Fighting diabetes, ready to restart his life
It wasn’t until three weeks after fire claimed Jeff Matherne’s nearly 80-year-old residence on Levy Road in Des Allemands that he was able to see that he had lost nearly everything.
Struggling with chronic diabetes, Matherne had been in the hospital trying to get treatment when word reached him about the fire.
“It was depressing, but the worst part is my two cats were killed,” Matherne said. He fought back tears as he talked about Licky Cat and Squirt. “I don’t have anything. I have some clothes. I have no personal belongings. I got a couple of pics of my boy, but all the photos of my mother and grandmother are gone.”
A bird carver, Matherne also lost numerous pieces in progress or completed.
“It really didn’t hit me too bad until I saw the lot,” he said of seeing the burned remains of the house. “The house is gone completely. It’s kind of hard when you go to the hospital and have nothing when you come out.”
A native of Des Allemands, his history goes back a long way with the house, as well as the community he lovingly calls his home.
Matherne was 14 days old when he was brought the house for the first time. By age 13, he left to go to school in New Orleans. After his mother and father died, he returned to stay with his grandmother in the same house until she died there.
“I spent seven years there with her, Mrs. Alcide Matherne, until she died,” he said.
Mrs. Matherne left everything to her grandson, Jeff, and he was still living there when the house caught fire. But, because of debilitating diabetes, Matherne said he sold the house and property to Laura Folse LeBlanc in 1997, who had let him remain in the house that had long belonged to his family and where he grew up.
The house may have been one of the first built in the area, likely erected in 1951, he said. It was made entirely of cypress, probably cut in the area and milled at a sawmill that still partially stands in Des Allemands.
Matherne now lives Luling Living Center’s rehabilitation center since he was released from the hospital, but he wants to go back to Des Allemands.
To do it, he is determined to resume his bird carvings even though he lost his tools and most of his patterns in the fire.
“That’s home right there,” said Matherne of Des Allemands. “Everyone wanted to know what happened. People asked, ‘How’s Big Jeff,” because I’m well known there.”
Anyone who would like to help Matherne can call Troy Benoit at (504) 460-8611.