When I last had lunch with Aunt Doris, she was apologetic about what she had to offer. “This is all I have,” she said shyly. Then she placed on the table three pie pans: one filled with boudin, the other with sweet potatoes and the third with biscuits. She did not realize what a classic Louisiana meal she was serving. To her it was just everyday food. She probably thought I was just another silly city person when I hovered over the table inexplicably trying to take a picture with my cell phone.
Aunt Doris lived in Moreauville, almost in the geographic center of the state. Her apartment was only a few blocks away from Louisiana Highway 1, which cuts across the state diagonally from Grand Isle to Shreveport. At Moreauville, Highway 1 is about halfway through its run, bridging the boundary from French dialect to the Southern drawl.
Like most people in rural French Louisiana, she had a nickname. She was called “Dow,” which had nothing to do with the industrial average or the chemical company but was probably due to a childhood pronunciation of “Doris.” The name stuck.
Life had given her some challenges. She was born with a hearing problem that caused a speech impediment. Later in life a tumor blinded her in one eye. Yet she persisted. For most of her adult life, she had her own at-home beautician business, but then one day, she confessed, she was getting tired – and perhaps a little weary of country neighbors showing up at 6 a.m. to get their hair done.
No one will ever confuse boudin for a health food, but sweet potatoes are one of the most nutritious items of all. The two complement each other as the sweet orange pulp neutralizes the spicy sausage. (The biscuits are a great comfort food and can be used to make a boudin breakfast sandwich.)
Whenever I would call Dow, which wasn’t often enough, the conversation would always end with an inquiry of “When are you coming?” My answer was always the same: “soon.” Unfortunately the last time I gave that answer, soon did not come soon enough.
There is a field next to the cemetery. In 2005, the year of Katrina and Rita, the fields were snow-white with cotton. In more recent years there has been more profit in soybeans. Sweet potatoes remain as a steady crop grown not far from places where each winter folks butcher pigs to prepare packaged meats and to make hogshead cheese, cracklins and sausages.
My Christmas present from Aunt Doris was always the same. From the freezer of her refrigerator came a package of boudin brightly wrapped in holiday paper.
I had hoped that our lunch would become a tradition; instead it is a memory. Her meal was special, though she did not know it. The same can be said about her life. Through it all, she remained consistent in loving her family and in being a good person. Armed with little more than that, she faced life as best as she could. In the end I would like to think that she won.