Gonzales family welcomes 2022 with bonfire made from Ida storm debris, honoring lost family member

Behind each piece of wood in the elaborate carousel on Lance Villar’s family property is a painful story.
Published: Dec. 31, 2021 at 4:46 PM CST

GONZALES, La. (WAFB) - Behind each piece of wood in the elaborate carousel on Lance Villar’s family property is a painful story.

Atop the nearly 20-foot tall, 60-foot wide carousel bonfire sits his mother’s name, Charlaine, the bonfire is a tribute to her.

“She loved carousels,” Villar said. “She would be very proud of us, I believe, with this one.”

In August, after a long health battle, Charlain passed. Friday night, the carefully crafted masterpiece will be set ablaze in celebration and honor of her life.

“For me and I believe most of my family, it’s a celebration of her life,” Villar said. “It’s to celebrate the years that we got to be with her. She was a little bitty woman and put up a bigger fight than most NFL football players.”

The bonfires are a family tradition stretching more than two decades. Some years the family pays homage to major events like the 2016 flood, a year they built an airboat, other years the family builds something fun, like a replica of Tiger Stadium. While other years, like this year and the very first year the bonfire has a painful backstory.

“We actually started doing this when my older brother was murdered 21 years ago,” he said.

Every year a loved one passes, a bonfire is dedicated to them.

“Over the years we’ve honored our paw paw, our maw maw, both maw maw’s parents, our father, he passed away years ago, my mother this year,” Villar said.

This year, even the wood tells a story. It comes from a tree toppled by Hurricane Ida.

The family started building the carousel after Thanksgiving. The design was settled at the end of November and Friday the final touches were added. It will be set on fire at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 31.

When the inferno begins, Villar said it is going to be bitter sweet.

“It’s a little emotional, but it comes from a happy place,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about her suffering and struggling anymore.”

He said it will also be a celebration, and a big Cajun welcome to 2022, a year he said is poised to be better than the last.

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