Launch of The Lighkeeper's Daughters

Launch of The Lighkeeper's Daughters
by Jean Pendziwol

Elvis the Mountie Dog Steals the Show at the Book Signing

Elvis the Mountie Dog Steals the Show at the Book Signing
Elvis, Joan M. Baril, customer poet Rob Lem

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Swamp Tour by Pat Laster

I once went on a swamp tour in Louisiana with a group of bird watchers and I thought they were eccentric! But they were nothing like Pat Laster's boat load of southern characters in this amusing story. 
 Pat Laster takes us on a Swamp Tour!
  On a pleasant day in September, Major Doke Amos of Major Doke’s Swamp Tours Inc. hosed the gray hull of his pontoon boat. Then he wiped down the wooden seats where his passengers would sit. He knew those benches weren’t as comfortable as pads, but they were cheaper. He built them himself. With any luck, the passengers’d be off their duffs most of the time gawking at eagles, herons––maybe even an ibis––or taking pictures of dead cypress skeletons, or blooms of the ubiquitous water hyacinths.

Doke Amos, a Cajun born in a floating cabin at the bayou’s edge, had been around. His grandfather––when he was younger––could pick off an alligator quicker than any coon-ass Cajun in the parish. Doke learned the skill well. His rifle stood at the ready by the helm. Each

September during alligator season, he led daily trips up to the Haxawaxie River and back down the bayou Greeno.

At nine o’clock sharp, Major Doke helped one of the four passengers––the only woman––down the steps of the boat. He smiled broadly at the redheaded beauty. He would check her ring finger later, as if that mattered. “Sorry for the hard benches,” he said.




 Rhoda Cully, a belle from a Nebraska soybean family, had moved to south Louisiana with her Cajun husband after a whirlwind courtship. She found out afterwards that he couldn’t keep his hands off the Gullah girls, no matter how beautiful his Midwest missy. She ditched him, and her daddy wired her money to buy a house.

Always interested in food, she learned the native cuisine and studied under Chef Grella who hired her. When he died, she mortgaged her home, bought Grella’s Grill and soon ran a successful business.

Her goal for this trip was a harvest of crawfish. She had paid a dear price: her cost plus that of Timothy Creed, a storied local yokel who knew how to bring in the mudbugs.

Timothy boarded next. “My boots and gear,” he told Doke, who turned questioning eyes at the young man’s tow sack.

Timothy Creed had been a beverage-company driver who wore nothing but brown uniforms. He had come from the school yard of hard knocks. Short on book-learning, he knew every inch of the area around the bayou.  He was known to his compatriots as “Duke of the Bush and Reed.” He had no fear of the native wildlife. He knew the plants and their uses and never had even a remotely close call involving a snake or alligator.

His buddies told him about the ad for a “mudbug harvester” and he applied. He knew how to collect crawfish all right, so Rhoda of the renamed Rhoda’s Restaurant hired him for this trip. His waders and jury-rigged tools lay in the sack that he pushed under the seat.

Henry Elmas was next to come aboard. Major Doke did a double take when he saw the man dressed in a business suit. “Are you sure . . . ?” he asked.

The man raised his palm as if he knew the question. “It’s okay. I’ve got more suits where this came from and I own the cleaners.”

Henry was considered king when it came to dress and stamp collecting. He had inherited a school––abandoned since integration––from a distant relative. He moved to southern Louisiana while he considered whether to keep the campus, or to sell it.

One thing he didn’t have that he needed was alligator shoes.  On this trip, he wanted to see an animal that might provide such footwear as would go well with his Brooks Brothers suits.

Plucking his snowy white handkerchief from his jacket pocket, Henry Elmas brushed off a place on the bench opposite Rhoda and Timothy. He sat, caught their eyes and nodded.

The last passenger, Bryan Creston, shuffled aboard wearing a necklace of binoculars. He looked to be about forty; a photographer’s bag dangled from his right shoulder. When Doke’s eyebrows questioned him, Bryan said, “I left the tripod behind.”

“Good!” the guide replied, his smile lost on the man who reeked as he passed into the aluminum boat. Creston sat away from Elmas but on the same bench. The photographer knew that  he smelled; his mother reminded him several times to shower. But he didn’t have time. Showering took precious minutes away from painting or taking pictures.

Bryan Creston painted scenes of gates––wire gates, wooden gates, marble gates. Myopic, he refused to buy glasses. He said his binoculars allowed him to see well enough to aim his camera. He painted on canvas his photos of gates.

With all passengers aboard, Doke Amos gunned the motor and sped up the bayou. The wind was cold this early, even in September. Rhoda quickly tied a scarf around her hair. Bryan pulled on a knit cap that came down to his eyes. Timothy’s dirty ball cap with a picture of a crawfish on it flew off and landed in the water. The Suit’s neatly coiffed dark hair disappeared in the wind, leaving a bald head on top and a frizzy rope of gray around the edges. He hadn’t thought to wear or bring a hat.

Doke saw his discomfort, reached under the console and held out a white captain’s hat with a black bill. Henry accepted it with obvious relief and turned the bill to the back so it wouldn’t catch the wind like his expensive rug.

The flatboat that looked like a party barge moved swiftly up the bayou with its assorted passengers. Major Doke maneuvered the boat to the edge of the swamp where layers of mud were visible, each one deposited after a heavy rain. Timothy donned his boots, took his tools and jumped out onto a sandbar.

