The Marks Post: “He walked on water’
Monday would have been my grandfather Robert Bennett’s 101st birthday. He was born February 12, 1917, to Hawk and Tiny Bennett and grew up in Turkey Creek. He had four brothers; Earl, George, Perry, and Roy and two sisters; Ola and Janie.
He went to school at Pine Prairie where he graduated high school. From there he went for a while to Southwestern Louisiana Institute in Lafayette. The school is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He came then back home and started working as a draftsman at Camp Claiborne.
In 1941, he married my grandmother Evelie Brou on September 27. I remember hearing the stories about them sitting in the living room of my great-grandparents OA and Lillian Brou when the first reports of the Pearl Harbor attack came on the radio. As a side note, that living room is now my dining room.
After the war started, my grandfather and his brothers answered their country’s call and enlisted in the Armed Services. My grandfather joined the 8th Air Force and ended up going to Spokane, Washington, for training. I remember hearing stories from my grandmother about her boarding a train to make the long journey to Spokane to be with him before he went off to war.
He served as a draftsman during World War II designing air strips for the planes to land in Europe. I wish I would have paid more attention to his war stories that he told me while I was growing up. I do know that he landed in Normandy a week after D-Day and said there were still bodies floating in the water. He was also stationed outside the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 and could hear the battle raging in the snowfall as General George Patton successfully maneuvered past the troops of the Third Reich on the Allies’ final push for Berlin.
He stayed in Berlin for a while after the war was over. While there, he collected and brought back home items from Nazi Germany. I still have his old scrapbooks that have, for instance, pictures of Adolph Hitler with Benito Mussolini. The scrapbooks also have Nazi currency, countless other pictures and newspaper clippings, and letters home.
After the war, he came back to his wife in Ville Platte, and they lived next door to my great-grandparents on East Washington St. He then began working at Cabot Corporation, where he retired 30-plus years later. He and my grandmother adopted my mom Kathy in 1953. She was their only child and grew up in the neighborhood playing football in the front yard with her cousins like Joe Henry and with other boys in her class from Sacred Heart.
I was his first grandchild when I was born in 1982. He was with my dad, Ken, outside the waiting room of the nursery at Opelousas General. When the nurses held me up for he and my dad to see me, my grandfather said that I looked like a big catfish. He obviously was an avid fisherman and hunter. He took me with him a few times, but I never got into it. I wish it would have rubbed off more on me so that I could have stayed the night while camping for Squirrel Day last year instead of getting a hotel in Ruston, but I digress.
When I was born, my parents were living in Carencro. Dad was working at a drilling company in Broussard, and mom was teaching at Carencro Elementary. When I was five-years-old, my grandfather got sick with diverticulitis. Mom wanted to move back home to be closer to him, and it was the perfect time because my dad had been laid off after the oil field market took a dive.
We moved into my great-grandparents’ house next door to my grandparents. Friday night quicly became “little head night” when I packed my suit case and went spend the night next door. I remember getting into the sofa bed in the living room with my grandparents on those nights and watching TNN (The Nashville Network). Nashville Now Ralph Emery was one of our favorite shows.
After we moved to Ville Platte, I started Kindergarten at Sacred Heart. Dad was hired back at the same company he worked for in Broussard, and mom was teaching at James Stephens. So, my grandfather would bring me to school in the mornings and pick me up in the afternoon. In the mornings before going to school, I would go to his house, and we would listen to Randy Travis records. Sometimes we would change it up and play Hank Williams or Alabama, but it was mostly Randy Travis. To this day, whenever I hear “Forever and Ever, Amen” or “On the Other Hand,” I think of those mornings.
My grandfather grew up Baptist but converted to Catholicism when he married my grandmother. From then, he was always involved with the community and Sacred Heart. He was a lector and a member of the Knights of Columbus, just to name a few. I remember going with him to mass on Saturday afternoons when he read at Sacred Heart. He would let me sit with him in the front, and I thought I was king of the world. I am honored now that I am a lector at Sacred Heart and feel like I am keeping the tradition going.
Being that we lived next door, my sisters, Allison and Haley, and I were always close to my grandparents who were also our babysitters. Whenever we did not have school, we would go there and watch TV with our grandmother who loved Family Feud, Price is Right, and The Young and the Restless.
Everything changed as I was starting my freshman year at Sacred Heart in 1996 when my grandmother passed away after the first day of school. That was the first time I ever saw my grandfather cry.
After I moved to Baton Rouge in 2000 for college at LSU, I called my grandfather on the phone from time to time and saw him whenever I came home on the weekends, but it was like we became distant.
We became more distant on February 23, 2001. He had been sick for months before then with kidney problems and was in-and-out of the hospital. I was getting ready to leave my apartment to go take my political science midterm exam when my phone rang. It was dad calling to tell me that my grandfather had died.
There are countless other stories I could share about Robert Keyes Bennett, but I will close with this. Just like in the Randy Travis song, “I loved him and he loved me. And Lord, I cried the day he died. ‘cause I thought that he walked on water.”