I think that this story is a beautiful story of love, heartache and the triumph of the human spirit. When I think about it and really process it, it is humanity’s story. It’s one of many stories, because everyone has a story. I hope that you find this story as one that is uplifting and creates a small spark within you to think toward good. To think toward all those hands that help to bring us to where and who we are today. Through this writing, I celebrate my parents: Herman “Tuck” and Annie Metoyer. Two people who have a story made over 50 years and two people that have been loving each other since what I consider, the beginning of time.
Annie Victorian, my mom, was born in 1946 in a small village in Louisiana. If you are not from Louisiana, it’s not a place one would normally think of when hearing about the state of Louisiana. Your mind probably moves toward New Orleans or Baton Rouge, not Soileau. If you are from Louisiana, you probably need to consult your map or better, Google®, to let you know about the small area. Soileau is in the western part of the state, located in Allen Parish with neighboring towns of Oberlin, Mamou and Kinder. I’m convinced that the only people that reside in Soileau are family—connected in some way to the Victorian family. Many are the descendants of my mom as she was number 11 of 12 children to Oliver and Armosa Victorian. My grandfather was a huge farmer, acquiring hundreds of acres of land back in the early 40s and 50s. He was a hard worker, much older than my grandmother and not only provided for his family, but the people/family that lived in Soileau. My grandmother, Armosa, was a homemaker. She took care of her children and her grandchildren and spoke no English. She spoke Creole French and all her children spoke French as their first language. Looking back on it, I think I thought it was different. Not that it wasn’t normal, but it was just different. I never knew what any of them were talking about, but I loved to hear their laughter. I was always a curious child and so I was always asking what they were talking about. They never said. And today, I still wonder as my mom and her remaining siblings, nieces and nephews, still speak to each other in French and I just listen. I listen to the rhythm. I listen to their tones. And I listen for their familiar laughter.
My mom graduated from Adams High School in Oberlin, Louisiana and was one of twelve graduates. After graduating, she moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana and lived with her sister, Lovenia. She enrolled in McNeese State University to study nursing. During my mom’s second semester, the President of the local chapter of the NAACP came to her sister’s home and asked her if she would be interested in integrating South Central Bell, the long-distance company. It would mean that she would have to quit school and begin working for the company as the first black person they would hire in Lake Charles. She consulted her parents and said yes.
Her decision to work for South Central Bell was back in the 1960s–during the time of Civil Rights and the firestorm of hatred displayed toward those of color. Mom was trained to work the switchboard taking out the phone lines and connecting them to the requested lines. She had to take the graveyard shift–working nights–and risking her safety. She endured the racist comments and horrible treatment of her white coworkers as they often greeted her with common derogatory remarks of that time. She even broke free from an attacker that came after her with a knife while on her shift. She recognized him as the vending machine stocker, told the police, but nothing happened and he continued in the same job. While some would have left the company that night, she returned a couple of days later with a determination that she held onto for the next 25 years. She quietly retired from South Central Bell, which was later renamed AT&T. There was no fanfare. There was no big recognition of her story and journey through the company and no plaque or award given by the executives of the company. She kept her dignity and she kept her loyalty. Two traits that she holds on to today with the fervor that she held for 25 years in a company that asked her to be “the first to cross the lines.”
Herman “Tuck” Metoyer, was born in Lake Charles, LA to the parents of Ophelia and Edward Metoyer. He lived on Louisiana Avenue, by the railroad tracks with his 3 brothers and two sisters. Dad was the baby of the family and even received his nickname because his mom tucked him in the bed every night. Since he was the baby, he was rotten according to his sister Janey, my sweet godmother. I remember my nanny speaking about how he would whine and cry to get what he wanted, and my grandmother would give him anything. From the stories I’ve heard about my grandmother, she would mainly give him wisdom as she would have probably been labelled “gifted” in today’s time. She wrote poetry; loved words and was a critical thinker, although didn’t like to leave her home. I imagine she felt safe there; surrounded by her children and loving husband, who was full of jokes and pranks. My grandfather was a lean and stately man. His picture hangs in our music room where he wears a linen suit, my uncle, Louis, standing next to him who must have been two or three at the time, and is as tall and regal as the finest of kings. My mom said he was always picking on her. Making little remarks to embarrass my dad about his new wife. He also doted on his beloved Ophelia. He spoiled her in his own special way; serving on her; picking on her and giving her his undying love.
