Monday, June 11, 2012

A Few Good Men

In honor of Father's Day I thought  I would write about a few of the men who have influenced my life.
Vic Ladner
My paternal grandfather William Victor Ladner, known by family and friends as Vic. He was what anyone that knew him will agree, a good man. I just have to say his name and someone will say, "That was your grandfather? He sure was a good man I tell you!"

Born in Waveland, Ms on September 29, 1906, the eldest of 11 children born to Etienne Ladner and Eva Roth. He was born and raised on the family property right on the beach front in Waveland where his ancestors had lived for several hundred years. He was called Guillaume by his family as a small boy. His family spoke French, which was the language of their heritage, being descendants of the first families to the Gulf Coast region.

When my grandfather was 19 years old his whole life changed. He had gone out with some cousins to a dance having first stopped by where his father was working and had invited him to come on over to the dance after work. When Etienne was walking to the dance, he was struck by a car and died shortly afterwards. My grandfather was now the man of the house. He promised his mother he would stay until all the children were able to care for themselves. The youngest child was only 3months old at this time.

He worked hard! His mother, sisters and two brothers respected and loved him for it. He often said that he raised two sets of children, his sisters and brothers and later his own four children. Ten years after his father died he married my grandmother, Lucille Irma Wiese who was from New Orleans, La. They met through mutual friends.

He loved his family.  To him family was everything. Not just those that were living, but those that had passed as well. He remembered and honored them by passing their life stories on to us. From him I learned what life was like back in the olden days. That bread was an expensive commodity, and his family did not often make white bread, and when it was made it was made all at once and baked outside in a clay oven. How his father hauled shells to sell to the county who used them to make the roads. They had to go to the marshes in Louisiana to get those shells in their schooner.

From him I learned to revere those laying beneath the stones in the family cemetery. I used to watch him dutifully paint and clean the graves of his ancestors. I will always remember him saying, "But who will care for them when I am gone?" I then took the burden upon my young shoulders by saying back to him, "I will Poppy. I will never forget them or you, I promise you." So, this promise has fallen to me, and I dutifully and gladly take it on, each time thinking of him.

Etienne Ladner
So, if I couldn't go anywhere when I was growing up without anyone recognizing my grandfather's name, the same has to be said about his father. When I said my great grandpa was Etienne Ladner, oh boy, the old people's eyes would light up. "That was your great grandaddy?" they would say, "Well I tell you, he sure was a good man, they don't make 'em like him no more. Sure was a shame he died so young, he could have been something." My own husband's grandfather insisted that I name my son after Etienne.

The men of those times were what my grandfather called "Real Men". I suppose they were. They built our coast. My great grandfather built the first commercial building on the beach in Gulfport, and during WWI he built huge schooners for the Navy. These men were strong, tough and resilient.

Etienne, french for Stephen, was born in Waveland, Ms on January 12, 1885. His mother died when he was only 7 years old, with his father passing away just 3 years after. He was raised by his sisters who adored him. A strong, strapping man with black hair, dark skin and flashing grey eyes, he must have been a ladies man once upon a time. Well, until he caught the eye of a young girl named Eva Roth vacationing from New Orleans with her family.

Although I never knew him personally, I knew him. My grandfather adored his father, and often talked about him. He used to say to us, "I don't think anyone ever loved their father like I did mine. I mean he was IT to me." This man raised my grandfather to be the same kind of man he was, and I think my grandfather tried daily to be that man.

So often in my youth did I say, "Oh I can't do that!" When asked to do something daring by some of my friends, "I mean what if we were caught? My grandfather would be so disappointed in me." Even now that he is long gone, I still say to my children, "Oh, wouldn't he have been proud to know," or "Oh gee, I just can't help but think what would PaPaw say if he knew. He would be so ashamed." I can't help it. It defines my life and who I am.

I just hope that I am raising two boys who will one day be able to have people look back and say, "I knew him, he sure was a good man!"

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