My story begins with a warning and my own naivete.
“Honey, are you sure you wanna do this?” my husband asked as our family of five headed out for the great wide somewhere.
“Absolutely!” I declared.
“You’re not exactly…country,” he practically apologized.
“I can be country!” I insisted.
“Do you even know what a boucherie is?”
It was a final warning to prevent the inevitable.
We’d been invited to a Cajun boucherie in the heart of West Louisiana by a vendor. I didn’t know what a boucherie was, but I imagined something straight out of “Li’l Abner” – a hootenanny hosted by a cast of charming country folk, with pies, steamy mugs of cider spiked with Pappy’s moonshine and dancing to a washboard and a fiddle. My husband was understandably leery. I didn’t exactly have the best record when it came to Woman vs. Nature. My tendency was to be embarrassingly cliché – whining, swatting, and altogether rather insane. It’s not that I dislike nature. Immerse me, yes, but via a cushy deck with a cocktail, please.
But that day was different. We had been called as a family to seal a deal, to cement business, and I would not let my past dictate our future. So, dressed the part, right down to our boots and cowboy hats, onward we went to breathe in a truly American experience.
We traveled from sweet country road to dirt road to basically no road at all through woods and ditches until we came upon a clearing where someone handed me liability papers for my children. This is when I should have surrendered. Liabilities didn’t happen at hootenannies. There was no waiver at Mammy Yokum’s jamboree!
I forged ahead. Our guide led us through more woods to a second clearing where my boys shot off toward their newfound freedom like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. My husband found his vendor friend. Fiona and I stood in the brush, a couple of city mice who’d taken a wrong turn. To our left were about thirty pitched tents, a community of forest dwellers. To our right were tables with tubs of greens – big, leafy greens and root vegetables, being prepared by strong farmhands. All around people were milling about – hauling, lifting, dragging what I can only describe as scenery: barrels of hay, big stumps, and baskets of vegetation. Had we actually stumbled onto Dogpatch USA? Fiona clung to me, an even mix of curious and petrified. Everyone seemed to know their direction, everyone but us.
But I didn’t buy a fur vest for nothing. I grabbed Fiona’s hand and joined the jubilation at the beer booth with my husband only to be surprised by Michael, his eyes wild with excitement.
“Mom, you have got to see this!”
He prodded the five of us past a long table covered in burlap, beyond a stage flanked with haystacks, and finally, to my horror, a platform stained with blood above which a hook hung from a chain. Beside the platform was an empty cage and then another where a fat pig lay inside, sleeping.
“Aw, Piggy!” Fiona cooed. “Sweet Piggy!”
“I wouldn’t name it…” my husband laughed under his breath.
I looked at the blood still dripping from the platform, my boys wide-eyed, drooling at the gore, my husband sipping his beer, taking in the macabre scene, and Fiona crouched by the cage, talking to Piggy. My stomach lurched.
Boucherie: 1. Annie: 0.
But I wouldn’t go down so soon. So, I scooped Fiona into my arms.
“Have you ever climbed onto a haystack?” I asked.
I could see the Instagram magic – hay, a prairie backdrop, some orangey filter. Ten minutes of arranging and four splinters later, I got my shot. Another ten minutes later after gleefully leaping from haystack to haystack as the sun set on the Louisiana countryside, Fiona was attacked by a cavalry of territorial country ants.
She was madder than a wet hen. Soon after, everything crumbled like a burnt crust on a cobbler.
Boucherie: 2. Annie: 0.
Night descended on the boucherie faster than a sneeze through a screen door. Mercifully, Fiona and I missed the demise of Sweet Piggy. I was too busy pouring cold beer on her war wounds and wiping her tears with my stupid neck scarf. Try as I might have to make peace with Mother Nature, it was freezing and we huddled at the burlap table because I hadn’t accounted for the temperature drop when I costumed us. My boys by now were feral—somewhere among the tent people. My husband, too, had been taken by the boucherie. Folks continued to mill, but Fiona and I sat alone in the chill and under the benevolent laughter of the woods. This was no hootenanny! This was no jamboree! This was country living’s last stand. Then, from somewhere among the farmhands I heard the distant holler for a hog scraper.
The clang of a cowbell announcing dinner briefly pulled me from my ensuing insanity as the carnal instinct to feed my brood set in. I waited in darkness for what seemed an eternity as one by one my children approached me, my boys with beards of dirt and twigs in their hair, and Fiona limping from the killer ants.
“Is there dessert?”
“This place makes me itch.”
I could feel my body draining of all self-control and when I finally reached the front of the line and couldn’t find what I needed, I panicked. I could feel the eyes of the ravenous people behind me as I frantically searched.
Eventually a woman in an apron said the words that would break me: “Where’s your plate, ma’am?”
I heard the words in slow motion, morphed and haunting.
I suddenly saw what the prairie night had hidden. Everyone was carrying a plate, their own tin plates with clever hooks for tin cups and utensils. They had known what I didn’t. It was BYOP, bring your own plate.
I did what I only knew to do. I wept.
Boucherie: 3. Annie: Officially done.
Apron Lady took pity on me and handed over a single metal serving platter on which farmhands dumped layers of nature’s bounty as I stumbled down the line. In the middle of the platter, someone stuck a carving fork into a hunk of meat. Was that Piggy in the middle?
When I returned to the burlap table, I tossed the platter at my family, and collapsed in a chair.
“We had to bring our own plates,” I mumbled as I grabbed a fistful of greens with my dirty hands.
It was like “Lord of the Flies” meets medieval times. In the dark as pitch, wooded night, famished, we lunged at the food like wolves. My husband gnawed at the meat on the big fork. We were animals. Nature had claimed us as her own and spat us out.
When a colony of bats sprang out of the trees, Fiona let out a final plea, “Take me away from here and straight to Manhattan!”
Nature was now her foe, just like it was her Mama's. My husband looked at me, weathered, dirty, Swiss chard wedged in my fingernails.
“I’m sorry,” I whimpered.
“Honey,” he smiled. “You are who you are.”
They say that nothing good comes from your comfort zone. And in the case of Annie vs. Boucherie, if I were to find a shred of good from that fateful Sunday in backwoods Louisiana when pig blood and no plate brought me to tears, there’s this: I now know enough to not just know my limits, but to respect myself through them.
It’s one thing to be comfortable in my zone. It’s another thing entirely to be content there.