Chapter 3: Dorothea’s early years
[In this chapter, Dorothea's daughters continue their narrative with recollections of her early years. Her sisters' early memories, those of people with whom she grew up, and a story about a shoemaker, as told by her daughters -hro]
Her sisters now recount some early memories.
Ida, from Riverside, California:
“She was one of the finest physical beings I ever knew. Our family doctor said she had the greatest chest expansion he had ever seen. Loyal Spear said if she had been a man, he would have taken her and whipped the world. She could throw a baseball like a man, swim a mile, was a champion tennis player. She outdistanced me in everything. She was always full of fun. A visit from her was like Christmas in the middle of the year.
“Her name was never Dorothea. Your father called her that. He said Crissie made him think of a pickaninny. Our father always called her Christopher Columbus, as she was the first arrival (baby born) in the newly founded town of Lake Arthur, but being a girl she didn’t count. “
Her sister Alice, Bogalusa, Louisiana:
`’As I was the youngest girl in our family, I remember her as a young lady. She was one whom I not only loved but admired, as she tried to excel in everything she did. She had a brilliant mind as well as great athletic ability.
“I believe my first memory of her was when she got on the train to go to Lafayette to stay with an Acadian family, the Beadles, to be treated by a Cajun woman. She had an infection on her leg which the doctors in Lake Arthur and Jennings could not heal, so as a last resort our father sent her to this herb doctor. It just broke my heart to have her leave us. When she got on the train, I started crying -between sobs, I said, ‘Chris, don’t forget us, and I’ll write you a letter every week – (Don’t know if I could even write) and if you don’t get a letter every Wednesday, you’ll know’ – then I didn’t know what to say, so she said, ‘I’ll know you were too busy to write. ‘ (By the way, her herb medicines cured her.)
“I remember when she swam across the lake, a feat few boys could do. Almost the whole town turned out to see if she would make it. Several in pirogues accompanied her. It seemed hours before they waved a white flag to let us know she had crossed. We were all so very proud of her.
“She had her mischievous side as well -All of our cooking and heating was with wood. We had fireplaces, so at night when Ida sent some of us younger ones out to get wood, she and Desire would drape sheets around themselves and come flapping out from behind oak trees and we were SO frightened. We knew who it was, but still ran like mad for the house.
“I remember, also, she had a ‘beau, ‘as they called them in those days, who lived in Jennings -His last name was Daugherty -I can’t remember the first. Anyway, at least twice a week he drove down to take her for a ride. He had a matched pair of horses and they looked so elegant driving off. One day I was told to do something and I rebelled. I said, ‘Why can’t Chris do it? All she does is get dressed up and go riding with Mr. Daugherty. ‘So one afternoon Chris told me to get all dressed up as she had a surprise for me -so I did, when who should arrive but Mr. Daugherty to take me for a ride. I don’t believe I said a word the whole time we were gone, nor did I ever again complain about her going out. A good lesson.
“When your mother first started going with your father, the whole town was a-twitter. We had never had anyone from Harvard ever near us. So, one night, at prayer meeting – to which we all had to go – in comes Chris and Frederic. In a terribly loud voice, the son of our family doctor said, ‘Is that the Harvard with Chris?’
“One last thing she said to me, the last time she visited Louisiana, she stayed with us about a month. It was in April, a lovely month in Louisiana. She was sitting in the yard und er a large pine tree when she said, ‘Here I had to wait all these years and come back to Louisiana and stay with you and Allen to find perfect peace and contentment.’ I’ll always treasure those words. “
Her sister, Grace Fox of Portland, Oregon:
“Our Father was gone most of the time. At least it seemed that way. But we never were afraid, even when we children were alone. No one in Southwest Louisiana would have dared either to lay a hand on one of us or threaten us in any way. It would have been sure death. But Chris was always a practical joker and one day she almost started a riot in our town.
“She was about fifteen at the time. Our Mother had died and Our Father was gone on a trip. Julia and Ida were in charge of the rest of us (Julia was engaged to Smith at the time). Now, our Father had married our Mother in a very handsome Prince Albert suit and he was saving it to be buried in. Chris must have been bored for excitement that day; anyhow, she remembered that Prince Albert suit and the townfolks’ protective feeling for the Dyer children and somehow she talked Julia into putting the suit on and then Chris told the rest of the children who had all helped Julia get dressed, to run around town and spread the news that ‘There’s a man in the Dyer house!’ And they did. They all raced around shouting at the top of their lungs and believe it or not, there was almost a riot.
