Monday, July 31, 2023

The Lazenby's Story - Bayou Chicot Part 6

1967 brought Mother, Daddy and Sarah back to Bayou Chicot after eight and a half years.  Very little had changed and yet turbulence was on the horizon.

Sarah started ninth grade that year in the building we had watched being built when we lived there previously. Because this is mostly her story, I am going to let her tell about these years.

"Moving back to Chicot meant I was able to renew those family ties I had formed years earlier while also making many new friends in high school.  The Whittingtons became my second family again, taking me on vacation trips, and Mr. Delmont helped me write papers for school.  Of course, Maw Maw Delia always had me an Easter dress just like her other granddaughters, Sherry, Darlene and Jennifer.

"During my first three years of high school, I played basketball earning All District awards.  In '67 we won the District Championship and I was high scorer with 19 points.  We also played in the State Championship tournament but lost.  In grades nine, ten and eleven, I was selected for the All-District Team for Class B, which was quite an honor.  Basketball was the biggest sport in our area schools, regardless of size and always drew large crowds.

"I was also involved in and held leadership positions in several organizations on campus, such as the yearbook staff, Future Homemakers of America and was a class officer.  Other than basketball, one of the things I enjoyed most was band where I was First Chair Clarinet. For a small band, we were quite good.

"Moving into my senior year there was concern that our school would not open.  It was 1969 and full integration was being enforced.  As time approached, Daddy being a leader in the area and being a strong supporter for Equal Rights, asked me if I was comfortable going to school.  I had attended school with Black students and had no problem; however, after two weeks, with uncertainty whether the school would remain open, and after much thought and discussion, it was decided I would move to Bastrop, LA with Libby and Dick.  I was allowed to enter the 12th grade a couple weeks late.

"When the Chicot school ended up closing for a period of time, we knew this had been the right thing to do.  This was a big decision for everyone and not just me.  Dick and Libby not only had to learn to be first-time parents of a six-week old son, they gained a 17 year old as well.  On my part, it was hard adjusting at first to all the changes.  I went from a Class B school and a class of 22 to a senior class that numbered 318 and a 5A school.  Neither did I know a soul. I elected to not try out for the band or girls basketball team, although I missed playing both.

"We also were going through integration at Bastrop High School, but there were no serious issues unlike what was happening in Chicot.  We learned later that Daddy was being threatened because of the stand he and I had taken about attending school with Black students.  The FBI had been observing and following him.  At what point this was happening we do not know, but I was so very proud of my dad for taking a strong stand for what he thought was right.

"I made friends quickly both at school and at church.  I even made my prom dress which I was proud of and graduated in the top ten of the class.  The best part of living in Bastrop was being with family and loving baby John.  Lib and I got the opportunity to get to know each other on a whole new level.  For them, I will be eternally grateful."

Now, my side of the story:  After much chaos the first two weeks of Sarah's senior year at Bayou Chicot, the family agreed that Sarah should move to Bastrop with us to finish her senior year.  This was hard on her, but we enjoyed having her with us as our son John had been born in August and she was a tremendous help. I also enjoyed getting to know my little sister better, and that time created a bond we would have never otherwise shared.  Besides, John loved her dearly.

After graduation, Sarah attended Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA and graduated with honors and a degree in Home Economics in 1973.

In the meantime, Gin had met Thomas while working in Baton Rouge, and they were married in the Bayou Chicot parsonage in January 1970.

It was at NSU Sarah met her future husband and she and Gene were married in Calvary Baptist Church in Chicot in 1973, where her life had begun.  After her wedding, she went on to get her Teaching Degree from Louisiana College in Pineville and taught for 33 years.

Being the gifted seamstress she was, she made her lovely wedding gown and used lace I brought her from a trip to Rome.  She was a beautiful bride and nephew Eric and niece Christy were thrilled to be part of the wedding.

Sarah holding Christy, Mother with Eric and John - 1971
As the years passed, a generation of Lazenby grandchildren were introduced to Bayou Chicot and life in the country.  Our children spent many visits and every Christmas with Papa and Larla and played in and among the same huge oak trees and woods where their parents had thrived as children.

