Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Duhon's Gun Shop

Hunting season has arrived and camouflaged residents throughout Vermilion Parish have fled for the fields and blinds to bring home dinner. Before they headed out, many of them brought their guns to be cleaned and repaired by husband and wife, Elson and Becky Duhon at Duhon’s Gun Shop

“I got into this business because I liked collecting guns,” says Mr. Duhon. “The more you like something, the easier the job is going to be.”

Opened since 1985, Duhon’s Gun Shop buys, sells and trades guns. They sell new and used rifles, shotguns, handguns, pellet and BB guns. Accessories include (but are not limited to) holsters, ammunition, scopes and mounts, gun magazines and knives. Services include cleaning, repairing, sighting rifles, replacing butt stocks, and straightening barrels.

“The hardest part of this business is that it’s seasonal,” says Mrs. Duhon. “We get busy at the beginning of August, just before hunting season. After New Years, we slow down a lot.”

According to Mr. Duhon, automatic shotguns have a tendency of jamming and need to be regularly maintained. He says that any gun using steel shot should be cleaned after shooting around 300 shells. He also suggests cleaning all guns before putting them into storage.

“Duck hunters are famous for letting their guns get wet,” laughs Mr. Duhon. “They should dry them well after shooting them. It’s good to wipe the barrel down with 3 in 1 oil or Break Free oil. It helps prevent rusting.”

Mr. Duhon suggests a 12-gauge pump shotgun as a first gun for someone sixteen years old or older. But someone younger should consider a 20-gauge.

“You don’t want to start a young kid off with something too powerful,” says Mr. Duhon. “It might scare them, and it will be hard for them to regain their confidence and become a good shot.”

The Duhons are also the owners of Duhon’s Mudd Hole. Behind the gun shop are two large muddy fields, one for 4-wheel drive trucks and the other for 4-wheelers. For a fee per vehicle and person, interested attendees can drive around in one of the mud holes or sit on the side and watch others.

“People tailgate and watch the trucks playing in the mud like they’re watching a football game,” laughs Mr. Duhon. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Other amenities include a port-o-let, as well as a concession stand that sells hamburgers, hotdogs and drinks. The mud hole is closed for the season, but check out their website ( for info on its re-opening.

I recently visited Duhon’s Gun Shop, located in a metal building behind the owners’ home in Abbeville. The lobby is as authentic as a gun shop can be, with collector’s items like a stuffed mink, a box set of everything a child needs to be a real life cowboy (complete with bandana, cap-gun and holster), and a vintage poster that says, “Check your guns.”

During my visit, a gentleman came in with a military rifle from 1913 that was used in World War 1. He had traded it for another gun because he liked the history of the rifle. He was having problems with his bolt, but Mr. Duhon was able to fix it in a matter of minutes.

“A lot of guns have sentimental value,” said Mr. Duhon. “People will keep the barreled action, but change the butt stock of the gun.”

Mr. Duhon showed me his first ever gun hanging on the wall in the shop. It was a Daisy Red Rider BB gun that he received for Christmas when he was ten-years old.

“My favorite gun to shoot with now is a Remington 700 hunting rifle,” said Duhon. “I’m not left-handed, but I like to shoot my rifle that way.”

I had to get a picture of me doing something on the interview, and hoped that it could involve driving my momma’s car through one of the mud holes. But unfortunately both of them were closed, so Mr. Duhon made me clean a shotgun instead.

That was okay, but my favorite part was seeing Mr. Duhon’s first gun hanging on the wall of the shop. The fact that he held onto the BB gun for so long shows just how much he loves guns, and therefore his career. This lesson of loving what you do for a living was worth not being able to drive through the mud hole.

Duhon’s Gun Shop is located at 14136 South Hospital Road in Abbeville. For more information on their products and services, call 337-893-7907.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Strength from a Louisiana Summer

Although I am not a physician or meteorologist, I am fairly certain that the climate can affect a person’s mood. I’ve heard that people in the Northwest suffer from depression because of the lack of sunny days, and I have experienced first hand the negative effects of extreme temperatures.

So where do we get the stamina to handle long, miserable seasons of weather? Where do we get the strength?

