“Live your life. Laugh out loud. Love your family.” —Old Cajun Wisdom
The landscape of South East Texas differs little from that of Louisiana, but the culture on either side of the Sabine River can be vastly different.
The Cajun culture is unique in many wonderful ways, one being the always prevalent celebration of good things in life: family, friends, food and fun. My friend and fellow newspaper columnist, Bill Hartman, nailed it in his column a couple of weeks ago when he said, “Cajuns are funny, smart, a bit quirky and nearly every one of them I’ve met has a heart the size of a bucket of boudin.”
I learned that during my short time tending a struggling Louisiana weekly in the 70s. It proved to be a memorable stint in terms of the community and the people with whom I worked.
People like Brenda and Dale Broyles who tirelessly matched my long hours while Brenda fed the office with some of the best homemade dishes I had tasted since crossing the border. The entire staff, to a person, was all folks whose lively spirit and positive attitude offset the challenging circumstances at the small publication.
A prized possession still displayed at my house is a certificate with which the staff honored me, proclaiming my status as “Honorary Cajun.”
My dad was born in Doyle, Louisiana, to a family of Mississippi descent living in Cajun country, but was reared in East Texas. He was not—as Cajun humorist Justin Wilson used to say—a “full bleed Ca-john,” but it was enough for him to lay claim on some bragging rights.
Justin Wilson visited my house in the mid 80s while in Center, Texas, as the chamber of commerce banquet guest speaker. Tradition then was for the incoming president to host a reception, to which I invited the Cajun comedian and cook. He first declined, but I later answered a knock at the door to see him smiling and hear him proclaiming, “How y’all are? I’m glad for you to see me, ah gar-own-tee!”
The situation was anything but funny however, when I found him backed into a corner by my 80-year-old grandmother who was lecturing him about the colorful language he used in telling his South Louisiana stories.
In true Cajun fashion, he spent the evening lacing his accounts of Boudreau and Thibodaux with an occasional four-letter expletive, but concluded with an eloquent apology—sort of.
“Lady and gentlemens,” he began in a serious tone vastly differing from that of the jokes that had kept the audience rolling. “I just wanna say dat when a Ca-john tell a story, we sometime use dat cuss word sorta like spice wit what we cook. I’m gonna told you, we don mean nuttin’ by it, it just de way we talk. But, if I have offended anyone here tonight, I just wanna say from de bottom of my heart…I really don give a damn.” He delivered the closing remark with his trademark smile, and the “apology” brought the biggest round of laughter and applause for the evening.
He was also smiling at my house when he looked straight over my 4-foot-11 grandmother’s head while she was still shaking her finger at him, and he saw me standing behind her with my jaw hanging open.
He just winked at me and continued to nod his head at Granny, saying, “Yes ma’am, yes ma’am, yes ma’am.”
Looking back, “Honorary Cajun” is as fine an honor as I’ve ever had bestowed on me.