Millie, however, can distinguish a good script from reality, and at Madewood she has the brothers and sisters of the Freeman family to hold her attention.
Warren, 65, and baby-of-the-family Carolyn, 61, are the only members of the family working at Madewood these days; but they and their siblings represent the sixth generation of their family to grow up here, children of preacher Chester Freeman and his indomitable wife, Eliska, both deceased.
“I don’t know why my dad called mom ‘Tuna’,” Warren recalled, “I guess it was because she loved tuna fish.”
But don’t think Chicken of the Sea. Miss Eliska was more of a sleek, record-breaking tuna being reeled in by the likes of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. She had no use for foolishness and was commonly known to be “your six-bits change” if you gave her any lip or got on her wrong side.
Like the day daughter Verley — now 77 and living in California after working for Lockheed Martin — decided to wear her mother’s slip to elementary school in Napoleonville to show off to the other girls. When Eliska went to put on her best slip and found it missing, she walked more than two miles to the school and made Verley take off the slip in front of all her classmates . . . a lesson not forgotten to this day.
Of the nine siblings, three are deceased: Calvin, who was “a termite guy”; Lloyd, a heavy equipment operator and Xerox employee; and Helen, an office worker and housekeeper. The oldest, Loris, 81, is a retired nurse living in New Jersey. Lucy, 79, who worked at Walgreen’s, and Ethel, a retired beautician, live along Bayou Lafourche, in Thibodaux and Napoleonville respectively.
Warren has been our groundskeeper for at least two decades and knows everything there is to know about sugarcane. And all our guests love Carolyn and the stories she tells as she serves meals or attends to housekeeping.
Warren knows that from a mile down the highway, Millie can spot a single weed sticking up from the holly hedge that surrounds the property, and he maintains them immaculately. But the year 2010 was not a good one for Madewood, Warren and tractors/mowers.
He NEVER left the big John Deere tractor under the 350-year-old oak tree that shades the small family cemetery — the one that lost one-third of its trunk and branches in Hurricane Betsey in 1965 and was futher weakened by Gustav in 2008 . . . except that one time when he went for a quick cigarette break and heard another one-third of the venerable tree come crashing down, destroying the tractor and driving it into the ground.
Several months later, I was already moaning while doing taxes with our accountant in Prairieville when my cell phone rang.
“Hey, it’s Warren,” the distressed voice sighed. Silence.
“I don’t know what happened.” More silence. “It’s on fire.”
Agonizingly long silence as I envisioned a major conflagration.
“The little mower, it just burst into flames on the pasture.” Major relief as I realize he’s not talking about Madewood itself.
The tractor saga continues today, with the large mower that trails the big new tractor now down for the count.
It may be true, as the ads claim, that “Nothing Runs Like a Deere.” But we know how to run them into the ground, literally as well as figuratively; and I know that Warren will be around to help me dig out of any holes in which we and our equipment find ourselves.