I have lived in many places with very cold winters. The first was Connecticut and I can still remember the first snowfall I ever experienced there. It was mid-October, and the white flakes falling from the sky mesmerized me. For the next few months, I was the star of my own Christmas special, only without red-nosed reindeer or elves handing out presents.

But when January came, my mood changed. It became colder and colder, until the temperature dropped so much that it was too cold to snow. Instead, sleet fell from the sky sideways and pelted me in the face and body. Freezing wind blew like hurricanes, turning the ground into a solid block of ice. It was like walking on a skating rink, which meant slipping and sliding and ultimately falling down on my rear-end, over and over and over again.

By the end of April, in all of the cold winter places I lived, my mind and body was angry, bruised and weak. Spring seemed like a destination on the other side of the world that couldn’t be reached. Depression set in until the sun made its appearance to melt the frozen ground so I could finally walk again without stumbling.

When I moved back to Louisiana, short, mild winters welcomed me. Even on the coldest days, it seemed like the sun was shining. I’d go for long walks in the fields behind my mom’s house and sit out there for hours. The crispness of the air energized me and made me strong.

But the Louisiana summer is another story. The sun’s rays are so intense to me that it feels like they’re shining through a giant magnifying glass directly onto my face. Combined with the humidity, insects, poison ivy and the deafening sound of lawn mowers and weed eaters, it feels like punishment for everything I’ve ever done wrong in my life.

This summer was especially hard for me because I came to the realization that I won’t be able to make a living as a writer. Although there are success stories like J.K. Rawling, Stephanie Meyer and Stephen King, there are millions of other writers who make little or nothing from their work. I am one of these, and now have to start over and figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

Through most of the summer I felt like a failure. It seemed that no matter where I turned, there was a mirror reflecting that image; the image of a selfish man who had wasted his youth chasing something that he didn’t deserve because he hadn’t worked hard enough and because he’d chosen wrong. Now he was too old and too far into a meaningless life to change.

I didn’t have the strength to block out the heat of the Louisiana summer to see the crispness of fall just a few months ahead. My mind was soaked with the humidity of depression. It wasn’t about self-pity. I was and am still aware of how fortunate I am for every thing I have, especially the support of my friends and family. This depression was about self-worth and the fear of my unknown future.

As my forty-first birthday approached on September 10th, the temperature felt like it was rising, and every day seemed like the hottest on record. The heat of the world was on my shoulders and I thought my body, mind and soul would burn up and drift away like ashes in the sky.

On my birthday, I woke up sadder and hotter than ever. It was like I’d reached an expiration date and it was official that I’d failed. All of the motivation and positive energy within me seemed to have melted away, which meant that I’d spend the rest of my life only going through the motions.

This past week was the beginning of fall and I can feel the changes in the temperature. There are cool breezes and the morning sunrises aren’t as intimidating. I can walk to the mailbox without sweating, and my mind has become clearer so I can see a positive future. I have made it through the Louisiana summer, and am now feeling stronger than ever.

It wasn’t only the first day of fall that ended my depression and gave me hope. It was the many stories of strength surrounding us that encouraged me to keep moving forward towards cooler and energizing breezes. It was the final capping of the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, the kick-off to a season with our amazing Saints, the sound of school children preparing for their future.

It is the way of the world for us to have seasonal dismay and moments of weakness. But if we continue to look forward, work hard and do onto others as we would have them do onto us, we will find the climate for love, happiness and success. If we believe that a new season of hope is only around the corner, we will find strength.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

CSI Kaplan

You can’t turn on the television these days without seeing some sort of police series. There are about four different versions of CSI and five Law and Orders. The actors and actresses usually look like models from a cologne ad, and are always in the latest fashions and high heels (the women, not the men.)

To tell the truth, it makes me want to become a policeman. Or at least play one on T.V. So this week, I decided to research the role of law enforcement by spending time with the Kaplan Police Department.

Boyd Adams was elected to Chief of the Kaplan Police Department on July 1, 2010. His duties are to protect and serve the city of Kaplan. He supervises twenty-six employees consisting of law enforcement officers, and administrative, clerical, dispatch and road personnel.

“The best part of my job is being able to serve the public,” says Chief Adams. “I also enjoy helping the law enforcement officers get the equipment they need to effectively do their job.”