Tuck graduated from Sacred Heart School. It was the only catholic school that educated blacks in Lake Charles at that time and was run by the Katherine Drexel nuns. There were limited options after high school and the nuns were determined to get their students to college. Likely options were Grambling University in Ruston, LA or Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA. My dad chose Grambling and graduated with a degree in Education. He would only come home during the semester break and would hitchhike for the fourhour ride. Something very acceptable during those times as black folks were proud of other black folks making something of themselves in college. After he graduated from Grambling, he began teaching in the public school system, oftentimes with an after school job at Smitty’s Superette or Acadian Delight, a Southern Consumers Cooperative. Dad always worked hard. He was a hard worker in the classroom and a hard worker at any job he had after the dismissal bell rang. He is intense…studying process and planning through design. He has not lost that.
My parents met in 1966 in the parking lot of Balls Auditorium. When I asked Mom about this, she said, “Yeah, I met him in 1966 but knew him before.” I had never heard that piece and so I said, “What?” She had met him at Grambling at a relative’s graduation. I would assume they probably had a short introduction at the graduation, and that was probably it for Mom. For Dad, I could see that she was imprinted in his brain. On that day they connected again in 1966, I know it unfolded for Dad like the sweetest movie. He sees that beautiful girl that he saw before and here was his chance.
Balls Auditorium was on St. John Street and was the local hangout for the young black men and women in Lake Charles. It was that place where one goes to see and be seen. I can see a contemplative and shy Herman Metoyer with his cousins and friends, and a bold Annie Victorian with hers. I know my Dad. I know he probably planned out the different ways this second introduction could happen and how he was going to execute it to the finest and smoothest of occurrences. I could see his cousins and friends razzing him as they are high fiving and making cracks about “Tuckie.” Mom was probably stretching her neck to see what all the noise was about and Dad going back to figuring out how this was going to go down. Because that is what Dad does: he plans. He figures things out almost to a fault before acting on anything. And so, he scratches his head, paces a few feet and then decides it’s not the time to approach this striking young lady. And this could go on for quite some time.
Finally, he has the courage to walk up to her and Mom in her directness says, “How long was it going to take you to come over here?” Speechless, and not knowing how to answer, Mom then drums up a conversation that ends up with a long litany of sisters and brothers and background information and Dad just sitting there listening intently, mesmerized by this girl from Soileau, Louisiana.
Fast forward some months and they begin dating. Mom introduces Dad to Soileau and all her sisters–all 9 of them, each with their brood of kids, and then the two brothers that probably give Dad a hard time as most brothers would, being that their little sister is falling for a guy. She shows him the land of Soileau— the fields, the soybeans and more land and the water tower and that’s about it. And it’s the most beautiful place in the world to Dad because that is the soil to which his love evolved.
And then it’s Dad’s turn, bringing Mom to Louisiana Ave where his beloved mom and dad lived. I could see my grandfather picking on mom from the start, only to show his immediate affinity toward her because again, this thoughtful guy Tuckie, was “in love.” And then she meets Dad’s sisters, Dorothy and Janie, and brother, Doodie (the other two brothers were older and living out of state). Mom is surrounded by this smaller family—in her eyes—who lived on the other side of the tracks. They share some tea, laughter and things are looking like both have found new homes with the ones they love. They would decide to bring their love before God and family and announce their wedding date of August 24, 1968.
