How’s Bayou? When Madewood met Mayberry
Once Upon a Time, our telephone number was simply 7151. The operator would dial it for you if your fingers were too tired to spin the dial more than once.
That was way back in 1965, when we’d barely commenced our various restoration projects, when wonderful friends flocked up to wallow in the serial madness that was Madewood in the days of Andy Griffith and the simpler life of Mayberry.
We didn’t have Aunt Bee; but Sarah Saucier, one of Mother’s neighbors in New Orleans, often rode up with her for the weekend.
Once, Sarah picked up the receiver to call her daughter, Lorraine. “Yes, I want to speak to my daughter LO’rraine in New Orleans,” Sarah began, slowly speaking the four digits after emphasizing the "Hunter" preface of phones in her New Orleans neighborhood. “This is Sarah Saucier, and I’m at Madewood.”
Sarah was a delightful mixture of innocence and experience. Once, when her husband, LO’ris, was driving her to a reunion at Converse College, her alma mater in South Carolina, she talked and talked until he slammed on the brakes.
“Say another word, and I’m turning this car right around and taking you back home,” the co-star of Driving Miss Sarah exclaimed.
“If you do, I’ll make you sorry,” his scowling passenger shot back without flinching.
“Of course, I had no idea what I’d do; but it scared him, and he kept right on driving.”
Then there was this little problem with hearing. Once, when irascible watercolor artist Edgar Whitney was teaching at Madewood, he chided one woman’s efforts with a cynical reference to his most despised poet, the rhyming journalist of the Detroit Free Press:
“I’d rather fail my Wassermann Test / Than read a poem by Edgar Guest,” Whitney boomed.
“Don’t you just love Edgar Guest?” Sarah whispered in my ear, just loud enough that Whitney, usually never at a loss for words, could only shrug and return his brush to paper.
Here at Madewood, we were actually better than Mayberry. We not only had the sheriff; we also had the deputy. Unlike the song, our deputy only got shot at; but the end eventually came for him. I was sad to read last week in The Assumption Pioneer -- “The State’s Oldest Existing Weekly in Continuous Publication,” which “Covers Assumption Like the Summer Showers” -- that Euclid “Kip” Gros had gone to meet his Maker.
Up There, I’m sure he’s run into friends and relatives with names like Honore’, Fortune’, Theophile, Clotilde, Theodule (pronounced on the bayou like a “to do” list), Aristide and Hypolite -- all French Neo-classical names handed down from generation to generation along the bayou.
Kip and his cousin, Gaston Gros, the sheriff, were regulars on the screened porch at Madewood. I remember the first day they drove up in their matching police cars and sauntered over to introduce themselves.
We weren’t sure what we’d done to deserve the visit, but the duo was just checking things out, getting to know us. It wasn’t long before the cousins showed up with a small wooden kitchen clock that they’d found in an abandoned shed. Just thought we might like it for Madewood.
Mother did, and Kip and Gaston showed up on several successive weekends, offering tips on how to use fine steel wool to remove the goopy varnish and bring out the beauty of the wood. The clock still holds a place of honor over the stove in Madewood’s Old Kitchen.
The pair were gentlemen -- and ladies’ men, instinctively knowing how to charm any woman in sight with their galant attitude and perfectly-pressed uniforms. Once, when I had a group of college friends -- male and female -- up to Madewood the weekend before Mardi Gras, Gaston showed up with a handful of honorary deputy badges to distribute to the gentler sex, who squealed with delight as he pinned the badges on their Ann Taylor outfits.
But the best moment came after the last group of visitors at our first Madewood Spring Fiesta tour in April 1965 had left. It was just family and friends, and we were all marveling at how we and our friends had transformed the ballroom into a grand space for dancing in less than a year.
Mother was wearing a secondhand bridal gown that she’d bought at the last minute and whipped into something that only vaguely resembled an antebellum gown. The long rays of the evening sun flickered in through the as-yet-uncurtained windows, filling it with a soft light.
Before she knew it, Gaston had swept her up; and the two twirled happily down the length of the ballroom, both laughing and celebrating that Madewood had pulled it off.
One of New Orleans TV personalities Bob and Jan Carr’s perfectly-attired young sons smiled and laughed on the sidelines, just as Andy’s boy Opie would have done.
How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.