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Saturday, July 13, 2024 at 4:39 AM

An early lesson in differing cultures

A STORY WORTH TELLING

G

“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”

— Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian independence activist and writer.

“So how is it pronounced,” she asked?

“Su - BEAN,” I said slowly and deliberately.

“The first syllable is pronounced like ‘uh.’ The last rhymes with ‘bean’ as in ‘beans and peas.’ And there is an ever so slight emphasis on the last syllable.”

“And you know this how,” my friend inquired with just a hint of doubt.

“Cultural experience,” I told her. “How one pronounces it, however, depends on the culture in which they learned it.

Like I did while living in Sabine Parish, Louisiana, some years ago.

“Variants exist,” I said.

“One, used predominately by residents on the Texas side of the river. It’s pronounced rhyming the first syllable with the word ‘sad,’ drawing it out and shifting a heavy emphasis to that first syllable … SA-bean.”

That conversation about the 360-mile-long Sabine River, which serves as part of the boundary between Texas and Louisiana, occurred a year or so ago. It came up again last week while I was in an antique store in Shreveport, where I walked into a conversation— literally.

The emporium of relics was huge. Two stories and multiple rooms. One filled with books where two men sat talking at a long table. I first suspected they might have been plotting on how to find their way out. I know I was.

Not wanting to interfere with their dialogue but not to appear rude either, I briefly looked in their direction, smiled and nodded.

The younger of the two sat on the other side of the table from where I stood. Snippets of what I overheard sounded as though he may have been interviewing the older gentleman at the end of the table.

“Lots to look at, isn’t there,” the first commented.

“Yes, sir,” I responded.

Pausing briefly, I then added, “I couldn’t help but overhear someone say something about The Sabine Index. In another lifetime many years ago, I worked for The Sabine News in Many, Louisiana.

An upstart competing newspaper to the Index.”

“Robert Gentry,” the younger man said with a wide smile.

“That was him,” I countered. “Editor and owner of the Index when I was serving time in Many.”

“Now he was a character,” the older gentleman added, bearing down on the ‘he.’

I laughed. “I was a 20-something rookie hired by two Texas guys, recent purchasers of the News. They sent me down there as editor, but the local partner was seldom in the office. So, I wound up as a young transplanted Texan directing an editorial effort competing with Mr. Gentry. With little knowledge of what a large Louisiana legend he was.”

Robert Gentry conducted his own funeral and prepared his final resting place while he was still alive. Which, as far as I could discern from research, he still is. A lifelong journalist, country music historian, author, political consultant, concert promoter, businessman and colorful Louisiana native is just the beginning. Look him up online.

His 2011 funeral was at Rebel State Commemorative Area near Marthaville, La.

Four-time Louisiana Gov.

Edwin Edwards and longtime friend delivered the eulogy, “insults and other remarks,” according to recorded accounts. Gentry’s wife, Laurie, sang vocal selections, a procession to “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” was conducted, a list of Louisiana speakers, including elected officials and well-known personalities, commented and country music legend Gene Watson and his Farewell Party Band closed the “service.”

As a political consultant, he was the last public relations director for Louisiana Gov. Earl K. Long.

He also directed country, gospel and bluegrass programs at the Rebel Historic Site he founded, which was later taken into the state’s park systems.

Performers included Roy Acuff, Gov. Jimmie Davis, Grandpa Jones, Kitty Wells, Bill Anderson, Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubb and Lester Flatt, to name a few.

Before owning the Index, Gentry worked at the Natchitoches Enterprise and Times.

During his ownership of the Many newspaper for more than 47 years, it was considered one of Louisiana’s premier weeklies.

“And that’s where I met him,” I said. “The Sabine News never held a candle to The Index, but I consider my time producing a newspaper in the same community a learning experience. Plus, it was an excellent introduction to the differing cultures of the two states.

“And,” I remarked, “I’ll never forget the day I left. I went to his office to tell him I was leaving town and thank him for the learning experience afforded me just by watching him. And you know what, he offered me a job.”

Not wanting to further hinder the conversation I accidentally meandered into, I moved toward the door with a wave, adding, “Thank you for the memories.”

“Thank you,” said the older gentleman.

Then added, “And thank you for pronouncing Sabine correctly rather than the aberration used by many people who have never lived in Louisiana.”


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