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010



Through a series of writing exercises we'll journal the adventures of our lives. Discover the "I" in WRITE.

When: Thursdays, July 8,15,22,29
Where: Abbeville Meridional
Time: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $40 for four weeks
Info: Call 646-387-2558 to reserve your write

Strength to Forgive the Pain

An elementary schoolyard wouldn’t be a schoolyard without the occasional skinned knee, argument over a ball or bully causing pain. These unpleasant situations of our past are fortunately in a place where they can’t harm us anymore. But how do we stop their memories from hitting us in the face like an oversized dodge ball? Where do we find the strength?

I recently ran into an old acquaintance from elementary school. To say we were friends would be inaccurate, but to say we were enemies would be to go too far. I didn’t care for this person back in the day because he tormented me, but that was when we were children who didn’t know any better.

I’d had many fantasies about my revenge on my once childhood nemesis. They ranged from a simple fistfight to re-enacting the drag race scene from the movie, Grease. I’d spend hours a day thinking about our cars racing through the twists and turns of large cement coulees. I would always speed across the finish line first, and win Olivia Newton John as my prize. The only problem with my fantasy was that neither my opponent nor I was old enough to drive.

The recent encounter with my schoolmate was very pleasant, but something about the situation was unsettling. I was uncertain if it was confusion from the change in our relationship, or a feeling of accomplishment from finally being able to have a conversation that didn’t involve having a, “Kick me,” sign attached to my back.

When we parted ways, I began thinking about the days of elementary school. There were memories of monkey bars, softball games and cafeteria food. But then, a faded and blurred image of the pain my schoolmate had caused me began to rejuvenate until it became clear and damp with newness.

The pain didn’t make me angry or depressed, but I was aware of its presence. For days, I cautiously carried it around like an un-potted cactus filled with sharp thorns capable of drawing blood. I kept it at arm’s length, but observed its growth.

It made no sense to me that there was still pain from over twenty-five years ago. I thought I had grown, become more secure with myself and learned that the past is the past. But even though I tried to block out the memories, the insecurity, and the hurt, drops of each kept seeping back into my conscience the same way rain does through a small crack in a ceiling.

My obsession with the past absorbed all of my energy to the point that I couldn’t find the strength to communicate with others. My mom even pointed out my mind’s absence during breakfast one day.

“Why are you so quiet?” she asked. “You’re usually giving me orders this time of day.”

“You’re the one who is usually giving orders,” I responded. “And I just have a lot on my mind.”

I told my mom about everything; the encounter with my past, the pain and the confusion of its re-emergence. She listened attentively and nodded her head up and down like she fully understood. When I was finished, she stood and looked straight ahead.

“When I feel pain, I take two aspirin,” she said. “But you’re talking about a different kind. You might want to try Aleve.”

I will give my mom the benefit of the doubt and assume that she was being insightful, because her words did give me the strength to realize that there are different types of pain. I hadn’t been thinking about the pain that someone else had caused me. It was the pain that I had caused or ever wanted to cause others.

A fight broke out in my head. Reasoning argued with Fear, while Shame punched Ego in the stomach. Remorse was the final victor.

I have forgiven the pain from my past, but am aware of its power. My knowledge will hopefully prevent me from ever using it to hurt someone else. If my judgment and memory ever lapses, the sharpness of weakness will stab me. But for now I look positively forward, and know that in our past there are lessons. In our future, there is strength.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Jacques Couvillon Journal Write


Through a series of writing exercises we'll journal the adventures of our lives. Discover the "I" in WRITE.

When: Thursdays, July 8,15,22,29
Where: Abbeville Meridional
Time: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $40 for four weeks
Info: Call 646-387-2558 to reserve your write

The Moving Business of JB Duhon Carpentry

Most businesses that I visit for this column have a storefront or building where they are located. But this week, I interviewed a couple of entrepreneurs whose office address is a trailer on four wheels and is constantly moving.

J.B. Duhon Carpentry is owned and operated by husband and wife team, Jan and James (J.B.) Duhon. The business has been opened for ten years, and is licensed and insured. Services range from installing vinyl siding to building fences to remodeling entire homes.

