Friday, November 21, 2008

Assault rifles are flying off the shelves

Well, Obama appears to be scaring the cr*p out of gun enthusiasts according to an article entitled "Locked and loaded on uncertainty" in the Beauregard Daily News:

Faster than a speeding bullet, assault rifles and ammunition are flying off of the racks in Louisiana’s gun shops. It’s a nationwide trend that is shooting across the country since President-elect Barack Obama’s victory last week, as gun enthusiasts are concerned that an Obama administration will ban certain weapons and ammunition.

According to local law enforcement authorities, there are no gun stores in Beauregard Parish currently selling assault rifles; however, many residents travel a few miles north to Leesville’s Star Pawn and Gun store to “zero in” on their weapons of choice. “We have a lot of customers from DeRidder,” said shop owner, Tonya McKee.

Honestly, of all the changes that are bound to come when Obama takes office, gun laws were the last thing on my mind. Not so for many, though. No wonder Louisiana went McCain.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hanging on

New signs? A downtown festival (and new paint jobs to go with it), a Keep DeRidder Beautiful campaign? Sounds like DeRidder is trying hard to re-invent itself.

For the record, DeRidder was a company town--created, almost overnight, by a lumber company (Long Bell, I think) that came to claim the pine trees that once grew in abundance in this part of western Louisiana (and on into east Texas). The lumber company owned the stores, built the houses, etc. etc. Nice for people, I guess, for awhile--until the trees ran out and the lumber companies (there were several, ultimately) split, leaving the town without an industry.

From what I gather, this started to happen even before my mom was born in DeRidder. She remembers it as a thriving town. But it didn't take long for the dearth of jobs and income to affect the area. People my mom grew up with left to find jobs and a life elsewhere and didn't come back. Businesses died. The downtown looked--last time I was there with my mother--like a ghost town compared to what she'd grown up with.

The town, I think, has been scrabbling for an identity and an income ever since. By the looks of things, they don't intend to go down without a fight.

But it makes me think about the psychology of place once again...this place, in particular, had such a defined identity. It was created for a specific purpose. What happens when the purpose leaves--and the people who once inhabited it (the place, the purpose) remain? They have to find a new purpose, I guess, if they want to stay. Is that what's happening here?

As soon as I pushed "publish post" I had another I had to come back and add it. Isn't what I was just talking about--a place and a people that lost its purpose--what happened to Flint, Michigan, the subject of Michael Moore's documentary "Roger and Me."...? Here was a town whose entire identity and livelihood was built on the car industry...and then the car industry pulled out, leaving it rudderless. And like a rudderless ambled about, aimlessly, trying to re-group.

I don't know if Flint was actually created by the car companies, but it sounds awfully similar to what happened in DeRidder. I wonder if Flint ever found its feet again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Doings in DeRidder

This is where I wish I was last Saturday--$5 for food, a Zydeco dance lesson and a beignet tutorial!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Family death dates and ages...

There is something very odd, in my family, about death dates. And ages. Everyone tends to die at, or close to, 82. And people have a habit of dying on or very near birthdays.

My mother’s grandmother, Mama Anne, died December 18, 1973, at the age of 82.

She died on the birthday of her daughter, Aurelia, who was also 82 when she died in 1993.

Mama Anne’s son, LaRue, was also 82 when he died, on his own birthday, August 8th, in 1998.

And I just discovered that LaRue’s wife, Corinne, died on August 7th, 1993, a day before LaRue’s birthday, at the age of 81.

I guess I should get my affairs in order roundabout age 80. What do you think?

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Speaking of critters in Louisiana, I've always wanted to go to this. Frogs don't have fangs.

Snakes in a swamp

My aunt Corinne was a good story teller. Once she told me a story about being a little girl in Louisiana and crossing a river by walking across a tree that had fallen across it…I guess the banks were high, because the tree was four or five feet above the water. At one point, as she was balancing her way across, Corinne looked down and saw a water moccasin in the water, paralleling her journey across the tree, just waiting, it seemed, to see if she’d fall.

In a word, creepy.

All of this is to explain why I idly googled “louisiana” and “snakes” just a bit ago, and discovered that there are four different species of poisonous snakes in North America, and Louisiana is home to them all: the copperhead, the cottonmouth water moccasin, the eastern coral snake, and the rattlesnake. Louisiana boasts three varieties of rattlesnake: the pygmy rattlesnake, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake (reputed to be the most dangerous snake in North America) and the timber rattlesnake.