Chief Adams began his career in law enforcement at seventeen as a Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s deputy for one year. He then went on to work with the Kaplan Police Department where he spent twelve years in various roles including reserve officer, dispatcher, patrol officer, patrol sergeant and detective sergeant. He also spent four and a half years with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department.

“I don’t think I could do anything else,” says Chief Adams. “I’ve done this all of my life. Once you get law enforcement in your blood, it’s hard to get out. It’s like an addiction.”

Chief Adams most memorable experience in law enforcement was when he met a troubled teen, who he would eventually adopt. The Chief’s son is now in college majoring in forensic science and ballistics.

If someone is interested in becoming a Kaplan city police officer, they should contact Chief Adams. If a position is available, he’ll arrange for the candidate to take a civil service test. If he/she passes the test, they’ll go through the hiring process, which involves a physical, psychological exam, drug test and background check. Upon completion, the candidate will attend the police academy for twelve weeks.

“The traits I look for in a candidate is professionalism and the ability to speak and work with the public,” says Chief Adams. “A potential officer should be eager to enforce the law and continuously train and learn.”

Academy education covers criminal and traffic laws, search and seizure, arresting and courtroom procedures, and training in pursuit driving, handcuffing techniques, and taser, firearm and pepper spray usage. After the academy, officers routinely attend seminars including domestic and elderly abuse investigation and interview interrogations.

“You have to stay up on the changing laws,” says Chief Adams. “If you don’t, liability starts to play a part.”

To give me an idea of what it’s like to be a Kaplan policeman, Chief Adams let me ride around with Officer Irvin Cates. Originally from the New Orleans area, Officer Cates has been with the Kaplan Police Department for seven years.

We rode all around Kaplan through areas I’d never been before in my life. People walking down the street or sitting on their front porches smiled and waved when they saw us.

“Most of them know me from all the years I’ve been patrolling,” said Officer Cates. “It’s important to have a presence in the community so they’ll feel safe.”

Officer Cates said he had many unusual experiences as a Kaplan police officer, but one of them stuck out more than the others. It was a call to handle an alligator that was in the middle of the street.

“I don’t know what I was thinking, but I just jumped on top of it and taped its mouth shut,” said Officer Cates. “Afterwards, I found out that it was seven feet long. I probably shouldn’t have been so brave.”

While we were riding around, the dispatcher called out some numbers over the radio. Officer Cates responded with some other numbers and then we sped towards Cushing Avenue.

My imagination went wild with me and I pictured Officer Cates handing me a gun and bulletproof vest. I thought about every cop show I’d ever seen to mentally train myself how to move and shoot.

But it was only a disturbance of the peace. So I just sat back in the police car and imagined a much more interesting scenario of me crashing through a plate glass window, rolling over and shooting down three bank robbers.

After my patrol ride, I realized that law enforcement isn’t always as it’s portrayed on television. Chief Adams and his team taught me that it’s about serving and protecting the community, continuous education and enforcing the law. I thank them for this knowledge, and also for the picture Officer Cates took of me in his patrol car. I plan to use it on my Facebook page, and am sure it will lead to my own T.V. series called, “CSI: Kaplan.”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Strength to Survive a Storm

It’s been five years since Hurricane Rita hit Vermilion Parish and changed the lives of its residents. The storm educated us on the erosion of our coastline and just how powerful and dangerous the weather can be.

Most of you were strong enough to rebuild the bricks and mortar of your lives. But what if you were in the middle of the floodwaters while death and destruction surrounded you? How do you survive the storm within your memories? Where do you find the strength?

Vermilion Parish resident, Cindy Greene decided to stay in Forked Island as Hurricane Rita made its way towards Louisiana’s coastline. She’d grown up in the area and seen big storms before, and thought she would be safe. But when barking dogs woke her in the middle of the night, she became alarmed.

“When I put my feet on the floor, it was wet,” says Greene. “I looked outside and all I saw were waves of water every where.”

Greene was with Brenda Hebert and Chip Duhon in a house on Highway 82 between Forked Island and Esther. The three of them woke early in the morning to find themselves amidst a sea of drowning animals and floating trees.

“The wind and water were so strong we couldn’t even open the door to get out of the house,” says Greene. “But Brenda broke the door knob off with the butt of a rifle. When she did, the door flew open and the wind from the storm pushed me down on the ground.”

