An Original Bayou Woman

An Original Bayou Woman

Vivian Foret Billiot

When I first met this original bayou woman, it was 1979, and I was working as a dispatcher for ODECO.  She answered the old black phone in her native tongue, her words lost on me. I had called her house to ask if her son, the crew boat captain, happened to be home. His boat was next up to take a trip out to the Gulf to deliver emergency equipment, and as night dispatcher, it was my job to find him.  Hoping she could understand me, I continued in English, “He has to go on a run right now.”  She understood me well enough to relate to me in broken English where she thought he might have been.

Two women, different races, different languages, had one thing in common:  The Captain.  Little did we know at the time of that first phone call just how involved we would one day be in each other’s lives.  She, now my mother-in-law and I, now mother to five of her grand children. Isn’t life funny like that?

As I’ve spelled out in a previous post about how I came to be here, I became very intrigued with the people, the way of life and the language after I had worked down in Dulac for a few months.  Even though I grew up in Louisiana, I’d never known that the Houma Indians existed, and now not only was I working with them, but they were inviting me into their homes.

Meeting an Original Bayou Woman

I couldn’t wait to meet this woman who had a tone of voice and inflection like I’d never before encountered.  There was no pretense or telephone manners when she answered the phone, and to this day she still squawks out an “Eh?” as she puts the receiver to her ear.  She never wastes her breath on long good-byes; instead, she just hangs up when the conversation is over. My children say I do the same thing to them now.  Isn’t life funny like that?

Born in 1916, and now 97 years old, every space in her house is occupied by knickknacks, dolls, and other copious things she has collected over the years. Oddly enough, a couple years ago she started giving me things whenever I went to visit.  For a woman who collects everything, letting go of her treasures was an indication to me that she was letting go of this world, despite the fact that she appeared absolutely fine.

But now, a mere two years later, dementia has taken up residence and is crowding out many of her memories, causing me to reflect on just how much she has taught me over the past 34 years.  I was overcome with the need to put those things in writing while she is still here.  Even though she probably doesn’t even know what the Internet is, much less a blog, writing my memories of her and posting them here seemed like the best way to honor her.

An Original Bayou Woman “Cooks”

So, where should I begin?  I’ll start with the basics, food!  Any time I wanted to learn to cook something that The Captain liked to eat, I had to wait until the day she cooked it and go observe.  Nothing she cooked was from a recipe because she didn’t know how to read or write–that’s because Houma Indians weren’t allowed to go to school. Instead, she cut sugarcane on Ashland Plantation as a young girl, making her a hard worker early on.  Her family lived in a shack that sat on the land belonging to the sugarcane farmer.

She never measured anything either–not even for her yeast bread, sweet bread, or galette dough.  So, there was no way she could “tell me” how to cook anything. I simply had to go watch.  She laughed at me as I tried to guess and write down a measurement for her dash of this, pinch of that, spoonful of this and handful of that.  In her eyes, I was that educated girl that didn’t know how to cook.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  Yes, I was educated AND I knew how to cook, but it was “north Louisiana” style foods. And if you think the food from north Louisiana to south Louisiana couldn’t really be so different, think again.  In the home in which I grew up, the only fried shrimp we ate came in a box from the frozen food isle of the grocery store.   A whole new culinary world opened up to me when I married into the Billiot tribe.

In north Louisiana, roast was something we cooked in the oven, and chicken was something we battered and deep fried–not “pot smothered” on top of the stove.  And pork roast?  I never knew something so flavorful and tender could be cooked on top of the stove instead of in the oven until I tasted hers.  Up north, rice was something we ate with gravy, not under green beans, red beans, or white beans, like bayou folk.

An Original Bayou Woman

Creamy White Beans

I still recall the first time I tried to cook white beans and the resulting tiny white rocks in a gummy paste.  You know why? Not only had I never cooked them before, I had never eaten them and was too proud to ask my mother-in-law how she cooked them. However, after I married into the family, she shared her secrets of cooking those creamy, tender beans with me that just weren’t listed on the package.