“We take on the headache of a project so the client doesn’t have to,” says Mr. Duhon. “We’ll purchase all of the materials needed, and manage the work from start to finish.”

The Duhons initially started the company to supplement their family income. Although they both worked full time at other jobs, their carpentry business consistently grew. While Mr. Duhon handles the manual labor, Mrs. Duhon manages finances.

“When we first started, all J.B. had were a few tools,” says Mrs. Duhon. “But I kept saving money, and eventually we were able to buy a trailer and hire employees. We never had to borrow a dime.”

According to Mr. Duhon, running a carpentry business involves a lot of capital. But he says the hardest part is orchestrating every detail of a project and being on call 24/7.

“The best part is that we can do it together,” says Mrs. Duhon. “Also, working with people. We bond with many of our customers and they become like family. If I could, I’d do it for free.”

The Duhons’ most memorable experience was when they were renovating a married couple’s house after Hurricane Rita. The husband was dying of cancer and wanted his wife back in the home before he passed.

“We became good friends with the couple and were able to get them back in their home before he died,” says Mrs. Duhon. “I’d often sit with the husband so his wife could run errands.”

It was hot and humid (as are most days here now) when I visited the Duhons and their moving business at a home just outside of Abbeville in Rice Cove. They were renovating a bathroom from top to bottom including cabinets and fixtures.

The room’s colors were warm earth tones, and the shower had a beautiful floor made of concrete and polished multi-colored stones. I would have loved to use it to rinse the drenching sweat off of my body, but I figured it might be weird to undress during the interview.

Mr. Duhon gave me a tour of his trailer and showed me some of the different equipment he uses. He said that the one tool every carpenter should carry around is a tape measure.

“I really enjoy being on the site and working with my hands,” said Mr. Duhon. “Helping people improve their homes and lives is what I love about this job.”

Kenneth Boggs, one of the employees of J.B. Duhon Carpentry, showed me how to cut a baseboard plank on a saw. Although cutting wood is somewhat empowering to most men, I have to say my favorite part of that experience was wearing these cool goggles that made me feel like Bono from the band U2.

It’s no wonder that J.B. Duhon Carpentry was able to grow from a few tools to a full- sized trailer packed with equipment and memorable stories. Although the couple’s initial goal was to support their family, they’ve built a life that allows them to work and grow together. Their eye for craftsmanship, dedication to service, and relationships with their customers is what keeps the four wheels on their constantly moving business.

For more information on the services offered by J.B. Duhon Carpentry, call (337) 288-4786. To learn more about the journal writing class I’m teaching, call 646-387-2558.


Sunday, June 20, 2010


Through a series of writing exercises we'll journal the adventures of our lives. Discover the "I" in WRITE.

When: Thursdays, July 8,15,22,29
Where: Abbeville Meridional
Time: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $40 for four weeks
Info: Call 646-387-2558 to reserve your write

Strength From a Dad's Sunrise

For the past year, I’ve been waking before the sun rises. Sometimes I take early eastward walks to see its rays of light just as they begin warming the sky. Other times I sit in my room in darkness and wait until beams of energy slowly illuminate the walls like several high-powered flashlights being turned on with dimmer switches.

Sunrise has become my favorite time of day, but it’s not always easy to wake before the rooster crows. Sometimes there is a late night, insomnia or an interruption by life. So where do we get the motivation to wake up early enough to watch Passe Partout? Where do we get the strength?

I grew up on a farm in Cow Island, where waking up before the sun rises is as much a part of life as shovels, tractors and animal manure on the bottom of boots. My dad, Andrew Couvillon, also grew up on a farm and loved to wake up early. Sometimes he’d get up at 3:00 a.m. or would be awake before I’d even gone to bed.

In my early teenage years, my dad would enthusiastically ask me to join him in his ritual of waking early by walking into my room, turning on the lights and leaning over my bed so our faces were only inches apart. Then he’d loudly sing a song he’d made up about crawfishing.

Good Morning! Good Morning!
The sun is shining so you can stop wishing.
It’s time to wake up and go crawfishing!.

