BELLE ROSE — Freetown Lane looks like an average neighborhood street in a rural community where brick and wooden homes and house trailers coexist among acres of sugar cane fields and a bayou.
There is one exception. This community celebrates its solidarity with an annual homecoming feast reminiscent of a football tailgating party.
Hundreds of current and former residents of the mile-long street just off La. 308 in Belle Rose dressed Saturday in green shirts with yellow “Down by the Bayou” lettering to celebrate their thriving community.
The fifth annual Friends and Family Day at the Park included line dancing, spacewalks and games for children and dining on barbecue, catfish, crabs and soul food in a grassy open lot off the street, said Adrian Prean, president and founder of the community family day event.
“I felt like we needed to get everybody back together,” Prean said. “Many times, people in our community have left to go to different schools and colleges or take jobs in different states and everyone has scattered. I said, ‘Let’s just come together for one day and have a good time.’ ”
His neighbors agreed.
“I like seeing the people come together to have a celebration for the place where we grew up,” said Victoria Ray, 86, who is among the eldest residents on the street.
Thelma Prean, 65, has lived for about 40 years on Freetown Lane , a predominately black community today that was once part of a plantation’s territory, she said.
Thelma Prean took time to share some stories about her neighbors’ generosity through the years.
“They say it takes a whole village to raise a town. Well, with Freetown, this has always been,” Thelma Prean said.
If one neighbor grew a garden, everyone shared, she said.
“If a person is sick, that person is not going to be alone. Someone is going to be with them,” she said.
That’s why Digole Williams, 61, of Dallas, and his sister, Rett Williams, 62, of Palm Coast, Fla., never miss the Freetown Lane summer celebrations.
“When we grew up, it wasn’t about one family for themselves. If one family killed a hog, everybody came together and got a piece of the hog” to cook for dinner, Digole Williams recalled.
He pointed to a table at Saturday’s celebration where Diana Jones was serving batches of crispy bread made of batter fried in hot oil, a food he said he once enjoyed for breakfast each day as a young child.
“This is what we grew up on,” said Digole Williams, who took several bites of the once-familiar fried bread that his grandmother often cooked.
Though his grandmother couldn’t afford powdered sugar to sprinkle on the bread, he said the treats were delicious and it kept them filled up.
Juggie P. Jones, 67, is proud that the Freetown Lane celebrations have always brought out the best in people.
“It runs very smoothly and we have never had any negative confrontations,” she said. “It’s all about love and happiness and people greeting, hugging and kissing people they haven’t seen in over a year.”
For Racquel Desira, 23, a recent graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University, coming back home to Freetown Lane gives her a sense of safety and belonging.
“We can go to everyone’s house without a problem,” Desira said.
“It’s like family. You can go and talk to your neighbors and ask for anything.”
The chef for the event, Charles Jones, said he and others helped prepare about 200 pounds of fish and chicken and about 20 dozen blue crabs for the event.
“I love it and I enjoy it,” Jones said. “It’s a pleasure.”
Charles Jones and his wife, Diana, invited a few out-of-town guests who have never lived on the street.
One of them, Willie Jeffies, of Austin, Texas, said visiting Freetown was a treat. “It’s like another home here. They treat you with an open-door policy.”