Days:  John & Christy (the only granddaughter)
Whittingtons:  Eric & Doug
Bordelons:  Chris, Matt & Ben

For several years, we girls made matching outfits to wear for family Christmas in Chicot.  We never knew what Dad would come up with for a Christmas tree.  One year, he found the best "Charley Brown" tree in the woods.  Another year he made one out of wood with electrical lights wired into the frame.  Another year he felt sorry for a straggly tree with few branches so he drilled holes in the trunk and stuck branches cut from other trees to fill it in.  Another ugly tree rescued and given center stage.

Regardless of the tree, we always knew his traditional fruit salad would be waiting for us when we arrived, and both Mom and Dad would be standing in the door watching for us.

Lazenby Grandkids loved Chicot adventures like their mothers had - John, Christy, Eric & Doug

During these years Mom and Dad remained very busy in the community and on an Associational and State-wide level within the Baptist denomination.  Mother served as an officer with the Parish Home Demonstration Club, and was elected to serve as the State Woman's Missionary Union Secretary.  In this role she made two trips to Glorieta, NM for WMU Week, and to the most southern parts of Louisiana to visit new church fields.  They were both devoted to the people of Chicot and had someone in for coffee almost every morning.  They became loving and devoted baby sitters for their busy daughters.

In 1976 Mother took all the devotional thoughts she had collected through the years and compiled them into a book for daily reading and meditation.  She handwrote four copies, one for herself and one for each of us girls.  It was our Christmas present that year.  I still treasure this timeless gift of love.  In 2013, when I could hardly read the writing anymore, I typed what mother had written, added some of my own and had it printed for my sisters and my two daughters.  I feel sure I am the one who continues to be blessed by it most.

Dad started making furniture pieces, including toddler beds for his grandchildren.  Other pieces both Gin and Sarah still have and have passed on to their grandchildren.  He learned to do beautiful works of art with pieces of various kinds of wood he found; varieties were plentiful. His friend Dudley Johnson had a sawmill and saved special pieces of wood for Daddy. These treasured items are scattered throughout the family and two pieces even decorate my great grandson's nursery.

In 1987, Daddy retired and was recognized for his 28 years of total dedication to the people of Bayou Chicot, and 48 years of full-time service and given the recognition of "Pastor Emeritus."  During those years he had not only served as dedicated pastor and friend, community leader, and a respected leader in the Louisiana Baptist Convention, serving on the State Executive Board, but counselor and mentor to many.  Their greatest accomplishments though were seeing lives changed when they came to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

In one of the local papers, "Chicot Chatter" Contributor, Susan Griffith wrote the following:

"Recently, the community of Bayou Chicot paid tribute to two of the most influential people of the area.

"Why?  Because Porter and Laura Lazenby have stood by as many as five generations of area families through thick and thin, good and bad, for over twenty-eight years, as Pastor and pastor's wife of Calvary Baptist Church.

"Porter has retired from his ministry in this area.  The Lazenbys reflect on the many rich memories of which they are fond, some being the marriages, births and baptisms of the many grandchildren, children, parents and grandparents of Bayou Chicot.  They recall how close their own children grew to the members of the church.  Being a small community, established for many years, many members are related.  Most of the elders were referred to as Aunt this and Uncle that, by all the younger members of the church, even when seen at grocery stores and school functions.  The Lazenby children had more aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas than any other kids around.  Even though there was no blood kin in the area, they accepted others as their own."

It was upon retirement that Mother and Daddy owned their first ever home. They never considered living anywhere else other than Chicot.  The Lord provided a piece of property that already had a mobile home set up behind the parsonage and they added on an addition. They could not have been more proud of their own place.  Dad had the most beautiful garden, rows of Muscadine vines, and blueberry bushes, but God was not finished with this country preacher or his wife.

When Mother was asked what her plans for the future were, she replied, "It is the pastor who has retired, not me."  And that was our mother.

The First Baptist Church of Ch√Ętaignier, La.(pronounced Sha-tan-ya) soon called Dad to serve as interim pastor.  After making that trip every week for about a year, he suggested it was time for them to find a full-time pastor.  The chairman of the pulpit committee replied that they had, and it was him.  Shortly thereafter, he and mother moved into the parsonage on the Southernmost tip of Evangeline Parish.  These were perhaps some of the sweetest years of their ministry.  They went back to enjoy their own home every week and to visit with their Chicot family.