But she was a true bayou woman.  Her arms were strong for her tasks for many years. Just this year, the family members tending to her decided she could no longer cook, make her coffee, or wash clothes.  Those were the mainstays of her life, things she has probably done since the age of ten.  What is there to do now but to sit in the rocker and drift away?  I recently drifted away with her by recalling things she’s told me over the years and memories of my own about her. In doing so, I hope to recount at least a little of her rich life and bayou heritage.

Life of an Original Bayou Woman

As a young married woman, she lived on a camp boat with Mr. David out in the marsh during winter trapping season.  After he skinned the nutria, muskrat, and otter, she washed the furs before putting them on a stretcher boards.  Later she would hand wash their clothes in a wash tub, hand ring them, and lay them out to dry.

An Original Bayou Woman

Sugar cane, Satsumas, Pecans

Until recently, she grew sugar cane in her backyard so she could cut a fresh stalk in the fall and “chew the cane”, which is a way of sucking the juice from little cube-shaped pieces after the bark has been stripped off.  Also in the fall, she picked up pecans from the trees at the back of the property and made pecan candy.  It was at her house that I ate my first Satsuma.

An Original Bayou Woman

Satsuma

Hers was the kitchen in which I first encountered “bigorneaux” (pronounced BIG-uh-no), which is a mollusk better known as a periwinkle.  They were boiled in salty water, the fleshy part dug out of the shell with a fork tine.

An Original Bayou Woman Remembered

For years, she picked figs in the heat of the summer, and then slaved over the steaming pot of “fig confiture” that was eaten hot on sliced white bread.  An attic fan served as the only air conditioning she needed.  A window unit air conditioner has been a luxury for her for the past 30 years, but I think if given a choice, she would choose not to have it.

She made the best galette on the bayou, the best shrimp-okra gumbo, the best file` gumbo, the best brown shrimp jambalaya, the creamiest white beans, and fried oysters that would melt in your mouth.  Oh, and let’s not forget the chicken stew, the shrimp stew, the crab stew, and the shrimp fricasse`!  She taught me how to clean soft-shell crabs, which is not a pleasant feat, and how to pan fry them to perfection.

An Original Bayou Woman

Old Cypress Cistern

Prior to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, she only drank rainwater from the cistern.  After those flood waters inundated her house, everything was hauled out, the house then gutted, repaired, updated, and elevated. Part of the update was retiring the old cypress cistern, which had supplied the entire family and quite a few neighbors with tasty rainwater.  She was then forced to buy bottled water because she refused to drink the poison that comes out of the faucet.  And all the folks who had come for years with their empty plastic milk jugs to fill at the spout of the sweet-sky water were forced to do the same. Acid rain? Not in her vernacular.

At the same time she lost her cistern, she gained an indoor bathroom.  Prior to that, the toilet was an outhouse, and the only way to bathe was with a wash basin filled with hot water from the kettle that had been heated on the gas stove in the kitchen.  Before she had a water heater, even the dishes were washed in a dish pan in the sink using hot water from the kettle, and rinsed the same way. Now, she has a tub with shower, a toilet, a lavatory and linen closet. What luxuries after raising eight children in a two-bedroom house with no bathroom or running hot water.

For years, the washing machine sat outside on the porch, which she filled using a water hose.  She listened for the cycles to change so that she could go spray the water into the machine at just the right time to rinse the clothes before the spin cycle.  Then she hung the fresh clothes on the line to dry.  In later years, one of her sons installed a gas clothes dryer in the kitchen. During the update, the kitchen was enlarged, after which both the dryer and the washer then made it into the kitchen.

While her elderly mother stayed home with the children, Mrs. Vivian worked in the shrimp factory in the wee hours of the morning peeling shrimp.  A company vehicle came around and picked up the women to go to work, since most of them didn’t drive, and very few families owned vehicles.  In later  years, she took in her mother after suffering a broken hip and nursed her until she passed away.

Truly Mrs. Vivian has witnessed plenty of change in the world around her, but those changes were very slow in making their way down the bayou and into her home. Not once did I ever hear her complain about having to do things the hard way, because she knew no other way.  Until her batteries started running down, she could literally work circles around me, which, in my opinion, has contributed to her longevity.

She set an example of what it’s like to choose to be at home and yet have no choice to be elsewhere at the same time.  She never looked beyond home and family to those things that might satisfy her.  Instead, she was satisfied with the life she faced each day when she awoke, which was the same for over 80 years, until she was recently banned from her kitchen.