My eyes would pop open and see my dad’s smiling face inches away from mine. Still half asleep and thinking I was being attacked by a giant Cajun, I’d scream until I’d wake myself up.

“Get dressed,” my dad would tell me. “It’s time to start the day.”

“It’s still dark outside,” I’d tell him. “Even the crawfish are sleeping.”

Despite my best arguments, my dad never changed his mind and I’d find myself bouncing around the cab of his truck as it headed to the crawfish pond out in the middle of the Louisiana wilderness. My eyes would be closed the entire way, as my head rested on a home made pillow constructed from a rubber boot covered by a pair of gloves and an emergency roll of toilet paper.

Sometimes the sun would rise on the way to the crawfish pond, but other times we’d have to park the truck and wait for the earth’s headlight to flicker on. I’d keep my eyes shut tight until my dad would tell me to start working. Then I’d become more concerned with the hours ahead of me instead of the lighting of a brand new day.

If I had known then how beautiful it was to watch the first few moments of morning, if I had known then that my dad was sharing his favorite part of the day with me, if I had known then that he’d leave me early and we’d never have another sunrise together, I would have opened my eyes.

On one of the mornings I worked on this column, I found the strength to get up early enough to drive out to the crawfish pond. I felt lost amongst the darkness of the curvy gravel roads covered by arches of trees. Herons and egrets flew in front of my car as if guiding me into another world or time.

When I reached our property, I parked and walked to the crawfish pond just in time to see the sky light up in shades of blue and pink. I spoke out loud to my dad and apologized for never opening my eyes before to see what he was trying to show me. He answered me with a memory of the two of us from my childhood.

My dad was sitting on the porch of a camp that used to stand a few hundred feet from the crawfish pond. He was barefoot and wearing a white t-shirt and boxer shorts. I was barefoot as well, but shirtless and holding a tree branch with an attached string over the water of a nearby canal.

“I wonder what the poor people are doing?” My dad asked and smiled.

“This,” I said. “Exactly what we’re doing now.”

We both laughed, and then communicated without words. I told him that I loved him but was a confused child who wasn’t sure which way was which. He answered back that he loved me as well, and not to worry because he would teach me.

My dad taught me to praise every morning I wake up because I’ve been blessed with life. He taught me that a family has to work together to overcome obstacles and to survive. He taught me that through the sweat of a brow and an early sunrise there is strength.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Together we'll journal the adventures of our lives. Discover the "I" in WRITE.

When: Thursdays, July 8,15,22,29
Where: Abbeville Meridional
Time: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $40 for four weeks
Info: Call 646-387-2558 to reserve your write

GOING GARDEN: Armadillo Trouble in Kaplan

Just outside of Kaplan is a Swiss themed cottage surrounded by flowers, lily padded goldfish ponds, and thirteen multi-colored kittens playing a game of hide and seek. During the daylight hours a lion fountain, stone soldiers, and a straw woven fence crowned with curly willow arches protect the garden. But at night, while all the inhabitants of the tranquil beauty rest, a hard-shelled, pointy nosed, un-invited guest wreaks havoc.

“Armadillos are my number one worst enemy,” says garden owner, Greg Meaux. “I tried to catch one with a gentle-catch trap, but the kittens kept getting caught.”

Meaux’s garden is 102’ by 180’ in size. Invited guests can meander through the grounds via stone and gravel paths lined with nature’s royalty like Society Garlic, Twelve Apostles and Lily of the Nile. The songs of birds and fountains are heard throughout the beds of daises, roses and black-stemmed elephant ears.

“I grew up on a farm,” says Meaux. “I love watching things grow from a seed into fruit or a bloom.”

Ivy climbs two sides of the Swiss themed cottage. It was once a regular tool shed, but Meaux transformed it with small personal touches like wooden shutters, a copper colored sun ornament and a painting of lavender wisteria climbing up a brick wall of a villa.

“I’m a very visual person,” says Meaux. “I want my garden to look like a photograph or painting.”

