Growing up in the ‘60s & ‘70s: The Coulee
Somehow I doubt I’m the only little sister who acted as lookout for her older brother along the coulee trails of south Lafayette. Walt, my brother, and Mason, our good friend, both sporting crew cuts and almond tans, accepted my pleas to accompany them in the woods just beyond our neighborhood. They were hunting for water moccasins, and I was yearning to go.
We set out with nothing but summer shorts and canvas sneakers, and the boys had their new BB guns resting on their shoulders. Acres and acres of woodsy land loomed before us as we headed towards the coulee, a place that afforded us many hours of childhood fun. My best friend Pam and I often sat on the banks and caught tadpoles. Who needed charts depicting the metamorphosis of a frog in our second grade class at Edgar Martin when we could see the transformation ourselves? We caught tadpoles in each stage of development. We never once needed a classroom teacher to explain the life cycle of a frog. We had witnessed it firsthand.
Some of us in the neighborhood had younger siblings who followed us to the coulee as well. On those days we carried big sticks we found along the way, making noise and swooshing the grasses, hoping to root out any snakes waiting to ambush. Sometimes we encountered a snake, and he quickly complied with our request to leave us alone. We would watch it slither away, and the youngest children among us squealed at our bravery. We were proud.
We caught crawfish in the coulee, too. Mud piles along the bank revealed their activity, and when we were sufficiently equipped, we used little nets to catch them. Dragonflies swirled around us, as did mosquitoes at dusk, and we were constantly aware of ants, reminding each other to watch our steps carefully. I loved discovering rabbits and their babies, timid and skittish, yet adorable with their wary and gentle eyes.
But nothing compared to the excursions with my brother and his comrade. On these special outings, they required that I walk in front of them, looking for poisonous snakes and spotting their presence before the reptiles escaped. I was an important component of these hunting trips, and I performed my duties with precision. Water moccasins were our targets, and Walt and Mason took turns aiming and firing. Only rarely did one of the boys miss. It was thrilling.
We’re not a family of hunters. That’s a rare thing in southwest Louisiana I know. Yet our forays into the woods, walking towards the coulee, always the coulee, made me feel a bit like Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn. I felt accomplished. I felt adventurous. And I loved my brother who let me be his sentry.
I once told a few of these snake hunting stories to my husband. He quickly posed that his friend Ricky, the bravest snake hunter in Lafayette, walked through infested areas with cut offs and bare feet. To hear the tale of Ricky’s prowess, no better snake hunter has lived in Lafayette before or since.
I couldn’t argue. But I was happy to be second best, part of a snake hunting trio that roamed south Lafayette with serious smiles on our faces. Walt, Mason, and me.
Elizabeth O'Roark Hesterly was born and raised in Lafayette. She is a graduate of Acadiana High School and LSU, is too serious for her own good, admires loyalty and faithfulness, and strives for both.