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

  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

        • I get you my friend Shoreacres will know something about your town since she lives down that way. Yes, I know. Everything changes. And it’s not always for the better.

  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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