As you know, in 1968 things changed…the world was different as the country was at war, the Civil Rights movement was on fire as Martin Luther King was assassinated in April of that year, and the country was in unrest. But the resilience of black folks kept moving us forward and a wedding was planned at St. Joan of Arc Church in Oberlin, LA. It was a beautiful day with family and friends in attendance and a beautiful reception in the front yard of Mom’s old homestead where my Uncle Wallace (Lovenia’s husband) adorned it with plants and shaped bushes and trees. Her sister, Elsie, was her best gal and Doodie, Dad’s brother, was his best guy. From that day forward, they have lived as Husband, Wife, Mom, Dad, Poppee, Mommee, Aunt Lonnie, Uncle Tuck, Pie and Babe–the many names they have acquired over fifty years of marriage.
Much happened throughout those years as they expanded their family starting with Demetria “Deme.” Four years later, I was born and then five years later another daughter, Shaunda. Dad went on to receive his master’s degree from McNeese University in 1974 and became interested in administration. He became a principal of Eastwood Elementary and then went on to Sacred Heart School as their principal–full circle as he had walked those exact halls as a student some 55 years before. Dad loved basketball and loved that the three girls loved the sport too. He coached all of us at St. Margaret Elementary School, giving his time and love to our teammates. Many days we were in the gym, waiting for parents to pick up their daughters and working on plays for the upcoming games. You would have sworn we were the WNBA©. We took playing for Coach Metoyer seriously. And we hated to lose. Something we rarely did. We were proud to serve under him. We were proud to win for him. Because in hindsight, he taught us so much more than the sport of basketball. He taught us sportsmanship, teamwork, and kindness.
Mom always cheered us on during our games. She sat on many hard bleachers, eating popcorn as she watched us running up and down the court and dad calling out his special plays. She even would cook for the team and have our teammates over for special celebrations. She was the party planner. She loved to entertain and to this day, still relishes in her ability to gather family and friends together around the table of plenty. Everyone comes in hungry and leaves full and happy. She is known for her unique style of cooking creole food and loves to see people enjoy her food. She always has some little treat that she pulls out of the freezer or fridge to share and she loves the holidays–baking cookies with her grandchildren and planning get-togethers with friends. As I write, she is getting ready for a brunch for some of their friends. They will all get together in my parents’ home, sharing Mom’s special foods that she just prepares like it’s just another day, laughing at old times and telling Dad how great he is doing.
Dad is doing great. In fact, he is doing better than great. He is living the miracle. You see, on January 16, 2018, my Dad went outside and put a chair in the driveway. You may say, “What’s wrong with that?” Well, it was around 6:30pm at night, and it just so happened that Lake Charles was threatening to freeze that night and he was supposed to meet my mom in town to help her drive home. He was nervous that her tires may slip and so he wanted to just drive behind her to make sure she was safe. When Dad didn’t show up, my mom thought it was kind of strange, but when she called him, he said he had ice on his truck and was quickly trying to get it off. Mom said, “It’s fine. Don’t worry. I will be home soon. I can handle it.” As she came upon the street, turning into the driveway, she noticed the chair. Entering the house, she asked him, “Why is that chair in the driveway?”
“Chair in the driveway,” he said.
“Yes, there is a chair outside,” she stated.
“Outside?” Mom wondered why he kept repeating what she was saying and told Dad to take a seat. He did, but then got up to go and check out the chair outside and stumbled a bit. She called my sister and asked her to come over.
When Deme arrived, she asked Dad if he knew the date and he again repeated what she said. She told mom, “We need to go to the hospital.”
Dad was diagnosed with an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM). They were unable to treat him in Lake Charles and he was airlifted to University Hospital in Shreveport, LA, where a good friend of ours, Dr. Anil Nanda, just so happened to be in town after a month of being away from the hospital. Without hesitation, he agreed to take Dad’s case. In order to increase his survival chances, Dr. Nanda wanted to keep Dad on the machines through the weekend and operate on Monday. The day he landed in Shreveport was Thursday and we knew it would be a long and emotional weekend. Dad is a strong man. He always has been. His grip is almost crippling. If he grabbed us to evade us from danger, it would leave a bruise. If he hugged us, it was almost smothering. He is just a strong guy. At 77 years old, we needed his strength to remain intact and to be his secret weapon and we needed all the prayers that we could muster up to just have him a little while longer.
