I hope you don’t mind if we take this time to memorialize him a bit. I’ll understand if it’s not your cup of tea, but I can promise you our Straight Talk approach, common-sense logic and nearly everything I’ve written I learned at his knee. If you’ve ever wondered where Straight Talk communications and common sense comes from, it was from him through me.
Carroll Robert Bertaut III was a child of Louisiana. He was born in New Orleans in 1938 and lived all but two years of his life right here with us in the Bayou State. Or, as he would think of it, the Sportsman’s Paradise. He became the head of his household at 19-years-old when, as an only child, his father passed away at only 48. I know he and I had many discussions about life that ended with him wondering if he’d live longer than his own father did.
He made it to 83. Mission accomplished, Dad.
Dad spent 40 years working in the oilfield for Kerr McGee, a lot of 7 and 7s when we were growing up. He came home smelling like that mix of odors only a production platform or drilling rig can create – diesel, paraffin, solvents, you name it – and there was something strangely comforting about it because we knew our protector was home. We also knew our foolishness was at an end because Dad would walk in from offshore and yell, “Time to straighten up!” And we did!
He learned about hard work, and pushed and passed that on to all of us. He was demanding, constantly asking me and my four siblings why we weren’t living up to our potential. We found out years later that at the same time he was being tough on us, he was bragging of our accomplishments to everyone he met.
It felt like only he knew what we were capable of, and for him, the sky was the limit for us.
Dad was a force of nature. That’s the only way I can think of to describe it. He NEVER sat still, always had a project, always had to be doing something, and frankly, he expected the same of all five of us.
Our family house is a testament to his skill and drive. You can walk around and point at almost everything made of wood in it and you know he had a hand in bringing it to life, including large parts of the house itself. Got a kid playing basketball? He built a goal from scratch. Tennis? Build a big wall to hit against. Golf? Add a few nets to the tennis wall and oh, how about a putting green. Whenever he would see something cool like a pool table or a swimming pool, he wouldn’t go shopping, he’d build one from scratch. He had the courage to attack any project, and once he sunk his teeth into it, made up his mind, you might as well join him cause you sure weren’t going to talk him out of it.
We talk a lot about Louisianans being “resilient.” Oh, he was that by a mile.
He was never happier than when we were on the water. It didn’t matter if we were crawfishing, crabbing, hunting or fishing for that elusive “big bass.” How many years he fished for that eight pounder, I can’t even remember, but he did end up getting a couple. I’ve never seen him more excited.
He had a huge passion for people. I heard one of his friends say, “Carroll Bertaut would start a conversation with a tree!” He was incredibly helpful all the time, and as he learned more and more about how to improve his health and live longer, he was quick to pass on his learning to all of us. I’m not sure I’d have stuck it out with the statins I’m on for the past 15 years if he hadn’t gone there first and set the example. And sure, I’d like to make 83 myself! Wouldn’t you?
Like Louisiana itself, there was no limit to his generosity. He thought nothing a few years back of filling up the back of his pickup truck with gasoline cans and driving them to friends and family in Florida when hurricanes came through. Mom even had to dial him back occasionally: “Bobby, you need to wait until people ASK before you help them!” I’m not sure that ever sunk in.
As kids, every summer he would take all of us on two-week adventures in a Suburban (no AC!) pulling a pop-up camper. I’m pretty sure we saw all 48 states that way. I remember being thankful he couldn’t drive it to Hawaii.
No matter where we traveled, he would find SOMEBODY he knew! I even remember driving back from Disney World somewhere in Florida on the interstate when a car pulled up next to us and started blowing the horn and he knew THEM! A random car, on a random highway in a random state, BOOM, Carroll Bertaut has friends there. That’s just how he was.
Those “random people” in that car all those years ago came to his funeral!
He was a no-nonsense person who never struggled to point out right from wrong. As a person of deep faith, he was not burdened with all the gray areas we struggle with today. I never asked his opinion on any faith issue and got a, “Hmmm, let me think about that” kind of answer. Good was good and bad was bad, and he was fearless in letting you know which was which. It was like for my entire 60 years, I’ve had a stone foundation planted into the ground that I could hang onto and never doubt where I was, or where I was going. Priceless.
And then there was Mom, Evelina Tassin Bertaut, the love of his life for more than 60 years. In an era where marital commitments come and go, how precious was it for me and my siblings to see the example set by Mom and Dad in their own lives and marriages.
Every morning when he and I were leaving the house at O Dark Thirty to go on some wilderness or swampy adventure, right before we’d leave, he’d say, “go get in the truck,” and then he’d disappear for a few minutes. One time I followed him out of curiosity, and he was waking up Mom, telling her where we were going, telling her how long he thought we’d be and that he loved her. I suspect that every single time we went hunting, or fishing he would wake her up and tell her his plans for that day so she didn’t have to worry and she’d know where to send the Coast Guard if we didn’t make it back on time.
Once you become a parent, you start to appreciate the qualities your parents have in a way that never made sense before. Certainly I did.
When I was 15 years old, me and a couple of friends got into some serious trouble. Like ending-up-at-the-police-station trouble. I won’t bore you with the details, but it involved some eggs, teachers’ houses and a ton of cleaning up. At about 5 a.m. the next morning, sitting on the couch dressed to go do some cleaning, I was feeling about as low and as useless as a person could get. Dad came out to drive me over, stood there looking over me on the sofa, and I thought, “Here it comes, lecture # 2,332,” but then the strangest thing of all happened.
The old man sat down on the couch, gave me a hard, squeezing hug, and said, “You know, we still love you.”
And you know, he still does. And without him, there would never have been a Straight Talk.