Most mornings she slept in until about 9:00 to make up for “all the sleep I lost when I worked at the shrimp factory”–a statement that still makes me smile when I think about it. Then, she would put the rainwater on to boil for the dark roast coffee she brewed in her old drip pot.  While the water boiled, she placed the filter (made from a flour sack, hand stitched around a hoop made of coat hanger wire) on the rim of the pot.  Then, she added heaping tablespoonfuls of aromatic dark ground coffee.

An Original Bayou Woman

French Drip Coffee Pot

It was a ritual she performed every morning.  Once the water had boiled, she slowly poured the water over the grounds, patiently, allowing the water to drip through on its own power before adding more water to the grounds.  When the coffee was ready, she added a little sugar to the pot and always used Pet milk as cream in her mug. Then she spread a thin layer of Jif Peanut Butter on a soft white slice of Evangeline bread, and that was her breakfast.

After breakfast, she cooked a huge pot of rice, surprisingly enough, in an electric rice cooker.  She must have gone through a dozen of those things through the years.  She taught me how to cook rice perfectly in one, again, without measuring a thing.  She also taught me how to cook rice in a pot on the stove the same way, with only one small adjustment to the amount of water.

She might not have even known what she would cook that day, but you could rest assured it was something that was going over rice.  Rice was, indeed, a staple food of the bayou, and it’s a good thing it was in plentiful supply in bayou country.  She bought it by the huge sackfuls and stored it in plastic bins.  Her house was the first place I ever ate fried fish over plain rice–fried black mullet from the Gulf to be exact, and it was delicious.

If you walked into her house,  and there was food on the stove, she would say, “You wanna eat?”  And if your answer was anything other than yes, she would ask, “What’s the matter? You don’t eat that?”, which was then followed by, “Go ahead. Eat. You can eat.”  In other words, she would not take no for an answer. She knew her food was good, and it didn’t matter to her that you had already eaten. By golly, you needed to eat her food.  And she was right. 

None of her dishes matched, and her silverware and glassware were all mismatched, too. There was never a big table at which to sit and eat; instead, we ate in the living room, balancing our plates on laps.  But it didn’t matter. What mattered was that she cooked for her family (and anyone else who walked in the door), the food was good, and there was plenty of it.

Twice in her adult life, she took in two other children to raise, in addition to her own eight. She never argued or spouted platitudes.  She never wanted for anything and probably still has gifts in the original boxes stashed away under the bed.

As I think about knowing Mrs. Vivian for the past 34 years, what really impresses me most is the simplicity of her life and the fact that she was so content with her situation, no matter what it was.  She is unique in that she has never been prone to gossip about folks and only shared news that she knew was fact.  She is a noble woman to be respected and honored in her golden years.

An Original Bayou Woman

Mrs. Vivian in 2011 at 95

My mother-in-law will be remembered as the best cook on the bayou and for teaching me how to cook all the delicious local cuisine that we enjoy. I will remember her as being hard working and content.  I will remember her for her resiliency and for her green thumb with all the flowers in her yard and the sugar cane. I will remember her for the masking tape she used instead of Band Aids on her cuts.  I will remember her for the shopping trips to St. Vincent de Paul second-hand store and for reminding me of the value of reusing and recycling.

Mrs. Vivian Foret Billiot, the first true Bayou Woman I ever met.  She’s never used a computer or a cell phone, nor did she ever have a driver’s license, because she didn’t need those things to be fulfilled in this life.  How many of us can say the same? She taught us well, and I can only hope I can pass on her heritage to those who come after me.

Thank you, Mrs. Vivian, for being the best Bayou Woman ever.

With great love and respect,

Ta Belle-fille

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Comments

An Original Bayou Woman — 86 Comments

    • Well, you know it’s my pleasure to record these things for posterity. And the old saying is so true about not knowing or missing something until it’s gone. I had the idea since the inception of this blog to include more of her stories, but I just never found the time to sit down with my voice recorder and talk to her. In my own defense, though, it’s very hard to have a quiet conversation at her house because there is always someone there, and someone always chiming in on your conversation. I guess that’s why they call it conversation!

