Though he lived and worked all the way in Baton Rouge, my Uncle Lambert would make the trip every Sunday with his wife Faye (my dad’s sister), and their daughter Lorna to my grandfather’s house in Bayou Portage, a tiny community just outside of Arnaudville.
I can’t recall a Sunday my Uncle Lambert and Aunt Faye weren’t at my grandparents’ home — and this was in the days before the I-10 Atchafalaya Bridge was open, so for them it was quite an excursion. My parents and I, and my two brothers, were obligated to be there every Sunday as well — as were my father’s other three sisters and their families.
Years later, just after my grandfather’s funeral, my Uncle Lambert told me there was no getting out of those Sunday visits to Papa’s house. He said on those rare occasions when he could think of a good excuse, my grandfather would phone him and say, “That’s a shame, we’re cooking one of your favorites Sunday, guinea gumbo.”
Uncle Lambert said he would usually give in, but on the one or two times he replied, “Sorry, we really can’t make it,” my grandfather would come back with, “Too bad; I caught a lot of sac-a-lait that we’re going to fry.”
My grandfather knew the promise of fried fish always worked on Uncle Lambert.
For my cousins and me, these Sundays were centered on large midday meals that we called dinner. There was a rotation of boucheries, cochon de laits, fish fries, seafood gumbos, crawfish boils and rice and gravies, every meal cooked with the animals and vegetables raised right there on my grandfather’s farm. These dinners always concluded with courses of desserts and demitasses of café noir. In one room the adults would cut up and joke around in French, and in the other room (at the small table) the kids would speak English. My brothers and I watched over the years as my older cousins rose in seniority and were promoted to the grownups’ table.
We’d spend the rest of the day playing on my grandparents’ farm. We’d stick two chicken feathers in a corncob to make a pretty low-tech toy helicopter. My brothers and I would build makeshift traps to catch chickens, or explore the woods behind the farm.
On Easter Sundays we would Pacque eggs, and on the Sundays nearest New Year’s Day we’d exchange presents, just like the Cajuns did in the old days.
Some Sundays there was work to do. There were field peas to shell, pecans and blackberries to pick or hay to bale. We looked forward to blackbird season, when my grandparents would give my brothers and me a shotgun, some shells and an old empty onion sack and tell us, “Don’t come back until this is full of blackbirds.” Returning like big game hunters with a sack full of trophies, my grandmother would reward us with a gumbo de tchoques — and if you’ve never had blackbird gumbo, well you just haven’t lived.
I miss those Sundays — they are my nearest real-world experience of an imagined utopia. During those Sundays together, my grandparents, parents and family taught and entrusted us kids with our unique Cajun and Creole culture, and exposed to us the values of freedom, responsibility, work — and most importantly, family. We learned how to show love by cooking and eating and being together — a generational gift perhaps not unique to the Cajun culture, just perfected by it.
About the Author: Karlos Knott is president of the Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild and of Bayou Teche Brewing, founded in 2009 with his family. When not brewing, reading or writing about beer, he searches the region for the elusive perfect link of boudin.