CRAIG LEONARD SR.
ISLAND SERIES BLOG:
The island of Jean Lafitte the pirate:
Wide-eyed and more than a little frightened, I held on to my seat as my father’s skiff plowed doggedly across the channel which divides Grand Island and Grand Terre Island. Choppy seas and brisk winds blew a frothy spray on us not at all unwelcomed on that hot Louisiana morning more than fifty years ago. The year was 1962 and was the first time I set foot on the island of Jean Lafitte the pirate. What a wonderful and exhilarating feeling to experience as a young boy. My great uncle, Arcelone Doucet traveled with us that day. In fact, he made the whole trip possible.
Uncle Arcelone had his huge cattle herd running free on the island. And why you might ask were my father and yours truly there? Well, quite simply my father had a skiff and my uncle did not. Apparently my uncle’s old boat was no longer sea worthy so my father offered his skiff to be used for the crossing to which my uncle accepted. That started one of the best chapters of my life. Over the next ten years I would become very familiar with this old island.
All my life to that point I heard “the old people” tell story after story of the great Pirate Jean Lafitte’s base of operations on Grand Terre Island. Tales of sword fights, hangings, cannon laden ships of sail coming and going, their hulls filled with pirated booty all filled my young mine with thoughts of adventure. Of course, as I was always told, all that booty was still buried somewhere on Grand Terre Island!
We approached the island from the south and entered a small canal which led us to the only dock on the island at that time. There for the first time I noticed a large camp which I learned to be a Louisiana wildlife and fisheries base. Once on the island I distinctly remembered hanging close to my father and uncle just in case a swashbuckling brigand made his appearance. Instead, a friendly wildlife officer greeted us with a firm handshake and a much appreciated offer of hot coffee. I can’t say I was disappointed but rather relieved with the friendly “first contact” on Jean Laffite’s island.
The island was everything this eight year old boy could have hoped for and more. That trip was one of the earliest indications to me that i had somewhat of a wild imagination. While my father and my uncle were busy looking for the herd, i kept my eyes far out to sea in hopes of seeing a distant top sail. My senses were filled with the sights and sounds of this great island. Giant waves crashing onto the beach, seagulls playing in and out of the water their shrill, fussing calls demanding attention and pods of porpoise cruising the shoreline all captured my attention, planting the seeds of respect for the bountiful world we live in. Not a mile after leaving the wildlife base I removed my shoes to walk at the water’s edge. The wet sand beneath my feet felt cool and soothing. More than once I stopped to dig for treasure but was never really disappointed not to find any. NO! I take that back! I did find treasure, true treasure. That day I found the thrill of a life time, a dream come true, expectation and anticipation not denied and perhaps most importantly of all I found the love of a father who took his son on an adventure, an adventure so impactful that today, an old man would write about it fifty years later.
I almost left out one of the most eventful happenings of that day so long ago and that was my first steps onto an old, abandoned, real life fort near the wildlife station. But that adventure will have to wait for another blog….