  1. What a lovely and interesting tribute to your fine mother-in-law, BW! I do hope someone will read it to her. She should hear this and recognize your love and respect for her. Thank you for sharing this.

    • While I appreciate your kind words, Carolyn, I could never read this to her. At this stage of the game, it would be better translated into bayou French while being read to her, which I can’t do. Besides, I would feel odd reading this to her myself. It’s hard to explain, but most genuine, hard-working bayou people are not impressed with eloquence and words. They are impressed by generosity and hard work. But this piece is a tribute I had to do as much for myself as for her, and if she never hears it, it doesn’t really matter. At least the world now knows that somewhere in an obscure bayou community, one hard-working, selfless lady made her mark.

      • That’s a lovely thought, BW, and such a touching tribute to your mother-in-law. I was telling my husband all about it earlier today. Not too many people will take the time to put thoughts down to honor a fine person.

        • I just regret that I didn’t find time in years past to visit with my voice recorder in hand so I could that for posterity and then the recording would fill in the gaps where my memory lapsed. Now, she’s getting kind of fuzzy, and I don’t want to frustrate her by asking too many questions about days gone by. And this is a perfect example of really missing something when it’s gone. She’s just been so much on my mind because I know her days are numbered, and I didn’t want to wait until she was gone to honor her. She’s what I call a dinosaur, because women like her are extinct. Appreciate your comment, Carolyn.

              • I don’t think they are endangered, they just see no need to beat their chest or rattle their sabre until its really needed. I think we are the generation that assumes the worst because thats what the news has always shown us. I think we as a people are still much more “hearty” than thought, we just need something to test our metal to prove it. Think of all those great heros we read of at any natural disaster. Just normal folks who responded as they knew they should, nothing special.

                There are more people who follow good than evil, but that doesn’t sell copy.

                Greatness is never a single opportunity, thats only when its noticed. Greatness is all the hundreds of things that are done everyday that are never noticed. Letting someone have your spot in line, getting up and offing your seat, giving back the incorrect change or that wrong item given from the cleaners, giving to the less fortunate, holding the door for another, letting that other car in line, etc etc etc…. But who would pay to read anout it?

                I believe that we are all for the most part heros, just most of us never get the chance to prove it on a grand scale. Its how you live that you show it everyday.

              • You’ve been missed, dear friend, and how right you are. The folks who never look for reward, with the simple action being reward enough, really are the unsung heroes. Your comment is so eloquent, Goldie, that I need not expound beyond it. Thanks for these words of wisdom.

    • Sally, thank you. I was able to enjoy her early in our marriage while we lived in the same yard. However, since we moved to another bayou, it’s not been as easy to spend time together. She is not long for this world, and I’m not sure the family realizes how much they are going to miss this matriarch who held everything together for so many for so long. But I will enjoy her while I can, as you suggest! Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment

    • Tressa, my mother-in-law is by no means a gentle, touch-feely kind of person. Her life was a hard one, demanding hard work and perseverance and even persecution at times. Those things tend to make one hard hearted. Even so, she is a treasure and one of the reasons I was moved to put my experiences with her in writing. I do so appreciate her, and maybe those simple words are what I will say to her next time I see her. She played a big part in forming the woman I’ve become, since my own mother passed away in 1991. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  2. I really loved reading about your mother-in-law, Mrs. Vivian. What a beautiful tribute that she so richly deserves. We could all learn so much from her and dearly wish that we could have. You are indeed fortunate to have had such a woman in your life. She has taught you the true riches and rewards of a life well-lived.

    • Hi Linda. Yep, you are so right when you say that I am fortunate to have such a woman in my life. It’s one of those things, though, that I fear we just don’t appreciate while we have it. And I want to focus more on her attributes of contentment and perseverance. Reflecting on her having to put water in the washer with a water hose made me recall that she never, ever complained about that. I tried and tried to think of times where she complained about anything, and the only thing I came up with was her saying (sometime in her early nineties)
      “I just don’t know what to cook any more”. Well by that time, she didn’t need to be cooking a big meal for anybody else any more. And yes, she has taught me many valuable life lessons, which I hope to impart to my children while I’m here.

