Charles F. Daigle (1930-2010)
It was five years ago, during the 2006 football season.
My friend, David Fontenot, had invited me to have a meal with him prior to a Cajuns' game. He told me to meet him behind the maintenance building. "You'll see the tent. It's the Krewe de Chew," he said.
Never being one to turn down free food, I showed up at the Krewe tent. It was early, but several of the members were there. Boudin and cracklin were out as "nibbles." David saw me and welcomed me to the Krewe de Chew. "Come see," he said to me, "I want you to meet Charlie."
We walked up to an elderly guy seated, sipping from a plastic cup. "This is Charlie Daigle," David told me. "He's the Grand Chew."
I shook hands with Charlie, "Welcome," he said. "Everything we have here is yours." I visited with Charlie for a bit. He lived in Richard, just outside of Eunice. He was an Air Force Veteran. Married to his sweetheart Gwen (don't tell anyone I married a Yankee, he'd say to me.) Charlie's Krewe did a spread before every game, had been for years. "Everything here is made from scratch," he said proudly. "No store bought stuff at this tent."
I ate until I couldn't eat any more. I thanked David for the invite and sought out Charlie. "You need a beer?" I smiled and said no, not before the game. "Come back after the game," he told me. "I'll have one waiting for you." And he did. When I was ready to leave, Charlie shook my hand. "You're welcome here before every game. Make sure you come back. Bring your family."
I went back. Every home game. Brought the family. Charlie just loved my twin daughters. And, each game Charlie greeted me the same way. "Hello my friend," he said. "Glad you came." And, he'd always point out the ice chest where I'd be able to find my "cold one" after the game. But one game he did something different. "Make sure you come by after the game. Katie made her brownie trifle. I'll save you some." Katie is Charlie's daughter (and one helluva dessert maker). And sure enough, after the game I saw Charlie. "Wait right here," he said. He walked to his motor home and came back with a bowl wrapped in foil. "Katie's trifle. There's nothing better." I took the foil off the bowl and took a bite of the brownie/chocolate/whipped cream concoction. It was heavenly. "You think she'll marry me?" I asked. Charlie howled with laughter. "Pretty good, huh? I thought you'd like it." I learned later that Charlie would tell Kate not to forget to make "Jay's" Brownie Trifle. She made it. And strawberry trifle. And blueberry trifle. (I swear, I don't know how Kate's husband Alex stays so thin.)
But what Charlie Daigle did for me that first season had nothing to do with who I was. It had everything to do with who Charlie Daigle was.
Charlie and a couple of friends started tailgaiting years ago with a small pop up tent. They would invite a few friends. The group moved three different times before settling behind the maintenance building where they have three tailgaiting spots. Eventually the group got big enough to where some organization was needed so as to not duplicate the goodies that were brought to each game. And, the group needed a name. They decided on the "Krewe de Chew." Interesting play on words if you know your Cajun French. It was decided that each home game there would be three individuals responsible for the entrees (it's now up to five.) The remainder of the Krewe would bring side dishes, nibbles or desserts. Before each season, the Krewe would meet to decide who would be responsible for which games. While there are no "dues" per se, each Krewe member contributes to the cost of the tailgaiting spots and other expenses that the Krewe has throughout the season.
As the Krewe grew, so did the party. Krewe member David Dugas brings his computer, with over 10,000 songs to each home game. Plenty of music and dancing.
And, of course, at some point in time, the "Roosta" was born.
David found a zydeco song called "You Can't Roosta Like You Use-ta." Krewe members get on the dance floor, some wearing chicken heads and/or beaks and "roosta." Chicken feed is thrown. You really need to see it to understand. But it's just the Krewe being the Krewe. Charlie always watched. "I really can't roosta like I use-ta," he said.
Charlie spread the good word concerning the Krewe to those who visited Cajun Field. He'd find out the most active internet message board and invite visiting fans to join him at the Krewe tent for the pregame meal. He assured them they wouldn't find better food. And, sure enough, at every home game the Krewe tent would have visitors wearing their school colors. Charlie greeted them all, the same way he greeted me that very first time. "What we have is yours."
Charlie rarely missed a home game over the last 25 years. And, he made quite a few road trips. And, truth be told, he taught a few folks how to tailgate the right way.
As each season drew closer, I'd look forward to my visits at the Krewe, especially the home opener. Charlie was always there. "Hello my friend. Glad you came by."
A couple of years ago, David and his wife Bobbie were at the house. They asked if my wife Cindy and I would like to become members of the Krewe. After all the free meals I'd had over the last few years, now we got to do some of the cooking. We were invited to the preseason meeting of the Krewe before the 2009 season.
The first to greet us was Charlie. "Hello my friends. Welcome to the Krewe de Chew."
This year when the Cajuns played Oklahoma State, Charlie, as he always did, invited the fans from OSU to join us. Several did. And, many got on the dance floor when it was time for the "Roosta." For those who braved the chicken, the Krewe presented them with orange and black Mardi Gras Beads. And Charlie was especially proud when the Krewe was asked to feed the ESPN crew working the game. They came 75 strong and ate their fill. Many remarked to Charlie and others that they had never been treated like that anywhere. That made Charlie very very happy. Afterward, he sent everyone in the Krewe an email thanking us for making the whole experience so good for our guests. He even added a line about "not knowing broadcasters could cook." (I fried a couple of turkeys that day.)
We got an inviation to a party recently to celebrate Charlie's 80th birthday and his wife Gwen's 70th. I had a game at Tulane that day and couldn't attend. Charlie wasn't feeling well and it was just a couple of days later that he was admitted to the hospital. Charlie underwent surgery for a malignant blockage in his colon and they found more cancer. The plan was, after recuperation, to do six to eight weeks of chemo. Charlie went through surgery okay.
Saturday night I went up to the hospital to see Charlie. But Katie met me at the door. Charlie had suffered through a pretty rough day. She suggested I wait a day or two and come back again. I hugged her tight, told her I loved her and asked her to tell her Dad that I stopped by.
This afternoon I went upstairs to Coach Bob Marlin's office to record his pregame. Coach wasn't there (I was early) and while waiting, I pulled out my phone to check my email. There was one from Kate with the news that "our dear Daddy passed away this morning."
I mentioned Charlie on today's broadcast. They mentioned him during today's invocation.
My faith tells me I will see Charlie again one day. My guess is he'll greet me the same way he always did.
"Hello my friend. Good to see you."
And then he'll whisper "the brownie trifle here isn't as good as Katie's."