I’ll return to my Hal Benson story next column, but now here are vignettes from my early Cajun life.
There are no expiration dates on traditions … some end abruptly, some are erased by time and technology: street sweepers went out with the horse and buggy, gas street lights, (Thomas Edison took care of that), bingo (out by church decree) Stoning, which burning and stockades…. Well…. Some traditions should have never happened and are best forgotten.
Every ethnic group still has theirs … Irish have St. Patrick’s Day and green beer, Italians have St Joseph altars, Germans have October Fest., Mexicans have pinatas (does that count?), and blessing of the fishing fleet for the Cajuns.
I have witnessed two, a charivari and several boucheries,
What is a charivari? Webster’s 1913 Dictionary defined it as “a serenade of noise done with kettles and tin horns meant to annoy, generally when an older person married a young person or widows and widowers who remarried.”
Practiced in France and brought to Louisiana by the Acadians, the revelers, mostly friends of the newlyweds would gather and serenade them until they “accepted” the charivari and welcomed them in, and for an hour or so, they ate and drank while the bride and groom retired.
To a Cajun, a party is a party is a party.
The one I saw was when my bachelor uncle Roy Callais married the widow Annie. About a dozen of their friends gathered, made the expected noise, and after about one-half hour, the newlyweds “accepted” and invited them in.
Everybody had a drink or two and it soon ended. I watched from their porch and it was less exciting than expected, but the wedding vows were strong. Annie was a beautician and Roy later became the Registrar of Voters of Lafourche Parish for 20 years.
The last years of her life, Roy slept by her bed, told her stories, and read to her, even long after she was capable of hearing or seeing him. Roy passed away a few years after her.
A boucherie was a family affair with aunts, uncles and cousins helping with the cleaning, cooking and preparing of the boudin, hogshead cheese, blood (or anemic) stew, crackling and everything eatable, which was EVERTHING … ears, snout, brains, feet, liver, kidneys and stomach (perhaps the squeamish should stop reading now).
First, you needed a hog and have someone kill it. In my family, the executor was a kind and gentle person, (think of Hoss Cartwright), Uncle Rosulus “Lou Lou” Callais. Why? Because he owned a handgun, everyone else had shotguns, and that would have been, should I say, not as “neat”.
Then everybody did what they did best. The men rendered the lard and made “gratons” in cast iron kettles over a wood fire. The ladies took the entrails to wash in Bayou Lafourche for boudin casings, while others prepared the “grilliads” (pork cutlets) in five-gallon clay jars and covered them with lard for preservation.
Then, as the “coup de grace”, the bladder was dried, filled with air and tossed to the children to play catch.
That left the head, which in my family was given to Aunt Sarah to make hogshead cheese. She would boil and cook it, (hated the smell but loved the results), let it jell, cut it pizza style and after school I would peddle it door to door at 5 or 10 cents a slice. When I mentioned it was made by Aunt Sarah, they would often buy another piece, since hers was said to be the best.
At the end of the day, every family member would get a portion of the finished produce. The sun was setting, God was on his throne and all was right with the world. We Cajuns felt the Depression, but not as bad as the rest of the nation. Just ahead, however was four long years of war, separations, rationing, loss of loved ones and thankfully Peace! … for a few years, anyway.
It has often been said that every part of the hog was used except the squeal. True that! Too bad we could not have bottled it.