About 130 years ago, James Louis LaBar Sr. was born and started off a chain of events that would lead me to the side of a pond yesterday in East Texas, listening to a pretty blonde woman in an aqua colored sun dress explain to me how a nest of water moccasins had made a home next to their house which led to a weekend chore of "sitting up on this hill and popping them with my 17." Shelby is my cousin, who I am meeting for the first time. She grew up on 40 acres of God's country with grass that crunches under your feet on a ranch built by her father Bruce off the sale of timber.
It's times like these when you wonder where North Branch, NJ went but these thoughts are quickly overtaken by the discovery of a Tarzan lunch box rusted over, keeping a set of bull horns company in Bruce's shed out back where fish and deer are cleaned and old bottles of Wild Turkey are used to collect some sort of miscellaneous liquid that could either be moonshine or grease.
My Aunt Jeanette passed away in July, Uncle Gary back in 2009. Their family home in Natchitoches, TX, our shelter from multiple storms not only provided us a safe haven but also provided an immediate stage for stories from my family's past. With this as a home base this past summer, we've seen the family grave of James Sr. as well as the old family house where my father grew up that is now a Vietnam War memorial and a monument for the work done by Lufkin locals to recover pieces of the space shuttle Columbia that scattered itself throughout town. We've found the abandoned drive-thru movie theater that my Uncle Gary used to manage and jokingly dreamed about re-opening its doors to the public to launch a new adventure.
Grave site of James Louis LaBar, Sr in Lufkin, TX
Me and Aunt Judy on the old LaBar family lot in Lufkin.
Natchitoches is where we first met Buddy Williams, a cousin of mine who turned 80 yesterday. A side of the family that I have never known and still cannot quite follow through the web of a rather confusing family tree that has roots in East Texas, winds its way up to Canada and spreads west to California. It's here that I meet Buddy's son Scott, who has traced our family back to 1654 when Abraham De LaBarre, a Royal Guard of the King of France disobeyed an order to save the King's daughter and gave rise to the family name. It is Scott who introduces me to "one of the last real cowboys," who in between large quantities of chew, accent and stories about the tires on his truck declares that all the new ones are really just "hats."
Williams Ranch in East Texas
It's not often you get to eat fried catfish and hush-puppies with a side of your family that you did not really know existed, celebrate the 80th birthday of a cousin you are meeting for the second time, meet a friend of his who worked in the Lufkin paper mill for your grandfather Jimmy, possibly side by side with your own dad, or even chat about popping water snakes with a pretty cousin of yours all in a single day. Happy Birthday Buddy!
Me, Carlee and our cousin Buddy Williams