Spotlight: Cheryl Byers (Cajuninky)

By Nancy Polanski (nap) on May 2, 2011

When I asked our guest this week if she would allow me to interview her, she agreed. But she said this in her reply, “I'm busy up potting some seedlings right now. I also want to get another planting bed finished and I hope to get some corn and mangles put in. Still have the horses to feed also so I'll get started on this tonight.” I laughed!! I expected her to finish by telling me she had no time to write!

When I asked our guest this week if she would allow me to interview her, she agreed. But she said this in her reply, “I'm busy up potting some seedlings right now. I also want to get another planting bed finished and I hope to get some corn and mangles put in. Still have the horses to feed also so I'll get started on this tonight.” I laughed!! I expected her to finish by telling me she had no time to write! Instead, later that evening Cheryl Byers sent me a lovely story of her youth. It was enjoyable to read, so rather than summarize, I'll let you hear it from her, as I did.


Cheryl: Bon jour, mon ami! I hardly know how to start this so I guess I will begin at the beginning as the saying goes. I am a displaced Cajun from the bayoulands of deep south Louisiana now living in the mountains of extreme eastern Ky. My life does not seem very interesting or out of the ordinary to me but it has been diverse and entertaining. Sometimes it has been hard but God has always been faithful.


My folks were farmers. Strawberry farmers to be exact. I can still picture my Dad on his little orange Allis Chalmers tractor with the offset seat. Sadly, he was a diabetic with heart problems and passed when I was 8 years old. He knew he was a sick man and would not live to see me grow up so 2011-04-28/nap/6efdbche took me everywhere with him when I was little.

We had a herd of mixed cattle that roamed the woods. Loose stock was legal in those days. We would load hay into the old multicolored Dodge truck, his pride and joy, and ride off into the woods to find the cows. Daddy liked to keep a check on them. We'd hay them and maybe throw out a bit of cotton seed hulls and hot mix for them. The cotton seeds hulls were nothing more than a filler but the hot mix was mostly salt that kept them drinking plenty water.


After Daddy passed, life changed drastically. Momma couldn't work the farm by herself so she took a job in town and let the ground go fallow. She sold most of the cows and just kept the favorites.


Stock laws were put into place and loose stock was outlawed so the few cows we held onto were kept in the pasture. We did hold onto a few cows to raise beef and a couple milk cows. We always kept a riding horse and we had dogs, cats and chickens. We also still raised a pig every year for the freezer but we weren't farmers anymore. We had downsized to gardeners.


Momma didn't work most weekends so we went camping a lot. We were tent campers and we liked roughing it. I think we camped a lot to keep ourselves from being too sad about not being farmers anymore.


Momma and Daddy had also been store keepers for a few years. They owned a little country store called E&J Grocery. They sold staples, sliced deli meats, whole chickens, ice cream, gasolene, kerosene, potted meat, tires, fan belts, oil and such. I have very good memories from my years at "the store". There were benches out front under the big oak trees and all the locals would gather there to visit. Everybody loved my folks and the store was a popular place. I was in second grade and I remember reading the Times Picayune, the big newspaper out of New Orleans, to the old people. I thought they enjoyed hearing me read. It wasn't until much later in life that I realized they could not read the paper for themselves because they did not know how to read. Daddy also worked on cars. He had a lift on the side of the store that we called the grease rack. Folks would drive their cars up on the rack and Daddy would pick it up in the air and change the oil from underneath. He would let me sit in the cars and ride up and down. During those same years Daddy also did iron work out of a union. He did whatever he could to pay the bills. He passed while he and Momma had the store and she closed it down not long after. She said she couldn't  stand looking out  the door and "seeing"  him walking around. It must have been very hard.


I love horses, always have. Momma said the first time I rode by myself without being held I was 10 months old. Daddy sat me on Bob, the gentle old “use me for anything and everything” horse, and I held on like a monkey. I have been riding ever since. I rode horses nonstop throughout my childhood and teen years. I don't think there was an inch of woods surrounding our rural community that my friends, Mollie and Teri, and I did not leave a hoofprint on. Those are such great memories.


We have 9 horses now and most are rescues of varying degrees. We have a gentle giant we bought off a meat truck headed to slaughter. A buckskin mare who was so poor a stiff wind could have blown her over the fence. A little starved racking mare with bad eyesight that was in foal and facing a very bleak future. We didn't need any of them but they all needed us. We were in a good position to help at the time and we did what we could. Our situation has changed and we need to re-home them but times have also changed and it's hard to get horses into good homes. We are doing the best for them that we can but they deserve so much more.


Shaq is a special horse for he has a sad past. We rescued him from a very abusive situation. We did not realize just how abused he had been until we started working with him and uncovered some very ugly habits. Dangerous things that had been conditioned into him from years of abuse. He was very mistrusting and may always be but he has come a very long way. It took 2 years of hard work to turn him into a good riding horse but he is not for the inexperienced. Shaq is about 15 now.


Nancy: My ignorance is about to show again. You mentioned a mare who was “in foal.” Can the readers and I assume that means she is pregnant?


Cheryl: Yes, "in foal" means pregnant. The little mare's name was Granny. She was in her teens and didn't see too well. She was very thin. She was red and white spotted and had a long flowing mane and tail. We took good care of her. She got huge and we worried she might have problems foaling as we did not know what she was bred to. One morning when we got to the barn the cutest red and white foal was at her side. His legs were nearly as long as hers so his sire must have been a lot taller than Granny. He is 3 years old now and grown into a fine horse. I will be breaking him to ride shortly and am really looking forward to it. He is such a sweet heart. We gave Granny to an 11 year old little girl who desperately wanted a pony. I have seen pictures of her since then and she is in a good home.


Nancy: Are you going to tell us anything about your husband Steve?


 Cheryl: I married when I was 18 after a whirlwind romance. I am still married to that same tornado nearly 32 years later and cannot imagine my life without him. My husband, Steve, was a minister before we married so I thought I knew what I was getting into. Wrong! We have had to do lots of additional things to pay the bills besides the ministry work. Contrary to what many people believe, most ministers and their families pastor small churches and struggle financially. We were not spared and we have worked hard to raise our family. Steve worked as a pipe fitter in the petrochemical plants, sold insurance and cars, worked for a survey company, all the while trying to build a ministry. We had 2 children, our daughter Georgia and 19 months later, our son Robert. We tried to give them as much as we could. There wasn't much money but we were inventive and hands on parents. We were involved in soccer and softball to the point that Steve became a coach and I became a FIFA certified referee. They were fun but very busy times.


We also found time to volunteer with our local fire department and take classes to become EMTs. I was able to get part time work for several years working standby EMS at horse shows. I met the nicest people and treasure their friendships to this day.


Nancy: How interesting! You were a firefighter! That is a noble occupation and I know it must have been very demanding. Please tell me more about that.


Cheryl: We might fight 4 fires all week or 4 fires in 1 night. The only thing we could be sure of was we'd have more action on the full moon. It never failed. I enjoyed the medical side of things but my first love was the fire. Every fire fighter has a love/hate relationship with the fire. You hate it for its destructive power but you love it as a worthy foe. You can fight against it and see what you are made of. I was never frightened. I studied all the time and trained hard so I would not have to think but rather simply act at a scene. Fighting fire excited me. I loved the adrenalin rush. Going into a burning building with a charged hose to do battle is a high no drug could ever give you. And you know that every time you went to work, you made a difference.


I also drove the firetrucks and worked the pumps. We were all  trained to do every job because it was a volunteer department and you never knew who could answer the call on any given fire. But we had a great EMS rescue team also. Especially at the first department we worked with. It was a rural department and at least 30 minutes for an ambulance to respond. We were always first on scene and most times we had assessments done and patients packaged and 2011-04-28/nap/f16fa5waiting for the ambulance. Paramedics told us they breathed a sigh of relief if they knew they were responding to a call in our coverage district. They knew we had things under control. My husband and I worked together. We were a very good team. We worked without talking because we knew what the other was thinking. It was a big advantage.


 It was during this time in our lives, our kids were about 10 and 12, when Steve was injured at a soccer clinic and required reconstructive surgery on his knee. Even after a year of rehab he was not able to go back to his work in the plants. We were offered positions as administrators at the Friendswood Christian Academy in Houma, LA, and we accepted. We worked there for 2 years before Steve accepted the pastorate of a church farther down the bayou in Dulac, La. We bought a house there and settled in.


We really loved it there. We both still worked other jobs to make ends meet. Steve had a small charter fishing business and he fished shrimp which he sold at the shrimp factories up and down the bayou. We joined the local fire department and I went back to school and got a higher degree in EMS. I also took classes through the LSU fire academy and got my Fire Fighter One certification. That led to some part time work with the department and I loved it. Steve also got part time work with the department and we did a lot of work we felt very good about.


Then I began to experience some musc2011-04-28/nap/ca4fb7le weakness. I thought I must just be getting older and I could no longer trust myself to be able to take care of my partners in a burning building. I reluctantly decided to give it up. It was a hard decision for me. I was also a certified phlebotomist so I was able to find work in the lab at Terrebonne General Medical Center in Houma. I enjoyed the work, but I was the only blood drawer in the hospital from 10:30 pm until 4 am. This required a lot of walking and it began to be too much for my legs. I have been a lifelong sufferer of migraines, so I was moved to the outpatient area where the patients came to me to be drawn. Eventually I moved into the blood bank from the lab. I interviewed donors and drew a bit of blood. I was also taught how to separate blood products and ready them for transfusion. It was very interesting work.


Then things got hard for us. Work got slow in the factories and our son moved back to the Northshore to live with family and find work. Then our daughter became a single parent to the cutest little boy you can imagine. They lived with us and while she was responsible for his care we helped and supported them when they needed it. But Steve found out he was a diabetic and started having problems. He had to have several surgical procedures on his left foot, six in one year, and he was laid up for quite a while. Our daughter got her Old Navy employer to transfer her to the Northshore, where she and the baby lived with family. I missed them all so much.


My health was not so well either and I was diagnosed with a muscle disorder. I was also still suffering greatly with the migraines and my neurologist was treating me with botox injections to block the nerves and muscles. Each time I was injected it took more medication and gave me less relief. After eighteen months the doctor said the risks were too great and discontinued the injections. I was on higher doses of muscle relaxers and began making small mistakes at work. I felt bad about it but it was out of my control. Through it all, God's hand was on me and He was working behind the scenes. I had but to trust him. We have always relied on God and we continued to do so.


Steve was voted in as the pastor of a church in Eastern KY and we were on the move again. We missed our family so very much but we loved the mountains. A member of our new church found out I was a rider and asked me to show a mare he had. Thus began our journey back into the horse world. It has been like coming home to old friends.


After a little while, our daughter and grands2011-04-28/nap/68b61con moved to KY to be with us. Our son had married and he and his wife Amanda, had the cutest little blonde haired blue eyed baby boy. He is the image of his dad in his actions and thinking. Rayden is a whirlwind and a joy. We missed them all so much and when Georgia and Nathaniel came to live with us it was like a dream come true. Nathaniel loves the country life, gardening, animals and especially riding horses. He rode our horses and got a horse of his own. We have such great memories of those times on the trail, at the farm and barn and at the horse shows. Sadly, there was little work in the area and our daughter moved back to LA to work. She left Nathaniel with us for a year to go to school while she got a place for them. Knock (Nathaniel) was excited to go back with his Mom, but not about leaving us and the animals. He loves being a farmer. Our son had brought Rayden to spend the summer with us and they came back to pick up both boys just before school was to start again. Both will be spending the summer with us again this year and we can hardly wait for them to get here.


After 6 years in that situation, we moved 2 hours south but higher into the mountains to pastor a different church. The move was hard for us. It was also hard for our animals. By this time we had not only the horses but pigs, chickens, dogs, turtles, goats, a salamander and a duck.


Steve's health took a very bad turn. We have been battling it for a year now, living through strange and frightening findings, hyperbaric oxygen treatments, MRIs, CAT scans, endless prescriptions and medicine changes, bone infections and the list goes on. But again God has been faithful and the treatments he needed have been made available to us though we have no insurance. That in itself is miraculous. He is well on the road to recovery now.


Nancy: That is good news. And how about you? How are you coping with your own health problems?


Cheryl: When I worked at the Medical Center, my doctor was slowly doing tests on me, swallowing tests, nerve conduction studies. I felt he was going too slow but he was the doctor. I 2011-04-28/nap/5acbb6went to rehab for a while and I went to the chiropractor ( who gave me the most relief ). I have never gotten all the tests done that would have given me a definitive diagnosis. After I moved and lost my insurance there was no way I could pay for the tests myself. From the research I have been able to do, putting my history, signs and symptoms in all the blanks, I believe I have a form of muscular dystrophy called dystrophic myotonia type 2. But I can't be sure without the proper testing. I don't mind talking about it but I don't dwell on it. It's not going away but I don't let it rule my life. I push on because I know if I ever stop I may not get started again. It is frustrating that walking across flat ground is difficult now when I remember how I enjoyed hiking in the mountains. But I will not give in or give up. I know my God is greater than any MD and if He chooses to heal me it is not a hard thing for Him to do. If He does not choose to heal me in this life, I know I will not have MD when I get to Heaven. I have much to look forward to. Like my 80 year old Mom ( who I have trouble keeping up with ) says, "I can sleep when I'm dead."


Nancy: Just a couple more questions, Cheryl. These are simply to give you a chance to think about fun stuff. What do you like to read ? Do you like to travel? Who would you like to spend a day with (current and historical)? What would you like to do before you leave this earth? And what is it that makes you truly happy?


Cheryl: My favorite author is Louis L'Amour. I love his books and collect them. But I will read most anything. At the moment I am reading "The Gathering of Zion, the Story of the Mormon Trail" by Wallace Stegner, "Calamity Jane" by Roberta Beed Sollid, "Barnyard in Your Backyard", by Gail Damerow and Forgotten Skills of Cooking" by Darina Allen. I also love to read magazines. I tear out the parts I am interested in and save it in a binder. Then I pass the rest of the magazine on to others. I do a2011-04-28/nap/dfac1c lot of reading on the computer also. There are several blogs I enjoy.