    • Hi Sharon (y’all, Sharon and I went to school together). So glad you liked it and welcome to the bayou! Glad to have you here. About that cookbook . . . it’s been in the idea stage for several years, but meanwhile, there is a category here called Bayou Woman Cooks which has quite a few bayou dishes listed, with ingredients and recipes! So, I hope you get a chance to browse some of them! Great hearing from you!

  3. This was a wonderful tribute! I also hope someone will read it to her. Have you recorded stories she tells? I know I’d like to hear more about her life. The way people live has really changed.

    • Kim, I haven’t recorded the stories, and just like human nature, I waited too late to try to visit with the voice recorder. There’s always too many people around now to do that, but I do have some stories in my head. I’m sure The Captain and some of his sisters could tell me stories, as well. Can you imagine living in Louisiana and not being allowed to go to school? It’s things like that that I think people need to learn about, too.

    • Hi Debbie! It’s so great to hear from you. Not sure how you ended up here, but I’m glad you did. I hope in some small way I’ve blessed her, because as others have read in past stories on this blog, I moved our wedding from north La. to Dulac (a house wedding) so that she could attend, but she didn’t come. I chose not to let that hurt my feelings or hold it against her, hoping she would some day see the person I am. Her giving me those treasures told me, after 30+ years, that she had accepted me. I’m thankful.

    • Now, Mary Lynn, that is top secret information! Folks have tried and tried to get that recipe out of me, and I just won’t do it. I’m sorry to correct you, but Mrs. Vivian never made sweet potato pies. I called it Houma Indian Sweet Potato Pie because my sister-in-law taught me how to make them, so I can see how you might have thought it was her. She loved to eat them, but she never learned to make them. But guard that recipe with your life!

    • Cammy, I put your mother in that same category and maybe one of your sisters-in-law could do the same about your mother? It would really be a treasure worth holding on to. Or better yet, why don’t you write about your mom. I would love to read it, for sure! Think about it, Kam.

  4. Wonderful story of love and appreciation. My father in law had the same influence on me and I am so grateful for his presence in my life

  5. What a blessing it must be to have such a special mother-in-law like Mrs. Vivian! Raising 8 children and having such a giving heart to take more in, God Bless her! I loved hearing about how she would make you eat something, even if you weren’t hungry. I know a lot of Cajun women like that 🙂 That really would be a great tribute to her if, one day you would put together a cookbook with some of her recipes in it with a few of these great stories thrown in too. I would be first in line to purchase one for sure. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Sharon! Did you happen to notice the Bayou Woman Cooks category? There’s already quite a few recipes to draw from. The book idea has been sitting on the shelf for quite a while, but it does take time to put one together, and one day that will happen. I’m so glad you like the post, and it’s great to have you here. (This Sharon is a new friend I made at the last Women in the Outdoors event I attended.)

      • Hi Joyce, and welcome to this bayou blog. Yes, it would be a nice tribute, wouldn’t it? Seems I squandered too much time with her and should’ve somehow learned more than I did. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. My first 4 years of teaching were spent in Dulac. (1980-84) I have the fondest memories of those wonderful people. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve been in touch with many of my former students.
    Nelwyn Boyd Hebert

    • Nelwyn, well then, welcome back to the bayou! Except we are just one bayou west of Grand Caillou where you taught. You are the second reader here who taught in Dulac. The first taught at the Indian school in the 1960’s. That is amazing that you’ve gotten back in touch with old students through Facebook! Ah, the power of social media, something Mrs. Vivian has no clue about!! What grade did you teach back then? Because the last child she took in went to school in Dulac and was in middle school around that time. It would be wild and crazy if you taught that child, too! Her name was Tabitha.

    • For sure Mrs. Vivian is a treasure, and one that will be sorely missed when she departs this earth. I just wish I could be the treasure that she is. I complain way too much and am spoiled in so many ways. She is such an amazing woman, and I wanted everyone to know how different bayou life can be. I hope I portrayed that in some small way.

    • Louise, I had you on my mind while gathering thoughts for this story, because you have expressed several times wanting to know more about the Houma Indians. Did you get a chance to follow the link to their website? There is a link on there about their history that might interest you. Thanks for being a committed reader, Louise!

