Mayo LeBlanc: Bridge City Cajun Lore
Mike Louviere- For The Record
Bridge City- Mayo and Juanita LeBlanc bought a house in Bridge City the same day Mayo went to work at the Gulf Refinery in Port Arthur. That was in 1952 when there was not much in Bridge City, except two bridges, dirt roads, and cow pastures. They have been married 67 years and have lived at the same location on Nitsche Street for 63 years. Along with the house the LeBlancs acquired an acre and a half of land. Mayo has been noted for his large gardens over the years and for a number of years before Bridge City grew to the city it has become, they had livestock.
Bridge City was very rural and it was no problem to raise chickens, a couple of hogs, a milk cow and a few sheep on the property. That life was natural since they had both been raised in rural farm families.
“My daddy died when I was six, I had a brother six months old and five more brothers and sisters. We did not have much money; we all had to work to raise our food. None of us got to go to school very much. I was raised near Erath and Youngsville. For two months of the year we did not go to school because we all had to work picking cotton. We would pick and earn $1 a pound. When Juanita was a girl, one day she picked 100 pounds of cotton. That was a lot of work and nice money for the time”, said Mayo. “We cut wood, a lot of wood because we cooked with wood, heated with wood and needed wood to make syrup. We would build a fire and then start heating the juice we got when we pressed the cane. It took a lot of work to make syrup because we had to constantly stir it to keep it from burning and we had to watch the fire to keep it going to boil the syrup. We would make about 100 gallons a year. That was our main sweetener. Sugar was expensive and what little we could afford was saved to sweeten Momma’s coffee. We used syrup for everything else, like cooking and baking”.
In 1944 Mayo went to Port Arthur and went to work shipping out on tankers. He worked on Texaco and Gulf ships. “I liked Texaco ships because they fed better. We were going out of the Houston ship channel to Boston when the big explosion happened at Texas City. It was the biggest, loudest thing any of us had ever seen. None of us knew what had happened, but we were glad we were far enough away”, said Mayo. “By 1948 I had $80 in cash and went to Louisiana and got Juanita. I was living in Port Arthur and had a job working at the Breeze Inn on the beach for my uncle.”
“I did not like working there”, said Juanita. “The weekends were busy and they would holler at me that they needed 10 hamburgers at the time. It was a lot of hot work too, cooking at the beach.”
“Back in those days you could not sell beer on Sunday till after noon. We would start early icing beer down. Sometimes we would sell as many as 50 cases of beer on a Sunday afternoon”, said Mayo. “If it got too busy we would just dump the beer in the ice water and hand it to them. It did not have time to get cold, but they did not care.”
After working at the Breeze Inn for a month, he got a job working at Standard Brass. He stayed there for three years and then went to work at the Gulf Refinery. He worked shift work in operations for three years before he got into maintenance and could work a straight day schedule.
“When we bought the house here there was not much in Bridge City. J. P. LeBlanc had the Buccaneer café, it was mostly seafood. Dupuis had his service station, the B.O. Sparkle Club was on the highway outside of town going to Port Arthur. There was a grocery store and a movie theater and that was about all that was here. Before they had a city and some services, we bought our water for $10 a month from a neighbor with a deep well. We had a septic tank before we got city sewerage”, said Mayo. “Bridge City has really grown a lot. It is hard to believe how it once was when we all had cows and chickens all over the place.”
As long as her health permitted, Juanita sewed clothes and knitted and crocheted bedspreads and other different hand crafts. She is from the generation of women who took pride in being homemakers. Together she and Mayo have raised three girls and two boys. They have 10 grandchildren and 20n great grandchildren.
For years Mayo was famous for his large garden and the produce that came from it. He protected his fig trees with large nets to keep the birds away. He does not produce as many figs as he once did, but still has a good crop. Mayo has made and sold hot sauce for years with his special blend of pepper and spices. His brand that he calls “hot-hot” is said to set fire to concrete. Last year his okra production was nearly 1000 pounds. This year, his garden has been affected by the heat and uncertain rain.
Nearly everyone who worked in the Gulf Refinery when he did either knew Mayo LeBlanc or heard some story about him. He was a hard working pipefitter with a sense of humor second to none. He always had a smile and a kind word. Probably his most famous “joke” came after he retired. He had two cantaloupes growing close together on his fence. He wanted to let then grow to see how big they would get. Deciding that they needed to be supported, he bought the biggest brassier that he could find and put the cantaloupes in them and tied it to the fence, like a small hammock. “I had some good ones and wanted to keep them from breaking off, what else could I have done?”, said Mayo.
If you ever are fortunate enough to meet Mayo, ask him to tell you the story about how he got a ram to go with his ewes when he had his sheep. The story is one of a kind, a legend. “No one but Mayo would have thought of doing that.”