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Christmas on the Bayou

It’s only May, but I’ve already jumped the gun and wrote about Christmas, so I’m in the mood to talk about Christmas at my house. There is, of course, plenty of food for everyone, turkey (fried and baked), ham, casseroles, rice dressing, cornbread dressing, etc. However, the only thing that I enjoy more than the food is the craziness of all my family being together.

About two years ago Edmund decided to show up for Christmas. I’m not entirely sure how Edmund is related to us, but he’s older and I think he may have been related to my grandfather. Everybody just rolls their eyes when Edmund shows up because they know he’s going to ask them for something, usually money. Edmund wears blue jeans, a denim shirt, and a cowboy hat. He drives an old Ford F-150 and is the kind of man who probably has a bunch of money stuffed in a mattress somewhere yet acts like he’s poor.

He’ll say, “Mais, you got any money to help the pauvre misérable?”

Do you have any money to help the poor miserable?

So he’s at my house for Christmas, and he’s standing in the kitchen. He starts talking to my Aunt, Bernadette, and he says “Mais Bernadette, you need to go a diet and lose some weight.”

She turned around, face hot with anger and said, “Edmund! I may be fat, but you’re ugly and you’re gonna die ugly!”

And that was the end of that. Christmas at my house isn’t usually that dramatic, but that particular time was a bit crazy because of Edmund and his mouth. It’s usually just a food filled festivity, and there are always leftovers for days afterwards. The story about Edmund coming over for Christmas will remain one of my favorite stories about the holiday.

My dad is really good at carving a turkey


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Grandma Roy and the Chicken

Sometimes roosters can be hostile. Photo by hpoulos

My grandparents on my mom’s side had chickens and rabbits in a pen behind their house. My grandfather’s name was Roy, and my grandmother’s name was Lydia. They lived just a few minutes across the bayou in Arnaudville. Both of them spoke Cajun French. For some reason I called both of  them Roy, Grandma Roy and Pop Pop Roy. My favorite story about Grandma Roy involves the chicken coop.

They had one rooster in the pen that was just plain mean. One day my older brother, Chris, went into the pen and the rooster attacked him. Roosters, of course, have spurs that they use to spar.

“Grandma Roy, that rooster you got in your pen is mean,” Chris told her.

“No, No, cher, it’s fine.”

Grandma Roy ended up going into the pen a day or so later and the rooster attacked her and left a gash on her leg.

The next day Grandma Roy went into the pen and wrung that rooster’s neck. It went into the pot for a gumbo. And that was the end of that. She was not going to put up with that rooster anymore.

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Hay Baling

Although hay baling isn’t distinctive of Louisiana, it is a big part of my growing up. My family lives on a plot of land across the street from Bayou Teche that is nearly 70 acres. My dad grew up on the back end of the property, and my grandfather used to grow sweet potatoes and have cattle on the land. Now my father uses the land to bale hay. He bales hay in the summer for extra money , and he has a few loyal customers who buy the hay from him each year.

My father has two old International 806 tractors that have been around for as long as I can remember. I used to ride on the fender while my dad drove the tractor.

I learned how to drive on this tractor

There is a gravel road from my house to the back end of the property that runs for about a mile and a half. I learned how to drive mostly by learning how to drive our old tractors, and I learned how to drive a car by driving my dad’s old Ford pickup from the 80s. After I learned how to drive, my dad would have me pull a trailer in the field so he could load up the big round bales to put them in the barn. To this day, there’s something sort of nostalgic for me in seeing the tractors and the equipment. Even now, the sound of that diesel engine is still one of my favorite sounds to this day.

Hay bales weigh several hundred pounds

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There are two stoplights in my hometown. Both are for the same intersection next to the local grocery store, Russell’s. Arnaudville is made up of an elementary school, a Catholic church, a cemetery, and, of course, Russell’s.

The cemetery is one of the most notable parts of the whole town. It’s right across the street from St. Francis Regis Catholic Church, and there are probably more people in the cemetery than in the town. Almost all of the graves are above ground except for the ones in the mausoleum. My grandparents and a few of my relatives are buried there.

Russell’s is the town’s small talk and gossip hub. You go in there thinking that you’ll just go in there to get milk and eggs and leave, but you actually end up running into at bunch of people that you know and leaving an hour later than you wanted. It usually goes something like this:

“Mais, cher, how you doin’? Ça va?”

“Ça va bien, et tu?”

“Good, good.”

“Well I haven’t seen you in so long I almost didn’t recognize you. How are the kids?”

The conversation goes on an on about family happenings and how busy they’ve been. Sometimes the conversation turns:

“You heard who died the other day?”

Everybody knows everybody in a small town.

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My name is Joshua Callandret, and I’m from a small rural town in south Louisiana called Arnaudville. The 2010 U.S. Census showed that Arnaudville has a population of 1,057. It was named after the Arnaud family (pronounced are-no). I grew up on a patch of land that covers nearly 70 acres. My grandfather grew sweet potatoes and raised cattle on that land, and my dad now uses the land to bale hay.

My dad raises chickens and rabbits, and he has a few goats and sheep in a pen on our property. He plants a pretty substantial garden in our backyard each summer, and we can and freeze the produce from that each year. He also dabbles in making muscadine wine, and he makes really good deer jerky.

My mom is the cooking queen. She spends hours in the kitchen on a weekend making gumbo, and she makes jams and jellies out of whatever fruit we find on the property. My mom also makes her own seasoning blend that she uses for all of her cooking. Most of what we eat at home is spicy and greasy, but it is amazing. Both of my parents speak Cajun French.

I want to paint a picture of Louisiana for you. What the people are like, our cooking, and the state’s history. I might even include a recipe or two.


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