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DandyDon.com’s 2013 Thanksgiving Message

On this special day of gratitude, I wish all of you in the great state of Louisiana, in this great country and in this wonderful world a very Happy Thanksgiving.


Those of you who have followed this site for a while know that this was a special time of year for my late father, Don, and it is for me, too. Each year at this time, Dad would publish a message of thanks for the many blessings in his life and reminisce about growing up in the red-dirt hills of North Louisiana. That tradition of literal thanksgiving means the world to me, and today I'd like to continue it by sharing with you a few things that I'm thankful for, as well as a bit from my past. Then, of course, I'll follow with my Dad's traditional stories that so many of you have grown to love.

The thing I'm most thankful for is family. The Good Lord blessed me with two wonderful parents, and while neither of them is physically with me anymore, the values they instilled in me, and the love they gave to me, will always remain. I've also been blessed to have a wonderful wife, Heather, and three beautiful daughters, Valerie (10), Amelia (9), and Bethany (6). Words can't even begin to express how much they mean to me and how lost I'd be without them.

Of course, I'm also extremely thankful for this website, DandyDon.com, and the way it unexpectedly evolved from a simple gift I gave to Dad nearly 17 years ago into what it is today. For those of you who don't know how this site came about, here's a little history.

Back in 1996, I presented Dad with a website I had designed for him as a birthday gift, along with a very basic used computer for him to type his reports. Dad didn't really know what to make of it as he had never even used a typewriter, much less a computer. And he didn't know what to make of the name "Dandy Don" either. I had chosen that name, not because of anything to do with the legendary Dandy Don Meredith, but because Dad had contributed information for a couple of articles that were published in his brother's weekly newspaper (I believe it was called the Red River Journal) under the name Dandy Don Long, and I thought it was pretty catchy. Dad also questioned showing his photo in the header, but I convinced him it would help to give the site a personal touch. It wasn't really hard to convince him because he didn't think very many people would ever see it anyway.

Dad went ahead and painstakingly typed out a message on that very first day, and I taught him how to email it to me for posting. At that time, we didn't have the domain name DandyDon.com and I simply posted his reports to a server I was managing for the advertising agency that employed me. Dad enjoyed seeing his Tiger News out there on the internet, as did the few friends and family members who had internet access back in 1996, and he committed himself to publishing a report every day.

What you have to understand about my Dad is that once he committed to something he stuck to it. For example, some 30 years earlier my Dad was an avid smoker who would sometimes go through a half a pack of cigarettes, a cigar or two, and a few chews of tobacco during each LSU game he would nervously listen to on the radio. Once while driving back home from a trip to Winnfield, Dad rolled down the window and started to light a cigarette. My oldest sister, Karen, who was in fourth grade and had just learned about the dangers of smoking, asked him about it and pleaded with him to stop. Dad pulled the car over at the Turkey Creek bridge, tossed out all of his cigarettes, and told her he would quit. And he did. Cold turkey. That's just the kind of man he was.

For roughly 15 years after posting that first Dandy Don report, Dad continued to send me a report to publish each and every day. The only exception was once when we went on a two-day fishing trip without internet access. To make sure he wouldn't miss a day, Dad wrote two brief reports in advance and gave them to his grandson Nathan (who is now a priest in Lake Charles) to post for us while we were away. The DandyDon.com streak of daily reports still remains unbroken today, despite weddings, births, vacations, illnesses and funerals.

When Dad's battle with colon cancer weakened him to the point where he could no longer invest the time required for his daily writings, I took over the task. Although it hasn't been easy to do on a daily basis, it really means a lot to me to carry on Dad's legacy, and I thank you for allowing me to do so through your continued readership and support.

Over the past several years, many of you have enjoyed reading Dad's stories of the simple pleasures he enjoyed while growing up in the late 30's and 40's. Before Dad's passing, he gave me a lot of tips and advice about carrying on this site, and one thing he encouraged me to do is share a few of my own stories of growing up. When I first sat down to do that, I thought to myself that things hadn't changed enough in the last 43 years for my stories to be of interest to anyone. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized just how much has changed since I was a kid. Maybe some of you who are about my age, or older, will appreciate the following brief recollections.

