From Pointe-A-Pitre to New Orleans (Part 6): Life on the island

Drew Kinchen: What was your favorite part about being on the island?

Jack Kinchen: It was a paradise.

Drew: Paradise?

Jack: The food, the food.. The food in Guadeloupe, you don’t know baby. That was food and a half. Oh was it good! I wish Anatilde was still living! There were fruits, delicious fruits. Growing sauvage, you don’t have to plant them they grow!

Annette Kinchen: Wild!

Jack: The best fruit I ever ate was lychee.

Annette: Lychee!

Drew: What is that?

Jack: Oh baby, you don’t know. You don’t have that in America. That’s in Guadeloupe. Her father had a tree on his plantation, it grew wild!

Annette: I remember that tree! The tree was not growing any fruit until someone told my father to beat the tree [laughter] and he beat the tree I don’t know how many times. And you know what? It started making fruit! I can’t even describe that fruit to you, so delicious.

Jack: He also had a huge mango tree. We took a picture in front of it on our wedding day. The tree was so huge it didn’t turn out.

Annette: One day a hurricane was coming when that tree was still smaller and to save the tree they put a chain around the trunk and chained it to the house. Well, the trunk grew with the chain inside it! That tree was huge.

Jack: Beautiful tree. He [Meme’s father] had bananas, coffee, he had vanilla; all that grew on his property. And then, after the war, the banana became what they called the “green gold.” He made a fortune. I think they were making jam with them. What I miss the most is Les Saintes. The little village, my father built a house there and we took our honeymoon there.

Annette: It’s a little island. We were swimming in the water. It was beautiful there.

Jack: No cars there.

Annette: Yeah no cars. And there were huge iguanas! One came to the house one time, and his sister in law was screaming and screaming there was an iguana on the terrace [Laughter].

Jack: One time a representative from Pan-American came to Guadeloupe and we went out and he wanted to see if we had conchs on the island. I was not a good diver, about fifteen feet was the most I could go. But I would dive and dive and come back up and bop! I put the conchs in the boat. He said “Oh! Boy you know how much, in Miami if you go conching you catch one conch!” I caught so many. It was a paradise.

Annette: Yeah

Jack: In Guadeloupe, the people didn’t have to work! You have a cane, go fishing and catch all the fish you want, have a fruit tree and all the fruit you want. They had all kind of food. There were no animals to hurt you, number one. No snake, no, no nothing. We used to go and sleep in the woods.

Drew: Meme, what was your favorite part of the island?

Annette: Everywhere on the island. That was my island. I love it. I miss my island. I don’t know why I now see everything I did on that island. It’s because I’m getting older I suppose.

Two Lines Meet

Jack: Most every Saturday, we used to have a surprise party with this family, that family. And that’s how I met her, and then she put a hold on me and I couldn’t turn loose.

Annette: Do not even talk about this!

Drew: So how old were you when you and Papa Jack met?

Annette: I was 15 when I met him.

Drew: How old were you when you got married?

Jack: She was 17, I was 23.

Drew: That’s a long time to be with someone.

Jack: As a matter of fact, we were eating lunch at a restaurant the other day and a man paid our bill. I went up to talk to him and he said he was 86 and asked how old I am. I said 96. He asked how long have you been married? I said 74 years. He said “Oh Jesus! That must be a record.”

Drew: [Laughter] That is a very long time for sure.

Annette: So you never know how things are gonna go.


Jack: I could have stayed in Guadeloupe and been a rich man, my children were what I was worried about. Ray and Denise were born on the island.

Annette: My poor children.

Jack: Marilyn was born in Georgia and Johnny was born in New Orleans. It would have been easy for me to stay, but I didn’t have a challenge. Just like in soccer, I wasn’t happy to play in college, I needed to go more. The war ruined me.

Drew: So why did you end up leaving the island?

Jack: Oh no I cant say.. well, some of it was racial.

Drew: No that’s okay, you can talk about it.

