My grandfather on my mother’s side died before I was born. My main impression of him is a photo: in black and white, he stands next to a grill open to show a handful of baby chickens. As a child, I was horrified at the idea that he planned to cook them…until my mother explained it was a joke.
Despite knowing he was buried in the cemetery next to the Catholic church in Church Point, where she grew up and where I still have family, I’d never been to his grave. On a recent trip with my mother, I asked to go.
“Do you know where he’s buried?” I asked as we approached the aboveground graves. In southern Louisiana, hurricanes and floods threaten the peace of those buried belowground, so they build tombs on top of the earth to keep them at rest and keep the caskets from floating away. Don’t laugh. It’s happened.
She motioned to a general area, and we began hunting through names.
Thibideaux. Landry. Guidry.
Many of these names were ones I’d heard since birth. Many were family, in one way or another (in southern Louisiana, nearly everyone is related, which is why when you meet someone, they’ll ask, “who’s ya mama?” because they want to find the familial connection.)
There were even graves with Confederate flags waving brightly out of concrete vases. I was horrified that any recently departed could want that symbol atop their eternal home, but my mom pointed out that those were Confederate soldiers from the Civil War. How firmly we hold to the past…
I called my aunt, who lived just blocks away.
“Where is your daddy?” I asked.
She laughed, “He’s buried on the side by where the Dairy Freeze used to be. Ask your mama if she remembers it.” (forgive me if that’s not the name of the place, Auntie. Close enough, yes?)
Aunt Claire went on, “He always said he wanted to be buried near it because they had the best hamburgers.”
I snorted. This would now be the memory that replaced the “grilled chicken” one. Whether it was urban legend or not, I loved the tale.
Then we found him. Wilbur LeBlanc. Born 1916. Died 1973. He was young. Below his name was my grandmother’s name. She’ll be 98 this year. Close to twice the age he was when he died. I got chills. The tradition of burying couples together and engraving their names before they departed…I’m not sure if that’s Southern or Louisianan or era-specific.
We left, and I felt I had another tiny piece of the puzzle of who I am.