Daddy also served the area as a Hospice Chaplain and on the Board of the Acadia Baptist Academy.  He was soon a friend to the French-speaking Cajuns in this small community and greatly respected.  With many of them who spoke no English, a nod, smile and handshake spoke volumes.

Mother continued serving on the State WMU Executive Board as Secretary,  This was her heart.  She wrote material and taught children's Sunday School classes, she corresponded with missionaries, had them in their home, and faithfully prayed for them daily.  But most of all, she dearly loved and supported her preacher husband and the people God had called them to serve.

Dad was a dreamer.  He always had a plan, a desire to do more.  Sometimes this was frustrating to Mother, but Dad would say, "When a man quits dreaming, he becomes old quickly."  In that respect, our father never got old.

One of the greatest joys and memories for Dick and me was taking Mom and Dad on a two-week trip to Colorado and Glorieta N.M for Music Week.  Dad had never been further than Arkansas and this was a trip of a life-time for him.  And for us!

One of his dreams had been to climb a mountain.  Even with terrible knees, using his walking cane, he did it.  We will never forget watching him climb knowing what a thrill that was for him.  If not painful.  It was when we could barely see him and at Mother's urging, Dick and I joined him.  We continued to explore until he was ready to go back down.  Climbing that mountain and finding treasures in the woods was another dream that came true.  He never tired of seeing new vistas and sights.

While in Chataignier, Mother and Daddy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Nov 24, 1993.

What a glorious time of celebration not only for our family, but for a host of family and friends who made the trip to love on two of the most lovable and giving people they knew.

We all gathered for our traditional family Christmas in the parsonage a month later with no idea it would be our last.

On January 18, 1994 Daddy died at the age of 75, following an otherwise ordinary surgery and was buried in the Chataignier church cemetery.  Mother sold their place and moved into an apartment in Bastrop, La where Dick and I lived at the time.  We had not lived close to each other, so these years were such a sweet blessing to us all.  She made new friends and continued to be very involved in WMU, though not on the scale she had always enjoyed among "the heathens" of South Louisiana.

In 2002, Dick and I moved to Shreveport and took Mother with us.  Her greatest thrill during these last years was being able to spend time living closer to some of her great grandchildren.  Even though they had not been blessed to know their Papa, these children knew and were loved by their Larla.

On July 28, 2005, Mother joined Daddy in heaven at 86, and was buried beside him in Chataignier.  Theirs was a true love story in every respect.  For 50 years they shared life and ministry, supported and respected each other unconditionally, and set an example for generations to come.  Dad never failed to bring a twig, a flower, a feather, whatever he found, to show Mother his deep love for her almost daily.

Someone wrote that "There is something inherently transcendent about relationships and the magical way they elevate us from our material drudgery, if we let them."  However, I think Henry David Thoreau perhaps best described our parent's strong individual characters that together created a uniquely strong relationship. 

“Two sturdy oaks I mean, which side by side,

 Withstand the winter's storm,

 And spite of wind and tide,

 Grow up the meadow's pride,

 For both are strong.


Above they barely touch, but undermined

Down to their deepest source...

Admiring you shall find

Their roots are intertwined


Our parents left a legacy from the far Northern-most part of Louisiana to the South-Central part of the state, and only God knows how far beyond that.  We do know of the impact they had and continue to have in the lives of their three daughters, sons-in-law, and their eight grandchildren.  It is our prayer that they never be forgotten and that their legacy continues now to the 5th generation.  We will always miss our "Gentle Giant" and his special lady of great wisdom and our prayer warrior.

These are our treasured memories.  Thank you Mom and Dad

Following Dad's death, Sarah invited people with whom Dad served, current and former church members, friends and family to write what he had meant to them and send it back to her.  She compiled these many letters into a book that each of us treasures.  It will always be a reminder that none of us live in isolation, but our lives are like ripples in a stream; only God knows how far-reaching and to what extent our influence will have on others.

Truly, those who came behind them, have found them faithful!

A few years ago most of the Lazenby grands and greats gathered for a reunion.  We all agreed Papa and Larla would have loved being there and would be exceedingly proud of the lives they left behind.

The purpose of writing this story is that we do not forget.  I want those who come behind to know who we were, and what it was like to grow up in rural Evangeline Parish in the 50's and 60's with parents like Porter and Laura Lazenby.  I've told our story by sharing very candidly experiences of our family.  I'm answering questions our descendants will not know to ask.

You will learn about the rich history that helped form the character of our Chicot family of Calvary Baptist Church and Bayou Chicot in the next three Monday morning posts.

Monday, July 24, 2023

The Lazenby's Story - Pine Prairie Part 5

In the summer of 1961, our family moved back to Evangeline Parish only a few miles from where we had lived two and a half years before.  Louisiana is the only state in the nation to have parishes instead of counties because the originators did not like the county system.  Another unique feature is that Louisiana is the only state where the Roman law is practiced.  All other states practice the English Common Law.

Evangeline Parish, originally part of St. Landry Parish was created by an Act of Legislature in 1911 when a large group of citizens declared that this area become a separate parish.

Records show that the Evangeline Parish area is one of the oldest inhabited areas of Louisiana, dating back to the early 1700's.  The name ‘Evangeline’ was selected as a tribute to Evangeline, the young Acadian lass made famous by the noted poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The population of Evangeline Parish is composed principally of English and French ancestry of which a large percentage speak Seventeenth Century French.  There is a notable sprinkling of Spanish in the Southern or plains portion.

Although Bayou Chicot and Pine Prairie were English settlements, Pine Prairie had more of a French/Spanish influence.  The First Baptist Church of Pine Prairie was established in 1918.  In a future post, I will delve into the fascinating history of this part of the country.

As I said in the previous post, we were in for a bit of a culture shock with this move.

For the first time we lived where there were more Catholics than Baptists. There were more than two denominational churches in the little town; in fact there were five.  There were two grocery stores and even a small restaurant or two.  We had an actual post office and fire station.  There were streets with names and even a few sidewalks.  Gin and I could again walk to school and back.  Another big thing was the parsonage was actually a block behind the church.  The population was less than 400 and consisted predominantly of white people.

As you no doubt have ascertained by now, the Lazenbys were not affluent by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, we were poor by most standards.  Interestingly enough, we never considered ourselves in this way.  Although there were people around who had more money, no one lived in any grander state than we did, and if they did, it wasn't important.  We were all the same.  One of the things our parents and family instilled in us was pride and a sense of integrity and dignity; not from a worldly or self-centered viewpoint, but from a Biblical perspective.

One of the first things of which we were informed after moving in, was that the previous pastor's daughter, who happened to be a year older than me, was a "wild kid" and had evidently created a pretty bad reputation not only for herself but her family as well.  Wow, was this ever pressure from the get-go.  We all initially felt this information meant "you better stay in line young ladies."  After several family discussions, I think Gin and I began to realize the importance of living our faith not only for our own witness, but for our father's ministry and reputation.  Using the excuse "everybody else is doing it" was not an argument we would win.  I decided it wasn't enough to say I was a Christian without living like one.

This certainly doesn't mean any of us were saints - far from it - but it did mean I knew I had to be different; be the person I knew God wanted me to be.  I was going into the 11th grade, Gin the 9th and Sarah the 3rd.  Gin and I both had strong personalities and were being faced with new temptations as well as opportunities.  Sarah was still sweet and adorable.

Actually, we soon learned that by far the majority of the kids and families in town were just good, hard-working people who also believed in strong family ties and living their faith.  Regardless of their religion, they were devout and welcomed us with wide-open arms of acceptance. We quickly made friendships that last to this day.

Dad was having a new challenge of his own.  There were a couple men in the church who had evidently always had their way in how the church was run.  They had never had Porter Lazenby as a pastor.  Dad very diplomatically yet strongly let them know who made the pastoral and leadership decisions.  This took a while but they ended up being some of his biggest supporters and we all enjoyed a sweet friendship between our families.  Good leadership breeds respect.

Another thing Dad did that had never been done in the history of Pine Prairie, was to make friends with the local Priest, Father Prescott.  Needless to say, those previously mentioned men questioned the wisdom of this.  Dad and Father Prescott became very good friends and shared a cup of coffee weekly and only they and God know what they talked about.  For the first time, there was communication and mutual respect between the leaders of the two largest churches in town.  Porter Lazenby wasn't there to convert all the Catholics.