  7. Wonderful post!!!!!!!!!! I know the perfect gift to give Miss Vivian. A section of gutter and a rain barrel. Then she wouldn’t have to drink bottled water if she didn’t want to. BTW, I’ve made her White beans a number of times. If they weren’t good, I wouldn’t have wasted my time making them again.

    • That would be great except she no longer has the tin roof. Can’t have a rain barrel with a composite shingle roof. Glad the white beans work for you! They are so good! Someone needs to write about you, girl friend!

  8. Wow…I’ve had the pleasure of knowing women like your mother-in-law. What a joy, what a treasure. I will print this blog and send it to my mother. She will enjoy it, I know. And I must tell you, your writing is beautiful — I could feel your love and reverence for Miss Vivian, and I was right there in the house, hearing her say, “Go ahead, cher. Eat.”

    • Hi Lucy and welcome to this bayou. You can hear her saying that . . . because you’ve heard it before so many times in a Cajun home. But in a Houma Indian home, she would have replaced the endearment “cher” with “neng”. it’s a slang word meaning sweetie, honey, or something similar. It’s pronounced “nang” like rang. I am so pleased that you will print and share with your mom, and I hope she enjoys it. Does that mean your mom is of the age that she doesn’t get online? Just curious! Thanks again for leaving a comment!

  9. I enjoyed reading this, even though it makes me painfully hungry, as many of your posts do. Vivian reminds me of my late grandmother, who could make chicken and dumplings like nobody else. You know, it could be that the real winners in this game of life are those like Vivian who live such long, productive lives.

    • I apologize, Brenda, that your comment was in the “spam” folder and was just discovered. Yes, I agree with your assessment that she is a real winner in the game of life. I’ve been struggling in this last season of mine, asking myself what really matters. She, on the other hand, never had to ask that question. Life dictated to her what mattered most, and there was never any question about it. Lots to ponder, my friend. Thanks again for being here!

  10. This blog brought tears to my eyes. Mrs Vivian is a true testement of that generation of women. She so reminds me of my grandmother who raised four sets of children. She had three by her first husband as a teenager, they married when she was 15 and he died when she was 25, two of her second husband from his previous wife who also died young. They had 4 children when she was almost 40 and then she raised two of her grandchildren. She was a Mississippi girl who never had indoor plumbing or phone or car and never complained either. Thanks again for some heartfelt memories.

    Also thanks for the t shirt .

    • Hi again, Judy. Glad you liked the shirt. Which one did you end up getting? About these wonderful women . . .even though life was simpler then, it was the hard work that kept them occupied, content, as there wasn’t much time for discontent or things wouldn’t have gotten done. I think the family unit was stronger . . . at least in rural areas, because mother was home cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, tending the garden and flower beds. They really are my unsung heroes, and maybe that will be the name of the book I have planned about these bayou women I’ve had the honor of knowing. They are to be recognized for being keepers at home when others were drawn to being liberated from the home, enslaved to an office or boss. Hey, nobody take that the wrong way, because I was a slave to a boss and office myself for a while. Those women got their notoriety outside the home in terms of job perks, bonuses, boss approval, but the homemakers to me are really the unsung heroes of old American culture.

  11. Having lived almost across Bayou Dularge from where you are now, I deeply appreciate the richness of the People who grew up “Down the Bayou.” I lived in “God’s Place” from 1996 till 2005. I will never forget the richness of the People of Dularge. Hearty and Strong People they are. You have written such a beautiful accounting of your life with Mrs. Vivian. Thank you, Raoul Langlinais

  12. I so enjoyed this piece! Everything in it reminded me of my mom! She lived to 86 after having raised 13 children, of which I am the last. My mom has been gone for Almost 30 years now. She could no longer do her housework or cook, and being the independent woman she was, I think she gave up. I have so many wonderful memories of my years with her. She finally got a phone for the last 10 years of her life. She did so love that phone! If she dialed a wrong number, she could talk for an hour to that person. She was a gentle soul; I never heard her raise her voice. There was nothing she enjoyed more than rocking a baby! I could go on and on, My beautiful mother, I miss her so very much!

