I just got the news from Ville Platte that Aunt Virginia passed away from heart failure at 1 o'clock this morning. She was the last of that generation who greeted me with open arms and an open heart way back in 1977, and so did everyone else.

Many of you know of my first marriage at the young age of barely 22, but some of you don’t. It was the thing to do back then. You graduated from high-school and college, and BAM, you got married. Most of my 1974 classmates and I were on that band wagon when I met Jack working at Domengeaux & Wright in Lafayette. He was an attorney and I was a secretary to Bennett Boyd Anderson. The day I met him he was wearing a crushed velvet maroon sport coat Edwin Edwards’ daughter gave him, drove a cream-colored Riviera, had been in the seminary, and took many an impromptu jaunt to Vegas. I mean, what was a 21 year old fresh out of the parking lot at Duck’s Drive Inn supposed to do? Right, marry The Golden Boy from Ville Platte.

One late afternoon at the office he asked if I wanted to take a drive with him in the cool-looking Riviera to Ville Platte and I enthusiastically accepted, even though I hadn’t quite broken up with Randy Lissard. I called my parents and told them I was spending the weekend in Ville Platte. All my Daddy could utter was, “Ville Platte?”

I had no change of clothes, no pajamas, no nothing, and I was terrified until the kitchen door opened and his mother, Miss Carmen, welcomed me in. His sister Margaret lived next door and walked over with a pregnancy test in her hands. She announced to the four of us she was going to have a baby. My nephew Lance is now 45 years old. We went out that night and I met most of his close friends from high-school like Mickey, Costella, his cousin Tommy, and many more. When we left Tommy was dancing with a broom.

Miss Carmen laid out a pair of Margaret’s pajamas for me and the next morning the kitchen was full of the cousins and aunts and uncles smoking and drinking coffee which magically turned into clinking ice-filled glasses of Old Fashioneds. There was Jack, Sr. and Miss Carmen, Virginia and Jim, Dwight and Flo, Duffy and Valerie, Bill and Claudia, and sometimes if we were lucky we got to visit with Judge Fruge’ who was an avid genealogist also and told me at the dinner table across from a bowl of aspic that my Borel family were cattle thieves. I was not surprised. I looked forward to taking Exit 23 to Ville Platte where I was surrounded by people who were fun, funny, political, loud, bright, good cooks, Old Charter lovers and squirrel hunters … but mostly fun.

If it’s true what they say, they’re all together again. Big Jack and Miss Carmen, Jim and Virginia, Dwight and Flo, Bill and Claudia, and Jack and Chris. I see them savoring a smoked ponce with rice and gravy and a side cup of gumbo made with a hen. Always a hen. Everyone is happy except for Aunt Virginia because Uncle Jim was having fun. She never liked it when he had fun. I can hear her say, “Jimmy, that’s enough," and sent one of her boys to take away his Old Fashioned.

To all the aunts and uncles up there I thank you for being you, and for loving me. The feeling was mutual.

PHYLLIS BELANGER MATA was born at the old Dauterive Hospital and grew up on Wayne Street. She is a 1974 graduate of Mt. Carmel Academy and is a chili dog “without the wiener” aficionado.