Two Verandahs and an Ice Box: a Thibodeaux Assemblage Sculpture

  • Backdrop – ice box door
  • Left side – porch column from back verandah, two pieces
  • ….. – iron wire clothes line, remains in situ, attached to column
  • ….. – curtain fragment from front bay window on clothes line
  • ….. – painted silhouette of column and bracket, before decay
  • Upper right – (outside of container) barrel hoop
  • ….. – wall and corner, mirror image of column and bracket contours.
  • ….. – painted silhouette of bracket above the front bay window
  • ….. – window screen from bay window
  • [Lower right – Diy-Gid-Biy 1 excavation in northern Cameroon, explained in its own post.
Left wall: TVIB at upper left

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(You’ve come in at the middle of a complex and wonderful story. To start from the beginning, go to https://postkatrinastella.com/thelesphore-a-family-hero-in-post-civil-war-cajun-country-pg-1/)

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Ice box door
White ice box on its side, after most of clearing done

Ice Box Door: The rusted-out door of an ice box was in a half-collapsed shed in back of Thelesphore’s house beneath a tangle of things, all broken or rotted, that included a rusted-out iron headboard, a plow shaft and blade, half of a wooden rocking chair, several iron cauldrons and porcelain wash basins, and a crosscut saw.

The family remembers, back in the 1940s when they were kids, sliding the drip tray out from the bottom on hot summer days and drinking the cold clear water that dripped down from the block of ice on the metal rack above. A set of ice tongs, rusted shut, was one of many small things buried by decades of leaf litter. One of its two points, meant to grasp 40lb blocks of ice, was still intact.

Left – Right rear corner of shed behind Thelesphore’s house

The Thelesphore Thibodeaux house

Front Verandah, Eastlake brackets: Thelesphore Thibodeaux was a Black Creole French farmer, the son of a white Acadian sugar cane farmer and the ex-slave woman he raised 8 children with after the Civil War and finally married on his deathbed at age 70. He was an intelligent and responsible man respected by his mother and siblings to act as head of the family after their father died. A hotly-contested, hard-won inheritance that saved his family’s home and livelihood in 1895 allowed him to build this fine little house whose character is defined by the Eastlake bay window, with its gingerbread brackets. To read about the family circumstances surrounding its construction, go to The Thélèsphore Thibodeaux house, St. Martin Parish, Louisiana.

Front verandah from the side, bay window with Eastlake brackets barely visible
Eastlake Victorian bracket and bay window
Essie Thibodeaux Lyles, granddaughter of Thelesphore, and Sister Sylvia Thibodeaux, granddaughter of Louise. Neither had been in the house since it was abandoned in the 1970s.

Cypress column from the back verandah

Back Verandah Column: A badly decayed cypress column in several segments was found collapsed and rotting in the ground beneath the scattered sheets of corrugated tin roofing that had collapsed on top of it.

Originally, the absence of stairs leading to any of the back doors was a mystery to me, until the family began to tell me stories of them playing on a long open verandah at the back of Uncle Bro’s house (what they called their great-uncle Thelesphore) that ran the length of the house from the central vestibule all the way back to the kitchen.

Rear doors without entry stairs, before I knew there had once been a long verandah connecting them.
Central vestibule door, roof-shaped gap in the weatherboards , and remnants of floor joists jutting out at the sills.

On closer scrutiny, I saw many signs pointing to the existence of a verandah. The ghost of its roof could be seen in the outline of missing weatherboards, and the stubs of a few floor joists still jutted out from the sills. And it turned out that what I thought was a precarious-looking pile of rubbish on the ground, jagged edges of rusty metal peaking out from beneath a blanket of fallen leaves, was actually a layer of corrugated tin roofing resting on the remains of the brick piers, twisted further upwards by weeds long since grown into trees.

The uneven surface of the side yard debris turned out to be the corrugated tin roof. Amidst the decayed wood pulp were a few segments of a column that were still somewhat solid.
grooved grindstone

Far from being the expected rubbish heap, once the metal sheets had been cleared, the only thing beneath them was a mushy fill of woody pulp that I can only guess had once been the verandah’s beams, planks and, true to the quantity of it, the wide steps that the family described as running the full length of the verandah. I did find a large, broken piece of a grooved grindstone, but it seemed intentionally placed at the base of the leaning cistern, perhaps to bolster a sinking pier.