“Every man in town, Julia’s Smith included, came running to protect the Dyer family and they were practically running each other down for the honor of ousting the intruder and stringing him up, and needless to say they weren’t too happy to discover that it was only Julia in the Captain’s suit. But Chris was tickled pink. Her joke had been a great success. I don’t know if Our Father ever heard of the incident or not, but when he died he was buried in that same suit. “
The following letters are from childhood friends
Aileen Glasson Lyon, 76, Lake Arthur, Louisiana:
“I shall always remember the good times we had as young children -swimming, boating, climbing trees, etc., in our beautiful park where both our families lived. Your mother read stories to us, often -especially when sitting out in the yard drying her long beautiful hair. “
Jack Toups, 84, Lake Arthur, Louisiana.
“Chris was just like one of our family. We had good times together while growing up.
“At school we played baseball together. I took her to private dances and she was a good dancer.”
Eldee Toups Stewart, 82, Lafayette, Louisiana:
“All my thoughts of Chris are happy ones. I never saw her angry. When we went to school we had to be seven years old and learn how to write at school. We had double desks so Chris would take our hands and teach us to write. Chris would take all the younger ones of us swimming. “
Jennie Toups, 86, Lake Arthur, Louisiana:
“Chris and I were very close friends. She spent so many nights in our home as a young girl. There wasn’t a tree in the park that Chris and I didn’t climb. The girls played baseball against the boys at school.
“Where the Dyer home used to be is now a tennis court. Chris sold the property to the town of Lake Arthur. “
Amy Toups, 75, Lake Arthur, Louisiana:
“Chris was a wonderful person to me. She even walked proud. When we would go to parties in their home given for Alice, Chris would gather all of us on the dark stairway and tell us ghost stories. I will never forget that.”
Johnnie Ney, Lake Chades, Louisiana:
“Being married to her Aunt Katherine, I knew and admired Chrissie as we knew. One little incident comes to my mind and was a laugh with Aunt Katherine and family. Carl Kingey and I belonged along with Chrissie to the L.A. band and she Chrissie made the remark one day, ‘”I always wanted to stand in a circle in a band.’ “
Onesia Beadle, Lafayette, Louisiana:
“Chris talked about the places she had seen. Her descriptions were superb. She had a flair for the dramatic and knew how to put words together to produce the best effect. She painted beautiful word pictures of the places (in the Middle East and Europe) and she became quite emotional when she talked about the sad state of Palestine. “
Mother in her writings of the 20s remembered the band, and the coming of the railroad:
“The Railroad was coming in from Lake Chades rather than from Jennings, and finally the day arrived when our first train was to come in, and we prepared —the whole town taking part—a celebration that would be commensurate with this great event. The Band rehearsed for hours and hours and hours. Some official of the Southern Pacific was to come in, riding in the front of the locomotive, and in our mind’s eye we had it all pictured as being one of the most remarkable events that had ever taken place.
“On the day, we all marched out about a mile to where the depot was later to be built. We were all there in our best new uniforms. All the Negroes of the town in their best clothing were out there with us. All the Cajuns had come in, and our family was greatly concerned because most of these were still bare footed, and we thought this was a day when everybody should appear with shoes on. Nevertheless, in the excitement of this coming train we forgot all about the Negroes and the Cajuns—with or without shoes.
“Well, the time for its arrival, eleven A.M., came. We waited, with our horns in our hands. Twelve o’clock came—no train. One o’clock—still no train! Finally, about three o’clock the train pulled in … and we found out the reason for the long delay. Some cows had gotten on the railroad track and somebody had to walk ahead of the train to keep them off so the locomotive could get through.
“Well of course we all understood that perfectly, knowing the cows, but it did dampen the day considerably, until one of Alphonse LeBleu’s sons came racing down the track right in front of the locomotive, shouting to everybody that he had almost been killed, and when we all gathered around him and someone asked, ‘Why didn’t you get off the track?’ he looked us over and said, ‘But Good God, it was almost catching me on the track! What would it have done if I had taken to the ploughed ground?’”
And she remembered the Toups family:
“I remember I got into great difficulties at dinner one night because during the time we were playing in the lean-to, Mrs. Toups had baked large loaves of fresh bread, and she took them out of the oven while we were there and cut these enormous slices of bread and spread, while it was hot, what we called hog’s lard, over it and then sprinkled brown sugar on top of it and I ate two of these enormous slices.
