Autobiographical books authored by White Castle native describe life on a sugar cane farm in mid-20th century
Barry Raffray moved away from his native south Louisiana to Houston, Texas, because of a transfer by his now former employer, Foster Grant Chemicals and by 1990, was traveling home whenever he could to visit his parents.
They still lived on Cedar Grove Plantation, where Raffray grew up, but things had changed.
“The farm was then leased to three or four farmers but when I was just a little boy, there were well over 125 families who worked the cane fields,” he said. “And the old mill by then had been shut down for years.”
“…It’s so much different now, the harvesting and all, because of all the mechanical equipment they use now,” the 74-year-old continued.
“My three sons, Kent, Lane and Todd knew their grandparents but they didn’t know anything about country life, their family, their past history and how it was when I was coming up,” Raffray said.
Those facts were the elder Raffray’s motivation behind writing the books, “Raising Sugar Cane,” a two-book series that is mostly autobiographical.
“That’s basically why I did it is so that they could see where they came from, whether they liked it our not,” Raffray said. “After that, I just kept writing.”
“I decided to put some thing together from my memories,” he said. “Since they didn’t know how we lived in the country and they didn’t know anything about my side of the family and the history of where I grew up.”
While Raffray has a sister who has studied the family’s genealogy back to the 1600s, when the family lived in France, the author just went back four generations in the books.
“The first book covers from before my birth to my great-great grandfather and goes right up until I joined the U.S. Army in 1962,” he said. “My next book covers the years from 1962 to 1994.”
Raffray said people who have lived in south Louisiana all their lives “may not find anything surprising in the books, but it will bring back many memories of your childhood, your parents and your grandparents and the things they told you about.”
“I write about us making butter – we had cows to milk, we raised beans and just gardened most of our food,” he said. “I even talk about the killing of the chickens, making salt pork and doing the boucherie (the butchering of pigs).”
“The people in this part of the country, especially from Louisiana, would be familiar with the country way of living and the way country folks lived,” Raffray said “I also have stories in there that are unique to me. Since it’s basically my memoir, it’s about me and I tell things that haven’t been told in 50 years.”
“I tell it like it was or at least the way I perceived it to be,” he continued, then smiled slyly,. “Some of the people mentioned in the book are dead now and thank goodness because they can’t sue me.”
“There’s several stories I think you’ll find interesting and others you’ll find quite humorous,” Raffray continued.
The first book was open-ended and involved his time in the military: “The fourth week in basic training, something was happening to me and I did not know what.”
Raffray said he ended it that way to pique interest in the next book and it did. “I had a bunch of people who called me about it,” he said. He revealed that “secret” in his interview.
“I’m a living miracle, I say,” he said, because not long after he joined the Army, he was diagnosed with a kidney disease. “God gave me another chance to make something of myself and I’m still trying to figure out what that is. I’ve been wondering why for a long time now.”
Doctors said they had little hope Raffray would be able to live a normal life and likely would not be able to go to work for any company that required a physical.
“One doctor told me I should start my own business because no one would ever hire me,” he said.
He worked at several odd jobs, here and there, before landing at Foster Grant. During the physical he took prior to his employment, much to his surprise he found the kidney disease was gone.
Raffray went on to live a normal life, worked until one of a series of companies that bought what had been Foster Grant, retired him.
Raffray has been working on a third book for years, beginning in 1994, where the second book leaves off.
“It’s been half finished for years but I just can’t seem to get back to it,” he said.
(Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a two-part series on Raffray’s autobiographical books.}