Am I allowed to feel a little bit Cajun?
Monday, Oct. 1, 2012
Written by Walter Pierce
Florence Hunt’s rice and gravy was always better. Richer and thicker. Stick-to-the-ribs good. I didn’t know why at the time — a boy visiting the small dairy and soybean farm in a place called Eola, which was more or less a scattering of proud family farms and churches along Bayou Bouef in Avoyelles Parish outside Bunkie. She and Pawpaw Hunt lived, worked and held court for the many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who popped in most every weekend in shifts to visit, to hunt dove or, for us kids from the city, to do “farm stuff.” Four-wheelers and aluminum cans didn’t exist at the time. But I had a .410 and tin was abundant.
She was my great grandmother on my dad’s maternal side, and her rice and gravy was just superior. Better than my other great grandmother’s and both of my grandmothers’ put together. Better, even, than my mom’s. (Della, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry but it’s true.)
After Pawpaw Hunt passed on in 1974, Florence moved into a tidy little house in a shady neighborhood in Bunkie. We visited every couple of months or so, stopping at a little bakery in Opelousas on the way up from Lafayette for coconut macaroons. There was no I-49 at the time. It was a tedious drive. But Mawmaw’s rice and gravy was waiting. It was a staple that never changed, and neither did she: soft-spoken, doting and pear-shaped — a prototypical great grandmother. Yet she had an accent unlike anyone else in the family. I was a kid. I didn’t pay no never mind.
It wasn’t until about the time Florence Hunt died in 2000 that I learned she was born an Armand to French-speaking Catholics in Bordelonville, a hamlet on Bayou Des Glaises in Avoyelles Parish. She didn’t speak a lick of English until she began school. This is the early 20th century when the dominant Anglo culture forced assimilation down the throats of Louisiana’s Francophones. Literally. You didn’t speak French in public places or for public functions, beginning with public school where it was discouraged through corporal punishment. French was shamed. It was “country.” It was low class. And it was nearly eradicated. Nearly.
The shaming worked pretty well on Florence Hunt’s generation and a few after hers. She learned English. She married a plantation overseer named Hunt. Converted to Baptist. Never spoke French again as far as I know, certainly not in front of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She never mentioned it. It was an obliterated history. I realize now that her accent was what we call Cajun — the accent of a Louisiana Francophone speaking English. Speaking a second language.
The history that Florence subordinated at the stinging urge of a teacher’s ruler and the mainstream’s obsession with assimilation was my history. A history I was deprived of until I was well into adulthood.
Being a Pierce whose genealogy is strung together with English and Scottish names — Melton, Bradford, Hunt, Dobbins, Stone — I’ve never considered myself Cajun, although an eighth of me is, assuming an Armand from Avoyelles Parish can even properly be called Cajun, which is what this month’s cover story explores. It it genetics? Culture? A combination of the two?
I wish I had known sooner about Florence Hunt’s past. When I was 10, I probably wouldn’t have cared. But would it have affected that awkward transit through adolescence? Would I have gravitated toward that little bit of “Cajun” in me? After all, by the time I was a teenager Cajun was well on its way to cool.
Maybe I would have appreciated Florence’s awesome rice and gravy for what it really was: just a fricassee from a homemade roux.
Three bedroom Sunset Victorian or three bedroom Opelousas Acadian home
Louisiana designer commissioned for NYC Awards gift
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is considering whether to get involved in a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal for his attempts to undermine use of the Common Core education standards in Louisiana's public schools.
Business First Bank has announced plans for a Baton Rouge market expansion through a merger deal with American Gateway Financial Corp.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The latest meeting of a south Louisiana flood board that stirred political turmoil with a lawsuit against the oil and gas industry is taking place amid uncertainty over the future of the lawsuit — and the board's own membership.
The photos taken nearly a mile under the Gulf of Mexico are so clear that small holes are visible in a lifeboat that may have gone down or been scuttled when a passenger ship was sunk by a Nazi submarine in 1942.
Advocate columnist and Jindal shill Quin Hillyer has been against the New Orleans levee board lawsuit from day one, but a recent piece targeting author/activist John Barry prompted the perfect rebuttal from the board’s former vice-president, who takes Hillyer to task on just about every distorted claim he’s made on the issue.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
INDEats and EatLafayette want to give one lucky foodie and friends the most memorable meal — here’s how you can win
Pat Bowlen steps down; typhoon caused Taiwan plane crash; Arizona execution botched and more national and international news for Thursday, July 24, 2014.
Thousands of people who bought health insurance through the marketplace created by the federal health care overhaul face price hikes next year that could top 10 percent.
Three bedroom traditional Lafayette home or three bedroom Breaux Bridge home
Style market slated for old Artesia
The city prosecutor has released the case file for Lafayette Parish School Board member Tehmi Chassion’s simple battery complaint against Superintendent Pat Cooper, and the seven witness statements given to police illustrate two very different scenarios.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Louisiana fell one spot in an annual national ranking of child well-being that looks at poverty, education and health access.
A federal judge has decided he doesn't need to hear more arguments in the case of a gay couple who want a Louisiana marriage license.
Saints again bring playoff aspirations into 2014 campaign.
New details in the case against the man arrested for last week’s bomb threat and bank robbery has surfaced, including a MidSouth Bank surveillance video showing the alleged suspect attempt an early-morning bank robbery.
Citing conflicting witness accounts, the city prosecutor will not pursue Tehmi Chassion’s allegation of simple battery against Superintendent Pat Cooper.
Smoked meat, fresh sides and the best boudin around
Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers opens on Johnston.
Cirque du Soleil effortlessly combines circus art with beloved Michael Jackson hits.
Kelly Guidry Open House
Parents and teachers who support the Common Core education standards sued Gov. Bobby Jindal Tuesday over his actions against the multi-state standards, accusing him of illegally meddling in education policy.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
An arrest was announced this morning in connection with last week’s bomb scare at UL Lafayette.
Attorneys, judges and others interviewed by LaPolitics expect 15 to 20 district judge races this year.
"I feel like I'm under siege," an attorney said recently over drinks at Galatoire's Bistro in Baton Rouge. "We all do. Every time I turn around somebody wants a check. District attorney races. The judges. They're killing us."