Greene, Hebert and Duhon walked through the waist deep water to a nearby tractor. They had hoped to drive away to higher ground, but unfortunately the water had already destroyed the battery.

“The rain and the waves hit my body so hard that they bruised me,” says Greene. “I couldn’t believe that we were in the middle of the hurricane.”

Greene was able to contact her family and the sheriff’s department with her cell phone. While waiting to be rescued, she used a flashlight to see what was happening around the tractor. The water was above the road, and animals were fighting to survive.

“I could see the fear in our horses’ eyes,” says Greene. “I knew we were in trouble. I didn’t want to die.”

Duhon swam back to the house and got some cowboy ropes. He tied them together and then tied one end to the house and brought the other back to the tractor. Greene and Hebert were able to use the rope to pull themselves through the water’s strong current to get back to the house.

“If we wouldn’t have had Chip with us, we probably wouldn’t have survived,” says Greene. “I’m so glad I was with friends to help me through it.”

Greene, Hebert and Duhon found refuge in the attic of the house. They waited with several pet dogs until a helicopter came to their rescue.

“A sheriff’s deputy had asked me not to stay during the storm but I didn’t listen,” says Greene. “I’m so thankful to the sheriff’s department. They stayed in constant contact with us and sent the helicopter to save us.”

For the next few days, Greene and several other local residents worked at an outpost in Forked Island that provided food and clothing to those who had lost everything during the storm. It was there that she met a man who survived Hurricane Audrey. His stories gave her the strength to survive the ordeal she’d been through.

“This is the first time I speak about it so much,” Greene said to me when I interviewed her. “It was a very difficult time for me. Two months after the storm, I lost my mom to cancer.”

According to Greene, she kept her silence for so long because she was ashamed of her mistake of not leaving Forked Island during the storm. But through prayer, friends and family, she found the strength to forgive herself.

“People have told me that they’re not going to leave their homes again during the next storm because it’s too hard to go back,” says Greene. “I tell them not to stay. They don’t want to see the horror of it all.”

It’s been five years since Hurricane Rita, and Greene has a different life now. In addition to moving from Forked Island to the North Vermilion area, she changed her career from raising horses to driving a dump truck. She says that she’s going to take more trips, and is even planning to go on a cruise with her sisters.

“The hurricane made me see things clearer,” says Greene. “It’s brought my family closer together and made me want to be more generous towards others. Surviving the storm, gave me strength.”

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Smell of Rice and Success

The rice industry has always played a large part in Vermilion Parish’s livelihood. When Riviana closed its local operations in 2006, many people in the parish found themselves unemployed, and had to re-evaluate their careers. One such person was Jimmy Richard of Abbeville.

“I’m part of a family that worked in the rice industry for eighty years,” says Richard. “The rice business has provided for my well being my entire life.”

Richard began his career at Riviana in 1974 as a laborer. Through the years, he moved his way up to such jobs as dryer operator, rice buyer and then eventually regional manager for all commodity operations. When the company he’d worked for most of his life left Vermilion Parish, he formed Richard Independent Brokers.

“It was a scary time in my life because all I knew was the rice industry,” says Richard. “I didn’t want to leave Vermilion Parish, so I decided to start my own business.”

Richard Independent Brokers purchases rough rice from producers and sells to four mills in Southwest Louisiana. The company also runs a small trucking brokerage to haul rice from the farmers to the mill.

“Being on my own was difficult at first because there was no longer a guaranteed paycheck every two weeks,” says Richard. “But now I have freedom and opportunities that weren’t there before.”

According to Richard, global supply and demand is a deciding factor in the price of rice. He says that a disaster somewhere else in the world can affect the income of a farmer in Southwest Louisiana.

“The most challenging part of my job is not always being able to offer farmers a price for their rice that is profitable,” says Richard. “The best part is the contact with the public and the friendships I’ve made over the years.”

To stay knowledgeable about the market, Richard attends outlook conferences that give basic ideas of past and future years, technology, trends and new rice varieties. He says that anyone interested in entering this business should start on the ground level and work their way up.

“You have to gain knowledge through experience,” says Richard. “I learned how to drive a rice truck before I managed truck operations.”

