Sweet Home Louisiana
I used to think of growing up in Louisiana as a mixed blessing. I love this place but there always seemed to be other places and things calling to me. I couldn’t understand staying in one place like most of my family. There is a whole world out there. While I took the opportunities to see and experience the other, I have always found myself hurrying home to Louisiana. The hold Louisiana has on me is unshakeable. As I have gotten older I have truly come to appreciate this wonderful, amazing place called the Bayou State and the unique heritage that I was unwittingly letting slip away.
Someone recently said to me, “Oh, you are Cajun, so you must speak French.” It really bothered me to admit that I did not. Both my husband and I had great-grandmothers who only spoke Cajun French. We knew some key words but couldn’t claim to speak “their” language. Neither could they speak ours. Oh, they understood English for the most part and between our kind of sign language and the help of bi-lingual adults we could communicate. His grandfather and my Dad had once shared stories of being punished at school for speaking French. In fact, his grandfather almost didn’t graduate because he refused to take a mandatory French class, the very language the school had punished him for speaking years before.
I was never encouraged to speak French. It wasn’t offered in my school at the time I was growing up. My parents never made it an issue. I always considered Cajun French the “secret language”. The one your parents and other adults used when they didn’t want nosey children to know what they were talking about. Even though I was one of those nosey children, I just wasn’t motivated to learn.
There is a saying that goes something like this. “You can’t get where you are going, unless you know where you have been.” I always knew I was Cajun. With names like Ardoin, Fruge’, LeJeune and Fontenot hanging from my family tree it was pretty obvious. I was never ashamed of it. It was just something on the periphery, not a true know it in your soul kind of thing. I never purposely dug up my Cajun roots. I just unconsciously let them wither away.
Of course, we listened to Cajun French music in my home. My parents were big fans, but I could understand rock and roll better. I barely remember the “le boucheries” or butchers at my cousins’ homes. We went to the grocery store for our meat. They lived on farms in the country. I lived in a small community which was “town” for goodness sake. Yes, we had Mardi Gras, the real Cajun kind, with trail rides and live chickens and dances at the Catholic Hall. At some point, our Mardi Gras died there and we traded that for glittering parades in larger cities.
I thank God for the Cajun people who have embraced all our ancestors have left for us. How can we repay those who made it their mission to preserve the Cajun French culture as something priceless to be handed down? We step up and share this wonderful ancestry of ours. For those who have stayed the course, please accept a big “Merci Beaucop’” (Thank You) from lapsed Cajuns like me, who were so careless with the gift of a heritage that is second to none. Because of you, we get another chance to truly know “where we have been”.
For you newcomers, you won’t get a warmer welcome anywhere. Come see the beauty of the swamps and bayous, the lush green rice fields and the proud, generous people who call it home. You don’t have to be Cajun or even a Louisiana native to enjoy all the bountiful extras, the “lagniappe”, that Louisiana has to offer. Y’all come!
by Sharon Denise Talbot