The same website mentioned that Louisiana is also home to two venomous spiders: the black widow and the brown recluse.

Living in an apartment in NYC, the closest I get to snakes is in the pet store next door, which houses teeny tiny snakes in aquariums dressed up with fake rocks and rubber plants. Henry loves them. I think they’re kind of cute—as long as they’re behind glass and not coming home with me. Sounds like in Louisiana, you don’t have all that much choice. Yikes. Do I really want to live here?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Louisiana goes for McCain

It sure sounds like Louisiana should have gone Obama...wonder what happened. I'm guessing race had to be a part of it, but I'm sure we'll hear more about all that in the days to come.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Johnson's Grocery

A couple of years ago Paul and I flew into New Orleans, spent a couple of days there, and then rented a car and lit out on 10W, en route to DeRidder. On the way we passed through Cajun country, and before long we started seeing gas stations and ramshackle little buildings with “Specialty Meats” signs outside. Music to my stomach.

In Louisiana, “Specialty Meats” is code for boudin, a delicacy that consists of rice, ground pork, and savory seasonings stuffed into a sausage casing. (You can also find versions made with crawfish, or catfish, etc…but the pork is the best.) Each place has it’s own recipe and there is no end of discussion, sometimes heated, as to the best ratio of rice to pork, etc. Most people have a favorite place they’re devoted to. My aunt Corinne—our family Cajun--used to insist on driving an hour away, from Oakdale to Bunkie, to get her favorite boudin.

I think it was Calvin Trillin, in an homage to boudin in The New Yorker, who once said you had to buy two batches of boudin—one to eat in the parking lot, the other to bring home. (It’s that good.) Corinne used to run a knife through each sausage, splitting the casings, and then put them under the broiler until the casings crisped up. Then she’d scoop out the boudin, spread it on a Club cracker, and douse it with Tiger Sauce—a sweet, sour, spicy sauce that used to only be available in Louisiana. (I can buy it in my local grocery store now.)

Anyway, Paul, who is game for just about any food, had read Trillin’s New Yorker homage, and was intrigued. And I was more than ready for another dose. It had been eons. So we began stopping…at every one. Our favorite place was a place called Johnson’s Grocery, in Eunice, a Cajun town about forty miles north of Lafayette (Cajun central). I think Johnson’s was mentioned in one of my guidebooks, and it took a little doing to find it. We were a tad nervous because in the book it said Johnson’s didn’t make boudin every day.

Lo and behold, we turned a corner and saw a hand-lettered sign stuck in the ground near that said “Hot boudin today!” (Somewhere I have a picture of Paul sitting next to the sign.) We pulled into a gravel parking lot in front of a little, white one story building, opened the screen door, and made our way past rows of shelves with things like fishing tackle and random groceries to the back, where there was one man grinding sausage and filling casings. One pound of boudin: $2.67. I think, as Trillin had advised, we got two.

We were standing in the parking lot, squeezing boudin straight from the casings into our mouths, when we heard the screen door screech. The owner of the store, an elderly gentleman wearing a cowboy hat, leaned out and said “My wife just put on a pot of coffee. Would you like a cup?” We probably stood there for an open mouthed second before Paul—who can drink hot coffee in 90 degree weather—said “Sure!” and headed back into the store.

“I wasn’t sure whether to pay for it or not,” he said later. It became clear pretty soon, however, that it was just a friendly gesture. One of many we jaded northerners would encounter on that trip. While inside, Paul also got a boudin lesson from the old guy, who proceeded to tell him exactly how he made it. “You’re going to show me all the secret ingredients?” Paul joked. No secret ingredients, the guy said. It was all in the making. And they’d been making it a long time.

The reason I bring this up is because a) we’re on our last package of boudin in the freezer—you can order it online, though not, alas, from Johnson’s. (I order from Poche’s which is also darn good.) And b) In searching the web on the subject of boudin and Johnson’s in particular I was, at first, horrified to see a note that Johnson’s had closed. But it’s okay. It turns out that the family has just decided to eschew the grocery business and focus on making boudin. Well, hey, you can buy eggs anywhere. But boudin this good? It’s worth travelling for—even all the way from New York.