Richard says that the most important trait to have in this business is honesty. When he manages the transaction between a farmer and a mill, he wants to ensure that both parties feel like they were treated fairly.

Planters Rice Mill leases the Riviana facility in Abbeville. Richard has an office there, and I recently visited him to learn more about his career.

I worked at that mill as a teenager and referred to myself as an “in case” worker. I would watch rice being moved from one location to another via an auger, and ensure that it didn’t get clogged up and spill rice everywhere. In case it did, I had to grab a shovel and work.

During my recent visit, Richard brought me to the office where rice is weighed and measured. I learned that South Louisiana measures its rice by barrels, Arkansas by bushels and almost everyone else by hundred weights. I also learned that brown rice is not a special variety, but regular rice with a layer of bran left on. If the layer is removed, it’s referred to as white rice.

As soon as I stepped onto the mill parking lot, a distinct aroma filled my nostrils. It was the smell of rice, which brought back many memories of working there, as well as of my childhood on my family’s rice farm.

“It definitely has a different smell,” said Richard. “But I’ve been around it all my life and don’t even notice it anymore.”

The reason I chose to interview Richard is because I found his situation very interesting. He had played it safe in his career decisions by staying with the same company and industry for thirty-two years. When that security was gone, he had to create his own opportunity based on his experience. Although difficult at the time, the circumstance turned out to be more beneficial for the rice veteran.

The most important lesson learned on this interview was that as the world progresses, careers become less secure. The landscape and environment we know can easily change overnight. It’s important to remember though, that through honesty, determination and knowledge, the smell of rice and success will always be the same.

For more information on the services offered by Richard Independent Brokers call 337-652-7183.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Strength to Sell Ties

In order to achieve a goal, we must take steps forward to reach it. Sometimes we see it right in front of us, but other times have to believe and trust that it is really there. Like a finish line off in the distance, we find the strength to continue in its known direction.

But during the race towards accomplishment, factors like desire can change a course or the goal itself. So where do we find the confidence and direction to take several steps back in order to move forward towards something new? Where do we find the strength?

When I graduated from college, my first full-time job was in retail management in Atlanta. It didn’t take me long to realize that it wasn’t a good fit for me. There were some aspects I enjoyed like working with the public and discounts on the store’s merchandise, but others that grew tiresome, like running around nonstop during the Christmas season.

After a few years, I decided it was time to move forward, and so I went to graduate school to get my Masters in Business. I was very career driven at the time and wanted to be the next Donald Trump, only with a better haircut and less of a sour look on my face.

My first job out of graduate school was as a marketing manager for a uniform company in Chicago. I analyzed sales numbers, worked with designers on new products and created layouts for catalogs. My retail experience had definitely helped me in this new position, but I preferred my desk job.

Then one day I decided that what I really wanted to do was move to New York City and study writing. I couldn’t afford to go to school full time, and planned on continuing to work in a corporate environment while I went to classes at night.

The problem with that plan was that I hadn’t foreseen the competitive or volatile nature of New York’s job market. After a year of temporary positions as a caterer and administrative assistant, and watching my life savings dwindle down to nothing, I had to make a decision. My choices were to move and give up on the dream, or take any full-time job I could find to pay the rent.

I found myself selling ties at Ralph Lauren in the lowest part of the store known as, “the pit.” It was a humbling experience for me to move from a corporate desk job back to retail sales. My masters in business I’d worked so hard to attain meant nothing to customers, who were only interested in how fast I could ring up and gift wrap their purchases.

I constantly worried what my friends from graduate school would think of me. Did they see me as a failure for falling down a level on the career ladder? Would they understand that I was taking a step backwards to somewhere I’d been before because I wanted to move forward in another direction?

I shouldn’t have cared what other people thought. But at the time, I didn’t have the strength. My fears had gotten the best of me, and every day as I walked down the stairs into the tie pit, I counted the seconds until I could walk back up.

But those long, hard days eventually paid off. For one, selling ties in New York City was a lot more profitable than I’d expected. To this day, it is the largest annual salary I have ever drawn at any job, even my corporate one.

