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Aubrey's Grocery Store:

It is always amazing and delightful when I am in a friend's home or looking through pictures in a kiosk at the mall, and I see the picture of Aubrey's Store. The Store was such a huge part of my growing up years in St. Gabriel. My dad, Audrey J. LaPlace, spent so many hours working there to support our family. He and the store are synonymous to many who knew him. It was not just his job; it was also his identity.

Live of people in Aubrey's era were abruptly altered and maybe changed forever by World War II. Before the war, Aubrey was a student at Southwestern (ULL), but after Pearl Harbor, he and 3 of his brothers all answered the call to serve. When they returned, some went back to college and some of them, like Aubrey, did not. He chose to follow a long family tradition of having a country general merchandise store. Eventually there were three different stores in the area with four of the LaPlace brothers owning and operating them.

Aubrey (Daddy!) loved that store. The hours were long, but it also was a very social place. For some it served as a "watering hole" or place to meet and greet. The walls of his office in the back of the store probably hold memories of lots of political conversations, some wheeling and dealing, some personal talks, some planning for our future, and much more. Frequently it was a place to stay late and play some Poker while sharing some Pabst Blue Ribbon, Bush, or Dixie Beer. If only the walls could talk.

The inventory in the store was so varied that I guess that is why it was called "general merchandise". From work clothes to milk and eggs and everything else in between, it could be found on the shelves at Aubrey's Grocery. As soon as I was old enough to help, Daddy enlisted my help for the annual inventory. We climbed on ladders to reach merchandise on top shelves and wrote lists of what and how many. There were work clothes and waders and ammunition for hunting that never changed count year after year, but they stayed on those shelves. I bet some of it is still there.

The floors were crude planks, and saw dust and some kind of oil were used to clean them every day. It created its own unique smell - "country store sweet". I can remember that smell.

Above the store on both sides were apartments. They were designed like shot-gun houses. I remember well that one of the renters was a chef at the Carville Leprosarium, and he would make some unique meals for us like homemade Chop Suey. We called them Uncle Charlie and Aunt Simone in that southern way that we do that with close friends who are not relatives.

In the back, there was a Doctor's office. Practicing "country style medicine" meant even making home visits frequently and assisting with births and other medical needs. I remember Dr. Fortenberry who lived there and came to our house. I think he probably saved my life and my brother's on two very separate occasions when we had life threatening allergic reactions.

My brother, Aubrey Jr., remembers being called in to help make "samwiches" for lunch time sales. Using an old time slicer for the meat and cheese, lots of Blue Plate mayo, and white bread, all wrapped in waxed paper, these sandwiches were quite popular. You can still purchase them today, and "Miss Lela" who was there then, may still be waiting on you now. She is definately a part of the store's history.

The Iberviell Parish Bookmobile would come to the store parking lot every other week. I remember well getting stacks of books to read, and then going into the store where Daddy would climb on the ladder to give the kids cookies from those big glass cookie jars. A story about that ladder and the cookies became one of the best stories by the Cajun humorist, Justin Wilson, who had the story on his "album" - a 33 1/3 rpm vinyl and a picture of he and Dad complete with ladder and cookie jar in his cookbook.

So many business deals and plans for the future were made right there in Aubrey's Grocery. Even after Daddy ventured into new business, he still used the store as his office. I hope that every time you see one of those Stan Routh lithographs of the store, you will remember some of these stories. Mine is in my kitchen as a wonderful reminder of times past.

Written by Catherine LaPlace Hurston, Aubrey's oldest daughter.

3495 Highway 75, St. Gabriel, LA. 70776
Phone (225) 642-5545