“I’ll be back in thirty minutes,” Doke Amos shouted.

Guiding the boat back into the center of the bayou, Doke skimmed over the green water hyacinths. Suddenly, he idled the motor, walked over to one side, reached down and plucked a pink blossom. “Smell this,” he said, and passed the tall, narrow flower among the three passengers.

 “Nothing,” Rhoda said.

“Nothing,” The Suit echoed.

Bryan shrugged.

Major Doke reached over again and dragged the bloom through the water. “Now smell it.” And they went through the same ritual.

“Smells like watermelon!” Rhoda exclaimed.

“What . . . ? How . . . ? Henry asked.

This time, Bryan smiled.

 “Something about the chemistry between the flower and the water. Amazing, isn’t it?” Doke handed the blossom to Rhoda with a bow. She shook the water off and laid it across the top of her bag.

Farther up the bayou, the major spotted a medium-sized alligator.

He pointed it out to the others. The Suit left his seat to stand by him. “This might be my shoes!” he said. “Shoot it.”

“You crazy? How would we get it aboard if I did kill it? Don’t think this crew”––he surveyed the three folks with a sweep of his arm––“is in any shape to wrangle an alligator onto this boat.”

Just then, the rich northerner seized Doke’s rifle, positioned himself beside the pilot deck with one foot on the railing. He raised the rifle to his shoulder.   
     
“No! No! Stop it!” Doke grabbed the man from the side, but Henry was determined.  Rhoda, quick as a flash, slipped up behind and karate chopped him just below the skull. He crumpled and Doke retrieved the rifle.

“One of my hobbies,” she explained to the surprised passengers. “He’ll be okay,” she said. “Except for a headache, he won’t remember anything.” Doke was amazed. He would never have thought of that.
 “I read a Hemingway story once where someone did that to a man who menaced a visitor, only he used a blackjack. I’d advise you, sir,” she looked at Doke, “to put that rifle out of sight from now on.” Rhoda flashed a coy smile as they laid Mr. Brooks Brothers on a bench.

Bryan was shooting pictures all the while, gates or no gates.

“And while we’re at it, Major,” Rhoda said, “what do you think about us baptizing Mr. Photographer here? My nose tells me he needs a dunking. And it won’t take much time away from his ‘work’. Maybe he’ll smell like that flower afterwards!” She grinned at Doke.

Before Bryan knew what had happened, Rhoda had removed his binocs, and placed his camera on a bench. He wailed, “But alligators!” he wailed.

“Alligators run and hide during September,” Doke answered and laughed. “Can you swim?”

“No!”

“Then we’ll hold your feet and dunk you. Anything in your pockets that might fall out?”

The smelly man knew he was caught. He emptied his pockets and climbed the railing. “Don’t let go, for God’s sake!” he said, and held his nose as the two laughed and pushed him under then quickly hauled him up again. His slightness no problem, but his wet baggy clothes added a little bulk.

He sputtered and shook his head like a dog, wiping the water out of his eyes with dirt-encrusted knuckles.

“Next time you decide to join a group of folks,” Rhoda said, “for goodness sake, shower. Have a little respect for your neighbors.”

Doke picked up a beach towel and tossed it to the man. “Let’s go get our mudbugs,” he said, and turning the boat around in a wide arc, revved the motor. Rhoda and Bryan grabbed the railing and Henry rolled off the seat. He woke up.

“Wha . . . ?” He tried to speak as he rubbed his neck. When the boat was running smoothly again, Rhoda reached out to help him to the bench.

“You had a little fall, that’s all,” she lied. “Does your head hurt?” She patted his bald pate; his hat had rolled off when he fell.

“How do you know where to go back to?” Bryan asked Doke.
  
“The trees guide me,” he answered. And soon, he slowed the boat and nosed in to the bank where Timothy waved from the sand bar. His sack bulged and he grinned broadly.
           
Doke opened the gate, reached out with a long gaff out to a sapling and pulled the boat as close as he could. Timothy pitched his sack into the boat and climbed in after it.
 
 “Good eating next week, Miss Rhoda,” he said, smiling at his success and patting his bag. She kissed his muddy cheek. “Would you like a permanent job at my restaurant?” she asked.

The tp back was quiet. Doke pointed out an eagle that seemed to nod at them as they passed. Bryan Creston did get a photo of the gate of the boat, but he saw no other gates. He realized his mother was right and he determined to take better care of his hygiene.

Henry Elmas would have to wait on alligator shoes. He couldn’t remember what happened after he spotted the reptile swimming in the bayou. But he would need to order another hairpiece––one with better adhesive.

Rhoda got her crawfish and found someone who could keep her supplied with the delicacy. She kissed Doke’s cheek and slipped something into his shirt pocket as she exited the boat.

After all his passengers had departed, Major Doke Amos––feeling the thickness of the bills in his pocket––smiled at yet another experience with the  weirdness of the non-Cajun species. From now on, he would hide his rifle from the passengers.

Suddenly, he remembered something and reached into his shirt pocket. He pulled out a bright red business card with silver letters. Rhoda’s Restaurant, it said, and included a street address and a phone number. An arrow pointed to the back. He read the hand-written note.

It said, “Call me sometime.”

 End
Check out Pat Laster's blog, Pitty Patter at  pittypatter-pittypatter.blogspot.com; her poetry blog, pittypatter at  pittypatter.blogspot.com

 

 

 

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