Another advantage was the hours. When I left the store at the end of the day, I left behind all of the worked involved with it. I wasn’t expected to stay until my boss departed, or asked to put in a fifty or sixty hour workweek. This made my evenings free to take writing classes, which is why I’d moved to New York City in the first place.

To be clear, I by no means felt that selling ties was beneath me. My inner conflict stemmed from thinking that I had gone back to somewhere I’d been before instead of moving forward. But through time, I realized that I was merely changing courses to head in the direction of new goals.

A career path for some might be very cut and dry. But for others, it is a long, bumpy ride with many detours. By using the experiences of our past, we will be better equipped to handle the future. By focusing on our new goals and direction, we will find strength.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

While The Iron is Hot

Trees are as much of a part of Vermilion Parish’s landscape as canals, pastures and crawfish ponds. Live Oaks shade us, Crepe Myrtles provide colorful scenery, and Cypress and Pine build furniture and homes.

But like any living being, trees need to be cared for and maintained. This week, I visited Jimmie Meaux Jr. of Jim’s Tree Service to find out what it’s like to be an arborist.

“When I look at a tree, I can tell if it’s diseased or has any root and insect issues,” says Meaux. “I love climbing old majestic Live Oaks and having an input on their health and shape.”

Jim’s Tree Service opened in 1995. Their services include crown reductions, canopy thinning, general pruning, complete removals, stump grinding, fertilization and administering insecticides.

“I saw the potential in this market one day when I cut down trees for my father-in-law,” says Meaux. “I started out slow and grew over the years.”

Meaux is a member of the International Society of Arborists and has a Bachelors of Science in Agronomy. He attends several informational seminars and conferences a year ranging from botany to safety issues to the latest technology in climbing and tree cutting.

“To be successful, it’s important that I know as much as possible about the industry,” says Meaux. “Safety is my main priority. In fact, I tell anyone working with me that I’ll give them ten dollars if they ever catch me cutting without a helmet. I’ve never had to pay it yet.”

According to Meaux, the biggest mistake that homeowners make when cutting their own trees is using a ladder. This is a safety hazard because a branch can easily swing down and knock the ladder out from beneath them.

I had never met Meaux before I visited him at one of his jobs. My first glimpse of the arborist was of him in a white bucket connected to a long pole that sprang out from the back of a truck about the size of a fire engine. He was cutting the branch off of a Live Oak with a chainsaw with the precision of a surgeon or sculpturer.

Meaux was wearing a hard hat as well as many harnesses and straps that crisscrossed around his legs and torso. When he saw me, he drove the bucket down from the air onto the back of the truck.

“It’s your turn to get in here,” Meaux said and smiled. “I’ll control it from the ground. All you have to do is enjoy the ride.”

I had never been up in a bucket truck and never really had the desire. But before I could object, Meaux had me strapped in and was sending me up in the air above telephone poles and pine trees. My heart sank and my knees buckled beneath me as I got higher and higher and could eventually see all of Abbeville, including several graveyards.

When Meaux decided that I’d had enough, he brought me back down. My legs were still shaking as I stepped onto the safe ground and grabbed my tablet to start the interview. But the arborist shook his head.

“We’re not done yet,” Meaux said.

He grabbed some rope and other harnesses, and led me over to a Live Oak. Then he illustrated the latest technology in climbing equipment and how to use it effectively and efficiently.

“It’s important to find the right branch when you throw a rope up into a tree,” said Meaux. “You want to make sure that it’s sturdy, at a good angle and not rotten. This will make it easier and safer to climb, and will also avoid harming the tree.”

Minutes later, I was in a harness and walking up the trunk of the Live Oak. Meaux comforted me by saying that I was the right body type for climbing. But he didn’t mentioned how my body would respond if I fell and slammed against the ground.

Except for a few heart palpitations, and blistered hands, I made it out of the tree without a scratch. I contribute my well being to Meaux’s expert knowledge of climbing and safety, and his instinct not to trust me with a chainsaw.

During my visit, the owner of the Live Oak walked up to Meaux and me. He said that he couldn’t believe how fast the job had been completed because he’d only called Jim’s Tree Service the night before.

“My grandpa was a cattleman, and he had a saying that I like to live by,” said Meaux. “You got to brand that cow when the iron is hot.”

