Never underestimate the power of dreams. The most marvelous thing about them is not only that they come true, but that once they do, there is new life taken shape. And that new life, of the dream itself, can take us places we never dreamed possible.
Living proof of this lies in Raceland, on the banks of Bayou Lafourche.
It was there that a teacher named Claudette Pitre had cashed in her savings bonds and bought some land. This was many, many years ago, and it came at a good price.
But she didn’t know what to do with it. Maybe put a trailer on the space. Maybe something else.
And then she started making the drawings. From somewhere in the depths of her imagination, Claudette created, for her, the house of all houses.
“I could draw anything,” she says, explaining that with some of the more technical aspects of it, there was a need for help, which she received.
After the drawings came the plans, and after the plans, came the actual building.
What Claudette built on the banks of Bayou Lafourche was a marvel of a five-bedroom Victorian house, with some of the more-ornate portions borrowed from other houses, and she was just as proud as she could be.
Only five years into living there, however, came a divorce, and suddenly times were harder, but Claudette forced herself to keep the dream-house maintained in the proper fashion, because she could not imagine giving it up.
Then along came Katrina, in 2005, which did nothing to the house but did cause a neighbor on the bayou, attorney Louis St. Martin, to open the doors of his barn to hundreds of dogs and cats orphaned by the killer storm.
With the dogs and the cats came volunteers from all over, even bankers and lawyers, who wanted to help out.
They slept in tents near the barn. Claudette saw this and offered to help, so some of the people came and stayed at her five-bedroom house, and that was when the inspiration came.
Having these people from all over under her roof, cooking for them, doing all kinds of things to make them feel at home, came as second nature for Claudette.
It was as if the house had spoken to her and said, “Make me useful in a way you never dreamed possible.”
Today the resulting bed and breakfast, the Chateau on the Bayou, hosts guests from every conceivable place. In time, the operation gained success, and Claudette was no longer worried about how ends could be met, about how she could most of all maintain the house and be true to it.
“It was like I built the house, took care of it all these years, and now the house takes care of me,” she said.
Not too long ago, a couple of pilots stayed there after flying a contractor into Houma from Alabama so he could go fishing on Grand Isle. They wanted to take a tour of the swamps. Claudette had been to Zam’s on Bayou Boeuf, where she took the classes she used to teach, and had also been to the Torres Swamp Tour not far from there.
But the pilots wanted something different, so she recommended that they hook up with Arthur Matherne, who runs an airboat tour out of Des Allemands. The pilots suggested she come along, and Claudette had the time of her life.
“I couldn’t believe how fast we were going on the lake,” said Claudette, who although born and raised in Louisiana, had never been on an airboat. So in addition to such occasional excitement, there is the joy for Claudette of creating things in the kitchen for guests who come from all over the world.
French toast made with nutmeg and orange juice and macadamia nuts, blackberries, pineapple and pecans on top of yogurt with mango slices, and that’s just for one sitting.
She said that this morning she will make a Danish pancake that rises about 10 inches high and gets sprinkled with powdered sugar.
The real sweetness for Claudette, however, comes from knowledge that her dream took its own course once she got it on the right track.
It’s the reward that comes from being a study in perseverance.
“I had no idea I would end up with a bed and breakfast,” she said. “I thought I would just live happily ever after.”
And until now, she had no idea that there was such a thing as happier even than that.