Guess who was the Elementary School Principle.  Do you recall in my first post telling you about those two handsome college boys who helped us move in at Bayou Chicot?  Cecil Griffith, who had held my heart all those years ago and whose little sister, Edith Pat ended up being one of my best childhood friends, was Sarah's principle.  He was forever a prince of a man!

Gin and I both played on the varsity basketball team, I played softball and ran track my junior year, and Gin was an excellent tennis player.  I tried playing against her but I swung a racket like a softball bat and lost every time.  We were both officers in some of the same clubs as well as class officers in our individual grades.

All three of us were 11th, 9th, and 3rd grade class favorites in 1961.

Gin shared some of her special memories of these times:

"We moved to Pine Prairie the summer before my going into the 9th grade.  I quickly made friends and had a neighbor boy, Billy Campbell who became my walking buddy to and from school and my adopted brother.  He and I were elected class favorites for several years in high school.

"I was given the opportunity to continue my joy of playing basketball under a wonderful coach.  I also loved tennis and did very well.  It was here in Pine that Libby and I attended our first Catholic Midnight Mass as well as weddings, funerals and other special services with our friends of different faiths."

Not too long after moving to Pine, Daddy bought a piece of property on Cocodrie Lake in Clear Water, just north of Pine Prairie.  He had dreamed of having a camp where he could spend time in nature, fishing, studying and having a place for him and Mother, and the family to enjoy.  He spent all the time he could spare buying lumber and other building materials and did all the labor himself.  He finally had it complete and sparsely furnished enough that it could be used.  It was near another camp that belonged to friends in our church.

He wanted me to drive the motor again for him to check his line one day, but I had lost whatever skills I had once had, plus I was having to maneuver around trees, stumps and marsh instead of a wide open river.  I think it was a disappointing time for both of us.  That night as we were all sleeping, we were awakened by the most awful scream from what sounded like a woman right outside our windows.  Dad explained it was a panther and that they had been seen roaming in the woods.

A few months after the camp was completed, Dad had spent a day there piddling and fishing and roaming the woods.  Around mid-night he received a call that his and our friend's camps had been burned to the ground by poachers who didn't like their hunting territory disturbed by outsiders.

This broke our daddy's heart and it took a long time for him to get over this loss.  Not only had he lost a dream come true for him and mother, but also all of his tools including the old inherited tools from Mother's father he had treasured since their marriage.  This was a hard and painful loss for him.  No one was ever charged.

In 1962 I was a senior and it was a full year.  As basketball was the big sport in all our schools, we had games and tournaments every week, not to mention daily practice sessions.  I'm not sure where homework fit into my schedule, but I do know it wasn't necessarily my first priority.

There was a dear elderly French lady in our church who spoke pure Cajun and very broken English.  She lived in a small "shotgun" house near us.  Dad suggested that I mow her yard for her which I gladly did.  All we had was a push mower that took every ounce of strength my beanpole legs possessed.  One day she called me inside the house and told me to choose between three antique pieces of furniture as payment.  My insistence otherwise went on deaf ears and I eventually chose the dresser with a piece of Italian marble.  These were her family heirlooms with no one to pass them on to.  I have treasured this piece of furniture ever since because out of love and a sense of gratitude, she gave all she had.

I had been taking voice lessons from the wife of our basketball coach since early 1961, and had several opportunities to sing for various events, weddings, etc. in and around our community.  This is also when Gin and I were the official double pianists for our church.  Quite often during a particularly difficult test, my English teacher, Mr. Gaudet, the boys basketball coach would say, "Libby, sing us a song."  I would whip out "Some Enchanted Evening", "Summertime" or some other song I knew he liked and never failed a test.

Dad also enlisted me to teach the preschool children in Sunday School.  Little did either of us know that it would eventually lead to my serving as a Preschool Director and a Preschool Music Specialist with the La. Baptist Convention Music Department.  I worked with preschool choirs in almost every church Dick and I served for more than 40 years.

