Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

April 12th, 2003

Vacation Boys
By Roger Emile Stouff

I was on "vacation" last week. My "spring vacation," as it were. I usually take off in the spring and the fall to take advantage of the best fishing of the year. Allegedly, that is.

My cousin, Jim Ray, and his son Christopher would be joining me after driving in from Ft. Worth, Texas, on Wednesday. Jim joined me for my fall vacation last year, wherein our generation of the Stouffs committed to spending more time together. We also resurrected the venerable old family tradition of referring to each other as "boy." That was the way it was in our family: The males of the next generation were always "Boy" as in, "Hand me that box of worms, boy," and though we are of the same generation, Jim and I had nobody else to call "boy" so we had to improvise.

It is worth pointing out that of the five brothers in our grandfathers' generation, all moved away from the reservation in search of opportunity and to flee oppression. Only Emile Anatole Stouff remained, though working far and wide. The rest relocated, mostly to Ft. Worth and New Orleans, one in California. Time was when the Ft. Worth Stouffs would visit the Charenton Stouffs annually and vice versa. My dad's only brother, Ray Lanier Stouff, died when I was 12 years old.

This time around, Jim and I had a proper boy-calling recipient, that being Christopher. Makes no difference that Christopher is 24-years-old. In our family, we are "boy" to our forebears forever, no matter the age. It's not a term of disrespect, disparagement or demeaning. It's just the way it is.

Jim had, on our fall visit, expressed his regret that his kids (he also has two girls) had not experienced the beauty and the wonder of the Atchafalaya Basin like he had when he was growing up. A fishing trip was required on all visits of the Ft. Worth Stouffs to the reservation, and Jim shared many stories with me of those boyhood excursions. He had pledged to make sure his children are no longer so deprived.

Monday morning I set out to start the fishing, and was doing quite well until mid-morning when that nasty little storm front came through. It caught me on the lake, and I had to tie up under the cypress canopy to wait it out. And as is typical of the days following a weather front, the fish displayed no more of the enthusiastic biting that I had experienced early Monday morning. Catching so much as a skinny sunfish was an exercise akin to carving Mt. Rushmore.

Tuesday and Wednesday were excruciatingly and frustratingly unproductive. The Ft. Worth Stouffs arrived late Wednesday evening, and on Thursday we were on the water. I had not seen Chris since he was something like age eight. He told me his goal for the entire trip was to catch four fish. Just four. I thought just maybe we could arrange that, but it would be marginal.

Chris was also informed of the "boy tradition" in our family, much to his initial dismay. When you're 24-years-old, on your way through a successful career in the information technology field, and making your first trip to Louisiana in a bunch of years, the last thing you want to be referred to as is "boy."

So whenever I had the opportunity, I'd say something like, "Hand me my hat, boy," and Chris would steam. But by the end of the second day, if asked for something, he'd note, "I guess that is the boy's job." Settling into the groove, you see.

We lost perhaps $50 worth of tackle to tackle-eating trees. These are those peculiar varieties of trees which are magnetic, and their magnetism is so strong, they'll divert a cast from its path from a dozen yards away, pulling it into an arc, upward, and wrapping the fly or lure and line around a branch precisely six inches farther than you can reach even when standing on the boat deck with a long paddle.

Thus began three days of the nearly fruitless pursuit of fish. I kept thinking the next day would be the day we'd get into them, they'd be over the effects of the storm front, but alas, it was a no-go. Oh, that's not to say we didn't pick up the odd fish here and there, and Chris actually doubled his goal with eight fish over three days. Jim and I did perhaps a dozen each. All in all, a disappointing expedition entirely.

But in the end, that was the only disappointment. It was a fine and pleasant thing to renew my acquaintance with the boy, and visit with Jim again. During our time on the water, I took the time to re-introduce the boy to the ancestral homeland of Sheti imasha, people of the lake. We visited the ancient worship place, and Peach Coulee. I showed him the river and Lake Fausse Pointe. We saw alligators and red-tailed hawks. It was obvious the boy was humbled and at once invigorated by his native waters, and the resonance of them tugged at something deep within him, awakened thousands-year-old memories he has yet to recall. He will.

If the one version of our people's origins is to be believed, when we left Natchez we took with us a torch from the sacred fire which burned at Grand Village night and day, year upon year, without ever extinguishing. We carried that fire here, to these magnificent swamps and marshes and prairies, to tend it as faithfully as our Natchez kin to the north.

It is unknown when the sacred fire went cold; probably some time after the conquistadors arrived in their galleons on Grand Lake, sparking the first of the wars which would follow and lead to the virtual disappearance of the people of the lake for many, many decades. During that time, those people took immigrant names, imported religion, but still clung to the memory of the fire out there somewhere on Sheti, no longer giving off its light and heat and promise, but as alive and bright in the heart and soul of those who tended it as it always had been.

My life has been etched upon the search for that flame. While I know I shall never find the burning brand which marked the exodus from Natchez, the settling of the villages along the coast and river basin, I search for its memory and the resonance of its presence. The boy, perhaps surprising himself, felt that distant fire, and a link was established last week that I do not think shall ever be broken. Jim Ray fulfilled his pledge. He brought the first of his children back to where it all began, planted a seed which will flourish.

And us old timers, Jim and I, spent the Sunday evening before I had to come back to work and the Ft. Worth Stouffs were to set back upon the trail that will return them home, fishing a small pond alone. It was near dusk, and fish were rising somewhat reluctantly under the full moon which was moving across the sky.

Dusk. My favorite time of day. We brought the fly rods to hand and whisked line across clear water. I landed one nice four-pounder, three more small bass, and Jim took to hand four or five respectable fish as well. The sun turned into a gigantic, red-orange eye as it retreated into the western horizon; the eternal, sacred flame which remains with us. The moon, silver-white, cast long streaks of wild magic across the pond, providing just enough illumination that we caught a few more fish on surface poppers before the mosquitoes forced us to retreat.

Monday morning, I returned to work and the Stouffs returned to Ft. Worth. I felt nearly as if history was once again repeating itself: Nine decades ago, the exodus from the reservation began, though one remained, tending a flame of the heart. Over the years, some returned and continue to return, answering the call of fire, the beckoning of water. That, at least, will continue it seems.

Mine is a world of fire, and of water. Mine is a world of what has happened, and what will yet be. Fire and water. Resonance and callings of the soul. I never knew what was being handed down to me without my knowledge, without even my consent. But the flickering ember I saw in the boy's eyes reminds me again that there is, after all, no place like home. ~ Roger


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