Let the Good Times Roll: Louisiana-Style

I went home to visit my parental units last weekend. They live in Pierre Part on Belle River in Cajun Country. I made a point this time of not driving all over the state to see my siblings and other friends. I just wanted some downtime and to hang out by the water where they live. On Saturday morning, I went out on the pier to drink coffee. My Dad shortly followed, and we drank coffee while the cormorants and egrets had breakfast and enjoyed the sunshine. A big water snake slithered by the boat that was tied on the dock. My dog lazed around like a big hog…which in fact she was after eating everything in sight for the past day and a half. We stayed out there for a couple of hours, waving at passers-by. Everybody that passed stopped and gave an account of their plans for the day. Daddy and I decided we could make a little money by charging people a fee to come onto Graveyard Island.

One of the local middle-aged residents stopped by and drank coffee with us for about an hour. He was having a big party with a bunch of his guy friends that night. I jokingly asked if any of them were single. He said I wouldn’t want any of them. He hung around until my brother-in-law Gary came by. Gary mentioned that he grew up in Marksville, and they bantered back and forth about their family trees and their mutual friends. Are you related to so and so? Yes! I am. You know, she married my cousin, and her brother married that girl.……. They weren’t related nor were they from the same town, but they had connections all over the place. Some of his friends worked with Gary at some point. Some of Gary’s friends were related to him. I had to laugh. It was familiar chatter for Southern Louisiana.

Susan and Gary...lunch

Susan and Gary…lunch

Over the years, I’ve always thought it was just my family that was social. We were always having parties, and, anytime I came home for a visit, they’d have old friends over, masses of good food and plenty of alcohol. I moved away when I was 23, so I didn’t realize that this was just the Louisiana lifestyle. I realized it when I was working for Whirlpool, and I was part of a team that was centralizing our Factory Service Branches into our call center in Knoxville. My job was to spend a few weeks with the newly centralized branches and train them on the new system and new business processes. I’d come in after people were laid off, and I’d be pushing the people left to buy into the changes. It wasn’t always pleasant, and I wasn’t always welcome. I had been all over the country facilitating these transitions, and I was assigned to help with the New Orleans transition.

The Coffee Gathering

The Coffee Gathering

I was briefed on one really big issue with the New Orleans branch. The goal was to have technicians make their first call at 8 AM. But, the New Orleans techs always met in the office for coffee before heading out. Now, in Louisiana, coffee means it’s time to visit. They’d settle in for coffee and get to the customer’s house…well.... when they got there. This did not fly at the corporate headquarters of this Midwestern corporation. We had to standardize. And, the dispatchers were no longer in New Orleans. They were in Knoxville. They couldn’t control what happened in the branch with a physical presence. It took a long time to break this habit. In fact, I don’t know if they ever did break it. I imagine the schedule just had to be adjusted. But, I digress.

Me, Susan and Shelly at the Pierre Part Store

Me, Susan and Shelly at the Pierre Part Store

The first night I was packing up my briefcase to go back to the hotel, and the parts branch employee asked me what I was doing for the evening. I told her I’d probably just grab dinner at the hotel. “What?” she asked incredulously. “By yourself?” I laughed. “Yes, by myself,” I told her. Well, that wouldn’t do. She flat refused and insisted that I go to her house for dinner. She invited some girlfriends over, and we hung out in the hot tub and visited all evening. Every night, she took me home with her. Then, on Friday, she, the other technicians and parts branch personnel brought in the makings for shrimp and crab etouffee, salads and the trimmings. It made me realize that this was just the way Louisiana people do.

So, last weekend, after our three hour coffee visit with the neighbors, we went down to the Pierre Part Store. They were having their 102nd Anniversary. This general store has everything you would ever need including Swamp People memorabilia. They were serving up Crawfish Stew for $5 a plate. One of my childhood friends, Shelly, had just bought a camp in the area, so she came over to visit with my family as we ate on the picnic tables set out in front of the store. Shelly used to hang out at our house when I was about 12. We caught up on all the news of her family and her life for the past 30 years. She left with a promise to visit my Mom as soon as they come back from Red River this summer. That night, we went over to one of my parents’ neighbors for a crawfish boil. There were about 12 people there that I’d never met, and I walked in and was welcomed like part of the clan. One of the ladies knew my sister pretty well. Another one knew a guy I dated in college. We ate and visited and laughed for a couple of hours. When I left, everybody gave me a big hug like I was one of their old friends, and the truth is, by Louisiana standards, I am.

I’ve lived in a lot of places – Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, the Lake Michigan area, Seattle and Knoxville. I’ve struggled to get parties off the ground. Honestly, I’ve all but given up trying to get people together for food and fun. People are busy, and socializing is not a priority. I miss it. It’s the way I grew up. There’s always a party in Louisiana even if its just a gathering for coffee on a quiet pond. Part of the charm is that people knit themselves together by comparing family trees, small towns and histories. The focus is on people and who you know and how you know them. It’s certainly not perfect. Louisiana has its own social problems. But, I know when I tell people I’m from Louisiana, they always say that the people are so nice down there. Good people is a common refrain. Good people, good food, good coffee, good times….. laissez les bon temps rouler.

