By Vance Perkins
Hershel’s journey down life’s highway began in the midst of “The Great Depression” in 1933. FDR has been elected President of the United States. Hitler is beginning his rise to power in Germany and humanity is not yet aware of the inhumanity that he will cause during the next decade. Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth are making names for themselves in baseball. Laurel and Hardy are making people laugh. Bonnie and Clyde are on a crime spree across the South. On August 13th, Mary White Frazier, the wife of William Henry Frazier gives birth to a son, George Hershel. Hershel is one of 9 children born to this union. Two of his siblings die in infancy, due to complications from pneumonia.
I have always known who Hershel was. The church that I attend has a gospel singing on the 2nd Saturday night of every month. As long as I can remember, Hershel attended those singings and played his guitar and sang.
In 2012, I attended an activity at Sam Houston Jones State Park, it was a gathering of people who cook in cast iron pots. Hershel was there and I recognized him. He was a member of the Le Chien Cookers. I soon joined the organization. We meet every month and cook.
Hershel and I became friends, as I would set up my cooking station next to his. Occasionally, I would travel and visit with other chapters of the Louisiana Dutch Oven Society and cook with them. I asked Hershel if he would like to ride with me and he accepted the invitation. We spent many hours together, travelling to the cook outs.
I also visit my Aunt Mary at Triple Creek RV and Music Park in Woodville, Texas. Knowing, that Hershel liked music, I invited him and he began attending the gospel night jam with me on the 1st weekend of every month at Triple Creek. Our friendship deepened as we traveled to these events regularly. Hershel told me many stories about his life on these trips. From these conversations, I would like to share some of the things, Hershel told me about his journey, down life’s highway.
Though he was born during the depths of the Depression, Hershel didn’t know of hunger. Small town, rural, Americans had gardens. They raised chickens, cows and hogs. They hunted and fished. The family wasn’t rich but they had food and they shared it.
When he was growing up, Hershel remembers his mother serving food to hobos that had gotten off the trains passing through town. He says, it seemed like someone was always staying with them.
His parents were always letting folks (family and friends) that were down on their luck, live with them, until they could get back on their feet. He grew up in a time when there was always work to be done and every family member was expected to pitch in.
Hershel was born after the years that would make him a member of what was and is called “The Greatest Generation” had passed, but he was cut from the same cloth. He was extremely patriotic and had deep love for the USA. He had a distinct view of right and wrong. He had that “can do” attitude. He was willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
Uncle Sam called and he enlisted in the Army. He entered the Army in 1954 as The Korean Conflict is ending. He was trained as a medic. He saw up close and personally, the suffering and pain caused by warfare. He was called upon to make those who had little hope of surviving, as comfortable as possible.
As a young serviceman, Hershel hitchhiked home on occasion. After completing basic training and being assigned to San Diego, he returns to DeQuincy long enough to marry his girlfriend, Ruby. They return to California by train. He finishes his hitch in a couple of years and they fly home.
Hershel and Ruby make their home in DeQuincy. They have a son, Arlon and soon, a daughter, Theresa is born. All American family living in small town America.
Hershel has held many jobs through the years, of course, being from DeQuincy, he stumped for awhile. He tells of getting up way before daylight to drive to the other side of Jasper, Texas to get a load of stumps to sell to the turpentine plant. This was before the roads were paved and they would have to get out and help push the truck up those hills between Newton and Jasper.
Sometimes, while gathering stumps, the truck would get bogged down. Unfortunately, most of the stumps would have to be unloaded so that they could get the truck out of the mud hole, then the stumps would have to be loaded onto the truck again. All of this was done by hand. No hydraulic or automated lifting equipment was available. Hard, manual labor but it had to be done.
Hershel finally gets a steady job with the gas company and it seems like they will be living the American Dream. Good paying job with retirement plan and benefits. But then tragedy strikes. Hershel and Ruby are faced with something that no parent should have to face, the death of a child. Their daughter is killed.
Unimaginable heartache befalls them. Out of love and devotion to his dear wife, Hershel resigns from the gas company so that he can be with his wife as they press forward. Hershel begins operating a sawmill at his house to make a living.
Hershel leads a very active lifestyle, he has a hand in many different activities. I could write many things about all the things that Hershel did and/or experienced, but for brevity’s sake, I will list some things without explaining all that I could and they are listed in no certain order.
First and foremost he is an active member of First United Pentecostal Church. He is a volunteer fireman and serves as Secretary-Treasurer. He is a self taught musician. He can play any stringed instrument. He teaches scores of local young people how to play guitar. He is a songwriter and poet. He writes songs for many different occasions.