Meaux is a supervisor with the Vermilion Parish School Board. He also teaches art classes and is a licensed florist. He grows plants and trees like leather ferns and curly willows to use in many of his arrangements.

“My favorite time of year in the garden is the spring,” says Meaux. “The wisteria, azaleas and bridal wreath are in bloom at the same time, and the colors are so vibrant.”

According to Meaux, the hardest part of having a garden is maintenance. In addition to fighting off armadillos, he also spends a lot of time picking up pine needles (His second worst enemy). But he says that the best part of gardening is the therapeutic qualities it provides.

“Being outside in nature gives me spiritual inspiration,” says Meaux. “Everybody needs a hobby. We all need something to love.”

Meaux’s advice to other gardeners is to be sure that the plants they purchase are tolerant of growing conditions. He also suggests defining your garden with a barrier or fence.

“If you’re working with an area that is too large, you’ll feel defeated before you even begin,” says Meaux. “You should also make sure that everything is easy to water.”

Other plants, trees and flowers in Meaux’s garden are bromeliads, blackberry vines, Chinese orchids, cast iron leaves, hydrangeas, cana and calla lilies, and orange, kumquat, pine, oak, pecan, river birch, and red maple trees. There are also vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and parsley.

When I went to visit Meaux’s garden, I spent most of my time trying to photograph the best view of the Swiss themed cottage. Almost every angle provided an interesting feature.

“Take all the pictures you want of the front and sides of the shed,” said Meaux. “But don’t take any behind it.”

Since I have the maturity of a second grader, I suddenly wanted to go behind the shed more than ever. I fantasized about what could be back there including a fence made of armadillo heads or a plant that produced kittens.

“That’s my plant hospital,” said Meaux. “I bring plants back to life there.”

I interviewed Meaux in a back room of his home, which overlooked his garden. The wall was filled with windows that looked like flat screen televisions. In one was a view of kittens chasing each other around a bubbling blue goldfish pond. Through another was the copper-colored sun smiling from the ivy-covered walls of the Swiss cottage.

“I like to create little scenes or stories in every setting,” said Meaux. “I’m constantly moving things around to make it all pleasing to the eye.”

“Pleasing to the eye,” is an understatement of the beauty and art that Meaux created in his garden. With so many wonderful stories being told through the flowers, fountains and kittens, it’s no wonder that the armadillos keep breaking in.

If you would like to adopt one of Meaux’s kittens, call him at 337-643-8469.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Your Write

The Jacques Couvillon Journal Write

Together we'll journal the adventures of our lives. Discover the "I" in WRITE.

When: Thursdays, July 8,15,22,29
Where: Abbeville Meridional
Time: 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Cost: $40 for four weeks
Info: Call 646-387-2558 to reserve your write

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Strength For Destination Happiness

Everyone in the world has his or her own personal vision of happiness. For some it’s monetary riches, others successful careers and others a large family. These images of how life is supposed to be are what keep us studying, working and dreaming.

Sometimes the path to being happy is smooth and clear as day. But other times, it’s not as obvious and we slowly move down a bumpy dirt road that leads nowhere. So where do we turn to get on the expressway to Destination Happiness? Where do we find the strength?

When I turned thirty-years old back in 1999, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t happy. Many of my goals meant nothing to me, but for one reason or another, I chose them in order to get to that one place where I thought my frown would turn upside down.

The problem with my logic at the time was thinking that happiness was a place I could reach by following others. But it’s really more of a feeling that can only be designed by a fearful and powerful organ that has caused many of us pain before; the heart.

So I made several changes in my life including quitting my job and moving to New York City to study writing. But the biggest decision I made was to start communicating with a person I didn’t really trust or know, but who was key in my decision making process if I was ever going to find happiness. That person was myself.

I began keeping a journal. First, I wrote down goals to give me some sort of direction. Then I described how I would reach these goals and what accomplishing them would bring me.

I carried my journal with me everywhere and took time to write in parks, cafes and on the subway. The pages became filled with descriptions of people and places and notes on moments when I smiled and laughed. Anytime loneliness or fear came knocking at my door, I grabbed my best friend and found a spot where we could socialize and solve the world’s problems. The clouds smothering happiness began to float away.