I had the good fortune of meeting Meaux’s wife, Andrea. She is a member of the Jim’s Tree Service team, and also has her own business selling firewood.

I spent several hours with the couple later that evening at their home and business in Kaplan. Mr. Meaux showed me several pictures of some of the five thousand plus jobs he has completed, and shared his philosophy on work ethic and perseverance.

“You can be as smart as a whip and strong as an ox,” he said. “But if you don’t stick it out, it won’t work.”

The interview was very insightful not only on the in and outs of being an arborist, but also on the goals and challenges of careers and daily life. Meaux sent me high up in the air to face my fears and give me a glimpse of the surrounding environment. Then he brought me back down to use my newfound knowledge, and to brand that cow while the iron was still hot.

For more information on the services provided by Jim’s Tree Service call 337-207-6106. For Andrea’s Firewood, call 337-643-6106.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Strength to Realize a Dream

We’ve all had at least one dream or desire at some point in our life. Maybe it was to get a new video game, become famous, win the lottery or stay on a bull for longer than eight seconds.

Dreams are supposed to make us happy and give us goals to achieve. But as wonderful as they are, it isn’t always easy to pursue them. Sometimes their grandeur makes them seem unreachable, and they dry up like an un-watered garden during a summer drought.

So how do we remember and realize what it is that we truly want out of life? Where do we get the strength?

Several years ago when I lived in Chicago, I did a lot of soul searching to determine what in the world it was that Jacques Couvillon was supposed to be doing. I had just completed my Masters in business, and had a job in marketing. Two goals I’d worked for many years to achieve, but upon reaching didn’t satisfy me.

So I took a few night classes to spice up my week of conservative boredom. One of these was an acting class that I hoped would make me a better public speaker or get me a gig playing opposite of Susan Lucci on the soap opera, All My Children.

One night in the class, the teacher made us sit on the floor in a circle in the middle of the room. She gave each of the students an ink pen and a small sheet of colored construction paper, and asked us to write down five things that we wanted out of life.

This was harder than it sounds because although I had often thought about things that I wanted, I had never dared to write them down. They were dreams that had called out to me, but also seemed so far fetched that they both frightened and saddened me.

But I was in the class to discover myself, so I dug deep down into my sub-conscious and pulled out past dreams. Some of them were no longer desirable, like a new video game or staying on a bull for eight seconds. Others were still bright and shiny, like becoming a writer and living in New York City.

When we were finished with our list, the teacher told us to tear up the little colored sheets of paper, and throw them into a pile in the middle of the room. She then put her hand in the dreams, and stirred them around until they mixed together like a bag of confetti.

“I want each of you to grab some paper,” she said. “You now have other people’s dreams in your hand. What are you going to do with them?”

I couldn’t understand what she was asking. All that was in my hand were little pieces of paper with torn up words and sentences like, “rich,” “movie deal,” and “hot wife”.

For a week, the pieces of paper sat on my desk, next to a family picture, a jar filled with change and an old brown bottle that had once held root beer. I didn’t know what to do with the dreams because I didn’t understand how I could really control anyone else’s destiny if I couldn’t control my own.

The next week in acting class, one of the students brought in a small piece of wood about the size of a shoebox lid. She’d glued all of her pieces of paper on the front of it and called it her, “Dream Plaque.”

“I’m going to hang it on my living room wall so I’ll always be able to see it,” she said. “It’s going to help me remember to always have dreams.”

Although the dream plaque didn’t really match my sofa or any of the furniture in my apartment, I had a lot of respect for the woman. Her action inspired me to not only let myself have dreams, but to also prevent them from disappearing from sight.

When I got home that evening, I looked for a secure place for my handful of dreams. I wasn’t sure what to do with them yet, but wanted to protect them. They were not only a part of me, but also of the other students.

The old brown root beer bottle on my desk seemed to be the best place for the pieces of paper until I could figure out how to help other people achieve their dreams. That day came months later when I started actively pursuing my own.

I’d decided to start writing, and began spending a lot of time at my desk. But getting the words from my head down onto a page was a painful process. I often found my mind and hands wandering to any and everything besides the story I was trying to tell.

So I’d pick up the bottle and shake the dreams around hoping that inspiration would magically appear and give me the strength to write hundreds, even thousands of beautiful stories. But the most that ever happened was that one night the light bulb on my desk lamp burnt out.