    • Welcome to this bayou, Miriel. You have two local last names, too! Where are you from, cher? Thanks for sharing with us about your own dear, hard working mom. I know that you think of her every day, as I do mine. Hang on to those memories, and they will last you a lifetime. Please, come back often to visit!

  13. The people of Dularge are to be admired. They are strong and honorable people. They are survivors. I lived “Down the Bayou” from 1996 to 2005 just a stone’s throw from Bayou Woman’s camp. I have nothing but admiration for the proud people of “The Bayou.” They are survivors. Thanks for sharing your beautiful memories of Mrs. Vivian.

    • Raoul, I know for a fact you (are part of) and have experienced bayou life at its best and worst. You’ve met bayou folks who would give you the shirt off their backs, but don’t ever do them or their family harm, though! Yes, they are survivors, and the ones like Mrs. Vivian are few and far between these days. There is another woman from this bayou who greatly influenced my life even before I moved to Bayou Dularge. I hope to write about her one day, too. Or maybe I’ll just get started on that book? Thanks for dropping by–wondered where you’ve been! (Y’all, I have to pass Raoul’s old place, lined with citrus trees, every time I go to launch my boat, but he’s not there any more.)

  14. What a woman. What a post. You gave my chill bumps with this tribute to a woman who will probably never know how many people came to know and respect her through your words. Thank you, BW, for sharing her with us.

    • Isn’t that so true? She will be known far and wide for her dedication to home and family via a tool that she’s never even seen or touched. That’s pretty astounding. You’re right. She will never know. Thanks so much for checking back here from time to time. You are an amazing woman in your own right. Y’all, Susanna is librarian in the mountains of West Virginia, and a story teller, writer, hand crafter, and on and on. She is another outstanding woman that blogging has put me in touch with. You can visit her at http://grannysu.blogspot.com/

  15. Wow!!! My Aunt posted this on fbook b/c it reminded her of her mother, my grandmother & no wonder why – your mother-in-law is Vivian Foret Billiot & my grandmother was Rose Billiot Foret. She too wasn’t allowed to attend school & had a high holy fit when her children, my mother & aunts & uncles joined the movement to have Houma Indians recognized in the seventies – she was scared to death that they would shoot at us on our way to school like they did her when she was little. I almost cried reading the part about the coffee b/c I was just recalling the other day – the first time I tasted coffee was @ GrammaRose’s table w/the rest of my cousins that she was keeping while our Momma’s were working – she sat us all around her big table & we each got a cup & a piece of buttered toast to dip in it. Sweet Memories….

    • Hi Carol, and welcome! Isn’t that interesting? Small world? Mrs. Vivian also had a sister name Rose Foret who married another Billiot, so her name was Rose Foret Billiot! How’s THAT for coincidence? I love the idea that folks using social media are sharing these blog posts . . . lots of fun to see who ends up here and how they came to be here. So somewhere along the line, your Aunt connected either with my Bayou Woman facebook page, or someone shared the link who is friends with her. It can get pretty twisted and tangled. So, are they also from Terrebonne Parish? I would assume so? Great hearing from! Come back any time. BW

  16. I used to run into a tough old Swedish woman with canoe at a lake.
    Name was Marion or something close. We fished the same areas so one day I pulled along side on way out and offered a tow to the spot.
    We chatted on way out and back. It turned out she was mother of college acquaintance. Husband was drunk. Anyhow turned out most guys were scared of this woman wearing Carhartt bibs. A true outdoor woman of the pre-seventies. I won’t mention the cookies.

    • Ha ha! Great comment, Blu, and I’m not even going to ask about the cookies. I mean, cookies could be a moniker for something unmentionable on this G-rated blog! Carhart bibs. I can see her now. What was this tough Swedish woman fishing for? You probably should’ve set the hook on her, Blu!

  17. A life enriching story this generation needs to read! Glad her “way of life” is being carried through the next generation! She is a true outstanding woman and I am glad you have been able to have her as a mother in law!

    • Well, it’s at least been carried through via this blog, but not so much in real life. I used to live a simpler life than I do now. I’ve gotten lazier as the years have gone by and have resorted to a dryer (no more clothes line) and other luxuries. We do still cook the old recipes, and I do some canning and preserving. But no one traps for fur anymore. We don’t have rain barrels. I agree with you, though, I’m glad I have known her and learned from her.