Back when I was a kid in the 70's, there were no cell phones or computers, and no iTunes or Amazon. Heck, we still had a black & white TV and an eight-track tape deck. The closest thing we had to online shopping was the annual Sears catalog that would arrive by mail around this time of year to great anticipation. Man, I used to love to flip through those pages and earmark things to request for Christmas. I also loved those old Sears Toughskins pants. Anyone else remember those? We used to always get a few new pairs before the start of the school year, and we would always visit Mr. Gleison to get a new pair of shoes. That says a lot about how different things were those days – we knew the shoe salesman by name, and he would fit us each year using a silver sliding scale to measure our right foot.

In those days, we used to visit my Grandma Ruby Long in Winnfield every Thanksgiving, but we would stop to visit my Mom's family in Ville Platte on the way. Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw Ardoin would greet us with a kiss, and then they would offer us coffee that Maw-Maw (or one of Mom's sisters if they had come over to visit) would pass around on an aluminum tray that hoisted the old aluminum drip coffee pot along with cream and sugar and a few silver spoons. As the adults would sit around talking, inevitably the language would drift from English to French and Dad would get the feeling they were talking about him. That's when he would get up and head outside with an old coffee can to dig some worms for the fishing trip we'd enjoy in Winnfield the following morning.

Back then, Interstate 49 didn't exist, so we would take Highway 167 from our house in Lafayette all the way up to Winnfield. I can still remember riding in the back of that old green station wagon, unbuckled and lying across the rear facing seats. Safety wasn't as much of a concern those days, obviously, but I don't remember us ever getting into an accident. Similarly, I remember riding in the back of Dad's old blue pickup truck to and from baseball practice, along with three or four friends who Dad also coached. That old Ford truck was so beat up that we could see the street passing below us through the rust holes in its bed, but we never feared for safety.

Unlike today when parents rarely let their kids out of sight except for when they're at school or at one of their many extra-curricular activities, back then we used to walk down to the park or ride our bikes over to a friend's house as soon as our homework was done, and then return just in time for supper. Seemed like we'd spend entire days playing by the old coulee, shooting hoops, or just hanging out in our makeshift clubhouse. And when we'd get home, we'd get cleaned up, sit at the table, and say a blessing before eating a wholesome home-cooked meal prepared by the best Cajun cook in the world: Mom.

Our meals those days would almost always include homegrown vegetables as side dishes, and the main dish would almost always include rice and gravy. If there wasn't rice and gravy, there was usually rice dressing. That reminds me of the old saying about knowing you're from South Louisiana if you start every evening by making a pot of rice, even before thinking of what's for supper.

As I was thinking about what I'll contribute to this year's Thanksgiving feast, which will be hosted at my sister Paula's home, I realized that the apple didn't fall very far from the tree and that some things never change. My family will bring rice dressing and corn maque choux made from vegetables I grew myself, and before eating we'll all gather around, join hands and thank God for the many blessings he has given us. That's what it's all about, isn't it?

Now that I've told you a little about myself and my past, let's move on to what many of you have been waiting for – Dad's stories of the good ol' days gone by that he shared each year. I hope you will find these stories worth sharing, remembering and repeating.

 

•••

 

The Legendary Thanksgiving Stories of “Dandy” Don Long
December 17, 1935 – April 28, 2012. May he rest in peace.

 

When I was a kid, my family was financially poor but we didn’t know it. We had each other, good health, plenty of great food to eat and an overflow of love from Mom and Dad. Life was hard back then and a one-dollar bill would buy a lot of things. A box of salt cost five cents, a pound of coffee was 19 cents, a gallon of gas was 19 cents but was not very important because we didn’t own a car. The only telephone in the neighborhood was a party line phone that the entire neighborhood shared, and sometimes you would have to wait hours to get a dial tone. There was no such thing as air conditioning and central heating. In the summer, we would sleep with the windows up and the front and back doors open to bring in fresh air. In the winter, we used a wood stove in the kitchen and a fireplace in the living room to heat the house.

My parents raised eight boys on their small 40-acre red dirt farm in Tannehill, Louisiana. The five oldest of the eight boys were born at home and only the three youngest at a hospital. Four of my brothers are still living. My brother Tom, who was 18 months older than me, was killed in an automobile accident when he was 31 years old. Tom was on his way to Natchitoches when his car collided with his best friend who was driving back from Natchitoches. The accident happened on top of a high hill when Tom’s friend’s car crossed over into Tom’s driving lane.