Every January since the year 2000, I’ve bought a new journal. In a wooden box in my closet are big ones, small ones and medium sized ones. Some are red, brown, black and blue and have leather, wooden or cardboard covers. But they all serve the same purpose; to show me where I am at a moment in time and to tell me where to go next.

I pulled the journals out recently to find the date of a past event. As I was flipping through the pages of one from my first year in New York, a sentence spoke to me.

“Please give me the strength.”

I ended up reading over half the journal, and then only stopped to pick up a different one. I turned page after page amazed by how different my life was in Manhattan compared to now living on a farm with my mom in Cow Island. Phrases leaped from the page and held me captive for several minutes.

“It scares me when I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But it bores me when I do.”

“I just sold my book!!! I can’t believe this is happening.”

“I’m so tired of being sad. I want to be happy.”

“I sold George Hamilton a tie at Ralph Lauren today. He really is as tanned as he is on television.”

All of my worst and best moments were laid out on paper right in front of me. I could drop all the journals off at a therapist’s office and ask him/her to read through them and get back to me with what I needed to be happy for the rest of my life. But as I flipped through more and more of the pages, I realized that maybe that wasn’t possible.

“I’m moving to Paris to study French! I’m so happy.”

“Just got laid off. Again. Will I ever get to be happy?”

“My family is coming to visit me!”

“I feel like someone punched me in the gut with a fistful of depression. Is happiness a place someone made up to sell greeting cards and fried chicken?”

Reading through the last decade of my life in a few hours was an emotional roller coaster for me. The ups and downs, the twists and turns, the detours, road blocks and potholes, all to find a place that only existed for a limited time.

I needed a break from my past, and went to the present day kitchen, where my mom was just putting a bowl of cantaloupe down on the table. She told me to sit and that lunch would be ready soon.

Then she asked, “What are you writing about?”

It was a loaded question, because every time I answered it, she quickly asked me how I knew about that subject.

“What do you know about careers?”

“What do you know about gardening?”

“What do you know about growing up on a farm?”

I had to tell her something or it would appear like I was keeping a secret from her. If I told her about the journals, she’d demand to read them. As punishment for not showing them to her before, she’d make me cut her toenails while she flipped through the pages of my most private moments.

“Happiness,” I responded.

“Happiness?” she asked. “What do you know about happiness?”

It was a tough question to answer, and could change in a few seconds both before or after I vocalized it. Destination Happiness was more like a Grey Hound bus than an actual place. It traveled as much as I did and the moments our paths crossed had an undefined time limit. My journals had taught me that, and their lesson was still fresh in my memory.

“Apparently I know nothing about happiness,” I laughed. “But I know I’m happy now. And I could be even happier if you stopped harassing me and hurried up with lunch.”

It doesn’t upset me that the feeling of happiness can depart at any time. Through my journals, I will be able to track it so we can be together again. With the power of my mom’s chicken stew, and pages mapping out who I am and where I’m headed, I’ll always be able to find the emotion of happy. I will always be able to find the strength.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Communication is Decor at Sellers' Custom Decorating

I once worked as a driver/personal assistant for an interior decorator who wore big sunglasses and made me wear a suit. My responsibilities included being by her side at all times, (except for the restroom, of course) and driving her to places like furniture stores, restaurants and movie theatres. The job was fairly easy, and I sometimes wonder if I was working for her or dating her.

Regardless, I always had the feeling that my experience in this industry was not a typical one. So this week, I interviewed interior decorator, Christene Constantin, to get a real look inside the world of drapery and design.

“It’s a very physical job,” says Mrs. Constantin. “People think it’s so glamorous, but it involves knowing how to use a drill.”

Mrs. Constantin and her husband, Richard, are the owners of Sellers’ Custom Decorating in Kaplan. The business produces custom bedding accessories and window treatments, and has a storefront with a bridal registry. Merchandise includes artwork, lamps, jewelry, rugs, handbags, candles, glassware, books and other products for the home.