Jack: Well, the island was ninety percent black, maybe five percent white, five percent other. The black people had nothing against us; we were natives. We were born on the island. But they didn’t like the other French people from Europe coming in. There was a big distinction. We could speak the lingo because they speak French but they also speak Creole. Very hard to write it, there’s a big difference.

Drew: I’ve heard it’s hard to learn, too.

Jack: Oh yeah.

Annette: It’s a mixture.

Jack: I can still speak it very good. Oh yeah, Creole. But the black people also were very good musicians. You’ve heard of Calypso? Well that’s Trinidad. That’s nothing compared with the Biguine of Gudaeloupe. The Biguine was born in Guadeloupe and they had a rhythm that was absolutely fantastic. Years later I heard something like that music on a tennis court and I started to dance and a friend of mine, he’s dead now, said “Jack, you got the rhythm” and I said “Yeah, baby I was born in it.”

Drew: So, what was it that really made you leave Guadeloupe?

Jack: Well…

Annette: Don’t say what you’re going to say Jack. Don’t say it, I wouldn’t say that.

Drew: Be honest, it’s okay.

Jack: I couldn’t take the racial situation anymore; I couldn’t take it.

Drew: There was a racial tension?

Jack: Oh yes. People were on strike all the time. I saw a strike one day outside of one of our houses that had a business. I saw a strike one day with 300 people outside, screaming, my father made me go inside. He ran in the middle of them and said, “What the hell are you doing here?” and tried to get them to go.

Annette: Well for us, we were natives! We were born there. The black people accepted us. They would never touch us, they knew us!

Drew: So you never had any problems until all of this started?

Jack: Oh no! We didn’t have any problems. But I couldn’t take the strikes.


Drew: Didn’t an Afro-French woman raise you, Papa Jack?

Annette: Oh yes.

Jack: Yes. Anatilde. That was a pearl. She lived with us, she died with us. She used to live with us in Pointe-a-Pitre.

Annette: Yes, Pointe-a-Pitre.

Jack: My father was a member on the board of directors for the bank of Guadeloupe, so twice a month they drove from Matouba to Pointe-a-Pitre to take care of his business and go his meetings. Well, Anatilde brought all the children in my family to baptism. All of us. My father brought her to France with him several times. She was a member of the family. She used to have beautiful gold, not cheap like you have today, but real 24-karat gold that she bought. She told me, “Jack this is for you when I die.”

Annette: But we weren’t there when she died.

Jack: Yeah, I was here. But anyway, when she dressed, she had a beautiful dress.

Annette: In Guadeloupe they have a dress that’s very special.

Jack: Oh yes, it’s very beautiful.

Annette: Boy, she could dress. With gold necklaces and it’s a special dress.

Jack: You should see the work done on those dresses. So beautiful. But Anatilde was an angel. They don’t come like that anymore. My father had a place on Les Saintes, which is about three hours from Pointe-a-Pitre by boat. He would take her with him. She came with us on our honeymoon.

Drew: On your honeymoon?!

Annette: Oh yes. She cooked for us and took care of us. I remember her so well. Very nice person.

Jack: People don’t come like that anymore; she was a pearl. I was glad I was not in Guadeloupe when she died because I could not take that. I would have been blue. When she died, I was here [America]. So they called me and asked me where I wanted to bury her, and I said our tomb. We had a big tomb where all our family was buried, and I said in there with them.

Drew: Wow, I didn’t know that. She was a very big part of your family.

Jack: Oh yeah, we couldn’t do anything without her. Annette didn’t know her until we got married. My father didn’t know anything, Anatilde did everything. She would even go to the bank to get the money, oh yeah.

Part 7: America and finding the familiar

Editor’s Note: This story is one of a series reprinted from the book A Guide to South Louisiana: Stories of Uncommon Culture. Each author was a student in Rachel Breunlin’s “Storytelling and Culture” course for the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Orleans in the Spring of 2017. The Neighborhood Story Project sponsored the project as part of its mission to publish collaborative ethnography in high quality books in which the authors receive royalties for their creative labor.


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