My Daddy was a farmer. He grew cotton, corn and watermelons as his main crops. The cotton he raised would only grow about two feet high and would only make one bail per acre (one and a half on an exceptional year) – not much compared to cotton grown in the Delta that would produce two bails per acre. Dad would usually plant 12-15 acres of cotton and we boys handpicked it. After the cotton was picked, it was hauled to a cotton gin in Winnfield and Dad would be paid a small amount per bail. He would usually plant eight to 10 acres of corn to feed the animals during the winter months, and would plant 10 to 12 acres of watermelons. Dad made pretty good money growing watermelons if we had them ready to harvest by the first of July. The market value of watermelons would drop by at least 50 percent after the fourth of July. I remember several years when there would be five or six trucks parked in front of our watermelon field to load melons. We would load them onto a wagon and drive it up to the back of the trucks for loading. That was a hard job.

Dad also grew a few acres of sugar cane on the backside of our 40 acres and had a grinder to make syrup from it. One of us would feed the grinder attached to a long pole pulled by a mule that would walk in circles to grind the cane. The juice from the sugar cane would flow into a long pan about 30 feet long, six inches deep and about three feet off the ground. Underneath the pan was pine and oak wood soaked in fuel. Dad would light the wood and cook the juice until it made thick syrup. We made enough syrup for the entire community and Dad would usually have 100-150 gallons of syrup to sale at 75 cents per gallon. I would always bring a couple of quarts of cane juice to school to give to my teachers, but it didn’t help any with my grades.

Dad also grew purple hull peas and plenty of butter beans. After all the crops were harvested in the late Fall, he would work in the woods peeling logs to make a little extra money for the holidays.

I would love to be able to go back and help Mom and Dad shell the purple hull peas or butter beans in the front yard and listen to Mom, Dad and the neighbors sing gospel music while shelling. I can almost still hear Dad hit the bass note on “There will be peace in the Valley” and “Rock of Ages.”

I would also like to be able to go back to early Spring with my Dad and go back behind the baseball field and dig earthworms for fishing and selling. Dad would sell the worms fifty cents a hundred. We would usually dig three to four hundred worms early each morning. By the first of May each year, we would have all the available space, which was about the size of a football field, completely dug up. Dad was very particular in leveling the ground so we would be able to dig worms each Spring.

Another simple pleasure of the past that I would love to relive is going into the backyard to help my Dad scale fish. My Dad’s policy was to clean the small fish first and the larger fish last. He said if you scaled the larger fish first you might want to throw away the smaller fish by the time you got to them.

And what I would give to be able to taste Mom’s cornbread and her homemade butter pound cake.

Of course, I would also love to be able to go back and spend some time with my seven brothers on the 40-acre red-dirt farm. We did not have television to watch or a car to ride to visit our friends, so we spent a lot of time playing marbles and hide and seek, and hunting and fishing. We didn’t have a lot to do, but we sure did have a lot of fun.

Thanksgiving was a big holiday for our family. We spent most Thanksgivings in Winnfield at my Grandma and Papa Smith’s house. My Aunt Clotile owned a car and would make three trips to Tannehill to get us all there. She would take Mom and two kids the first trip, four more of the children the second trip and Dad and the other two boys the third time around.

Mom was really a great mother and was very proud of her eight boys. She would always dress us as nicely as possible and cut all eight of us boys’ hair a day or two before we made the trip to Winnfield.

While reminiscing, I’d like to share a few more pieces of my past for those of you who are interested.

 

•••

 

A few years ago while I was in Tannehill, I drove by my old home place, which is now grown over with Pine trees. I parked my truck and walked through the woods that my family used to walk through to get to the dirt road that led to Zion Hill Baptist Church. The trail that we would walk 55-60 years ago was no longer there, but I did see some familiar blueberry bushes that reminded me of an Easter Sunday morning when I was nine or 10 years old. Mom had made us boys each a nice white suit to wear to church. I would always walk behind everyone else for some reason, and on that particular day I noticed some ripe blueberries on a bush along the way. I broke away from the group to walk over and pick a double handful and started eating the ripe, juicy berries. Of course, when I finished eating them I wiped my hands on my new white suit. A few minutes later, someone noticed that I was nowhere to be seen and Mom told Dad to go look for me. When he found me and saw the blueberry stains on my white coat, the words that came out of his mouth were, “Son, you’re in trouble with your Momma.” After Mom saw what happened, she cried and told Dad to take me home and dress me in blue jean overalls. I sure did feel funny sitting in the church in my overalls between all of my well-dressed brothers in their new white suits. Mom sang in the church choir, and that day while singing she looked over at me and smiled. I knew she had forgiven me.

