101418 human condition (toned)

I was born on a windy March 4 in 1933 in Mamou. Like most people there, my parents, Marie Devillier and Marcel Fontenot, spoke only Cajun French.

When I started school in 1939, French was my only language, and I didn’t understand what my teacher, Mrs. Sable, wrote on the blackboard. In those days, speaking French in school was very much discouraged. When I didn’t understand what Mrs. Sable was saying, she would get very angry and pull my hair. Her face would turn very red, and she would shake her finger in my face and say, “I can’t do anything with that little thing.” 

Mrs. Sable kept a thick wooden paddle about 5 feet long, with holes at one end, in her desk drawer. If we misbehaved, she would call us to her desk, make us hold out our hands, palms up, and she would hit them several times until they turned red.

My mom was a hard-working woman. My dad, a bootlegger, had walked out on us leaving mom to care for the four youngest of their eight children. The older ones had already left home to work. 

I grew up with no running water. We had a well and a pump. We bathed in a No. 2 tub and used an outdoor toilet. We had no car and walked everywhere.

While I was in grade school, we had no electricity; we did our homework by a kerosene lamp. We had an old, black Victrola, wound by hand, and a stack of Blue Bird records. Some were by Jimmie Davis, who was famous for his song "You Are My Sunshine" and who later became governor. 

When I finally made it to the eighth grade, I quit school. I knew there was more out there than Mamou, Eunice and Ville Platte, and I was going to see it. I always dreamed of traveling.

One night, I rode a school bus to the Avalon Club in Basile, where Lash-La-Rue was putting on an act with his black whip. I saw this tall, good-looking sergeant, Bruce H. Rivers, walk in. The dance was almost over so I walked over to talk to him, but he would not ask me to dance. Finally I said, “Don’t you dance sergeant?” “No,” he replied, “but I sure would like to take you home." I replied, “I bet you would. I came here on a school bus and I am going home on a school bus.” Bruce asked, “Well, can I walk you to the bus?” “Sure,” I said, “it is parked right out there in front.” Bruce walked me to the bus, kissed me, removed his dog tags, put them around my neck and said, ”One day, I will come back and marry you.”

Bruce was true to his word. After a tour in Korea, he came home, and we got married in 1952. I followed Bruce all over the States and made a trip to Germany with three small children. In all, we had four boys and one daughter. We lost a son in 2014 in a motorcycle accident.

When Bruce retired and our children were grown, I went back to school and earned my GED, then attended college for one year. Bruce passed away in 2016. We were married almost 64 four years.

I didn't do too bad, Mrs. Sable, and I forgive you. We all make mistakes.

— Rivers lives in DeQuincy


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