On a map of Louisiana, draw an imaginary line from Alexandria to Natchitoches. That line will pass over or near a dot called Melrose. You can't possibly imagine what lies beneath and near that dot on a map. Melrose is the focus of one of
the National Parks Service's newest projects: The Cane River Creole National Historic Park and Heritage Area. |
Also be aware that no National Park Service web site or brochure will mention anything about a juke joint called Bubba's. Check out the photo. Is Bubba's a cool-looking juke joint or what?
From left to right you see Bubba Metoyer (pronounced "Mah-twi-er"), Jennifer Jane Lefeaux and me. That's Bubba's dog, Missy, at Bubba's feet.
Y'all, the inside of Bubba's looks just as cool as the outside. The ragged interior walls and the worn-out floor are stained because of the leaky roof. A big brown water-blot covers one end of the pool table. Bubba's is my kind of place. The National Park Service probably hates it. Bubba's looks like a good wind would blow it away, but it has stood the test of time and wind and bureaucrats since 1942.
Here's my beautiful friend Robin Blankenship--a coal miner's granddaughter and a math Ph.D.--throwing imaginary snake-eyes on Bubba's dice table, located in a back room and no longer used. It's probably the only surviving juke joint dice table in the Delta and should be in a Folklife museum.
As you can see, the frame is 2 x 4s, and the well-worn surface is plywood. One of these days Raymond or Bubba will need more space in the back room or need something to nail over a hole in the wall and that table becomes just a memory.
Throughout the Delta, hired men the juke joints called the "Cut-man" ran the dice tables and the poker tables. He kept order, i.e., stopped fights, and took a small percentage for the house, the "cut," from each hand. In almost every juke joint he used a cigar box with a slot in the lid and always called the "cut-box." Bubba's cut-box was a small, metal toolbox.
William Faulkner once stayed at nearby Melrose Plantation, and according to Raymond and Bubba Metoyer who opened Bubba's back in 1942 and still run it today, Mr. Faulkner kept to the Big House and didn't visit the juke joint. When I discovered that fact, ole Bill went down several notches in my estimation.
Way back around 1750, Raymond and Bubba's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother founded what became Melrose Plantation. Her name was Marie Thereze Coincoin, and she was an African slave in the household of St. Denis, who founded Natchitoches in 1714. Her story is unbelievable.
For a good look at her life and the Creole dynasty she founded, read The Forgotten People: Cane River's Creoles of Color, written by Gary B. Mills and published by the LSU Press. It's a fascinating book. I quote from page 6 of that book:
You can also surf directly to words written by Marie Thereze Coincoin's Creole descendants. They have a web site called CREOLE HERITAGE PRESERVATION.
If Whoopi Goldberg ever reads The Forgotten People, we'll all get to see a movie wherein Whoopi plays Marie Thereze. Whoopi was born to play Marie Thereze, in my opinion. Whoopi, are you listening?
But for the real Marie Thereze story, don't read a book or a National Park Service brochure. Go to her great--x10--grandsons' juke joint and hear it from them. I think Raymond and Bubba, especially Raymond, would rather tell stories than eat.
I started going to Bubba's back in, oh, maybe 1990, with Jennifer Jane. We'd go there most Sunday afternoons and enjoy the ride along the edge of Cane River. The countryside was and is beautiful--farms, immaculate yards, gleaming-white wooden houses and Creole cottages. It looked like something out of a painting or a children's story book.
I was madly in love with Jennifer Jane, but, since I'm a normal man--Okay! Okay! Somewhat normal!--I couldn't help noticing the beauty of Creole women. Y'all, I think Creole women are the world's most beautiful women. Their skin is the color of coffee with two spoons of cream; their hair is curly and as black as midnight; some of them have eyes so green they look florescent, illuminated from within.
Jennifer Jane and I danced to the blues pouring from the jukebox in Bubba's. During breaks, we'd munch down on bar-b-que cooked on a portable grill outside the door. We'd wash down the bar-b-que with ice cold beer. But mostly, we'd listen to Raymond and Bubba tell stories.
Notice the live oak tree behind Robin in the photo to the right and located about ˝ mile from Bubba's.
Raymond and Bubba said that back in the 1920s the plantation's evil overseer rode around the fields like a cowboy, on a horse. If a field hand gave him problems, he'd rope that person, drag the person to that tree and tie the person to the tree, then beat the unfortunate person.
That happened more than 50 years after slavery supposedly ended. Sad to say, but life for most Delta black folks didn't change much at all until about 100 years after slavery supposedly ended.
Believe it or not, back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Bubba's juke joint operated a racetrack, located directly across the road from the juke joint.
This is Robin and Jennifer Jane standing in front of the long-neglected concession stand. The starting gate or chute or whatever you call the mechanism that released the race horses, still stands off to the left of the picture, rusting and almost hidden by weeds and bushes.
People came from miles around to watch the races. Rich folks from all over the US even landed their airplanes in a nearby pasture. The races stopped, so I was told, after a shooting over a disputed race.
Visitors to our nation's newest and probably most interesting national park, the Cane River Creole National Historical Park and Heritage Area, will find something found in no other national park--a juke joint.
You'll find Bubba's open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Just across and down the road, you'll find Melrose Plantation open 7 days a week from 12 to 4 pm. A guided tour of Melrose Manor, built c1833, and Yucca House, built c1796 by Marie Thereze Coincoin and still standing in mint condition in the back yard of Melrose Manor, believe it or not, costs $5 for adults, $4 for children aged 13-17, and $3 for children aged 6-12. Give the curator a call at 318-379-0055.
You talk about interesting architecture! The walls of Yucca House and several other old houses along Cane River are made of bousillage. That's a plaster-like material consisting of mud, deer and bear hair, and moss.
Note to Former President Clinton: Sir, you need to find an excuse to visit our nation's newest national park. Leave your stuffed-shirt entourage behind and bring your saxophone and your dancing shoes.