For a moment I sat there, irritated, tired and in the dark. It seemed to be a sign that writing wasn’t a dream to be pursued, and that I would never be able to help some poor guy find his rich, hot wife.

A few minutes later, I searched for a replacement bulb for my desk lamp, but found nothing but a long, thin red candle. I used the root beer bottle of dreams as a holder and then lit the wick. Wax dripped down slowly until it reached my desk, and inspiration began to light the room.

It has been over ten years since that night, but I still have the bottle of dreams, and still burn candles in it whenever I write. There are layers of multi-colored wax on the glass, but I can still see the little pieces of paper inside.

Although I don’t practice magic or witchcraft, burning the candle has made me a believer of positive thinking. It took several years, but each of the dreams I wrote down on that little piece of paper, came true. This happened because I actively pursued them, but most importantly, because I remembered and realized what it was that I wanted.

Despite our age, there are things we all desire in life. By taking the time to write them down and make them visible, we will find direction towards fulfillment. By remembering and realizing our dreams, we will find strength.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Trash to Treasure

In a house in Cow Island, a married couple routinely stares at old and unusual objects they purchased at a flea market or found on the side of the road. The wife will pick something up like a porcelain doorknob or hammerhead and wonder how it can once again be functional. She’ll look through magazines for inspiration, sketch designs on paper or just close her eyes and think. When an idea comes to her, she explains it to her husband and the two of them bring it to life.

“We create trash to treasure items,” says Rita Faulk. “Most of them are made completely from recycled materials. We use a lot of knobs and wood from old doors.”

David and Rita Faulk’s company, My Favorite Things, produces original and functional artistic objects. Depending on available materials and the imagination of the husband and wife team, the product line changes on a daily basis. Sometimes a light fixture becomes a candleholder, chair backs are made into towel racks, and a rake is altered to display pictures and postcards.

“If I can’t make the item that I’m imagining in my head, then I ask David for help,” says Mrs. Faulk. “Sometimes what I visualize can’t be done, so we start over.”

Mrs. Faulk, who studied merchandising and decorative painting, has always had an interest in design. Mr. Faulk is a trained carpenter who studied architectural drafting and furniture making.

“I enjoy working with my hands and with wood,” says Mr. Faulk. “I love looking at something that I’ve made and knowing where it started.”

Both Mr. and Mrs. Faulk had careers in other industries for many years. Their interests in design grew however, and they began working on side projects together.

“We started making decorative trashcans,” says Mrs. Faulk. “After a while, we moved onto small pieces of furniture.”

According to Mrs. Faulk, the most challenging part of making recycled and functional art is finding the materials to create it. Her resources include the internet, flea markets and items she finds on the side of the road.

“I love the thrill of the hunt of finding rare objects,” says Mrs. Faulk. “The best part of bringing my design ideas to life is having someone else appreciate and enjoy them.”

The Faulks also own and operate the company, Cow Island Woodworks. They repair, design and manufacturer wood products like storm shutters, desks, cabinets, armoires, benches, beds, chest of drawers, nightstands, entertainment centers, gun cabinets, mantelpieces and dining room and end tables.

“Every job is different and has to be approached differently,” says Mr. Faulk. “The most challenging part is creating the best product possible, while staying in a budget.”

I first learned about the Faulks’ creations a few years ago when seeing a My Favorite Things booth at the Maurice Flea Market. I greatly appreciated their creative products, especially a hat rack made from old hammerheads, and a magazine rack made from bicycle baskets and a sawhorse (which I bought and still use).

When I recently interviewed the Faulks, they gave me a tour of their workshop as well as showed me a couple of projects they were currently working on. They even let me paint a piece of wood from an old door that would eventually become a coat rack.

What I found most interesting about the Faulks is that before joining forces, they both had separate and successful jobs in other fields. But together, their skills and interests in design and manufacturing enabled them to pursue other opportunities. Like the products this couple create from ideas, determination and recycled materials, they brought to life a truly original and functional career.

The Faulks’ creations are available at the Maurice Flea Market and T-Boy’s Flea Market in Abbeville. For more information on the services offered by Cow Island Woodworks, call 337-652-8334.