Lolly and I met 61 years ago in November 1959. She wanted to be a June bride, so this June 10th was our 60th wedding anniversary.
During those 60 wonderful years, spent all over the world, we have lived in some great places, including Arizona, but none of them can quite match Natchitoches, Louisiana, where I completed my undergraduate degree in 1975. From the very first day we arrived we fell in love with Natchitoches, its wonderful people, and its Cajun culture.
Absolutely certain that we had found the place where we wanted to spend the rest of our lives, one of the first things we did was to buy a little house. And I would have stayed right there, teaching in the high school or the university, both of which offered me a teaching position, except for the fact that the assistant superintendent for personnel of a very wealthy school district in Texas drove up to Natchitoches and made us a fabulous salary offer which even included a job for Lolly as a school secretary.
The amount that rich Texas school district offered us was an incredible six times the amount we could earn anywhere else, and after many years of eking out a living on a slim Air Force salary we took it. However, I sometimes wish we had stayed right there in Natchitoches, and when I tell you what it’s like you’ll understand why I feel that way.
To begin with, in Louisiana, while Cajun is a common term, it is not limited to the direct descendants of the French settlers that the British deported from eastern Canada during French-British hostilities around 1763. It refers to a vibrant and beautiful culture composed of a unique blend of music, folkways, and cuisine. To say that Lolly and I — especially Lolly! — fell in love with that culture, would be the understatement of the year. And if Port Arthur, Texas, where our new school district was located had not enjoyed some of that same Cajun culture, we wouldn’t have moved there, no matter what.
It is, of course, the people of Natchitoches who make it so special, but there are many other things about “Nakatish,” as it is pronounced, that make it unique. First among them is the lay of the land and the climate it creates. Over seven square miles of the 25-square-mile town is water, but what water!
Everywhere you look is a lake or stream, including long narrow Chaplin Lake, beside which sits Northwestern University. Then there is the Red River, which changed its course in 1835, leaving behind the 33-mile-long Cane River Lake, which meanders right through the middle of town, with green grassy banks on which annual festivals and other events are held. And that’s not to mention Sibley Lake with its sharply indented 38-mile-long shoreline.
And — oh boy! — the fishing. I caught more fish, including white crappie, largemouth bass, and several others, including Lolly’s favorite: channel cats — in a year and a half in Natchitoches than I have caught altogether in the rest of my entire life.
And the climate? Ideal. Imagine a 200-foot elevation located 170 miles from the Gulf Coast. Average June temperatures: 92 days; 69 nights. October: 82/53. January: 61/39; plus a barely measurable snowfall every few years.
All this along with 18,000 warm, friendly people in a city reminiscent of France, with its wrought iron, stucco, and red brick.
And food that has to be tasted to be believed.