After that little auction and when the smoke cleared, so to speak, I was happy with myself. I had spoken to many people in their preferred language, French, and could feel they liked me, and likewise I liked them. In short, my first auction was a success. They were mostly poor French common people - the salt of the Earth. Later, I would find many like them had become my good friends and clients.
Then, it came time to distribute the proceeds of the auction. I made an appointment for my client to come in one afternoon, and she was accompanied by her friend. I explained to them how the money was to be distributed, and how much the bills were, i.e., the expenses of the decedent’s last illness, the funeral expenses, the utility bills, the court costs, the cost of advertisement for the auction in The Gazette, the attorney and auctioneer’s expenses, and the $1,000 widow’s portion she would receive, which made her smile.
She told me how satisfied she was, and her companion echoed her gratitude. I told them I would see about filing a tableau of distribution with the court and would issue the checks in a few days. So, they left the office in a very good mood.
Everything rocked along fine, but in a few days they returned to the office, and I immediately sensed her state of mind had changed and she had a look of chagrin on her face. Not knowing what the matter was, I made an inquiry and she related a tale of woe to me. She had never told me she received public assistance and somehow her worker discovered she was to come into some money, the widow’s portion of $1,000 called resources by the department and this meant it would affect her monthly check. She would not receive it until that $1,000 widow’s portion would be spent in proportion to the monthly check she was receiving.
Obviously, she was on the horns of dilemma. Well, just like the succession and the auction, this was a first for me. I had to do something, so I telephoned the worker at the welfare department and she explained the rules to me. If this woman received the $1,000, she would lose her check until the $1,000 was exhausted at the monthly rate of the check.
So, I appealed to her humanitarian instincts and after my eloquent plea, we struck a compromise. If she received only $500, it would not affect her check. So, I explained this to her, and her face brightened up. She readily accepted the $500, and everybody ended up happy, but I had learned a lesson. Whenever a poor client was to receive money from a case, I always made it a point to ask them if they were receiving pubic assistance benefits.
Not too long after that, a widow from Belaire Cove, who owned substantial land passed and I received a visit from a few of the major heirs (there were too many minor ones to fit in the office). They told me they were considering retaining my services to handle the estate, and they wanted a public auction to sell the property. I could hardly believe this was happening, but I tried to control my feelings and answered their multitude of questions about how much it would cost and how long it would take, and knowing I was a young lawyer just beginning to practice if I thought I could handle it.
I answered all of their questions, and they told me they would talk to the other heirs and let me know something in a few days. Incidentally, our conversation was conducted in French. When they left, I was breathless and began looking for the worst and hoping for the best, the worst being they would not return and the best being they would retain me.
After about a week, they did return and they informed me I was selected to do the job. I thanked them and then we got down to business. It didn’t take me long to find out my work was cut out for me. There were over 50 heirs who would inherit in varying proportions. There was quite a bit of land and I knew enough to know land in Belaire Cove was precious and at that time (and maybe still today) was worth more than any other land in the parish. In addition, there was household furniture and appliances. All of this property was to be sold at public auction.
They informed me a certain tract of the land was to be surveyed and divided into one-acre lots for strictly residential purposes. Other portions would be surveyed and divided into large parcels. They wanted the auction to be held in the late fall after all of the crops in Belaire Cove and elsewhere were harvested and sold so the farmers interested in the large parcels would have ample cash to bid. Good thinking.
I told them I would need a list of the names of all of their heirs, including their relation to the decedent so I could figure the size of their share in the estate, and all property descriptions they may have. They were very cooperative and before long furnished me with all that information.
I filed a petition for possession at the clerk of court’s office and it didn’t take long for the other attorneys to get wind of the fact I was the attorney for that estate. They did not take this kindly and behind my back, tongues started wagging. They could not understand how a greenhorn attorney out of law school less than a year got hired for this large estate and the experienced attorneys in the parish passed up. A couple of them actually confronted me, demanding to know.
It was pure, unadulterated jealousy. That is what it was. Why did the heirs select me? The only thing I knew was many, many years ago when the parish was young, my uncle, Lee Aucoin (papa’s brothers) had been the principal of the little school in Belaire Cove, and his wife, Aunt Hilda, had also taught there. Uncle Lee was very popular with the folks there, was loved by them and had been a living legend in L’anse des Belaire. He was still alive and healthy at the time I was employed to process the estate. I’m sure that had a lot to do with it. Also, papa had many friends living there and when he was a partner in the Ford Company in Ville Platte, Miller-Aucoin Motors, nearly all of the employees working there were from Belaire Cove, one of them being Ambrose Fontenot, who lives on the Opelousas Road, not far from my present home.
Well, I did not let the other attorneys’ envy bother me. I didn’t know it at that time, it was only to get worse later on. I was to find out I was like a voice crying in the wilderness only I was not crying - I was laughing. The wilderness was the consolidation of the attorneys around me who did not like me. I don’t believe it was personal (maybe it was), but it was certainly professional - known as professional jealousy.
In my next column, kind readers, you will learn about the outcome of this public auction, stemming from the estate. I believe you will be interested in the results.
I invite the readers of this column to listen to my radio talk on KVPI 92.5 FM or 1050 AM at 12:30 noon every other Wednesday.