11 thoughts on “Let the Good Times Roll: Louisiana-Style

  1. Sharon, your story hits close to home (no pun intended) for me. Like yourself, I moved away. I didn’t make it to as many cities as you did, ended up in Chicago for 12 years, by way of Houston for 4 years…and I enjoyed the adventures that came with being away. During that 16 years that I was gone, I made frequent visits home. Those visits were usually quick, a day or two off added to a long weekend with a holiday. The short visits were centered around family, my daughters and their children, my parents, brother & sister and their families and then it was back on a plane to work and life that I had come to know. Not quite two years ago, I had a rare opportunity to travel to Baton Rouge for a month, to work in the Port Allen office of the company that I was employed by for many years. For the first time in all of those years, I was in the “real world” of the south, outside the family visit that had become the norm. This was the south that I had really lost touch with..the culture, the charm, the “laid back” type of hard work that I had forgotten about. We enjoyed coffee…all day, chatting while we worked, going out to grab a $6.00 plate lunch (meat, veggie, starch and bread….and most likely gravy) from the local mom & pop restaurant that becomes the “hot spot” for about an hour before and after noon. We quieted down after lunch, a symptom of the heavy lunch, until someone brewed another fresh pot of Community Coffee in the afternoon. We didn’t leave work without saying “bye-bye” and “drive safe” and “see yawl tomorrow”. By the 2nd week….I knew I had lost something that I loved, my soul was missing this way of life. I tried to make that 30 days last as long as I could and when it was time to go home, I was more than sad…I think I was depressed. My very intuitive husband figured this out before I did. Before the year ended, he suggested that I put out some feelers. If I found a job that would make me happy, he would be open to making the move. He knew, for me, making such a move without a job, was not an option. Until that time, I had not entertained the thought of ever moving back. There must have been some purpose in all of that because the transition back home could not have been more perfect. I’m still figuring out the purpose..that’s probably another story….for another day….but I have to say, it is so nice to be “home”.

    • What a beautiful story, Jean Ann. It makes so much sense to me now how you were feeling when I first saw that you were moving back. That particular trip to New Orleans didn’t make me want to move back, it just tugged a little at my heartstrings and gave me some awareness. It’s my blogging that’s started waking my butt up to my feelings about home. In fact, I think I’ll blog about it today. Once I started letting my feelings come up and explored them through writing when I was home, I started to realize what a bond I have with that place. Surprised the crap out of me! I’ve always called myself a city girl who was born in the country. Who knows? What a man you have there, girl! I want one like that. Enjoy home… I think we should have coffee at your kitchen table next time I’m down. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Tugs on my Heartstrings…Foundational Journeys | Midlife Moments

  3. Good one Sharon.. And as for the people at the crawfish boil, you ARE part of that circle, cuz they know your Momma! LOL..

    As for the Pierre Part Store, it is hard for people who have never been there to understand that you can buy anything there. . from groceries to crab traps to an engagement ring. That’s why the call it the Pierre Part Mall!

    • Thanks, Robbie. I think the next time I go down, I’ll write about the PP store- as my Dad calls it. It’s where they pick up their packages, drink their coffee and buy whatever they need. It would be an interesting read, I think.

  4. You can take the girl out of Louisiana, but you can’t take Louisiana out of the girl. Honestly! I live in Houston and I love the city life, but I have a vegetable garden in my back yard and as my co-workers can attest, I make sure they are fed and have had plenty of coffee every day. I organize birthday parties and little get-togethers. I treat them as family. Family. I have a huge one and we stay connected to our Louisiana roots. We still have family dinners (we have one tonight!) with my parents, siblings, their husbands/wife, nieces and nephew. I’m rambling. Thank you so much for this blog. You have touched my heart. Any place in Knoxville for Cajun food? 🙂

    • Well, I live in Memphis now. And, yes, there are plenty. That’s a good idea! Thanks for sharing. I have plenty of Louisiana pals in Houston. It seems like a Texas gathering ground. 🙂

  5. Sharon, one thing I have noticed in recent years… When I was growing up, of course everybody knew who my Daddy was. More recently I will meet people who are not sure who I am and they will ask if Robert Harrison was my father. Then quiet few of them will say “Your Momma was a Cotton, wasn’t she?” Most of the time they are not sure which one (Momma had 5 sisters), but when I tell them yes, they smile and nod, like that is all they need to know. That means I am a Cotton. And a Mack, And a McLin. And a Comeaux. When they know who “my people” are, everything is OK.

Talk to me, please...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s