Monday, November 3, 2008


I stand between my father and mother in the searing Louisiana heat, watching my grandmother’s casket—silver blue, a color she would have admired—be lowered into the ground. I am crying, quietly, my face crumpling in a way I’ve hated since I hit puberty and began a mental list of my unattractive qualities. (Face crumpling, check.) Despite my silence, my father notices. He leans down and whispers, “You really liked her, didn’t you?”

For the record, it’s a real question. He’s truly curious. No one liked my grandmother. Not even the array of Snopes-like relatives—some of them clad in overalls, one in a polyester blue suit that brought John Travolta of a certain era to mind—who’d taken the trouble to pay their respects when her body had been on display in DeRidder’s only funeral home. (My favorite had been an old fellow, clearly not all there, who’d peered into the casket like someone perusing a freezer compartment for their favorite ice cream, before announcing, in loud tones, that he didn’t know her.)

Anyway. It had nothing to do with the fact that she was old. This isn’t a story of a likeable person consumed, to the point of unrecognizability, by dementia. She had, apparently, always been odd, something I knew about mostly from stories. I did have some real experience with it, though. There was the way she’d regulary sent us all news clippings echoing our worst nightmares—for me, an article about a girl who’d been raped and murdred while jogging alone at night; for my mother, one about a doctor who’d had two families—with chirpy little notes (“Thought you’d be interested!”) attached.

There was the pillow—a pink satin bridge meant for neck support—that she insisted on sleeping on so that her head never hit the bed and mussed her falsely flaxen hair, which she had fashioned into an elaborate twist once a week at the beauty salon. (Imagine Tippy Hedron in “The Birds,” with a little more height and perhaps a seashell sprayed a pastel hue adorning it, for good measure.) There were the forties style negligles, inappropriate for someone—anyone—whose girdle turned her midsection into a drum. There were the tottery high heels, the languid gestures, and the sugary, sweet southern drawl—almost baby talk—that became throatier and quite adult when she was angry.

And she was, often, angry. There were the tantrums, reserved for her hapless, amiable husbands, but earlier in her life, aimed at my mother, her daughter, who still could not forgive her. And there was the time she’d called our house, after my brother died, wanting to know the dates of his birth and death so she could play the lottery. That incident had been the most personal for me. At fourteen, I still didn’t always know when adults were within their rights, behavior-wise. This, I knew, was over the line.

But still. I liked her. Or was fascinated by her. Or both. She may, admittedly, have been hard to love, but it was hard to look away from her, too. Until she died, I’d been content enough to relegate her to the category of family joke, which was the way everyone else—everyone being my parents, and when he was alive, my brother—liked it. Mention of her name could always elicit an eye-roll and a good anecdote. But, too late, I wanted to understand her. Who she was, or rather why she was the way she was.

She’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only three months earlier. It had all happened so fast that I’d never really got to spend time with her to really understand who she was, or what her life had really been like. Once, perhaps tellingly, she’d sent us a clay sculpture of a boat, about a foot in length. In it, twisted in paroxysms of agony that bring Dante’s Inferno to mind, were seated a series of tiny figures in front of equally tiny oars. The name of the piece: “We’re all in this boat together.”

I’d always wondered what the boat looked like from her point of view. Now it seemed I’d never know.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

An interesting quote on place.....

"Americans are woefully ignorant of geography and of place—ignorant, that is, of the natural and humanly constructed worlds that have nurtured us, inspired us, and, sad to say, too often frustrated us. It is hard to imagine concretely how we can envisage the good life (the humane life), and plan for the future, unless we have some clear idea as to the sort of places that we wish to exist."

Yi-Fu Tuan, geographer

Do you think anyone thinks about this kind of thing when a new building gets approved? I'm thinking of the zillions of high end rental apartments that are going up in NYC (although I guess some are going to stall, mid-way, due to the financial crisis). The only people who can afford these places, or would rent, rather than buy, at these prices, are those who are temporarily here to make a lot of money on Wall Street. (Though, whoops, jobs are scarce there now, too.) It makes me think that no one thinks--or cares, maybe--about what kind of place they want New York to be. All the artists, the people who give this place its reputation for creativity and uniqueness, are moving out...they can't afford to live here anymore.