“Well, of course, by the time we had supper at our house I wasn’t hungry and I was heard, or at least I was overheard commenting on the kind of food our family served, and finally The Captain turned around and asked me if I would stand up and repeat what I had said. It was very discourteous to talk in a way that not everybody at the table could hear. Would I please stand up and repeat what I had said?
“And I felt terribly embarrassed to stand there and say I had said it seemed a pity to me our family never had anything good to eat and Mrs. Toups always gave her children good food.
“Then I was questioned as to just what kind of good food Mrs. Toups had given us, and when I told about these two enormous slices of hot bread with hog’s lard and brown sugar, I was given a dose of castor oil and sent to bed, and my appetite for hot bread and pig’s lard soon passed.”
And the Captain:
“Once when he was in a great storm, he finally had to cut the barges loose and the boat was lost—it burned. We got word of the storm, then a message from The Captain saying we were to send a boat down for him. He had written the message on a shingle which a fisherman brought to us: ‘The barges are lost; the rice is lost; the oil is lost; the steamboat burned, but all is well.’
“We suffered with him in this loss but suddenly we could look at each other and realize how magnificent he was, and the experience became an example. Immediately we all straightened up. We were The Captain’s family, and what was the loss of a boat and barges and rice and oil?”
And Jack Toups:
“Jack Toups and I were about the same age and had all the greater difficulties the other children missed. We got involved because we were much the same temperament. I remember once when we were burning leaves.
“When the fire was about ten feet across, one of the boys said, ‘I bet there isn’t anybody in the whole world brave enough to walk through fire.’ No one challenged that. Then another boy looked around and said, ‘I bet not even Chris is brave enough to walk through a fire.’ Of course I rose to the bait immediately. ‘I am too, I can walk through the fire any time I want to.’ And Jack Toups spoke up and said ‘I can too, me and Chris can do anything we want to do.’ The conversation progressed from there, with the result Jack Toups and I held hands and walked through the fire.
“My next recollection is sitting in a rocking chair, tied in, and for about three days we weren’t allowed to walk because our feet were so blistered.
“One thing it did do. It provided a gorgeous conversation, because from then on we both claimed the biggest blisters anyone ever had. Jack maintained, ‘Your feet are smaller. You couldn’t have blisters as large as mine.’ which I had to admit, but I was quite sure mine rose higher. It was some days before either Jack or I walked naturally.”
Another character during the early years was our shoemaker.
I have no idea what his name was, nor where he came from, but he gradually went insane over the years, and we were all terribly afraid of him. We used to go by his house with great fear and trembling. He also lived in a one-room shack with a room attached, that he slept in.
The only person who seemed to be able to do anything with him at all, was Our Mother. He would go off – he would seem to lose consciousness and go away, and then he would come back sometime in the night, wet and bedraggled, his clothing torn, his beard pulled apart, and his hair scraggly. I remember once when I was about five years old, sensing something was going on, and getting up in the night to see what it was-going into the kitchen, and finding the old shoe- maker sitting in a corner by the stove, and Our Mother energetically firing it up to dry him out. She was trying to find out where he had been and he was mumbling.
He disappeared at regular intervals, but always he came back to Our Mother. He seemed to feel there was a haven there. And she would dry him out and see that his clothing was mended, or give him some new clothing or something to eat, and next morning you would see him back at his bench working. People who wanted to get shoes they had left at the shop, would come to see whether Our Mother knew where he was. And she would say no-he was away for a few days, but he would be back. And sure enough, in a few days he would come back.
It was about this time that we moved, and we moved while he was gone. My memory of it again was hearing something going on and getting up to see what it was, and again going into the kitchen about two o’clock in the morning, and Our Mother saying, “But where have you been all night?” And his replying, “But I couldn’t find you. You went away and I couldn’t find you. ”
Then, looking up at her and saying, “You never will really go away where I can’t find you, will you?” And Our Mother promising him, “No.” And patting him on the shoulder and telling him it was all right, and he trying to explain to her that he had come so late because when he couldn’t find her, he was afraid to go to other houses and knock and ask, and had to wait until some way he located us about two o’clock in the morning And here he was again, bedraggled and unkempt and dirty, and covered with mud as though he had been through the Swamp, and Our Mother was fixing him up again.
Later on, in the midst of a great deal of excitement, authorities from Jennings, which our town did not have at the time, came down and took him away, and it wasn’t until years later I learned he had been taken to a mental institution, and had gone raving mad. I also learned that Our Mother had gone over and sat with him, and finally-weeping desperately because she hated so dreadfully to see him go away, she had led him out and turned him over to the authorities, making them promise they would be kind to him on the way to the institution.