What's a Raconteur?

rac·on·teur
/ˌräˌkänˈtər/

A person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way; a storyteller; a narrator

The Story of Cecil Hanks

The Story of Cecil Hanks

I was born on June 25, 1937 and officially named Amadia Cecile Hanks. I go by Cecile and the nicknames “Cele” and “Boo.”

My parents, brother Gilbert, cousin James, and I lived in a little white, wooden bungalow my father built himself. It had one bedroom with a petition in the middle that split the already small bedroom into two smaller rooms. Aside from the small sleeping quarters, there was a kitchen, living room where I slept, and washroom with no indoor plumbing. We had an outhouse in the backyard along with a water pump. The washroom inside contained a tin tub that we’d sponge bathe in. In the winter, we bathed near a small space heater and carried in boiling water to mix with the cold water we had gotten from the pump. The house had no electricity until I was about twelve years old. Until then, we used lamps and candles at night.

When I was really young, our backyard was like a field. Our house was one of the first houses on 9th Street. Over the years, the fields in the back of our house disappeared, replaced by newly built homes. A lot of our relatives moved nearby and down our street.

My earliest memory happened when I was just three years old. I was sick with an extremely high fever during the 1940 Flood. I remember being on my little bed in the living room in a flooded house. The water continued to rise around me until my Uncle Sydney Mouton and my father floated into the house on a little aluminum boat. They picked me up out of the bed. My mom joined us and we took the boat to the wooden hospital in Crowley. The doctors said that I had hooping cough, typhoid fever, and pneumonia. They did not expect me to live. My mother and daddy went crazy with grief. Mama prayed in that hospital. Over time, I grew stronger. It took about three months of recovery until I regained strength in my legs and could walk again.

Another early memory I have is from World War II. I was young and didn’t fully understand what was happening. I only knew a few things about the war. First, I knew certain foods were rationed. When Mom would take me along to the grocery store, we would have to buy necessities with stamps. The second thing I remember is that one of my cousins was killed in action during the war. I remember my entire family waiting at the train station for Freddie Hanks’ body to come in on the train. When his casket got there, my uncle insisted on opening the lid to make sure it was his son. I watched as the family opened the casket to check. That’s all I remember about World War II.

My father, Joseph Hanks, was born on June 16, 1906. He worked for the city at a sewage plant at the end of our street. To make extra money, he did carpentry work on the side. He never attended school or even knew how to write his name. He made up for his lack of education with his abundance of kindness and love. My daddy was a kind, good man. Everyone knew him as “Uncle Joe.” He was a hard worker who worked all of his life until he passed away on April 16, 1988.

Daddy was a happy man although he never had any money. I cannot recall him ever saying a single bad or mean word to anyone. He believed and trusted in God whole-heartedly. I can still see my dad kneeling at the side of his bed in prayer at night.

Dad was from Roberts Cove, a small community about five miles outside of Crowley. He was the youngest of Valentine Benoit and Cleophas Hanks’ following children: Adam called Thedam, Edward called Eddie, Emetile, Dometile, Amanda, Emillee called Millie, Emile who died in France during World War I, Adele, and Joseph. Dad’s mother died when Dad was around two. My grandfather remarried to Azalie Monceaux. He was really in love with my grandmother who passed away, so his second marriage was for convenience rather than love. Azalie Monceaux had several children whose names I do not all recall, except for Aunt Marie, who felt like a blood relative to my family. Together, my step-grandmother and grandfather had two more children: Cleopha and Cloran. Thus, my dad was raised in a house with a lot of other children.

When my dad wasn’t working, he enjoyed gardening and playing music. Once he heard a song, he instantly knew how to play it on the piano. He also played the harmonica and accordion beautifully. He was a true prodigy. As an uneducated man, he never once had a formal lesson in music. Additionally, he did not even own any instruments. He never could afford his own piano, harmonica, or accordion, but when he came across those instruments, he played as if he had spent years practicing.

My mother was sixteen when she married my thirty-year-old father. Daddy said he was in love with my mother at first sight. That love lasted a long time. They showed affection, talked sweetly, and truly loved each other. When my father was sick, my mother gladly nursed him. When my mother was sick, my father was equally ill with worry.

