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.
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.
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.
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.