“When we purchased the business in 1997, we only offered custom drapery and interior decorating,” says Mrs. Constantin. “But after a while I decided that it would be more beneficial for the customer if I stocked a few items to help them accessorize their home.”

In addition to providing direction on paint color, and picture and furniture placement, Sellers’ Custom Decorating (SCD) can design and produce the window treatment of your dreams. They offer shades, blinds, curtains, valances, side panels, tiebacks and other drapery products.

“Not all of our customers want drapery,” says Mrs. Constantin. “Some just want direction on decorating techniques.”

Mrs. Constantin has a degree in Interior Merchandising from the University of Louisiana. While in college, she did an internship at Sellers’, which at the time was owned by the David family. She began a full time position with them as an interior decorator shortly after graduating, and eventually purchased the business in 1997.

“Sellers’ was originally opened by Lorena Sellers in 1953,” says Mrs. Constantin. “I decided to keep the name when Richard and I purchased the business because of its excellent reputation.”

SCD has two on-site seamstresses, Stella Meaux and Joanne Breaux. They work out of both their home, and the store in order to keep the channels of communication open with Constantin and customers.

“Custom drapery and bedding is very personal for the client,” says Mrs. Constantin. “In order to maintain quality, its important that I have a close relationship with the seamstresses. Stella and Joanne have many years of experience and are very skillful.”

According to Mrs. Constantin, the most challenging part of her business is the economy because decorating and custom products are luxuries. The best part of her job is working with the public.

“I’ve become friends with so many of my customers,” says Constantin. “When I go to their home for work, most of our time is spent visiting.”

I interviewed Constantin at a round table filled with handled books of fabric swatches, wallpaper and trim. She educated me on the different window treatments, like shades. There are roller shades, roman shades, pleated shades, and bamboo and grass cloth shades.

I learned that a valance is the treatment over the window and that a drape can be a curtain, but a curtain isn’t always a drape. At least that’s what I understood at the time, which puzzled me and sent me into brain nap mode. So by the time Constantin started talking about the universe of trim, I was thinking about my first job in decorating when all I did was chauffer (or maybe date) my boss.

“Before I visit a home, I speak to the customer to get a sense of their needs and taste,” said Constantin. “Then I select some of these books of fabric swatches and trim based on color and design.”

I try to work a small job at each interview, and was fortunate to be able to sew a line of thread across some fabric on a classic Singer. It’s the vintage Harley Davidson of sewing machines, and using it made me feel like Martha Stewart on a road trip with a biker gang.

But truth be told, the best part of my interview was speaking with Constantin, Meaux and Breaux. Meaux had been stung by a wasp and received remedy advice from her colleagues (baking soda paste or tobacco). During their conversation, they updated each other on projects and the store.

Communication is vital in running a successful business, which is why the small tight knit community of Sellers’ Custom Decorating is a model for quality control, customer service and teamwork. My short time there was way more educational on the world of design than my job chauffeuring (or dating) a decorator who wore big sunglasses.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Strength to Fight Off a Bull

We all have more than one story to tell. They collect in our minds, begging to be vocalized at dinner parties or whispered during a private discussion. Maybe it’s about an experience or a stage in our life or about the people we admire and respect the most.

Selecting which story to share at a given moment is usually enjoyable and not a stressful situation. But what if you only had a short time left on this earth? How do you choose from hundreds of thousands of memories that make up your life? Where will you find the strength?

My dad’s sister, Mae Couvillon Bouillion, passed away last week at the age of ninety-four. A few days before, just after she was moved from a nursing home to a hospital, she requested time with all of her nieces and nephews. Although she and I didn’t have a close relationship, she specifically asked to speak to me.

When I entered the hospital room, my Aunt Mae’s daughter, Priscilla, and granddaughter, Stephanie, greeted me. We hadn’t seen each other in years, and took a moment for hugs and smiles.

“She’s been asking for you all day,” Priscilla said. “I don’t know why.”

I saw my Aunt Mae three times in the last five years. The first two meetings, she told me that I didn’t look at all like a Couvillon. But at the hospital a couple of weeks ago, she pointed directly at my face as soon as she saw me.

