Sunday, June 4, 2023

The Soapbox: Consider the Field

Brandi Chambless

She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.—Proverbs 31:16 

It was Christmas 1944 at Fort Hood, Texas where soldiers sat on ready, eagerly listening for their last names to be called for boarding the last trains toward home. When the commanding officer entered the room with the bad news that the trains were full, 18-year-old Harold was devastated.

Back home was not only his large adoring family, but his girl MaeDel, and he needed to see her desperately following his month-long war training on the base. His goal of marrying that girl someday, as he had promised, couldn’t happen soon enough.

Some 400 miles away, in the village of Plaucheville, Louisiana, the Plauche household was busy with Christmas preparations. Though in wartime the presents were few, love abounded. Nineteen-year-old MaeDel nervously helped her mother around the house, knowing that her love was coming home on leave any day now to celebrate Christmas with family, just before his pending deployment into the European Theatre of WWII.

A knock at the door revealed one of the neighbors urgently requesting MaeDel’s presence at the village grocery where the only phone in town was available to the community.  When she walked briskly to receive the phone call, signs of Harold’s memory were all over town as she walked past the school where they fell in love, and spotted the porch where they had shared their first kiss when he was 15 and she was 16, only to be discovered by an uncle.

Harold had called, alright, but the news was not what anyone wanted to hear. He would not be home for Christmas and he didn’t know when he would be home before deployment, if at all.

After the brief phone call, days passed and Christmas came and went as MaeDel’s heart was utterly broken. The sounds of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas lulled her into an even deeper state of sadness each time the entire family gathered around the radio. Harold wouldn’t be seen again until April of 1945 when he showed up at home and proposed to MaeDel. The two married the next year and would eventually build a charmed life together with their seven children, six girls and finally a boy, in the village of Plaucheville: Population 242.

Harold and MaeDel Lemoine on their wedding day, April 6, 1946.

Fast forward from 1946 to 1976 when many of their seven adult children continued life in the village with Harold and MaeDel’s deep tradition of love and family values. They held fast to Christmas traditions at home with their grandchildren by MaeDel directing plays on Christmas Eve, though she could hardly ever listen to White Christmas without tears. The village church and school was the center of their world, but before long there were more grandchildren than action in the intimate community. There had to be a solution for recreation.

The young adults of the community launched a non-profit, the Concerned Citizens of Plaucheville, and Harold and MaeDel donated enough land to build tennis courts. Eventually they sold a few more acres from their back yard to the group for a mere $1,000, enough to build a softball field that would eventually generate income to pay the bank note, as well as provide a weekend activity for the community. The Plaucheville Ball Park became popularly known beyond the borders of the village and was eventually acquired by the town.

I recently had the privilege of returning to the Plaucheville Ball Park for a charity softball tournament where I reclaimed my youth in right field. Everything was just as I left it a time or two before.

Again, the field and the fun were fueled by love as an entire community came together to benefit one of their own, a 10-year-old boy named Wyatt who not only has Down Syndrome but happens to be one of the 32 great-grandchildren of Harold and MaeDel. In this village where nothing ages with the exception of time itself, I experienced once again the love that is still alive and growing.

The place where aunts and cousins provide live commentary during the games, pointing out whose birthday it is today, and scarfing down freshly fried potato chips keeps everyone involved. Another cousin at umpire shouts, “Strike two!” at the first pitch of my at bat, as every batter starts with a 1-1 count, this along with scores of other homemade rules that have evolved through the years to heighten the experience.

The people of Plaucheville, but most especially MaeDel and Harold, exemplified the Biblical values of the Proverbs 31 woman as they considered the field and, figuratively speaking, planted a vineyard comprised of their own seed. People from far and wide still drive into the community to bring teams to tournaments for the experience of playing at the state-of-the-art field within the tiny village. To this very day, not one homegrown player has won a college scholarship or accolades other than a legacy of love, a principled childhood, a pure heart, good times, and a tournament t-shirt. The message on the town welcome sign still rings genuinely as true as the very descendants themselves: Welcome to the Plaucheville, followed by the French subtitle C’est une bonne place pour faire une vie…the place where you can have a good life.

The 10th Annual Ole School Softball Tournament raised $3800 benefiting both the local Down Syndrome chapter, as well as Wyatt’s open heart surgery fund. For more information on raising community awareness, contact the National Down Syndrome Society.

Brandi Chambless
Brandi Chambless
Read Brandi's column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.

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