Getting invited into a stranger's home brings a marriage surprise: An only in Louisiana story
Editor's Note: In 2010, Katie Oxford filed a series of riveting columns from the heart of the Gulf oil spill disaster. She recently returned to Louisiana. This is her ninth column in a new series. It picks up with her departing the Bayou DuLarge and finding an unexpected oasis.
Leaving the Bayou DuLarge ain’t easy. Raw beauty alone will keep you. Something else might too.
Light streams through here like the water. Depending on the time of day, it appears to be either sitting on things or striking them. Either way, the light makes the Bayou DuLarge go from beautiful to something beyond.
After visiting with local fisherman Rickey Verrett at the STAB-N-CABIN, I headed north on Bayou DuLarge Road. I drove past Tommy’s STOP-N-GO, a structure across the road painted in a brilliant color of blue and a cabin that I pictured myself living in.
I spent hours with strangers who felt like kinfolk. Only in Louisiana.
Finally, I reached a place where I’d stopped three years before. To a statue known as Our Lady of the Bayou that I was glad to see, still stood. I parked on the shoulder of the road and moseyed over.
I’d promised a writer friend that I would return to this place and call out her name loud and slow. Remember Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomates crying, “Towanda”? Like that.
The promise kept, I was now walking back to my car when I looked up and noticed a fellow sitting on the front porch of a house across the road. A little embarrassed, I laughed. “You must think I’m a nut!” I yelled.
Next thing I knew, he was coming down the steps, asking politely, why in the world I’d parked on the shoulder of the road and not in his driveway. “Here,” he said, tossing his hand out like feeding chickens, “Park anywhere you like.”
I did, under the shade of a tree on his property, and as so often happens, spent hours with strangers who felt like kinfolk. Only in Louisiana.
Buddy Wilbert Champagne and Claire Rose Champagne celebrated 56 years of marriage last February. Inside as well as outside their home, pockets of peace live everywhere. Statues, some draped in moss, are next to birdhouses that sit on the ground.
“It hurts our heart to see the dead cypress."
For a while we sat on their front porch and visited. Then, we moved to the back porch where Claire’s favorite flowers, sweet pea and orange blossom, were blooming and visited longer. The vista from here was both sad and stunning.
“It hurts our heart to see the dead cypress,” Claire said softly, like reciting poetry. “In Louisiana, the salt water has killed millions of them.”
But as she pointed out later, it’s also a living forest. Indeed. As we chatted there, my eyes continually returned to a Bald Eagle’s nest in close proximity. Claire explained that in addition to the adults, it was home to new babies and to two eagles she called teenagers, who interestingly, I learned, had returned to the nest.
During Hurricane Rita, five feet of water came into the Champagnes' house. After Hurricane Ike, the house had flooded six times.
No surprise to me, they’d chosen to re-build for the same reason they’d re-built before. To the people of Louisiana, place is not only at the heart of everything, it is the heart. At the Champagnes especially.
A plaque hanging on their front porch reads: "Love Blooms Here." Peace too, I thought.
Hours later, it was time to head back to Galliano. We walked down the steps of their front porch and Claire pointed to a plant below. Weeks before, she’d thought it was a weed and had almost pulled it up. But her daughter said, “Mama, leave it alone!”
Turns out, the plant was a favorite food for caterpillars. Caterpillars that later Claire explained became monarch butterflies. Still later, the plant bloomed. “It’s an example of how good God is to us,” she said.
I thanked the Champagnes for their hospitality and for opening their extraordinary place.
“You can come here and pray anytime,” Claire offered. Then, I turned onto Bayou DuLarge Road sitting in light the color of Ginger Gold apples.