The Senior Play was always a big thing to look forward to in Pine and the entire community came out for that.  We practiced so hard on getting every line and action just right.  There was a particular favorite section that we enjoyed rehearsing over and over.  The night of the play I came in too quickly on one of the funniest lines in the show.  Unfortunately, it belonged to my Homecoming King and boyfriend.  That almost ended a really good friendship.

There were also talent shows where we participated and one especially when Gin and I sang a duet that we both refuse to relive again.

Danny and I were chosen as Homecoming King and Queen and I was voted as FFA Sweetheart yet again.  This time I was entered into the State FFA Sweetheart Competition held on the LSU Campus in Baton Rouge.  It was my first ever beauty type pageant and I was scared to death.  I didn't win but had a good time and somehow made my local club proud.

After graduating from H. S. I enrolled at LSU at Alexandria, then a two-year commuter branch of LSU as an Education Major.

My freshman year, to my amazement, I was nominated for the Miss LSUA title and even more amazed when I won.  There were some much prettier and better known girls in the competition, so I still wonder how it happened.

One of the honors I had as Miss LSUA was to cut the ribbon opening a new road that connected the school with our previous community, Riverview.  Unofficially, it has always been known as "Libby's Road" to our family.

The following year I moved in with a lovely lady, Mrs. Mary who lived near the campus.  She had another girl also living there, Floyanne.  We became fast friends and great roommates and are still close today.  This move also put me where I needed to be in order for God to continue working His plan for my life.

In 1964, I was a finalist for the Miss Cenla (Central Louisiana) Pageant. During this year I sang in the State Baptist Student Union Choir and was appointed a state officer.  My position was editor of the State BSU yearbook.  Only with God's help was I able to have it completed on time and it was the first BSU yearbook with color and graphics.  I am still proud of the accomplishment.

Also, in 1964, I was selected to serve as Miss Rapids Parish.  Thankfully, this was a talent based competition and not swim suit or the outcome would have been very different.  Incidentally, I made the lined suit I wore to be crowned.  Mother's teaching and four years of Home Economics had finally paid off.

In 1962 and '63 Gin and Billy were 10th and 11th grade favorites.  Sarah was chosen as her class favorite those same years.

During her high school years, Gin continued to excel in sports and academics and was everyone's favorite in school.  Her senior year, she was treasurer of the Beta Club, class secretary and on the yearbook staff.  She and her best friend, Lynn were chosen "Most Likely to Succeed" and crowned Homecoming King and Queen of Pine Prairie High School.  She graduated in '64 with many recognitions and honors.  She also attended LSUA for a while but ended up going to work and eventually moved to Baton Rouge.  She bought her first car, a new '64 Corvair Monza Super Sport for $2,400.  Imagine that!  It was beige with black interior and bucket seats and it suited her to a tee.  While working in B. R. she lived with several girls who became life-long friends.  She also met her husband-to-be.

Sarah completed grades three through eight in Pine.  She made friendships there that have lasted all these years later and her love for animals only grew.

She started playing basketball in elementary school and only continued to improve.  It was also then that she began to show signs of eventually outgrowing Gin (who had already passed me) in height.  In middle school she had developed as a leader on the basketball court, not to mention academically.  She was selected to play on the H. S. varsity team as an eighth grader.  She told me that one of the highlights for her during that eighth grade year was playing in a regional tournament at Louisiana College in Pineville, La.  This said so much about her skill of the game.

In early February 1965, Floyanne and I made a bus trip to New Orleans where I knew I would meet the man I was to marry.  It was through the daughter and son-in-law of the lady I lived with, Mrs. Mary, that this arranged blind date was made.  I told you God was working His plan, and I was right; he was the one.
Yes, I made the dress I'm wearing.

On Sept. 4, 1965, Dick and I were married at the First Baptist Church of Pine Prairie following a whirlwind, distant courtship after having met on that blind date in New Orleans.  He was in his final year of receiving a Masters Degree in Church Music at the N. O. Baptist Theological Seminary.  And the rest is for another story and another time.

In 1967, after six years of fruitful ministry, rearing and releasing two teenage, now young adult daughters, and a third daughter still in the home, the Lord did the strangest thing.  He actually called Mom and Dad back to where this story began, as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Bayou Chicot.

And that is where this story will pick up next Monday.