Map showing Melrose Plantation and surrounding area. The town, "Natchitoches" (upper left) is pronounced "Nack-uh-tish". If you want to be spotted as a greenhorn tourist right away, you can pronounce it "Natch-eye-toe-chiss" The town "Cloutierville" (lower right) is pronounced "Clue-chee-ville", not "Clue-tee-er-ville". And "pecan" is properly spoken "Puh-cahn" not "Pee-can". My grandparent's fishing camp, "Happy Landing", is shown at the end of the dusty road and just over the Cane River bridge.

From Alexandria, Louisiana, where I was born December 23, 1936, it took about an hour to drive to Melrose Plantation where Clementine Hunter lived most of her life. From the time I was around eight years old, my grandmother, Blythe Rand of Alexandria, began taking me to Melrose when she went to visit her friend, Mrs. John (Cammie) Henry, the owner of the plantation. Mrs. Cammie and my grandmother had become friends many years before through their mutual interest in weaving and horticulture.

To get to Melrose from Alexandria we would drive in my grandmother's old gear-shift Chevrolet along an asphalt highway that was so hot in summer the car's tires would sink into the tarry surface if you stopped too long. Near Montrose, Louisiana we would turn onto a dirt road that wound through the cotton fields toward Cane River and Melrose. I might at this point mention that Cane River is really not a river. It is technically a lake. It once was part of a river but became separated from its course and filled up with water and no longer flows. Sometimes it is referred to as Cane River and sometimes as Cane River Lake. But they're both the same thing.

If there had been rain, the dirt road leading to Melrose was a river of mud. If the weather was dry, the road was ankle-deep in dust. As the car traveled along, clouds of dust would swirl out behind each rear tire like twin horizontal tornadoes. If another car passed, we would be enveloped in a dust storm so thick my grandmother would have to stop the car, brush off the windshield, and wait until the road was visible again. Since cars back then had no air conditioning, we had either to roll up the windows and suffocate, or roll down the windows and choke. To try to avoid the situation, my grandmother would pull off the side of the asphalt highway and wait until no cars could be seen coming down the dirt road. Then she would put the car in gear, step on the gas, and race toward the bridge that spanned the river-- hoping for the best.

The bridge was a rickety affair that resembled a wide, wooden version of a railroad track. The structure of the bridge consisted of vertical pilings on top of which long beams ran from one bank of the river to the next. On top of these beams more beams were laid sideways like railroad crossties. Between these beams were spaces through which you could look down and see the river. Instead of the tires running on rails, they ran along two plank runways barely a foot-and-a-half wide. If one of the tires slipped off the runway, the car would buck along the cross beams like it was going over a cattle gap, making the bridge vibrate and shake like it was going to collapse. When my mother, Frances Rand, was with us, she was so nervous she would always get out and walk. I just closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, and played like I had never been born.

But I had been