"Pine and Oak Alley, The Love of a Father"

On the banks of the Teche, on the outskirts of old Petit Paris (St. Martinville, LA), there is an alley of Pine and Oak trees planted by Monsieur Charles Durand...beneath the trees, one of the grandest weddings ever to be held in Louisiana took place. Little did Monseir Durand know that this wedding he gave his two daughters would be relived time and time again in history books, newspaper articles, and magazines for generations to come! Nor did he know, that this "alley" of his beloved trees would become an historical landmark today! A man after his two daughters hearts, left a story to be told, that would touch generations to come! He was a wealthy man, but he shared his love of "extravagance" with his entire Petis Paris community that remarkable night under the Pines and Oaks!

.........A "Collection" of Stories and History ........

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Colorful Segment in the Life of Charles Durand I

Traveling up the Teche to a place on the outskirts of the old Petit Paris (St. Martinville, LA) there is another great procession of trees. These lead to no mansion, where there was once a house, there is now only gras and a small history of a planter, two wives, and two daughters.

Monsieur Charles Durand was "an original," in the words of his granddaughter, Mrs. Stella Madere, who rocked in her rocker and told me about it that day. He had his own notions, and not all the Mandame Grundys of the bayou could dissuade him from the smallest of them. He came from France, shortly before 1820, already wealthy; and his first action on arrival were broad ones. He established one of the most extensive plantations for many miles about. He brought scores of slaves. He wanted many trees about him, and he decided to have a long avenue, three miles in extent. Once they began to grow, the alternate pines and oaks became show things of the upper Teche.

Along with the trees, the Durand family waxed. An addition came almost every year, until the children numbered twelve. He, his wife, and the smaller Durands led a spacious life and a mirthful one, for Monsieur Durand believed that wealth was to be enjoyed. Some were certain that, as he sat before his massive desk, he tried to devise ways of spending his riches that no other had ever conceived. He came close to success, his neighbors thought.

He acquire a set of carriages with ornaments of gold, including the harness. The countryside stopped to watch them, glittering in the sun, as Monsieur Durand and all the Durands bowed right and left. He gave orders that the family was to be waked in the morning with sprays of perfume. More and more pleased by this fancy, he installed large supplies and bathed in waters well strewn with crystals which gave off those fine aromas. He suggested that the other Durands follow his example. They did, and they liked it, and insisted that their guests do the same thing. Papa had such gay ideas.

Then the first Madame Durand died, and Papa was as extravagant in sorrow as in everything else. Never would he see the face of another woman without thinking of his poor lost wife, never would he marry again. He swore it for the world to hear and be guided thereby. Daily he went to the cemetery across the Teche and knelt before the tomb. He made his trip in good weather and in bad; when it rained, he wore a covering against the elements. To perpetuate the memory of his grief, he ordered an artist to create an iron statue of him, on his knees, hands crossed clad in his raincoat. At the base was an inscription telling of his oath never to be false to the dear one.

Within less than a year, Charles Durand met a girl whom he liked and was married again. The town tittered. Boys of the area, doing what their elders did not dare do, crept into the cemetery and tossed stones at the statue until the head dropped. Someone scrawled over the graven words at the base: "Do Not Tell Such Lies"

But Monsieur Durand was not one to concern himself with over-meticulous consistencies. His second marraige was as undisturbed, as undilutedly jolly, as his first. Again a child came with every year or so, and again the total reached twelve. His granddaughter said that he had informed everybody: "The number must be the same as before. I cannot be unfair to either lady." There was a man with a delicate sense of rightness of things.

A few years before the outbreak of the Civil War, two of his daughters simultaneously accepted the marriage proposals of members of native Louisiana families. Bayou Teche looked for something unusual from Monsieur Durand for the occasion. Few expected anything like the thing that they experienced.

The planter sat long at that desk, and concentrated, before he conceived his project. He choose spiders for the basis of the ornamentation. One source says that he imported a cargo of enourmous creatures from Cathey. His granddaughter insists that he sent merely to the woods near Catahoula, Louisiana. In any event, they were large spiders, capable of large deeds.

Shortly before the marriage day, the spiders were set loose among the trees in the long avenue. For days the spiders worked, lacing the spaces between the trees with yards of delicate webs. All wondered; would it rain between then and the wedding day, and his efforts melt away? Monsieur Durand was not one to fret over trifles. It would not rain.

It did not rain. On that morning, the planter called his slaves, gave them bellows and supplies of silver and gold dust. Over the long canopy of cobwebs, says the tradition, they spread this gossamer covering. ("It must have been superb." said Mrs. Madere, softly. "So many have they told of it...") Others worked beneath the canopy, laying a series of carpets to cover most of the three-mile passage under the trees. At one end of the avenue they placed an open-air alter; between the trees, at the sides, were tables covered with food, to be served. Bands played from strategic points. The wedding was open to all-French and Americans - up and down the Teche.

Thousands attended and watched. Toasts, dancing, songs, and the giving of gifts continued until dusk. Then up the bayou came a steamboat, to take the two couples on their honeymoon to New Orleans. The crowd accompanied them to the landing, shot off fireworks, and bade the young people good-by; an the four stood at the rail and wave until they were out of sight..........

(little is left of the plantation, but most of the trees remain...Grand-pere Durand died a poorer man, but he remained rich with memories and a life of "fun" for his family and friends....)

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