The family remembers those steps being a social hub when they were children, all cousins within a close-knit family compound of neighboring households. Only the oldest remembers Thelesphore, but they all knew his youngest son Leonard, their daddy T-Boy’s 1st cousin, who had brought his wife to live in the family home so he could care for his aging parents. Leonard and T-Boy’s children grew up together as best friends. They made ice cream on hot summer days, sitting on the steps turning the crank, and I found the cranks and paddle blades to prove it, several sets. The girls played with paper dolls on the long verandah steps while the boys played ball in the side yard. And they remember the boys next door, their forlorn faces, hanging on the fence wishing they could join in the ball game. They were cousins, too, grandsons of Paul Hypolite, Thelesphore’s younger brother, just as my Thibodeaux trio telling me their story were grandchildren of Louise, Thelesphore’s baby sister. But Paul, who had taken his grandsons in when their mother died, was a stern taskmaster who disapproved of children wasting time on leisure games when there was always so much work to do on the farm. Ironically, it was in one of Paul Hypolite’s old sheds that I found a very rotted baseball bat, as well as a softball whose stuffing had been removed to somebody’s nest a few feet away. (To read about Thelesphore, Paul and Louise’s parents, the white planter and ex-slave girl whose family of 8 are at the heart of the Thibodeaux story, go to Thibodeaux/Azor Succession #2859, 1890s Breaux Bridge, La. )

The kitchen doorway to the verandah. Big iron wood stove had been against right wain front of the patch of unpainted wall.

After Thelesphore and his wife died within 5 months of each other, Leonard and his family moved out of the house and his oldest brother Caffrey moved in. The family today remembers Caffrey’s wife Anna sitting on the chair she kept in the doorway between the kitchen and the verandah. They remember her at her washtub, which hung from a peg on the outside wall by the cistern, the washtub that did double duty, cleaning laundry by day and them by night in front of the fire when they slept over. She did laundry this way until the children were long grown, since Caffrey didn’t have electricity installed in the house until the mid-1960s.

The wringer washer, hiding behind a dinette chair in the dining room that became the kitchen when the tiny kitchen, with its wood-burning stove removed, became the pantry

When Caffrey bought Anna an electric wringer washer on wheels, they remember her wheeling it out to the cistern on washday, then wringing everything out to hang on the wire clothes line that was stretched between two columns, a piece of which still remains on the column segment in the sculpture box. She did laundry like this, using water from the cistern, until she died in 1972, because Caffrey never did have plumbing put in. The house has no bathroom, no running water.

More than anything, though, the family remembers the wonderful smells that wafted over the steps from Anna’s kitchen, and the big cast iron stove her previous employer had given her as a wedding present back in the ’30s. Anna was well-known for her cooking, as was her sister Una, next door, the mother to my Thibodeaux trio. Cousins T-Boy and Caffrey married sisters, and the whole neighborhood, as well as friends who ‘just happened to drop by’ at dinner time, reaped the benefits of it.

Anna’s iron stove door

No one remembers when the big iron stove was taken out of Anna’s tiny kitchen, or whether it was before the electrical stove was put in or not. But I found one of its beautiful doors buried beneath the trash pile next to the back shed, and it had a piece broken out of it which may give some indication as to why it was replaced. Was this what led Caffrey to modernize to electricity, because Anna needed to buy a new stove, which were all electric by then? He doesn’t seem to have liked the idea of modernizing, given how willing he was to continue to use the outhouse behind the house all the way into the 1970s, and bathe from a basin filled from the cistern.

In any case, even with electricity, air-conditioning was never one of the modernizations, so it is easy to imagine the back verandah of the house being the place where much of life happened, work and play.

Sculpture process: ————————-

May 2015 – “Ice box door, lotta blank space, gotta put something on it that wouldn’t have a place of its own already. Let’s try different combinations of things.”
August 2015 – “My favorite thing, the Eastlake bracket, and I don’t have a single piece to represent it. Here’s a blank space; paint it! And while you’re at it, paint the contours of the column as they would have been before they rotted away.”
Sept.2015 – I gotta seal this rust, so I’ll put color in the sealer, make the silhouettes backlit by a silvery moon at night. Let’s make the night the purplish color of the joints of a sugar cane stalk, and have that color be a theme that runs throughout, wherever color is needed.”
Sept.2015 – “Too silvery, let’s have the moonlight come from just the corner., The barrel hoop can go around the corner like a big moon. It’ll have to go near the top of the whole assemblage so there’s nothing behind the hoop. . . . . This leaves a big space for part of the Cameroon dig. Better figure up the Diy-Gid-Biy 1 design and dimensions before I go any further.
Dec.2015 – “Got the footprint of it anyway. But I ought to develop all 3 sections of the excavation at the same time, which means designing the other two boxes and the artifacts they will contain.”
March 2016 – “This is gonna need a box that will hold the heavy barrel hoop in place. Maybe something that can mirror the contours of the column and bracket on the opposite side in a more 3D way. Instead of the light-weight foam board most of the boxes are made of, this one should be wood.”
March 2016 – “Ok, so build it.”
July 2016 – “Will it stand up by itself? Good, now get it up and out of the way, it and all it’s leftover materials, cuz I need the space for the next one!”

_________________________________________ Next up, “War” ________________________________________

War

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