This is a from my current work in progress. I would be grateful for any comments you might like to make.
Rose Marie Aucoin and the Oak—1971
Rose Marie Aucoin was seventy-two when Jean Batiste Aucoin, her husband of fifty-seven years, passed away at the age of seventy-six. He had been sick for several months with lung cancer. His death was neither sudden nor unexpected. In fact, Rose watched him slowly stop breathing and stare through lifeless eyes at the priest desperately trying to give him the last rites before his soul left his body. Rose didn't cry, but she died a little bit with him. All her life, Jean had been there to tell her what to do and how to do it. He had been her husband. He had been her friend. He had been her confidant. He had been her lover. Now, he was gone, and her life felt empty.
In the days that followed the funeral, Rose took to sitting on her front gallery in her favorite rocking chair made from oak years ago by Jean Batiste himself. The seat was a weave of white oak saplings. She liked the warm breeze across her face as she rocked back and forth. She liked the squeaky sound the rockers made against the tongue in groove planks of the gallery floor. She loved to hear the swish of the cars as they rushed by along the Ellisonville blacktop road. She liked to imagine their destinations.
"That one's going to Ellisonville," she would say to herself in her singsong Cajun. "And that one's going all the way to Alexandra and then off to
She would imagine she rode with the occupants, a shriveled old woman spirit, ethereal and incorporeal, staring out of the car window at sights she could only imagine. Rose Marie had never traveled out of the parish. In fact, she had only been to Ellisonville, the parish seat, three times in her seventy-two years: a visit to the hospital when her sister took ill, and the funeral home when Loretta died. She had gone once before when she was a young girl to a fais do do just outside of the town. It was there she met Jean Batiste. He courted her after that and they married. Jean Batiste did not believe in travel. "What is out there that you can't get here," he was fond of saying, flinging his arms out in a big airy hug that included his land, his house, and his wife. Rose Marie would nod sadly and travel in mind and spirit instead.
An old moss-covered live oak with huge tired branches that swooped to the ground partially blocked her view of the road. It was Jean Batiste's tree. The tree was there when his father and grandfathers owned the land. It was there before whomever owned the land before them. It was there while the Indians and buffalos roamed the land and maybe even before that. She did not know how old it was. She didn't care. It was keeping her from her travels, so she sent for Rufus Vidrine to come cut it down. He stood under the thick canopy of moss and leaves, ran a calloused hand over the rough bark, and refused, but Rose was adamant.
"If you don't do it," she said, "I'll just find me someone else who will."
When he found out her plan, Nat Manuel, the mayor of Serpentville, called on her and begged her not to cut it down.
"The tree is mine, isn't it?"
"The tree belongs to all of us, madam. It is the symbol of our heritage. It is the symbol of the strength and perseverance of our people. Why, when the Cajuns first landed on the Bayou Serpent shores, the oaks were there to give them fire and shelter. The Cajuns made their tools and their tables and chairs from oak. When the Cajuns looked upon the live oak, with its majestic branches and noble coat of silver moss, they were awed by it."
"It is on my property, and it is blocking my view. I want it removed."
Father Bré, the priest who gave the last rites to her husband, called on her and pleaded with her not to cut it down.
"It would be a sin," he said.
"Why?" Rose asked.
"It is one of God's creations. To destroy it would be a sin, madam."
"Wasn't Jean one of God's creations, too? Isn't it a sin that he is gone?" The priest was speechless. "The tree is on my property, and it is blocking my view. I will have it removed,"
A member of the Preservation of Historical Landmarks out of the state capital visited her house.
"Do not cut it down," the fancy dressed woman said without the slightest Cajun accent. "It is older than you. It is older than your community. It holds the history of this land and its people. Every scar on that tree is a note in history."
Rose stared at the woman.
"Do you read all that in my tree?"
"I do, and more."
"Good," Rose shot back. "I will have it cut down, and you can take it home and read all you want."
The mayor petitioned the governor to intercede. The priest prayed to God to intercede. The woman from the Preservation of Historical Landmarks tried to have it considered a historical landmark and protected by law. They all failed.
Rufus came by one foggy morning, and felled the tree, its massive branches snapping loudly as it crashed to the ground. Rose Marie nodded her satisfaction, rocked in her oak chair, and watched as a car raced by.
"Arkansas. He's going to Arkansas," she said and fantasized that she went too.
Rose Marie did not have long to enjoy her view. Two weeks later, she passed away, seated on her front gallery. Wherever her travels took her now, they would not be with the living.
At her funeral, her granddaughter, Shirley Mae Aucoin, mourned her passing as she delivered the eulogy.
"Memere Rose was the living embodiment of the proud and tenacious Cajuns. She is gone now, as is the oak tree that she had removed, but the memories remains. More Rose Maries will be born, and we will plant more trees. We must remember that the very qualities the tree stood for were what brought it down. My grandmother is gone, and with her passing, goes our real heritage. We must remember that the tragedy is not the cutting down of a tree, but the death of an honorable and loving person."
Ironically, Shirley Mae Aucoin buried her grandmother next to her husband in the family plot shaded by an ancient moss-covered oak.