Dad survived the craniotomy and while his right side is affected, he remains whole. Every day he works hard to regain his strength and impress the therapists that come to the house and ask him if he can do this or that. He wants perfect scores and always wants to have a numerical goal that he can understand from his therapy sessions. He has aphasia, meaning, he has an impairment of his language skills. To put it simply, the words don’t come out right. It’s not that he loses his words… it’s that they don’t sound like words. Over the past 11 months, we have learned to understand what he needs and what he means. Mom is the best decoder. She is the one who has become his voice. She knows what he is asking and what he needs and is great at making it all work for him. Mom has been the rock through this as she takes care of Dad, although we are very fortunate that his strong will and determination does not involve much immediate attention. He still has challenges with his walking, but we are very fortunate for the “new normal” that Dad is teaching us.
On August 25, 2018, we celebrated Mom and Dad’s fiftieth anniversary. They have been together in matrimony for 50 years and have had quite a journey. Mom wanted this party not only as a celebration of their marriage, but as a celebration of their story. A story that could have ended at a plethora of forks and detours in the road—and may have—but they have sustained, demonstrating how love conquers all. Their dance that day was “These Arms of Mine,” by Otis Redding. They practiced in the den for days on end making sure that Dad was strong enough and could keep his balance. When I saw them dancing together that day at the party, I screamed and cheered like they did when I was on the basketball court. And then I cried. I cried because I am so fortunate to see and witness the love of two people that have depended on each other for life’s beauty. The have created a connection between the two of them that has withstood the test of time and has been a model of what “real” looks like. And he held her in those arms of his. I know it hasn’t been easy. I have seen days where it wasn’t easy, but they have come out all the better for it. We must go through it some days to know how to come out wiser and more aware-aware of our feelings, aware of our fortitude and aware of the other.
Through 50 years of marriage, I know that there are so many things that I am grateful for as their daughter. I also know that there are so many things that they have taught me as I have come into my own marriage with a family that I never thought I would have–my husband, Tim, and daughters Isabella and Harper. The four of us have created quite a unit and I would like to say that the patience, passion, compassion and grace with which my home and family exist are in part an extension of what my parents and Tim’s parents have taught us. And what exactly can I share that my parents have taught me? Dad has taught us that in the face of challenge and in the fear of the unknown, there must remain the inner sanctum of strength and resilience. He never showed that he was afraid. He never showed that he was going to give up…as hard as it has been physically, he always says, “I am gonna do what I gotta do.” And he lives that. He embodies that. He teaches me that daily.
He also could have become a man that was different in his character. Oftentimes, illness breeds frustration and discouragement. Dad remains a kind man as he has always has been. Everyone says my grandmother was a very proper woman. She spoke the queen’s English and always had a way in which she conducted her conversations. Dad is just that way. He was always kind and proper to the nurses, staff, housekeeping and other patients he saw in the rehabilitation center. He was always greeting them with the kindest words; those words of “thank you, please and good morning,” even when he couldn’t always find the words. But everyone knew what he meant because he has the sincerest way. Dad gives me courage and he makes me proud to be his daughter.
Mom has taught me how to have a voice. When she worked for South Central Bell, they wanted her to leave…even at the extent of hurting her. But she didn’t. She took the hatred and made it into a strength. She used that during her work and in Dad’s illness and I believe she used that to get her through the tough days of seeing her love in so much pain. She watched her heart lie in a bed with tubes and machines helping him live– that is strength. She has given each of us, all of us, the example of understanding and witnessing loyalty and fidelity. She leans on Dad and Dad leans on her and together they are as tall as a pine tree and as rooted as an oak.
I come from them. I come from the land of trees. Strong, stately, rooted and always extending and withstanding the strongest and gentlest breeze. And if there comes a storm…if there comes an event that causes unrest to my very roots, I lean on my unit and I look toward Mom and Dad…and they color such a beautiful sky and all things become clear.