Eighty-three-year-old Marylean Tezeno is pictured above as she sits on the front porch of her home on a humid Wednesday afternoon in mid-July. She worked for a long time in the lunch room at Sacred Heart for the students and is teaching her eight-year-old great-granddaughter, Ta’kyara, how to cook using the family recipes. (Gazette photo by Nancy Duplechain)
A cornered perspective
On an incredibly humid July afternoon, Marylean Tezeno sat on her front porch, watching the comings-and-goings of her little corner of Ville Platte. The Evangeline Parish School Board meeting had just let out across the street. She had a welcoming smile, eager to share her life with a listening ear.
Marylean worked as a cook at Sacred Heart for 26 years, retiring in 1998. She cooked for elementary and high school and walked to work every day. Her mother and father worked for Monsignor J. M. Bourgeois. Her mother, Emily Lewis Tezeno, worked as a cook for the priest. Her father, Levie Tezeno, took care of the cemetery, but had an early retirement due to heat strokes. When her mother worked, Marylean would help her. One day Dr. Arthur Vidrine, who had a hospital across from Sacred Heart, hired her as a babysitter. Marylean babysat Dr. Vidrine’s two grandchildren, and would accompany the doctor on trips to New Orleans. She wound up working for him for ten years.
She learned some wisdom from Dr. Vidrine. She said, back in those days, they did not have an air conditioner or fan. One day the doctor tapped her on the shoulder and said, “‘Marylean, you see how you’re sweating? Sweat and crying is healthy, but the one who doesn’t sweat or cry is not healthy.’ So I go outside and I’m good. Sweat doesn’t bother me anymore.”
After working for the doctor, Marylean started working at Sacred Heart School. Every day for twenty-six years Tezeno walked from her house to the Catholic school. She lived next to Ville Platte High, and still lives there today. She would leave at 5:15 a.m. until the Diocese of Lafayette took over and told them they didn’t need to start work until 7:00 a.m., then she would leave at 6:00 a.m. Elementary school was first, and then she or one of the other cafeteria workers would go feed the high school kids. Work was over by 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. Harry Pitre, a parishioner of Sacred Heart, would walk to mass every morning. He would meet up with Marylean on Main Street and walk her to work.
Marylean said they learned what meals to cook based on the Diocese of Lafayette. “Sometimes we’d make stew, gumbo, soup, and we’d cook just about anything on the list. And we never had any problems.” She said she enjoyed her time at Sacred Heart. “It was always some fresh food we’d fix,” she said. “I was brought up in the country. I knew how to fix beans and corn. I knew how to do all of that.”
Marylean raised ten children (five boys and five girls). One of her children’s classmates was a struggling 12-year-old girl. When she saw the way the girl was being treated, she took her in and raised her as one of her own. When she brought this girl into her life, she had said, “Through the grace and mercy of God, I’m going to do my best. And I took her in at age 12 years old until she was 18, and I never had any problems. She doesn’t call me ‘Miss Mary,’ she calls me ‘Mama.’” Marylean said she attended a school function for one of her children, and the girl introduced her as her mother. The teacher told the girl, “Your mama is in the graveyard.” The girl said, “Yes, ma’am, my birth mama is in the graveyard, but the one who got me where I am today--this is my mama.”
Marylean’s eight-year-old great-granddaughter, Ta’kyara, watches her in the kitchen and is learning to be a good cook. Ta’kyara said she wants to be an astronaut some day.
Nearly every day Marylean sits outside and watches the world go by. She takes pride in her home and works hard to keep it looking nice, even with a bad hip. “I’m 83-years-old, and I still do my own yard,” she said. “My daddy always told me, ‘Baby, as you get older your body’s going to change. You’re going to have pain.’ I know now what he’s talking about. As I got older, I could feel my body changing, but I say that’s God’s will, so I still do my own yard.”