This weekend, I made a quick pass through the real Grand Prairie, Louisiana — as opposed to the alternate-reality one I created for The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival. To be honest, I didn’t expect to find that much difference between the two. After all, the one is based on the other.
But I was wrong.
While it’s true that I go to Grand Prairie once a year for Christmas Eve, it would be more accurate to say that I drive through Washington in the dark, turn off before I get to Grand Prairie-proper and go directly to my uncle’s house. Same thing ever year.
So the rest of Grand Prairie has been frozen in my mind, stuck back in the 1990s. It was then that my dad–by that point, long divorced from my mom–decided to take his single-wide out of the trailer park in Nuba and move it onto 28 acres of woodland he bought just off the water-tower road. Left onto the road, first right after the water tower, then right immediately after the hard-left curve. The driveway cut through a couple of fields and a stand of trees–long enough you didn’t even know there was a trailer back there.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t that far from the knocked-down shack my mom had grown up in when they were sharecropping or whatever it was they did. Sweet potatoes, I think it was.
I’d be too scared to live alone in the woods, but in high school, it was certainly a nice break for my friends and me. When we got tired of driving the Taco Bell-to-Sonic loop in Opelousas while getting drunk, we’d schedule a weekend of camping while getting drunk. We’d set shit on fire, throw fireworks at each other, get all muddy and disgusting and eat hot dogs and Little Debbie Fudge Rounds till we were about to puke. Hell, one weekend, I somehow managed to convince half the high-school population of Opelousas Catholic to drive in a caravan back there for a bonfire. It was about 25 degrees, the wind was blowing about 20 miles per hour and all of the wood was consumed in about half an hour. Needless to say, the party didn’t last long and soon enough, it was just the boys too drunk and stupid to come in out of life-threatening cold. One of the things I remember that night is someone doing donuts in Toby’s Toyota Starlet while he yelled into the frigid air, “My carrrrrrrrrr. My carrrrrrr.” (Side note: We loved that car. If there’s a car heaven, that little gray thing is up there right now.)
Aside from Daddy building a house back there, the place didn’t change much as I went to high school, college, back to grad school.
So I guess I could be forgiven for thinking that part of Grand Prairie would have remained the same. It hasn’t. There are more houses now on the stretch between the Ville Platte highway and the water-tower road. What shocked me more is there is what looks like a pine forest grown up in the pastures surrounding the water tower. Trees some 20 feet tall where there were scrubby little things before. Pines grow fast sure, but it would take them at least . . . Oh, it’s been 15 years, hasn’t it?
And alongside the old driveway? A trailer park. Farther back, a subdivision. I didn’t have the courage to drive down the length of it. Private property is still a sacred thing in these parts.
After driving around looking for Mama’s old house and not finding it, I could only come to the conclusion it had succumbed to the elements are been bulldozed once and for all.
Oh well. Such is life. I wanted to stop, shake my fist and say, “HOW DARE YOU?!?” but then I figured I’d sound like one of those preservationist wankers who think property and houses are just museum pieces for the enjoyment of the nostalgic set. I’d long ago moved out of the area, so I had no right.
Besides, it’s not like nostalgia and memory or all that accurate after all. That same afternoon, I drove by St. Pete’s Catholic Church — again, the real one. With the exception of the upside down cross, where St. Pete hangs for all eternity, it didn’t look like I’d been remembering it all these years.
Indeed, it looked a little better, a little more stately than the imaginary one that had been living in my mind.
Oh, and one thing about the church has changed, too. The graveyard’s gotten bigger.