Like Daddy, Mama was from a big family and was one of thirteen children. My mother, Clara Mouton Hanks, was born on May 19, 1920. She was from Roberts Cove, attended school up to the third grade, and grew up very poor. Her father traded horses and drank alcohol.

When I was young, Mom was impatient. Looking back, I see why. She lived a hard life and had no education. She was under a lot of stress and often ill when we couldn’t afford a doctor or medications. I have few sweet memories of my mom from when I was young. She worked a lot within the home and encouraged me to play outside rather than bother her. As I grew older, she became a more attentive, caring mom.

When I was young though, I’d go to school and come back to find her aggravated and harsh. She likely felt bad that she had nothing to give to us. I used to want fruit, but we could not afford it. We did our homework with a gas lamp, because we could not afford electricity. When I needed help with my homework, she was not educated enough to help. Besides her household duties of cooking, cleaning, and washing clothes, she also worked to help ends meet. She would iron and wash clothes for other people in Crowley in order to make extra money.

Everybody around us loved my mother. She was known to cook the perfect stews, gravies, and rice dressings. New wives and mothers came to her for advice in homemaking and parenting. She gave advice on how to care for babies.

A testament to my mother’s big heart is that she fell in love with her nephew whose parents were unfit to care for him. Daddy loved him too. They took James in when he was about six months old. At the time we adopted James, I was school-aged. I remember feeling excited about taking him. He always felt like our little baby and like my natural little brother.

My brother, Gilbert Joseph Hanks, was two years younger than me and born on August 22, 1939. My adopted brother, James Alan Mouton, was about six years younger. Being the eldest, I felt I was the boss. I also believed I was much more grown up than Gilbert and James. I told the younger boys what to do. Despite my bossiness, we still all got along. My brother Gilbert and I never had a fight.

We would go to the movies together or sit on the porch and talk about our days. I would run off and play outside with my girl cousins or friends while Gilbert and James ran off with the boys. I played with my neighbor Jane Guidry. We are friends to this day. Audrey and Bette Mouton were cousins who lived close by. Emma Jean Dronet was my very best friend. We spent nearly every day together growing up. We’d walk to school together and have fun.

I was close to my extended family. My mother’s mother lived close by, and I would go to her house after school to have a sandwich nearly every day. My grandmother was Cecile Arabie Mouton and my grandfather was Adam Mouton. I was about eight years old when my grandfather died at age sixty-nine. All I remember about him is that he was a small man, he was nice to me, and that I never visited with Grandpa too much.

My grandmother, Cecile, is who I’m named after. She came from a good, but poor family and got married when she was about fourteen years old. After my grandfather died, she moved to a little shotgun house that was walking distance from my house. When I was a child, I’d go visit and have meals with her. She liked to bake. She’d also make tasty breakfasts for me some mornings before school. We’d have coffee and eat breakfast together. As I grew older, I’d help Grandma Cecile around the house by hanging out her clothes to dry or mopping her floors.

Not only am I named after my grandmother, Cecile, I’m also named Amadia after her oldest daughter. Aunt Amadia died of stomach cancer when she was twenty-six. My grandma had many other children. There was my mom, Clara, as well as Amanda (who everyone called Mandy), Alice, Felix, Morris, Jules, Sydney, and Paul. She also had twin boys who died before their first birthday: Willford and Wilbur.

As for my paternal grandparents, my grandfather and step-grandmother moved from Roberts Cove to 10th Street in Crowley when I was young. My grandfather had a nice, comfortable house. The door was always open for me to stop and relax there. I don’t know how rich he was, but he certainly had more money than my family. He could afford to buy a new car every year. He owned a lot of land and rent houses. I remember seeing my grandfather sitting in his nice house by the fireplace. He’d give me a dime every morning if I stopped there on my way to school. With that ten cents, I could buy luxury items like a cold drink and a bar of candy.