 

•••

 

While in Tannehill, I walked through the woods that lead to Big Kiesche Creek, the place where my Dad was baptized when I was 10 years old. My Dad was not much of a church-going man until his late 30s. Back when I was growing up, when a person joined the Church he was baptized by the pastor in Big Kiesche Creek. The pastor would pinch the nose and dunk the head underwater three times for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. My Dad did not like his head being dunked underwater and the pastor had to settle on pouring water on the top of his head after just one dunk.

 

•••

 

Another memory I’ll never forget is of another event that took place when I was about 10 years old. My Dad loved to fish and money was tight, to say the least. One day, my Dad was able to come up with 75 cents by digging in drawers and other places and went to Winnfield to buy an artificial bait called a Water Scout. He showed the bait to us boys and put it on top of the dresser before going to bed. My brother Tom and I made plans to get up very early the following Saturday morning and run down to the river to try to catch a big bass that we had seen turnover a few days earlier. We did not have rod and reels to fish with back then, so we used a long cane pole with a line half as long as the pole and would flip the bait into the water and pull it to the bank. The first throw I made, the big bass hit the lure. As I was pulling him in, the line came untied and I lost the fish and Dad’s Water Scout. My brother Tom and I knew that we were in big trouble. As we were walking back home through the field we saw Dad walking our way as fast as he could. When Dad got to us he saw that there was no Water Scout on the end of the line. With tears in his eyes and quivering lips he asked if we boys had lost his new bait. We told Dad what happened and were depressed the entire weekend. Tom and I managed to come up with 75 cents and on Monday we skipped class to go to Matt Milam’s department store to buy another Water Scout for Dad. When we got home that afternoon and gave Dad the lure, he went back to the same spot on the river and threw the bait by the same log. He hooked a big bass, got it on the bank and saw that it was the same fish we had hooked. The Water Scout was still in its mouth and I was one happy 10-year old.

 

•••

 

Another memory that sticks with me is of Christmas Day when I was 10 or 11 years old. The winter had been bad. Dad wasn’t able to work in the woods cutting and peeling logs and didn’t have enough money to pay off the layaway at Milam’s Department Store. Consequently, we didn’t awake to any Christmas presents. Santa Claus had, however, left a note stating that his sled was overloaded and could not hold anymore toys and that he would make a special trip to our house later that week. Our stockings were filled with apples, oranges and chewing gum, but we were disappointed that Santa hadn’t delivered any presents. At about 10 a.m., we looked down the road and a car was turning onto the dirt road that led to our house. It was Mr. Milam with our Christmas presents that he said Santa had left at his store. Mr. Matt Milam had a big heart and felt sorry for us kids and knew that Dad would pay off the layaway as soon as possible. Three or four of us boys got Red Ryder BB guns. We used up all of our bb’s before the end of the day and I can still remember the sight of black birds we killed lying in the snow

 

•••

 

I also remember well July 4th when I was 11 years old. It was one of the driest summers in many years and the crops in the fields were dying from lack of rain. Dad was depending on a good cotton crop to pay back the bank the money he had borrowed in the Spring to buy seed, fertilizer and clothing for the family. All the people in the community had called for a dinner on the church picnic grounds to pray for rain. At about noon when everyone gathered around to pray for rain and to eat, there was not a cloud in the sky and the temperature was close to 100 degrees. At that time, Mom looked down the road and saw a little old Lady walking to the picnic grounds with an umbrella over her head. This little old Lady was the only person who brought an umbrella. At about 3 p.m. someone thought they heard thunder from the West, but no one could see any clouds because of the thick pine trees behind the church area. The thunder got louder and closer, and a few minutes later the bottom fell out and the little old lady with the umbrella ran out in front of the church dancing with joy

 

•••

 

All the events described above are in the past and will never return, but the memories will always be with me. I am proud of my memories growing up financially poor, but rich with lots of love. I hope that many of you have enjoyed my journey back in time.



 

May God continue to bless us all this Thanksgiving Day and grant us many memories to share.

 

Your comments are welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

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