This note was expanded into an essay: Stepdad and Backwoods Louisiana ← Read Here
A few weeks ago, I visited my step-father’s family in Abbeville, Louisiana. My step-aunt welcomed me into her red brick home with a bowl of the best Gumbo of my life. In a pot stewed sliced up rope sausage with browned crispy ends, plucked rotisserie chicken, and fresh shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, all in a roux with peppers and garlic and cajun seasoning, oh my! And throughout my stay, her, her family, and locals warmed me up with Southern culture. I immersed myself in small town Louisiana.
Touring the town, my step-dad reminisced about how crazy he was as a child. I listened as he told stories like how him and “Johnny Bass” used to drive around in his pick-up, with a pistol, they would shoot out their neighbor’s porch lights from the moving truck. Another time he found a dead shark at a car-wash, knotted a rope around its tail and the hitch of his Chevy and dragged the shark through the town. He said he “surfed” on the shark’s back. Once while I drove us, I routed us to the house using GPS, yet my step-dad knew better he said. I’m certain he didn’t, but I enjoyed him directing me down backroads where he recognized old businesses and “Rick Radley’s” home. It was fascinating to see through his eyes because it explained a lot about the gun-collecting, trump-praising personality that I saw back in Minnesota.
On a Saturday, we went crawfishing. I wore camouflage knee-high boots and a camouflage cap. All men wore caps.
In front of me, I looked out at a muddied pond. It’s shallow, 10 to 24 inches deep. The boat is a 14’ aluminum haul, without a propeller, instead uses a basket-wheel. It reminds me of a Mississippi steamboat with a red wheel propelling the boat forward.
The captain hands me a pair of thick rubber gloves. The pesky crawfish, pinch and will break skin. The first trap comes quickly, its red top bobbing six inches above the water. I grip it and I haul the mesh cage out of the thick pond.
Each cage trapped three to a dozen crawfish. Many are babies, many others are dead — eaten by their own family members, which is sad until I remember cannibalism is common in all species to control population. And in 2 foot square some must die.
Fishing are seven of us, all family except the captain who is so jolly I’m okay to adopt him.
I dump out the first trap, and the captain asks, “Do you know the difference between a regular zoo and a cajan zoo? A regular zoo has the animal caged with the placard displaying the name of the animal and a description. Whereas a cajan zoo has the placard displaying the name of the animal and underneath it, a recipe.”
We drive up and down the lanes for about an hour dumping traps out, tossing back turtles and babies and snakes. We fill up four purple nets, crawfish squirm and pinch each other. It's a violent exchange. We fished a hundred pounds of crawfish.
In the evening we return for the boil. The captain boils crawfish for 15 minutes, dumps them into a plastic Tupperware bin, and sprinkles on cayenne seasoning. I’m served a big red plate, 10 pounds of crawfish, with a single a slice of corn cob and two baby rustic potatoes which aren’t for the meal but rather to add color to the plate that isn’t red.
Eating crawfish is a primal experience. First you dismember the crustacean by twisting the tail off. You pinch and rip the guts out, then pluck out the morsel of meat. It’s tasty, but the meal isn’t for the taste as much as the experience. The real ape’s among us wrap our lips around the crustacean’s head and suck, letting all the juices from within moist your mouth.
After our bellies were full of crawfish, we danced to zydeco music which is the southern black American’s version of the two step. My step-uncle said he used to dance all night long and in order to never leave the dance floor, he wore sausage links around his neck. The locals and the tourists all mixed and melded. You couldn’t tell a difference. Everyone’s belly was full of crawfish and poorly dancing to zydeco. True Southern Hospitality.