It was laundry day.
When you are traveling, it’s always a challenge to find a place to wash your clothes–those grungy campground clothes that you have probably worn long past decency.
You won’t find handy roadside signs pointing to laundromats. They won’t appear in your guidebook or on your GPS. In fact, some towns won’t even have a laundromat, or it will be tucked away in some dank cubbyhole behind the dry cleaners.
Finding the word for laundromat in another language—or even in your own language—can be challenging as well. In Texas, they’re called washaterias. In Mexico, they’re lavanderías. I don’t know what they are in French, but that is the word I need right now.
Fortunately, I am in Kouchibouguac (koo-chi-BOO-gwack) National Park on the central coast of New Brunswick, and the park’s laundromat-cum-general store is brand new.
Minding the store is a large man and his small wife. The man is tall, well-built, and expansive in every way. He is pretending to read the newspaper with his reading glasses low on his nose, but he is really looking for some disoriented tourist to talk to.
Julia is sitting at a nearby table while I feed quarters into the machines in the next room. There is no wifi, so she is not on Facebook. That makes her a potential target. I can see how the game is unfolding, and, grumpy introvert that I am, I become very busy with the laundry in the next room as she is drawn, like an undefended pawn, into conversation.
No matter. When I slink out for more change–Check!–I am the next pawn.
As usual, I regret my grouchy attitude almost immediately. Arnold Vautour’s story is like coming full circle after our Acadian experience of the previous two days.
For some reason, I had always thought that the Acadian story was a romantic half-fiction from long ago—like Longfellow’s Evangeline—heavy on romance, light on substance, and so long ago that it didn’t matter much today.
Since I know very well that history is a very tough weed, I’m not sure why I was surprised when Arnold said, “I am Acadian.”
I had thought it was all history, but here in the flesh was Evangeline’s great-grandnephew. And here’s what I could glean from Arnold’s heavily accented and rambling narrative.
He grew up with seven siblings in a house that was inside what eventually became the boundary of the national park. His father could not read or write, but “my dad was easy.” When the government began relocating people who were living within the brand-new park, the Vautours were the first to leave.
“My parents wanted to move to St. Louis de Kent, but we kids said no. They wanted to move to Acadiana. We said no.” (This is what happens when the kids outnumber the parents.)
So they ended up moving to a deserted road just outside the park boundaries.
“Soon, everyone from the park moved there. But one guy refused to leave his house. For 30 years he fought the government. He still lives in the park. He’s 82 now.
“None of the little villages got along. For a while we couldn’t walk down the street in St. Louis. If the St. Louis boys came along, we had to get off the sidewalk, or there’d be a fight.
“One night, we decided that, for that night, we owned the sidewalk. We all drank a little and went to St. Louis. We decided that we’d fight if we had to.
“But we didn’t have to. The St. Louis boys moved aside, and we didn’t have any trouble after that.”
In a nod to poetic justice, Arnold later married petite and pretty Christiana from St. Louis—the quiet woman behind the cash register—and became mayor of the town.
According to Arnold, the scattered Acadian remnants (they’re still there!) from all over eastern North America began organizing in the late 1990s. They now meet every four years to trace genealogies and generally to celebrate le bon temps. The first such gathering happened in New Orleans, before Hurricane Katrina.
“When we saw all the huge flags in America, my wife said that we should make the biggest Acadian flag in the world. So we did, but it ripped.”
Arnold rambled on about his work with the Park Service, his dreams for the general store (a restaurant with “really good food” and live music), and how you can keep in touch with anyone through the Internet. (Hi, Arnold!) I finished the laundry, and we headed to our next destination—the Trappist monastery in Rogersville.