Another Iles comes home to Sugartown
My Iles ancestors came to what is now Beauregard Parish in about 1819. Before you begin to think I’m puffed up about that, remember this: Most early settlers of this part of Louisiana called “The Outlaw Strip” were runninElg from the law.
William Iles and his family found a home among the pine forests and creeks of this land that is still our home. Many of his descendants lived in and around the area’s first village, Sugartown.
Sugartown Cemetery is full of the graves of many of these settlers, and last week another one came home.
Elsie Young Iles was born in Sugartown to a large hard-working family. Once she grew up, she moved away to Lake Charles. However, I’m not sure she ever got Sugartown out of her heart. It’s that way with country places.
After World War II, she married her high school sweetheart, George Iles. He was also a Sugartown boy. George, a geologist, made a very good living in the oil business that flourished in Southwest Louisiana through his working years.
When her husband George died and her own health declined, Elsie moved to be near her daughter Betty in the Dallas area.
During the last years of her life, up to her death at 93, a wonderful Kenyan woman named Karen cared for Elsie Iles.
It was at last week’s Sugartown Cemetery graveside service for Elsie that I met Karen. It was a rainy cold day that is often a feature of Louisiana in January. The crowd of relatives from both the Iles and Young families huddled under the tent and umbrellas trying to stay warm.
Karen, a large Kenyan with a wonderful smile, closed the service. As she stood to speak, one hand was on the podium and her other hand tenderly caressed Mrs. Elsie’s casket.
In beautiful British-accented English, Karen told of her love for Mrs. Elsie Iles. However, she
added, “I didn’t called her Mrs. Elsie. She was ‘Mother’ to me.”
Smiling she added, “I was her black daughter, and Betty was her white daughter. I loved her so, and will miss her greatly.”
Daughter Betty, who had faithfully taken care of her mother, nodded in agreement. It was evident the “two daughters” shared a great love for Mrs. Elsie.
Karen told of how Mrs. Elsie loved to hear her sing hymns, and then she launched into singing.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
then In the Sweet Bye and Bye
And many others.
And she sang in that heart-grabbing style of Africa that I love deeply.
Her singing, sometimes slightly off-key, came from deep in her heart and was simply beautiful as it echoed off the pines surrounding Sugartown Cemetery.
In my African-loving* mind, Karen’s singing transported me to her home continent. It was as if the tall pines became flat-topped Acacia trees, and we were now “in the bush” instead of Sugartown Cemetery.
Then the singing stopped. Karen patted the casket one more time before returning to her seat.
A final prayer was given and everyone hurried into the church fellowship hall for lunch and warmth.
As I drove away in the rain, I realized that another Iles had come home to Sugartown. Mrs. Elsie Iles had returned to be buried among her kin, friends, and family.
And she’d been brought home by two wonderful daughters.
A faithful daughter named Betty Iles Bulloch.
and another daughter—one who also called her ‘mother’—named Karen.
* I have a deep and growing love for the continent of Africa. After two mission trips there (Ethiopia and Zululand, South Africa) I’ve come to love the people of this wonderful, frustrating, complex continent. There are so many needs there- spiritual, physical, as well as others.
I am returning there in April to the countries of Rwanda and Congo.