He plays in the Homer Bailes Band on the Louisiana Hayride. He travels all over South Louisiana and East Texas singing in churches. He grinds cornmeal. He makes lye soap. He loves to demonstrate these dying arts to anyone who will watch. He served on the board for Hyatt Cemetery for many years.
He was an avid fisherman and hunter for many years. He once caught an old gar, which are known to eat good game fish. He holds the gar up to shoot it with his pistol before throwing it back in the water. He miscalculates and besides shooting the gar, he shoots off two of his fingers.(But he can still pick a guitar).
He is a member of Le Chien Cookers where he loved to cook in cast iron pots. He was politically active in the Tea Party. He wrote letters to politicians. He would tell you what he thought about the issues whether you wanted to know or not. You would know which side of an issue he was on, no doubt about it. He respected veterans and made sure they were recognized. He liked to participate in programs at local schools.
During my recent travels with Hershel, I found he had a fondness for Dairy Queen chicken strips and strawberry shakes. He was also fond of Charlemagne, an old 1940 model fire truck. He made sure, she was ready to go for every parade. It was his honor to drive her and he proudly did but not always safely. Hershel was always going and doing.
If he fried catfish for you, you rated pretty high. He was known for his fried hush puppies. Hershel was also known for rigging things up. He would use bailing wire and nails and duct tape to make repairs He didn’t throw anything away. He had a fine assortment of junk.
The last few months of 2018, Hershel seemed to slow down a bit. He missed a couple of cookouts because he felt bad. This was very unusual, because he was like the Energizer Bunny, he was always going, never stopping.
As mentioned earlier, Hershel wrote songs for different occasions and he wrote one for Mayor Smith’s victory party. That night, Hershel did something very unusual, he became confused and forgot the words to his song. Hershel was a sick man but we didn’t know how sick.
In January 2019, Hershel became ill and went to the ER. Subsequently, he was found to have lung cancer. Not being able to go and do took a toll on him. He was confined to his house most of the time. Arlon took him for rides most afternoons, just to get him out of the house.
Hershel did ride to a couple more cookouts just to visit but he was not able to cook. We also went to Triple Creek a couple of times, even though he was ill. He couldn’t play or sing but he wanted to visit and tell them goodbye.
Hershel’s health worsened and he was admitted to Harbor House. On Monday morning, May 13, I headed to Lake Charles and I made plans to go by and visit him. I arrived at the front desk and asked for Hershel’s room number. The receptionist looked at me and said, “please follow me”.
She led me to the nurse and told him that I was there to visit Mr. Hershel. She walked away, and the man took me aside and told me Hershel had passed away. He said the funeral home had just departed with his body. I was sorry, I had just missed being able to see my friend before he exited this life’s highway.
The funeral service began with the sharp clip clop of their boots, as the firefighters dressed in their uniforms march in unison, to the front of the church house. They salute the honor guard who have stood at the head and foot of Hershel’s coffin.
They take their seats. Bro. Buford, Bro. Johnson and Sis. Royer sing. Chief Copeland speaks. Fellow soldier, policeman and friend, Jerry Bell delivers a touching eulogy. Elder Cardwell speaks and then Pastor Jackson speaks. We listen as the final call is delivered across the airwaves as the dispatcher makes the announcement on the Fire Department’s radio.
The pall bearers carry the coffin out of the church house and load Hershel’s earthly remains into the back of his beloved Charlemagne for his final ride. Lights flashing, the assorted emergency vehicles escort Charlemagne to Hyatt Cemetery as she carries Hershel for his final ride. The pall bearers remove the coffin and place it upon the bier.
The sound of “Taps” echoes off the pines as the soldier blows the trumpet. Something special is always felt when the notes of that song are played. The soldiers remove the flag from atop the casket and fold it into the familiar tri-cornered pattern.
The soldier then kneels before Ms Ruby and speaks the words…”On behalf of the President of the United States of America and a grateful nation… We join in as the trio leads us in singing the old gospel standby… “I’ll Fly Away.” Elder Cardwell ends the service with a prayer.
I think my friend, Hershel, would be pleased with the service. He liked a little publicity now and then. He would have liked the pomp and circumstance. He will be missed around town. He was always visiting with folks around town, on the porch, at the Post Office, and dropping bills off at City Hall.
He would visit with his biscuit buddies at the DeQuincy News office, where he would enjoy some of Ms. Shirley’s homemade biscuits. He bragged on those biscuits to me many times. Hershel’s Highway was not smooth as he lived his life on earth but on May 13, he exited this highway and made his entrance onto that Heavenly Highway where he met Jesus face to face and was reunited with Theresa. I miss my friend.
Please keep Ms. Ruby and Arlon and all who knew and loved Hershel in your thoughts and prayers.