I love to travel and we used to travel every chance we got. We took church youth groups to lots of conventions and we went to seminars ourselves. Most of our travels were from LA to TN because we just loved the mountains. I guess I would have to say the Smoky Mountains are my very favorite place. I would like to retire there. I miss the bayou too. It has a beauty all its own. I don't think it can be fully appreciated unless you have a bit of cajun blood in your veins. If I could go anywhere in the world I would like to go camping in every National Park and then write a book about it.


I would like to spend a day with Tom Selleck. I know that sounds silly. But I would like to talk with him. He has a ranch and raises a few horses. His first horse was given to him by the actor, Wilfred Brimley. He rides his own horses in the westerns he stars in. He also produces and directs them. He has worked with Louis L'Amour and I'd love to ask about him. He is friends with lots of real life cowboys and rodeo riders. He is in the Cowboy Hall of Fame for his work in westerns. I'd like to meet his family. His wife is from England and I'd like to talk to her about the differences in America and England. I think I would have a wonderful day. And, when you get right down to it, ol' Tom is easy on the eyes.


If I could spend a day with a historical figure it would be one of my ancestors, Charles Larpenteur. He was a clerk for the American Fur Trading Company from 1833-1872. He saw the country as it was becoming a great nation. He dealt with the Indians, the trappers and the long hunters. He kept journals and later wrote a book, "Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri.” It's in the Library of Congress because it is the best source of information available on the fur trading business at that time of history.


There are 2 things I'd like to do before I pass. I'd like to know that all my family has accepted Jesus as their Savior and are living for Him so that I will see them all in Heaven. The other thing is that I would like to own a motor scooter. I'd love to feel the wind in my face as I drive down the road. I'd ride it to the Smokys. That's a 4 hour drive for us so it shouldn't take me over a day to get there on my scooter. I'd ride through Cades Cove and the park. I'd stop on the side of the road and eat a sandwich and not have to be caught in traffic. I could ride it to the mailbox and to the barn. It would sure make my life easier and I hope to have one before I leave this world. In the place where we lived in town, there was a pawn shop a block down the street from us. They took 4 wheelers, motorbikes, guns, jewelry, all kinds of stuff for pawn. They had a motor scooter that I really wanted so one day Knock ( Nathaniel ) and I went and asked if we could take it for a test drive. We kept it for about an hour and rode all over creation on it. And the gas needle never moved. We had the best time that day.


My family makes me the happiest. I love spending time with them though I very seldom get to. I like to talk about the "old days" and remember family that has passed on. I like to sit and look at old pictures with my family, drink coffee and eat some of my Mom's orange gelatin cake. I like to listen to my brother play bluegrass music on his guitar. He is very talented. I love to listen to my grandsons talk about some wild plan they are hatching. I love to sit at the table drinking coffee with my inlaws and talking about relatives and funny times. Momma married again 26 years ago.  He is not my stepdad, he is Poppa. He is an important part of our family and we love him very much. He has been so good to all of us and especially Nathaniel and Rayden. He thinks the sun rises and sets in them.  Steve's Dad has a great sense of humor and a great memory. He can tell you who's who and how everyone is related. My Mom is good at that too. The cajun's history was always passe2011-04-28/nap/435d36d down by word of mouth. For centuries it was not a written language and I am sure much was lost. 


I love talking with people and I hope they enjoy my adventures. And my pics. I just love taking pics. Thank you for asking me to do this. It has been so much fun.  I write a column called "At Home Away From Home" on a site called The Gathering Place. It's a Christian site owned by one of our friends here, Elena, and my column tries to show the "real" day to day life of a minster's wife. I have a small square foot garden out the front door to keep me satisfied, we are looking forward to riding our horses this year. The goats should have their kids this summer and we are very much anticipating having our 2 precious grandsons spend the summer with us. Life is good!


Nancy: It sounds like life is indeed good, Cheryl. You've warmed my heart with your words today. Thank you, my new friend.


I would like to invite the readers to leave a word or two for Cheryl in the threads below, and visit her cubit, Cajun's Corner. Please come back next week for another member interview. It will be Sharon's turn, and you know she always finds someone special!

Related articles:
biography, Cajun, Dystrophy, interview, Kentucky, Spotlight

About Nancy Polanski
I live in Western New York. I'm retired, after working for 30 years in the Microbiology Labs at our county hospital. My time now is spent mostly with the Karen refugee population in Buffalo, advocating for them, teaching, helping and enjoying them. I've twice traveled to their camps in Thailand and experienced their culture. It seems they have taught me more about life than I have taught them.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Lovely... Sharon May 13, 2011 11:59 AM 30
Inspirational kaglic May 11, 2011 9:21 PM 6
A wonderful life ivyplantsnyc May 3, 2011 9:08 PM 6

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