“Now I see it,” she said. “Now I see your father.”

I sat down on her bed, and she grabbed my hand and squeezed it. Then she took deep breaths as if searching for the perfect one to give her the strength to speak.

“I’m so weak,” she said. “But I want you to know about your grandparents.”

Aunt Mae began her story with a woman named Lucy Toups, who married my great, great grandfather Ernest Broussard back in the Nineteenth Century. The woman convinced her husband that Cow Island needed a school. He used his influence with the school board, who in turn sent my grandpa, Raoul Couvillon from New Iberia to help start an education system. This is when he met my grandma, Lucy Broussard.

“Your grandpa was an intellectual,” Aunt Mae said. “Your grandma’s brothers gave him a hard time because he wore a suit.”

Aunt Mae told stories of my grandparents that spanned from World War I through the Great Depression to World War II. Since I’d only known my Grandma and Grandpa Couvillon during the last few years of their lives, this new information introduced me to a whole other side of them.

“Grandpa taught me to do the right thing,” Aunt Mae said. “Grandma taught me to work hard, and made me scrub the kitchen floors.”

Aunt Mae laughed and then asked for some water. She continued talking about how my grandpa rode around Cow Island on horseback to collect money to start the first school. Then she suddenly stopped, and looked me in the eyes.

“If anybody asks where you heard this, it wasn’t from me,” Aunt Mae said. “Tell them, my sister, Corine told you.”

It didn’t make sense to me that my Aunt Mae wanted her sister to have the credit for passing along these wonderful stories. Yes, some of them were of tough times and vulnerable moments, but shared the value of integrity and strength.

When it was time for me to leave, Priscilla and Stephanie walked me out of the room. I asked them if they had any idea why Aunt Mae had specifically asked to speak to me.

“I guess she wanted everyone to know about how much she respected her parents,” Stephanie said. “She probably figured that you would be the one to write a story about them.”

I wasn’t sure what that story was until the morning after Aunt Mae’s funeral, when I stepped into our garage and looked across the pasture at my grandparents’ home. There was a thick rain falling from the sky, which made the house look like a gray and white painting from a time long ago.

Memories floated through my head until one outshined the others. I was seven-year’s old and my grandpa rescued me from a charging bull by hitting it with his walking stick. He hugged me afterwards, and then brought me inside of his house and gave me a glass of water.

My grandpa was always a hero to me, and for the longest time, I thought he was born all knowing and powerful without having to work at it. But Aunt Mae’s stories of the vulnerable moments in his life made me realize I was wrong. He was a good man, who grew wise and strong over time through education, hard work and doing the right thing.

My realization sparked a connection that I’d never felt before with my grandpa. I understood that he touched the hardness of rock bottom. He felt the pain of humiliating moments. He thought he was alone at times. He was human. Just like me. Just like all of us.

Knowing that my Grandpa Couvillon died understanding every challenging moment in my life makes me love him even more, and gives me strength. Aunt Mae gave me a gift with her stories, which is why she wanted me to give her sister, Corine credit.

“Mae was like a mother to me,” my Aunt Corine said at her sister’s funeral. “Now, I’m the only one left.”

I will make a more conscious effort to spend time with my Aunt Corine. I’m hoping she will tell me more about my grandparents, but also about my dad. Through her words, I will be graced with wisdom that can only be experienced from age.

My Aunt Mae used her last few breaths to share stories of her parents. Through them I found a connection with my Grandma and Grandpa Couvillon, which is now one of my most valuable possessions. It warms my heart, fills me with courage and brings me strength like a big walking stick to fight off a bull.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Birds and Bees of Erath

This Saturday, Magdalene Square in Abbeville will be in full bloom for the Daylily Festival. Garden enthusiasts will be able to shop at over fifty vendors offering everything from daylilies to orchids to fruit trees to blueberry bushes to outdoor furniture to mosaic and copper yard art.

Husband and wife team, Donald and Lucy Menard, have been a vendor at the festival since its start in 2002. The couple has been growing daylilies for over twenty years, and will be selling fifty-eight different varieties of the famed flower this Saturday.

