Folks who visit here or meet me for the first time are rather surprised at the blond hair and green eyes, because they mistakenly preconceive that a woman way down in coastal Louisiana who writes about life in the Louisiana wetlands must surely be Cajun. Well, I’m not, but please let me take this opportunity to clear that up for our newbies and inquiring minds.
I am clearly what I dubbed a European-American several years back. Both my parents are of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant descent. I’ve been married to a Native American, Houma Indian, for thirty-one years and have raised five children, all from this union.
My husband, The Captain, will tell you in a heartbeat that he is NOT a Cajun. Cajuns, short for Acadians, were French people exiled from Acadiana in Nova Scotia, many of whom ended up down here. (I don’t need to give you a history lesson, because you can find that history anywhere online.) Rather, The Captain’s people (Houma Indians) were already settled in these parts and took the Acadians in, taught them how to hunt, trap, fish, and catch shrimp and oysters in order to survive. It wasn’t long before they intermarried, and the Houmas picked up their language. (I’m not sure why the reverse isn’t true.)
The French spoken by the south Louisiana Native Americans has Indian words mixed in, making it slightly different from the French spoken west of here, like in Lafayette, for example. That is what we call Cajun French, or Prairie French. For many years, the bayou French was not a written language because the Houmas could neither read nor write.
Lest you think I’m a fraud and a fake, maybe I should list my credentials that make me a true bayou woman. I’ve lived on the bayou over half my life. I’ve worked in the oil field (literally and not just in an office), I’ve worked on offshore crew boats in the Gulf, I’ve worked on a shrimp boat, I can cook all the traditional bayou dishes, I’ve owned quite a few boats, I fish and take my boys duck hunting until they are old enough to go on their own, I clean fish, break shrimp heads, pick crabs, pluck ducks, shuck oysters and eat them raw. I live on the bayou and cannot imagine waking up and not being able to look out at the water and see which way the tide is rolling.
What really makes me a genuine bayou woman, though, is my love for the people and their culture. While it’s true that I will always be that city girl from up north (Bossier City) to the native bayou people, there is no doubt in my mind that the bayou is where I’m supposed to be and where I was to have been all these years. That may change one day out of necessity due to family dynamics, but no matter where life takes me, my heart will always be “down da bayou”.
So what in the world does all this have to do with Madame Grands Doigts (or Lady Long Fingers)? Well, I’ll tell you. Capt. John Swallow sent me an email about their upcoming NOLA Pyrate Week and in it he asked me if the Madame was going to pass by our house. Not having any clue who she was, I immediately went to GOOGLE to find out.
Over in the Cajun prairie around Lafayette, Carencro, and Ville Platte, there are several different versions of the folklore of Madame Grands Doigts; but the one I like best, and the one I assume Capt. Swallow referred to is this one:
If you have been a good little boy or girl, Madame Grands Doigts visits your house on New Year’s Eve, and using her long fingers, places little treasures in your stocking that you left hanging from Christmas. The gifts would be things like a shiny red apple, a juicy navel orange, a banana or some nuts.
It’s a quaint tradition, and there are still folks today who carry on that tradition for their children and grand children, and I think it’s charming. It blows my mind that places where this folklore is recognized and celebrated are only a ninety-minute drive from here, yet I’d never heard of it before.
There is one very simple explanation:
This is Cajun folklore, and I am NOT a Cajun. I am a BAYOU WOMAN, and that’s why Madame Grands Doigts will not be stopping at our house tonight!
As we reflect on all the blessings and perils of 2012 and fret over all the pounds we gained from too much holiday fare, I pray that 2013 will be a peaceful year in your home, in our nation, and the world. I hope your new year is worry free and full of possibilities for the positive.
Now, tell me this: What are you cooking New Year’s Day?
Bring on those traditions!
I want to ring in the new year with a CONTEST: The first person who grew up with this tradition and leaves a comment sharing a story about that tradition with us, will receive an 8 x 10 color photograph, suitable for framing from the BW photo library.