Growing up visiting my Pops' sugar cane plantation in the wild bayous of Baton Rouge, one thing stood out. Or up rather. There were kettle pots strewn like boulders all over the grassy flats and dirt-turned roads as if born there by natures intention. For a young girl, knee-high to a duck as they say, these pots were as deep and as wide as a welcoming swimming hole on a hot, humid day. My sister and I would find respite in dipping our tiny toes and arms right into tepid warm water brewing with lily pads and tadpoles and god knows what else. No one minded. We certainly didn't.
For generations, these old, abandoned kettles did their job. They were heated for hours upon hours that turned into days then years over hot fires carefully tended. Stoked and mended, the wood and ashes had a job, too. They made sure the kettles were hot enough to boil the precious juices from the stalks of the cane into a syrup that would later be boiled down again and dried to form crystalized granules of sweet "raw" sugar.
I ran across an old book the other day titled Down Among the Sugar Cane: The Story of Louisiana Sugar Plantations and their Railroads by W.E Butler. It's a book Pops bought and had signed by the author for his daughter Jeanne, my mother, back in March of 1987. Pops scrawled his own dedication, right under Mr. Butlers. It read: "Louisiana sugar cane; so many pleasant memories, experiences, people; so many happy years! Is it inevitable that it will fade and disappear?- Jerry Dickson, President, The South Coast Corp., 1971-1980.
Sugar cane is still essential to Louisiana but no longer needed by small farm producers. This means for my family, yes, it has faded but it will never totally disappear. Even though now, it's preserved only through memory, stories handed down, letters, faded photographs and inscribed, old books. I think what I am trying to share with y'all is that the memory of those kettles, the heat and smoke and ash needed to keep them going; keeps me going still.
Now, I channel what was once an integral piece of the sugar making process my Pops loved so much into something I can preserve and hand down for generations, too. This time through charcoal and ink made from the power of ash.
I think Pops would be pretty darn proud.
Until next time,