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~~~ Tidbit of Poetry: Through the Sawmill Town of Donner ~~~


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Tidbit of Poetry: Through the Sawmill Town of Donner

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Many thanks to Hilman "Buster" Matherne, my dad, for suggesting that I write a poem about Donner, my mom's home town.

Through the Sawmill Town of Donner

== == == == == == A Song 2003 by Bobby Matherne == == == == == == == == ==

This song I dedicate to the loving memory of my mother, nee Annette Mae Babin, who grew up in Donner, Louisiana. This was a small town created in the middle of the old growth cypress swamp west of Thibodaux near Gibson, Louisiana. A dike was built and water was pumped over it to form the town whose only employer was Dibert and Brown, a logging company. My grandfather, Gabriel Pierre Babin and his sons Dio and Lester worked in the sawmill. When the 1930s came to an end so did the old growth cypress trees. They closed the sawmill and broke open the dikes to return the town to the swamp. In those days Italians were employed as workers, but not socialized with, except my Grandma Daisy Himel Babin always let Annette play with the Italian girls in her neighborhood, some of whom became her best friends.
Bobby Matherne

[Pronunciation Notes: "pecan" in south Louisiana rhymes with "gone" and sounds like this: "pa'-cahn". The phrase "gone pecan" is a familiar cajun idiom meaning "gone forever or lost completely". A Pee-Can, on the other hand, was a chamber pot that was kept under the bed to avoid a cold, dark trip to the outhouse during the night. Planning Mill should be pronounced and spelled Planing Mill, place where boards were planed for smoothness, but I kept to Mom's spelling and pronunciation for authenticity.]


Through the Sawmill Town of Donner
Through the sawmill town of Donner
As the fireflies took flight
And violin music filled the night
Little ones did their homework early
Before the mill turned off the 'lectric light.
At nine o'clock the glow of kerosene
Flickered through the cypress scene
And filled the Southern starlit world
As earnest scholars stayed up late
And burned the midnight oil.
Through the sawmill town of Donner
Every day walked little girls with baskets
Filled with hot meals for their papas
Who worked the dusty planing mill
And in the shady stacks they ate their fill.
When the men went back to their boards
Girls took their baskets to the lumberyard
And under the stacks of cypress drying
Sat down to take a rest
And had a picnic every day.
Through the sawmill town of Donner
Huge old growth cypress trees were hauled
And dollied through the buzzing blades
Which sliced them into planks and boards
To build the houses for the young and old.
On the weekends there were silent movies
With Charlie Chaplin and . . . I forget
Where they sold popcorn and candy at the door
And kids would laugh and talk out loud
While grownups read the words as the movie rolled.
Through the sawmill town of Donner
Dry leveed from the cypress swamp
Ran boarded walks of cypress planks:
Banquettes raised o'er the muddy ground
Were weekly scrubbed from front to back.
Water from the rain-filled cisterns
Was piped into the house to use
To drink, to cook, to wash, to bathe
In Number 3 tubs on the floor
Of a bedroom shuttered for the bath
And tossed outside when all the bathing done.
Through the sawmill town of Donner
Through is the sawmill town of Donner
No buzzing blades, no shady stacks no more
No Mr. Stephan's violin at dusk
No planing mill no cypress dust
No Charlie Chaplin no I forget
No straw basket picnics yet
No sidewalk scrubbing every week
No old growth cypresses to seek
The town is gone, to a tree
The town is gone for you and me
The town is gone from dusk to dawn
The town is gone, a gone pecan.
Through the sawmill town of Donner
Came the little girl who gave me life
Came the little girl who gave my papa wife
Came Annette Mae Babin who liked her town
And like her town is gone now
And who knows but that every night
When the fireflies take flight
She sits out on the porch to hear
The strains of Mr. Stephans' violin draw near
Through the sawmill town of Donner,
A gone pecan gone but not forgotten.

To read more about the Sawmill Town of Donner, see Tidbits of Memory: Annette & Buster Remember their Life.

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