PIERRE PART — Betty Thibodaux, her two brothers and their families lived next to one another, all in a row, on Sauce Piquante Lane in northern Assumption Parish’s Bayou Corne community.
So it was only natural that one of the siblings — often Betty or her brother Haywood Cavalier — would host Thanksgiving dinner for all three families in one of their homes on the bayou.
Thanksgiving Day is again expected to bring the regular family gathering and the usual menu of turkey, baked ham, rice dressing and various sweet potato dishes. But there is a major twist to this year’s version of turkey day.
The two brothers and sister and their families are still living next to one another, all in a row, but now, they’re in Courtney’s RV Park in Pierre Part because a sinkhole formed near their Bayou Corne neighborhood and prompted a mandatory evacuation more than three months ago.
Cooped up in campers designed for weekend jaunts but trapped by circumstance beyond their control, the evacuees are planning a Thanksgiving spread outside of the confines of their campers, recreational vehicles and their continuing plight.
Family members said the meal will be served either outside in the RV park on a collection of picnic tables or indoors at the RV park’s self-service laundry on those same plastic tables.
Inside the cinder-block laundromat, banks of washers and driers line two walls while security cameras watch over a spacious interior able to handle at least two dozen people sharing a meal.
In either case, while it won’t be like home, it will be a family Thanksgiving gathering, nonetheless.
Dollie Cavalier, 48, who is married to Haywood, 49, would like to see the meal served inside the laundromat, adding that all three families are cooking dishes that will be part of the big dinner.
“That way, we can all sit down together, say grace and have a meal,” said Dollie Cavalier, who lives with Haywood in a camper between Betty and her husband, Ronnie, and Betty’s brother Wallace and his wife, Linda.
Dollie Cavalier said she hopes to relax a little after the meal.
The days leading up to Thanksgiving Day have been filled with preparations not only for Thanksgiving dinner, but also for the wedding of her youngest daughter, Michelle, which takes place Friday in Baton Rouge.
Fellow Bayou Corne evacuees Henry Welch and his wife, as well as their family, are expected to join in the festivities Thursday.
“We all are going to get together and eat,” said Welch, who added that he plans to fry a turkey, but is making a decidedly non-south Louisiana cornbread dressing to serve with it.
Not all is unfolding according to the family gathering’s normal holiday routine, however, because concessions are being made due to the lack of space and critical kitchen equipment, such as the meat grinder still at home in Bayou Corne.
Betty Thibodaux, 62, said she is making “just plain old rice dressing this year,” with none of the deer, pork and gizzards she normally would grind to make a top-notch dressing worthy of the holidays.
“I’m not putting anything extra in it this year,” she said.
Betty Thibodaux said she already has sufficient supplies in storage boxes outside her RV for the Thanksgiving preparations.
Despite the tough line on the rice dressing, Betty Thibodaux is still planning to make her own icebox pie. Some traditions can’t be forsaken.
Dollie Cavalier said the space issue, combined with the expected leftovers from her daughter’s Friday wedding reception, have resulted in a scaled-down menu for the family gathering Thanksgiving Day.
“We don’t have the room to put it, and plus, if we come home from the wedding Friday night with a bunch of leftover food, then we have nowhere to put it if we have all kinds of Thanksgiving food in the refrigerator,” she said.
It appears some evacuees will be having meals much farther from Bayou Corne than the Thibodaux, Cavalier and Welch families.
Sylvia Coupel, manager of the Pierre Part Senior Center, a branch of the Assumption Council on Aging, said many of Bayou Corne’s senior citizens have moved in with relatives in Baton Rouge and elsewhere.
She said the demand for meals, transportation services and other aid from the senior center is down since the evacuation.
“It hasn’t increased. It has decreased, if anything,” Coupel said.
Abbie and Jason Hue and their daughter Mollie evacuated from Bayou Corne the evening of Aug. 3, the day the order was issued. After staying for a time with relatives, the Hues wound up living in an RV on a lot behind Courtney’s RV Park in Pierre Part.
Abbie Hue, 32, said her family moved in with relatives initially, thinking the evacuation would not last too long, but they soon realized they would need their own place.
With rental property limited in Pierre Part, but with Mollie’s school in town, the Hues opted for the RV, borrowed from relatives and parked on a lot owned by a cousin.
The close-quarters life in the straight-shot RV with one general sleeping area is rough, Abbie said.
She said Mollie, 7, a second-grader, misses her home and toys. Abbie Hue said she and Jason, 34, feel the stress as well. Some days are better than others, she said.
But the Hues plan to spend their Thanksgiving at the homes of Abbie’s mother and at Abbie’s aunt, allowing themselves a day away from the sinkhole crisis as well as the worries that surround its gradually collapsing banks.
“I’m not even thinking about this tomorrow,” Abbie Hue said in an interview Wednesday.
Not home, but a Thanksgiving, nonetheless.