  18. What a wonderful tribute, Wendy. Women like your Mrs. Vivian are national treasures – strong, not given to foolishness, but capable of caring more deeply than most people today can imagine.

    People like her remind me of Faulkner’s comment in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech – she’s someone who not only endured, but prevailed. I suppose in the end that’s why we try so hard to capture and keep their spirits for ourselves, in whatever form we can – so that we can do some enduring and prevailing ourselves!

    I made a couple of side trips while I was reading and was completely astonished when I read the white bean recipe. That’s exactly how I make them! How can this be? Do I have an inner bayou dweller I didn’t know about? I’m trying to remember when I learned to cook beans – it was after I had moved to Texas, so maybe these Texas women know some of the same tricks!

    I’m making a run up to Kansas City this month to visit my aunt, who’s 87 now. She’s still pretty sharp, so I’m taking unidentified photos, a whole list of questions and a notebook. I need to get from her some of the family history my own mother never talked about – and believe, me, there are some stories!

    Great, great entry. I’m better for knowing Mrs. Vivian myself, even through just reading about her.

    • Well, hm. Maybe you do have a bayou dweller back there somewhere . . . . or maybe pioneer women and bayou women figured out the best way to cook beans! Oh, you are going to have a great time with your aunt, and I’m sure we’ll be reading some stories in the near future based on those findings!

  19. BW, what a wonderful story. I am 75 years old now but was raised by my Grand Parents, so I grew up the old way. Your story sure brings back a lot of happy times, Dang I miss those days, brought a tear to my eyes. Thanks Bill

    • Bill, remind us again where you grew up? When I was growing up in the sixties, I only saw the remains of my great-grandmother’s lifestyle…the old barn was out back, with the hen nesting boxes still attached to the wall. There were a few old hand farm tools sitting around. There was still a semblance of a garden, but we were never encouraged to go into it or help with it, which is sad to me now when I look back on it. Our parents always wanted better for us, so city life was the way of life for us. But I’m thankful to have seen the way of life of the Houma people; and they never considered themselves poor or under served, which are labels too freely used these days. Maybe one day we will have to return to those days . . . and then I fear there will be many tears from those who have no clue . . . at least I have a clue, thanks to Mrs. Vivian!

      • BW, I grew up in South East Texas (liberty Co.) down in the Trinity River bottom. (Way Down) we didn’t have electric power until I was 14 years old. But we were mighty happy folks, no money but always had plenty of love, family, food and good morels. Not the same now days, many people from Houston live there and commute each day. Bill

  20. Loved reading your blog. I grew up in Ashland Plantation. I was born there in 1934. And I taught school at the Dulac Indian School in the 60’s. I don’t think I ever knew your Mother-in-law, but would love to have met her. My Mother cooked at the school and she will be 101 Nov.4th. She also grew up the hard way and never changed much either. I love to hear her stories too, although she is forgetting a lot of them. Thanks for posting.

    • Did you ever live in Dulac? There was once a woman name Mrs. Brunella who lived on the highway in Dulac, not far from what used to be the First National Bank building. I’m thinking we have had to cross paths at some point. Do you live close to Falgout Canal Bridge now? I know Mr. Brunet who lives in a brick house near there. I know his daughter Cathy. So, is that your family?

      • I lived in “Grand Caillou at one time near the Prevost Cemetery. My husband is Raymond Brunet,Sr. and we live off of Vice Rd. He fished crab out of Dularge for years and is retired now. I’m sure he must have run into you at some time. The Mrs. Brunella you speak of was a friend of my Mom and I am named after her. My husband does an lot of salt water and fresh water fishing now. just for fun and relaxation. He loves to fish.

        • See? The degrees of separation down here are just amazing to me. I never met the older Mrs. Bruenlla, but here we are, so many years later, and we meet through an obscure blog on the internet, and our connection is a woman I never met, after whom you are named. Isn’t that amazing? AND we both lived on Grand Caillou and now we BOTH live on Bayou Dularge. So tell me, B, how did you find this blog post? I’m so glad to have you here, and we’ll have to meet at the marina for a beverage one day soon!

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