Words from the Gator Woman

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OUR VIEW: Teachers are among region’s true heroes
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Common Core dispute gets personal
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It’s been more than four years since a Terrebonne Parish legend passed on, after mounting a valiant struggle to survive following a fiery accident while rabbit hunting.

Easton DeHart was known by everyone as the “Alligator Man” and there wasn’t a rougher, tougher swamp critter on two legs in the lower portions of Dularge.

Except maybe for Easton’s wife, Dita, and a scant few weeks ago she got to prove it. Rough and tough don’t always have to do with physical strength. You can achieve physical strength with use of barbells and maybe religiously practiced calisthenics, even running and shadow-boxing.

But there is the strength that comes from forging through the things that life hands you, and having the courage to go on, and if Easton had plenty of that perhaps Dita had a little more.

None of this is unusual considering the rough-and-tumble history of Dularge itself, a community with a heritage steeped in shrimp, oysters and alligators, but also in the lumber trade.

Dita, who married Easton when she was 13-years-old, struggled like anyone else would when the worst that could happen occurred; robbing her of the husband she had shared life with for 50 years.

But she knew he left a legacy, and that she would have to stay true to that.

During much of her life Dita was called the “Alligator Woman” because she often accompanied Easton on his nuisance gator runs, though she never did attempt catching a gator herself.

“I don’t want nothing to do with those old ugly things,” she said.

As a sidekick she still made herself useful. Except for snake calls. When people called because there was trouble with a snake Dita sat it out and is not ashamed to say so.

Once on a call she did attend, Dita was holding a light for Easton as he tried to trap a gator who was someplace he shouldn’t have been. The alligator charged and Dita dropped the light.

“I started running away from that,” she said, recalling the incident. Easton cussed and hollered that he couldn’t see and the dutiful Dita screwed up enough courage to retrieve it and do what had to be done, and the menacing beast was successfully cornered and dispatched.

The real call to bravery, however, came after Easton died, and all the people who came with comfort came a little less, and there was Dita on Bayou Dularge with a head full of memories and not much to do with the feelings of loss other than feel them.

She could have shut down altogether, or limited what she did socially. But she refused to do that, as much out of respect for Easton as for herself.

And fortunately – in addition to friends and family – Dita had a constant in her life, which is St. Andrew’s Epscopal Church. The St. Andrew’s structure Dita was baptized in had been built of wood. But it finally gave in years ago to the whim of a hurricane, and a steel structure later arose.

For all of his gruffness Easton would attend services with Dita in that church on Sundays, except sometimes he had to go out on a gator call and if that happened Dita could always catch him up on the sermon.

The church is actually quite a fixture in the community, and is the only non-Catholic congregation locally to host an annual blessing of the boats, which was finally moved from August to April this year because a boat blessing in the middle of hurricane season just makes for too much guess-work.

They celebrated 100 years of St. Andrews a little less than two weeks ago, with music and jambalaya and white beans, and music from Baton Rouge, and there were prayers and photographs and, of course, there was Dita.

“I went casual,” she notes, in a beige skirt and sandals, and anyone who was there will tell you she was the belle of the ball.

People stopped to talk with her, and a lot of them talked about Easton. And what Dita has learned through these years is that people talking about Easton is what helps fuel her continued joi de vivre, and she was ever so grateful for it.

“When you have someone in your heart talk about them,” is the lesson she has learned, reaffirmed by her experience at the church. “It keeps them alive. If people wouldn’t talk about him it might be less that I felt like he is with me all the time.”

As she spoke, her 9-month old granddaughter, Adrianna, sat nearby. She is a reminder, Dita said, of how blessings can be part of one’s future as well as one’s past, and is one more reason to smile.