I recall many mornings with my grandfather, Cleophas, and many nights with my grandmother, Cecile. My brothers, cousins, and I would sit on the front porch of Grandma Cecile’s 10th Street home. There was an old, abandoned house across the street. At night, eerie things would go on there—or so we imagined. The children would gather around my grandmother as we all made up haunting tales about ghosts. We’d make believe we saw lights or apparitions moving in the house across the street. We had fun scaring ourselves. Oftentimes, we would make homemade ice cream. My grandmother would let us take turns sitting on the ice covered in towels while the ice cream was being made.

During this time, I went to Crowley Elementary. At first, I made terrible grades. I gradually did a little better with the help of good teachers. Mrs. Evans was my third grade teacher, who was one of my favorites for her kindness. Mrs. Bunker, my fourth grade teacher, was also kind. They tried to make me love school, but I skipped school as much as I possibly could. I made average grades.

Later, I attended Crowley Middle School. I would walk to school everyday. I remember one day when my best friend Emma Jean and I were coming back from school as teenagers. Emma Jean was a beautiful blonde. Two young men were working on an electrical post. One of the guys said, “Did you see that pretty little blonde walking down the street?” And the other said, “I’m too busy looking at the redhead.” I was thirteen or fourteen then. That was when I first realized I was a redhead. I looked at my hair in the sun, and I did have red hair. I’d never looked at my hair outside in the sun before. Emma Jean and I attracted boys’ attention after that.

As teenagers, Emma Jean and I enjoyed movies. We went to the cinema as often as we could afford to. We also liked music and would listen to Hank Williams Sr.’s records. We liked to act like we were on stage performing. We’d see pretty girls in movies and want to be movie stars. That was our dream.

During my teenaged years, a bunch of the girls in my class and I would go to each other’s houses to have dance parties. We listened to the radio, especially the Grand Ole Opry performances on Saturday nights. Sometimes Emma Jean and I would go dancing at dance halls. One night, the two of us danced with Faron Young and another country music star. I always loved music and came to love pop and country music. Years later as a married woman, I loved Neal Diamond’s pop music. As a teenager I listened to anything the radio played and danced along. My brother Gilbert and my dad were great dancers who would win dance competitions. That is probably where my love for dancing came from.

Gilbert and I would spend time together as teenagers dancing or going to movies. I remember one particularly eventful night we went to the movies. Daddy was away hunting frogs with his best friend, Robert Hoffpauir. Mr. Robert’s wife Agnes and my mother were such close friends they were more like sisters. Mrs. Agnes was over at the house with my mother that night.

Daddy owned an old green Studebaker that he had bought from Emma Jean’s parents for a reasonable price. I worked part-time to help Daddy to pay the car note in exchange for being allowed to drive it. On this particular night, Gilbert and I wanted to drive the car to a movie. This usually would not have been a problem, but recently, the Studebaker’s brakes had gone out and Daddy hadn’t scraped together enough money for the repair yet. I asked Mom if Gilbert and I could take the car anyway if we were careful. Of course she told me no. That did not stop Gilbert and me from driving the car to the show.

I drove the car out of the half-built carport Daddy had been spending his spare time constructing, careful not to damage his hard work. Gilbert and I cautiously drove at just a few miles per hour. I remember seeing a neighbor on foot—a boy about Gilbert’s age. Joe was walking, and Gilbert shouted to ask if he waned a ride. When Joe said yes, we told him to start running and hop aboard. He got into the backseat with Gilbert.

Soon we came to a very busy intersection, and thank God no cars were coming. I could not have stopped us from sailing across if I’d tried. When we approached the theatre, I took my foot off the gas completely and let us coast to a stop. We slowed down to a mile or two per hour and bumped the parking meter. Gilbert straightened up the fender and we went into the movie. It cost ten cents.

In the meantime, Daddy had returned to find the car and his two children missing. When we got back at 9:30 that night, he was pacing the street, nervous that we had wrecked. I managed to park the car safely by the kitchen door. Dad had gotten so nervous about us going in the car that he wasn’t thinking properly. He jumped in the car to park it under the carport, forgetting the broken brakes. We all heard the crash. Daddy drove straight through the carport that came tumbling down on top of the Studebaker. Every light on the street came on. The neighbors wanted to know what the racket was from.

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