21, 2009

By Roger Emile Stouff

There was a gentleman here last week who really is just the latest in a long line of visitors stricken by the community we live in.

Mike, a semi-retired mapmaker from Ohio, says he has been coming to Louisiana for years to escape those cold northern winters. Heís been all over the state with his little Port-a-Bote, a folding skiff that he powers with a six horsepower Mercury outboard and motors around.

This was Mikeís first time to the Bayou Teche region and Franklin.

"Iím coming back here every year," Mike told me as he was getting ready to launch his little skiff into Bayou Teche at the boat landing behind the courthouse. "This place is awesome."

Had Bob Foster not met Mike and come by the office to get me, we might never have known Mike was here, tooling around in his Port-a-Bote and discovering all that our community has to offer. Mike said he had dined at Main Street Café and Politoís, and said he had heard good things about the Forest and planned to go there next.

Then off he went, upstream, to explore Bayou Teche and said heíd see Bob and I next year.

You might wonder how many more Mikeís there are, but I donít. There are many. Many who we donít even know of, because even in a small town, where everybody practically knows everybody else, thereís enough unfamiliar faces around that we really donít notice people who arenít from here. But they are.

Main Street Café has a guest book full of visitors from state after state and many countries. Now and then I meet some of them, and they all say the same thing:

"What a wonderful place," they say.

Thereís going to be a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. at Franklin City Hall. Itís being sponsored by the city and Rep. Sam Jones, and they want public input on tourism development for this area.

You ought to be there, though Iím sure you wonít.

But Iíll be there, and the things Iíll have to say may be heard or may not. Because, you know, I feel I have a stake in this community, not just Franklin, but the great area of western St. Mary Parish.

My friend the late Councilman Carl Foulcard used to regularly bemoan the manufactured homes passing down U.S. 90, and complained that thereís got to be reasons theyíre going elsewhere. Now, Iím not saying we need more trailer parks in FranklinÖbut I am saying that Carl was right: Itís not about the structures that are going elsewhere, itís the people who are going to live in them.

Over the last 20 years, the phone company, gas company and now the cable company offices have moved out of Franklin. Weíre just dang lucky the power company is still here. There is obviously something very, very wrong here, but nobody wants to admit it and begin doing something to solve it.

I know. You readers wonít, either. I got that now. No need to explain. Itís crystal clear.

Maybe, though, if people like Mike come back, and some of them actually relocate to this little community, theyíll be inspired to make a difference.

You ever watch This Old House? There are episodes where some homeowner in New Hampshire wants to replace the windowsill on his colonial cottage. He has to go to the local supervisory board to get approval, and a few dozen of his neighbors and other citizens are there. Why? Because they want to be involved. Instead of griping about being told what to do with their property, they themselves conceive, embrace and enforce the values that foster community pride and development.

Us? We sit around waiting for a Boeing plant to come in and make jetliners.

So maybe if people like Mike come back and make their homes here, and maybe if we get over this "You ainít from here, are ya, boy?" attitude, well, maybe weíll get some momentum going.

Now, before anyone in municipal politics goes to grinding teeth, please re-read. Iím talking about this community. This area. Jeanerette to Ricohoc. Franklin is the centerpiece Ė the crown jewel, even Ė of it.

Franklin and Sam Jones and the Cajun Coast group are apparently trying to motivate you this coming Tuesday. I hope theyíll succeed, but Iím afraid youíll just keep waiting for Boeing.