Between the tranquil banks of Bayou Petit Caillou and Louisiana Highway 56 sits an icon of resilience among bayou folks. Weathered to a respectable patina, the old cypress board-and-batten building is home to an old general store, with counters covered in “penny candy” jars just like it did 100 years ago.
Once inside Cecil Lapeyrouse’s Grocery, you think you’ve stepped back in time, surrounded by antiques at least as old as the building itself. Established in 1914 by Cecil’s grandfather Gustave Lapeyrouse, this month marks 100 years for the business. Other than the prices and new-fangled energy drinks, not much has changed in this piece of bayou history.
Etta, Cecil’s wife he refers to as the “backbone of the store”, worked a short while in the store before their marriage in 1987. At that time, Cecil worked in the oil field seven days on and seven days off. During his seven days away at work, Etta kept the store chugging along while raising their blended family of three sons. In the beginning, she had the help of her sisters and her right-hand woman, Maggie, who is still with them after 28 years.
Just one look around the store, and Etta’s love of old things and antiques becomes evident. We make our way down the narrow isle, walking between the old glass cabinets and old shelves lined with hardware. Off to the side is a little room where family and friends hang out. I remember the day I was welcomed into the inner sanctum, and I was in awe of the antique-filled room. Etta’s collections of speckled enamelware in almost every color lines the walls. So extensive is her collection that Universal Studios has rented some of the rare cookware, unique stoves, and other antiques for period films.
Once we pull ourselves away from that amazing room, we step out onto a brick path that leads through Etta’s garden down where her talent for taking one person’s junk and making it a harmonious garden treasure is almost unbelievable. Each time I visit her garden, which is going on five years now, I see something I didn’t notice before.
The brick path leads down to the edge of the bayou, where minnow tanks hold live bait for fishermen and old gas pumps sit at the ready for the next boat needing a fill up. The store, a mainstay for the community, provides groceries, hardware, ice, fuel and bait to residents, commercial fishermen, and weekend warriors alike.
Hard hit during and since the BP oil spill in April 2010, their dedication to serving the community continues undaunted. Through the years, their business has seen some trying times; but they know they are not alone in those times, for when they are suffering, they know their neighbors are suffering, too. Even though many of the commercial fishermen have since gone out of business, Cecil and Etta stand firm and continue to offer all the same services to those as resilient as they.
Their dedication to community does not go unnoticed or unappreciated, and as a testament to that, I heard the same descriptive phrases over and over in reference to this unique couple during the celebration this past weekend:
“Good as gold.” “Give you the shirt off their backs.” “Do anything for you.” “Always helping and giving to others.” “Treat us just like family.”
In recognition of their community spirit and hard work, Parish President Michel Claudet presented them with the key to the parish, a well-deserved honor. There is no doubt that in a bayou community this close-knit, Lapeyrouse’s committed customers would give them the shirts off their backs, too.
There’s something to be said about an establishment that is still going strong after 100 years. But when it comes right down to it, it’s more about the people. Always ready with his sharp wit and a quick smile, Cecil’s bark is way worse than his bite. Etta, and her love of old things, has kept her grounded during hurricane storm surges, the elevation and remodeling of their old house next to the store. And now with grandchildren running around, there is a never a dull moment in the lives of this exemplary couple.
At some point during a weekend stay with me or during a Bayou Woman Adventure, you just might find yourself on a car tour along the back-bayou road, which leads from my bayou to Etta’s. There we will visit with her, tour her store, and lounge in her peaceful garden. We might even stroll down to the water’s edge and enjoy a cool drink while sitting on one of her many inviting benches, enjoying the Gulf breeze.
It is my distinct pleasure to have met and made friends with these icons of Bayou Petit Caillou, and I hope that Etta and I get to swap stories about life, family, and flowers for many years to come. Congratulations to the entire family for hanging tough when times were hard and for setting such a great example of community and tenacity to all of us who know and respect them.
My tribute to them and their commitment to their bayou community is the following collection of photos taken over the years during visits to their fascinating store and magical garden. Thank you, Etta and Cecil!
*Please read more about Dot-tee and her artwork here.
And if you are so inclined, please hop over to Country Roads Magazine and read my piece in the May issue!