There is a part of the world that does not go unnoticed and its unique flavor is a gift. I have had the honor of being in intimate relationship with the Cajuns for the past 16 years. You may know them to serve their rice and politics dirty, but I know another side.
In September of 1997, my now spouse brought me home to Cajun land for the first time. I had no idea my presence was a first for him. I met his parents and grandmother with delight and the next day was suppose to meet his other grandmother at her house. With growing anxiety, we show up and initially, Ma-Ma and a few people are there…….But, before I could swallow and calm my nerves, there stood to be what I now know as EVERYONE. Aunts, uncles, cousins piled into the little brick house in Scott, Louisiana to get a peek at the fair, red head from California. It was like the seventh wonder had shown up at Ma-Ma’s house! Many called her “Honey” and she spoke quietly from her recliner with an old, slightly rusty stand up cigar stand next to her. They laughed and joked….. and played a game of twenty questions with me. Despite my fears, all was done in the spirit of love and a desire to show the warmth and grace that cajuns possess.
Over the years, there are many things I have learned from the Cajun people that we can all take a lesson from. Now, it is not fair to romanticize anyone and I do not want you to believe that I am naïve enough to think that I really mean Candy Land, not Cajun land. I see hurt and struggle, the tussle of broken family relationships and the SAME dysfunction as any where else. There are just a few life lessons that we could adopt if they are missing in our lives. If you ever slip away from these important truths, take a trip to the land of boudin and you will be called back to the joy that the Cajun people embody.
What you have is not what you are.
I often run when I am home in our small town of Carencro and it is not uncommon for a slightly worn down trailer with tarps on it to reside next door to the circa 1930’s home. Neither seem to be angry about the other, it is just where life went. The oddest sight seems to be me jogging past them as they wave good morning to me. I always imagine that these neighbors are there for one another. In all, I have never met a more generous group of people. There appears to be a quiet understanding that we have to make it together in this world. A Cajun persons worth does not lie in the fancy car or clothes, it lies in family.
Cajuns Silent Middle Name: FUN
As an adult recovering from the lost ability to play, if you need to remember how to spend time having fun, come and spend some time with the Cajuns. I have seen 80 year old people get up a cut a rug to the accordion at PreJean’s on a Friday night. Hell, the accordion player is likely twice my age! You can come any time of the year and there is a festival and possibly a parade going on. My spouse told me how many days they got off for Mardi Gras every year, just to go to parades! No matter what, there is always bingo and dominos. My mother in law sometimes plays three games of Bo-Ray a week with her friends!
Food MUST be Superbve
What other culture do you know that has the following: gumbo, jambalaya, beignets, couche-couche, etouffee, rice dressing, crawfish pie, alligator on a stick, and everything starts with a roux!
Don’t Be a Religious Zealot
Most Cajuns would identify as Catholic, say it “Cat-Lick”, but they are not afraid to remember the fun rule. Drinking and dancing and praising God can all go hand in hand. It would not be odd to hear there is church on Sunday and learning how to do Reiki on Wednesday. Spiritual growth can come from many difference avenues. If you are Catholic, nothing is going to change those cultural roots, so try away, a Cajun knows you will still come home.
And home it has become for me…..For the love of tradition, family and most certainly food, there is nothing more unique than that of a Cajun. Love you big Big!!
And if you have never visited, here are a few things you may learn, a little on the lighter side
1. If You’ve ever wore shorts at Christmas time.
2. You pronounce Lafayette as “Laffy-ette” not “La-fy-ette”.
3. To “get down” from the car is not a dance move.
4. To be called a ‘Coon-Ass’ is not a derogatory term.
5. If you really mean something, you say the word twice: “We love you big Big!” (the first time just means very).
6. If you are giving directions and you need to go a long way in one direction: “You go straight-straight.”
7. Also, when giving directions you use words like “uptown”, “downtown”, “backatown”, “riverside”, “lakeside”, “north shore”, “west bank”,”down the bayou” or “across the river”.
8. You plan your wedding around LSU football, baseball….and hurricane season.
9. You greet people with “Ha’s ya momma’an’dem?” and hear back “Deyfine!”
10. Every so often, you have waterfront property.
11. When you refer to the geographical location “way up north”, you are referring to places like Shreveport, Little Rock or Memphis, “where it gets real cold!”
12. Your burial plot is six feet over rather than six feet under.
13. You’ve ever had Community Coffee, sometimes with chickory.
14. You can pronounce Tchoupitoulas but can’t spell it. (also, Thibodeaux, Opelousas, Pontchartrain, Ouachita, Atchafalaya,).
15. You don’t worry when you see ships riding higher in the river than the top of your house.
16. You judge a Po-boy by the number of napkins used. “Amen! You Got Datrite!”
17. The waitress at your local sandwich shop tells you a fried oyster Po-boy “dressed” is healthier than a Caesar salad.
18. You know the definition of “dressed”.
19. You can eat Popeye’s, Haydel’s and Zapp’s for lunch and wash it down with Barq’s and several Abitas, without losing it all on your stoop.
20. The smell of a crawfish boil turns you on more than a new coat .
21. When you go to buy a new winter coat, it is what most people refer to as windbreakers.
22. You “wrench” your hands in the sink with an onion bar to get the crawfish smell off.
23. You’re not afraid when someone wants to “ax you something”.
24. If your child is being misbehaving, “He is so Canaille!” (Say it: “Ku-nye”).
25. You don’t learn until high school that Mardi Gras is not a national holiday.
26. You don’t realize until high school what a “county” is.
27. You believe that purple, green and gold look good together (and will even eat things those colors).
28. To Call a Cat you say, “Here Menoo-Menoo.”
29. Your last name isn’t pronounced the way it’s spelled.
30. You know what a nutria rat is but you still pick it to represent your baseball team. “Geaux Zephyrs!”
31. To be embarrassed is to be “Haunt”.
32. You have spent a summer afternoon on the Lake Pontchartrain seawall catching blue crabs.
33. You describe a color as “K&B Purple”.
34. You like your rice and politics dirty.
35. When given the choice for Governor between a KKK leader and Edwin Edwards it’s a difficult decision.
36. You pronounce the largest city in the state as “Newawlins”.
37. You know those big roaches can fly, but you’re able to sleep at night anyway.
38. You assume everyone has mosquito swarms in their backyard.
39. You realize the rainforest is less humid than Louisiana.
40. You can list all the ingredients of a gumbo or a jambalaya.
41. You go ‘somewheres’, it may be ‘nowheres’ or you might be fine with ‘anywheres’.
42. When you’re in Baton Rouge you know the difference between the old bridge the new bridge.
43. If you ever had to wait for the bridge to “come down” so you can get home
44. If you don’t pull for the Saints, who else would?
45.You know that everyone has had the ‘freesons’ at one time or another.
46. You “make your groceries”, “save the dishes” and have an “icebox”.
47.You don’t clean the floor you, “Pass the Mop”.
48.You know when it’s appropriate to use “Tony Chachere’s”.
49. The four seasons in your year are: crawfish, shrimp, crab and KingCake.
50. If something hurts, like all the Cajuns with side splitting laughter right now, ”Oh-Yi-Yi!”
P.S. If you like my Cajun T-shirt, Check out http://www.Fleurtygirl.net
for all things Louisiana!