Don’t get me wrong. I love my dad’s side of the family, but visiting is like setting down on Planet Coon-Ass.
My grandmother and her sisters’ family completely occupy one side of one street where they talk on the phone while looking at each other out their windows and then meet at the chicken wire fence to exchange the prescription meds they’re all taking. There are at least twelve-hundred relatives living in a five mile radius who will show up unannounced, park themselves at the kitchen table and talk until the wee hours of the night to whoever comes through the revolving front door. On occasion, they will be so enthralled in conversation they forget to feed the 987 children, all under the age of 10, who have been screaming, running and fighting with each other at the top of their lungs for the last 12 hours. That is, of course, unless there’s gumbo on the stove.
Ah yes, gumbo. When I was little, times on Planet Coon-Ass were lean, and with the number of mouths to feed on a steady upswing budgets were stretched thin and dinner got creative. Being a foodie at a really early age (I’m going to go with since conception), I made the mistake of peaking into the pot on my grandmother’s stove on gumbo night to see what I’m sure was a beak floating in thin brown water! Horrified, I watched at dinner as one person after another ladled spoonfuls of chicken autopsy soup over rice, greedily sucked it down and then went back for more. The beak never did turn up. I kept a sharp eye out for it while draining as much of the liquid as possible off of every spoonful of rice before forcing it down. Even then not eating anything would have set off all kinds of alarms. It was the only way. Later, when I confided in Mom she just laughed that oh-you-kids-and-your-imagination laugh and dismissed me, but I know what I saw. I know.
Over the years when the subject of Cajun cuisine has come up I’ve shared my story and it’s made for some interesting conversations. As it turns out, not only is gumbo supposed to be beakless and more of a stew consistency, but it (and most all Cajun food) is usually spicy! I’m sorry, what? Nothing that has ever come out of a kitchen on Planet Coon-Ass has ever been spicy. Ever. What next? Someone’s going to tell me Cajuns don’t speak Portuguese?!