On an unusually warm December day, members of the Duplessis and Laiche families gathered in the vast field between their Gonzales houses to add a hand-made flag with the name “Charlaine” scrawled atop a large carousel made. logs and brush. .
Construction took over a month. And within a week of erecting it, they plan to set their creation on fire as part of the families’ annual New Year’s Eve bonfire.
“This is the first time that we have finished it,” noted Adrian Laiche. “Usually they put the finishing touches on two hours before we turn it on.”
A family tradition for 21 years, the holiday season began as a way to honor a cousin and brother, Luke Villar, who was killed in 2001 in an armed robbery in Saint-Amant. He was 18 years old.
Since then, the team has made local headlines almost every holiday season for their creative – and ambitious – structures that often serve as a way to commemorate a current event of the past year.
In 2016, they built an airboat to commemorate the state’s historic flooding. Last year they celebrated the end of a tumultuous 2020 with a dumpster fire. The other years, they built a helicopter, a model of Tiger Stadium, a space shuttle and even a replica of the Sunshine Bridge damaged by a crane.
This year, they paid tribute to Luke’s mother, Charlaine Villar, who passed away in August, with the life-size wooden carousel made of debris left behind by Hurricane Ida. The family described it as their most detailed project to date, featuring three wooden horses decked out in red, green and white paint with Mardi Gras beads for the reins and hand-painted gold brush tails. bomb.
For family members, who explained that Villar loves carousels and collects miniature versions of them to display in his home, this year’s bonfire will be especially special.
âI would say the circle is complete,â said Laiche’s cousin Chris Duplessis. “What started was a tribute to a family member, her son, it brought us together and we have been doing it ever since.”
Planning for structures usually doesn’t begin until after Thanksgiving. The family begins by brainstorming ideas, usually taking inspiration from current events. Once they have made their choice, one family member draws up a design and the others get to work bringing the materials together and making the design a reality.
Despite all efforts to create the structures, Laiche said it was not as difficult as some might think to light them on New Years Eve.
âThis (year) was the biggest women ever helped, really. The guys cut out the horses and put them together, and we decorated and painted, âshe said. âMy aunt, who is very creative, had all these ideas of how to do things, and we were playing with things and we were gluing and stapling and cutting and doing all thatâ¦ and she finally said ‘now I understand how you burn it all. You’re so tired of trying to figure it out, you’re just saying, burn it all! ‘ “
The family’s large-scale log designs, paired with their meticulous attention to detail, have long caught the attention of curious passers-by, many of whom stop after glimpsing the structures from the main road.
The structures have become so popular in recent years that Laiche has created a Facebook page – Let the good times burn, or âLet the good times burnâ – where people can view photos of past bonfires.
âWe try to get people to look to our driveway because sometimes they just stop on the road,â Laiche said. “There are so many accidents here that we are just like, ‘shoot the aisle!'”
The cousins, most of whom are now in their 40s, say they are eager to pass the tradition on to the next generation. Some added that they gave their own children tools this Christmas.
âIt’s a three-generation collaborative effort, of course,â said Duplessis.
Although never easy and often chaotic, he added, “it’s always worth it.”