“Over half of our daylilies originally come from a wonderful gardener named, Mrs. Lucille Guidry,” says Mrs. Menard. “She gave me one of every variety she had because I helped her maintain her garden.”

The Menards’ garden is on approximately half an acre of land at their home in Erath. Plants and flowers greet visitors in the driveway. Behind a shed in the backyard are rows of cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, strawberries and peppers. Underneath a pear tree are begonias, ferns and cactuses. In an open field are canna lilies, bleeding hearts, angel trumpets, Jobe’s tears, bougainvilleas, and of course, daylilies; beds and beds of daylilies.

“I garden to relax,” says Mrs. Menard. “I raised seven children and after they were grown, I started on my flowers.”

In addition to caring for the many varieties of daylilies in the garden, Mrs. Menard cross-pollinates the flowers to create her own. One of her favorites, with yellow petals and a red heart in the center, is called, “Lucy’s Pride.”

“I should have been a farmer,” says Mrs. Menard. “My garden and flowers are my pride and joy.”

Mr. Menard, who worked for several years at the National Resource Conservation Service, is in charge of preparing the beds for the garden. He tills the ground, maintains a compost pile, and mixes the soil with sand to create a porous growing environment.

“If I can’t find Lucy in the house, I know she’s in the garden,” says Mr. Menard. “Sometimes she just sits underneath the pear tree and stares out at the daylilies.”

Mr. Menard also contributes to the garden by constantly searching for new varieties of plants and flowers. One of his best finds was a deep red daylily named Cupid Calling, which he appropriately gave to his wife for Valentine’s Day.

“We have so many different kinds that I have to stay well organized,” says Mrs. Menard. “I mark all of my rows so I know exactly what’s growing where.”

According to the Menards, daylilies love full sun, (approximately six hours per day), but will tolerate part-shade conditions. The flowers will grow in a wide range of soils, but ultimately prefer a mixture of porous and water retentive elements such as sand, humus or peat moss. It is best to grow them in raised beds to avoid root rot.

“Plant one fan now and by October you’ll have three or four,” says Mrs. Menard. “The hardest part about growing daylilies is having to dig them up and replant them.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to the Menards’ Erath home to interview the couple about their famous daylilies. At first I imagined fields and fields of brightly colored flowers like on a postcard from a tulip farm in The Netherlands. I fantasized about Mrs. Menard carving me a pair of new wooden shoes while a windmill cooled me off like a super sized air conditioner.

Although I suspected that this wasn’t the scenario I’d find, (Menard doesn’t sound like a Dutch name), I was very surprised that the garden was growing right in the middle of town. The beds of plants and flowers were tucked in every nook and cranny of the yard, which made turning a corner an adventure and new discovery.

There is even what I like to call a, “flying garden.” Inside of a small coop are colorful and exotic birds like sun conures, cockatiels, English parakeets, finches, diamond doves and an African gray congo Parrot (This one talks and lives in the main house).

I interviewed the Menards while we sat underneath the shade of a pear tree. The couple’s gray furry cat chased a butterfly while Maddie, a black Pug, rested in the sun. I learned first hand how peaceful and relaxing it was to sit amongst the flowers, and at one time my eyes felt so heavy, I almost excused myself to go nap with the dog.

As the morning moved along, Mrs. Menard broke off the blooms of different varieties of daylilies and placed them in the sun for me to photograph them. I told her not to destroy her flowers for me, but she continued.

“The bloom only last a day,” she said. “That’s why they’re called daylilies.”

Maybe I did fall asleep underneath that pear tree, because every thing seemed like a dream. While Mrs. Menard cross-pollinated flowers with the skill and instinct of a bumblebee, her husband selected plants and cucumbers as a parting gift for me.

“Working together with pride to plant and cross-pollinate life so the different varieties of the earth’s treasures can live in complete harmony.” I thought. “So THAT’S the famous story about the birds and the bees.”

Visit the Menards and other garden vendors this Saturday at the Daylily Festival from 8:30 A.M. to 3 P.M. For more information about Lucy’s Daylily Garden, call 337-937-5113.