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Pop GunA few days ago, I was sitting in the office here at The Cabin Restaurant, replying to emails and answering phone calls when Al Robert, the owner of the restaurant walked in. Al has lived here in the Burnside area for over 60 years, well before the area became industrially developed. He often likes to reminisce about how things used to be, especially how simple things were in the past compared to today.

Last Friday, Al’s eye came to rest on a basket of hand-carved wooden pop-guns. The basket was one of several items that had been cleaned out of the Firehouse over at The Cajun Village in anticipation of a new tenant’s arrival. Al picked up one of the pop-guns and asked if I knew what it was. It looked rather foreign to me, as I had grown up in a younger generation than Al, a generation that played with video games instead of home-made pop guns.

And as Al always does, he went into an explanation of what he was reminiscing about (i.e. the pop-gun), which is an interesting piece of Ascension Parish history as well as a link to very, very old River Road traditions. Here is how you make a pop-gun and use it:

1. Take a tall reed (the kind that grows in abundance here in the swamps of Louisiana) and cut a 6-inch section out. Remove the center section of the reed to make it hollow. The middle of the reed, which is always soft, can be removed rather easily.

2. Find a nice, thick cypress branch (about 2 inches in diameter). Whittle about 3/4’s of it down so that it will snugly fit into the hollowed portion of the reed. The other 1/4 of the cypress branch will be the handle (Al says you should whittle down so it’s nice and smooth). Once constructed, all you have to do is find some China balls (from an elderberry tree), stick n. Stick them in the hollowed out reed, jam the cypress dowel in the reed and POP! – the berry on the other end shoots out.

Sugarcane Crane

An sugarcane crane from the Houmas House plantation, circa 1900

“Man those suckers hurt!” laughed Al. The pop-gun story was followed shortly thereafter by another story from back in the day: Al and his friends used to pick pieces of cut sugarcane during harvest season, climb the cranes in the sugarcane fields that loaded the bales of cut cane onto trucks, and spend the evening hanging out 40 or 50 feet up in the air, chewing on freshly cut cane and “solving all the world’s problems.”

It’s amazing how such simple things were used for entertainment back then. But I can tell you one thing for sure: chewing on sugarcane and shooting pop-guns with your friends is a lot more enriching than sitting around playing video games all day. That simplistic lifestyle is something Al fondly cherishes, and something that I wish I had not missed out on growing up.

Full-length example of an old sugarcane crane (taken in Puerto Rico)

Full-length example of an old sugarcane crane (taken in Puerto Rico)