My wife called this “an odd sort of Christmas village.”
Back in March 2013, when I was in Louisiana on my research trip (thanks again to the Literary Arts and the Oregon Literary Fellowship that made that possible), I spent some time touring historic villages to get a sense of the buildings and town life of the time. At one place, I visited Le Magasin (the gift shop) and bought, among other things, a cute little kit full of jigsawed wooden plats and paint pots and a brush. The idea was to paint the pieces, glue them together, and create little 2D models of the buildings in a traditional Acadian village.
I, of course, was thinking about the buildings in Hagridden.
It’s taken a long time to get around to it, but I came across the kit a couple of weeks ago while cleaning my study for my writing retreat, and I decided this holiday break was the perfect time to finally put it together. So I cut open and spread out a couple of paper bags on the dining table, and my wife and I settled in for an afternoon of crafts on Christmas Eve.
Two of the buildings I’ve made into direct references to Hagridden, and for fun, I’ve decided to include the descriptions of those with their photos. The third doesn’t actually show up, but there is a reference to it, so I’ve included that as well.
By the end of the week Buford had the true walls framed and raised. No time in his agenda to cure the moss in the old ways so that weekend he mixed the moss with mud from the marsh and constituted a new batch of bousillage, which he packed between the studs before he skinned the walls in tongue-and-groove siding. Exhausted, he decided to ignore the traditional garçonnière in the attic and instead bent long green poles to a shallow barrel ribbing bowed over the ceiling, and he thatched the ribs with reeds. This he finished by the middle of the second week, and at night he slept indoors on the floor while by day he began constructing a few pieces of furniture: a sturdy chair, a bench for his small porch, two storage boxes.
[. . .]
When he finished he bundled some reeds into a crude broom and swept out the small shack and appraised it, tested its walls, sat on his porch bench, lay back on his mattress, and wondered what the girl would make of it all, if she would approve.
You might notice that the doorway and the right window show a faint bit of light. This is my nod to the book cover. 🙂
Here are some examples of actual Acadian houses I saw in Louisiana:
Elon’s store in Leesburg
As the day wore on and they neared the far edge of town, they stepped into a leaning wood structure that might once have been a cheap stilted house but now resembled more a broken toolshed. Over the door hung a sign with painted letters, Elon’s Sundries. It was the last place in town, no choice left them though the woman wrinkled her nose as she entered and at first let the girl talk to the old black man in his chair by the crooked door.
I thought about making this Clovis’s sutler shop in the swamp, but it’s far too stable and traditional for Clovis’s place — this is a town building, even if it is in the poor, segregated section of town. And besides, Elon is one of my favorite characters and I don’t think he gets enough attention. So here’s his store, crooked door and all.
Here’s what the “magasin” gift shop at the Acadian Village in Lafayette, Louisiana, looks like:
Well hell. To tell it true, I can’t face that priest knowing what we done. And nowadays, I can’t bear to face the man what christened Remy knowing I let him die.
You might ease your conscience some if you let him hear your confession.
Father Nathaniel ain’t got time enough in his whole life to hear a confession such as ours.
All right, fine. Maybe we just go to that Baptist church, then, ain’t no one we know there and no priest to face. Get us right with God and we come on home.
[. . .]
Once over in Leesburg, the woman said, when I was a younger woman and me and Alphonse would go to Mass more regular, well, we was running late and ever church was already started, and as we passed that old Baptist church I overheard their preacher sermonizing about sins and salvation and how we all got to watch out.
[. . .]
So as dusk settled, they hauled out great sections of the ruined houses, and tables and wagon beds and the cross from the church, and piled it all into a wide bier on the beach. Then they tossed on the corpses and set them ablaze.
I should point out that the region I write about here, that part of old Calcasieau Parish that is today Cameron Parish, is still heavily Catholic and has been since the early 19th century, but as far as I’ve found, the area didn’t have a regular parish priest until after the Civil War, and no full-fledged Catholic church until the 1880s. At the time my novel is set, the few residents in the area would have received visits from an itinerant priest, but I’ve gone ahead and given them a chapel anyway. 🙂
Here’s what the chapel in the Acadian Village in Lafayette looks like:
In addition to the buildings, the kit came with a set of animals: a goose, a gator, and a log full of turtles. (As I showed my wife the illustration on the back of the kit, she squinted at the indistinct shape and color of the log and I said, “No, that ain’t shit on a stick, that’s turtles on a log,” and she laughed about that the rest of the day.)
I like the gator and the turtles because I took such photos in Louisiana.
But it was these animals that made my wife call this “an odd sort of Christmas village”: “There are no people in this village,” she said. “No one lives here but a goose, some turtles, and a gator.”
I reminded her of what my Uncle Bill said when I told him that my motel in Cameron, Louisiana put me in the middle of where I needed to be: “You’re in the middle of two gators maybe!”
Finally, here are some shots of us painting and assembling the pieces: