An eclectic gumbo bowl of spirituality, humor, culture and missions
Author: Laurie Matherne
Welcome to Gumbo YaYa. My writings are an eclectic blend. A Louisiana gumbo is a composite dish of roux, rice and whatever else the cook wants to add. Yaya is a Creole term for ladies all talking at the same time. The Gumbo Ya-Ya features my writing on spirituality, travel, culture, and humor. Grab a bowl of gumbo here and dig in!
Yesterday, President Trump chose to walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church. In the process, lawful, peaceful protestors were gassed and hit with rubber bullets so that Trump could make the short walk to the church. There he held up a Bible upside down and had his photo taken. He didn’t pray, read a Bible verse or speak at all.
I can’t for the life of me understand why he did this. He gained nothing from lifting up a Bible for a prop in front of a church that he doesn’t attend. The whole event smacked of base hypocrisy. He used his power and authority in ways opposed to the Christian faith that I affirm.
I quote from Melissa Florer-Bixler, “In this book are the words of a pregnant, brown, teenage Jew living under military occupation, born into poverty, who said that one day the powerful would one day be cast down from their thrones and the rich sent away empty. This would be the work of God.”
Jesus’ way as detailed in this book, the Bible, was to lift up the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the hopeless. When Jesus gave his disciples a model prayer, what we call the Lord’s prayer, he said, “Let your kingdom come.” The kingdom of God, which is the opposite of this world’s systems’, can break into this current world system if we truly embody the words in this book, the Bible.
Lord, help me to discern correctly in this book what you want from me.
I have seldom thought about the incalculable privileges I enjoy as a white American. Yet, as some of our nation’s cities teeter on the edge of anarchy with rioting, burning and looting spurred by racial strife, I am considering the benefit of being white in America. I’m white. I’m educated. I live in a middle class suburb. I don’t think of it as privilege. It’s just normal.
The closest I can come to identifying with minorities is my experiences living in Mexico and Honduras. In both those cultures, I was the random white person in a sea of brown faces. Sometimes it was a disadvantage to be white although most times it was an advantage.
Being white made me a target for police harassment in both countries. Driving while white made me a target for corrupt cops who wanted bribes. I have been stopped multiple times by traffic cops while in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Not once was I given a ticket or even had the semblance of one being written up. It was all about hassling a “rich” white person for a bribe.
Fortunately most of the time, being white helped me in Mexico and Honduras. Being white meant I had greater status generally speaking, especially among the poor. The vestiges of colonialism live on in subtle ways south of the border. Being white gave me status and privilege in ways I sometimes saw directly and other times, I know were just indirect from being a citizen of the most powerful and richest nation on earth.
Aside from small inconveniences of being hassled while driving, I haven’t thought much about what it means to be a racial minority. At least until I saw a video this week of a white man kneeling on the neck of a black man on a street in Minneapolis as the life drained from the victim’s body. The black man on the ground said, “I can’t breathe.” Yet, the cop appeared completely casual, looking like he was waiting for a lunch order, perfectly at ease as he squeezed the life out of a man as he knelt on his neck until he died.
It’s time that we, as white Americans, realize the truth that white privilege is real and ingrained in our society. Whites enjoy higher levels of income, higher levels of education, and better heath outcomes. We live longer than our black counterparts. Black people disproportionally fill our prisons and jails. Black persons are less likely to have a high school or college diploma. They disproportionally serve in low wage jobs. They live often in segregated neighborhoods.
When I see on social media the push back from people who resist the slogan, Black Lives Matter by countering with All Lives Matter, I get defensive. Don’t they see that until we can say without objection that Black Lives Matter, we don’t have the privilege of saying All Lives Matter? To me, it’s just another example of asserting white privilege in insisting on saying All Lives Matter rather than Black Lives Matter.
When we say All Lives Matter, aren’t we just affirming the status quo? The status quo is not good enough any longer. First, we must right the wrongs in the black community. Then we can say we are all equal.
There’s nothing quite like the comfort of a beautiful book, especially when one needs a respite from the world’s events. Who couldn’t use an escape right now from the world around us? We’re in a worldwide pandemic. Americans are in the grip of unrest and riots as racial tensions rise.
In the midst of trying times, I found the perfect antidote in the book, Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou, by Melissa Martin. The author is a native of Chauvin, Louisiana, along Bayou Petit Caillou, a community just a bayou away from my birthplace, Bourg, on Bayou Terrebonne. Like me, she grew up in a Cajun community.
Melissa Martin has a degree in English from Loyola University of New Orleans. Her cooking education was in Michelin rated restaurants in California. She melded her two talents of writing and cooking to produce an enchanting volume about Cajun cooking and culture. The rich photography adds another layer of beauty to this book.
The author and I are both from the southernmost part of Louisiana, a different place altogether from the South as defined as being below the Mason Dixon Line. Here’s her words to which I can personally witness: To me, everything above Baton Rouge was the north. I grew up with leftover gumbo in the fridge and an oil rig drilling just outside my window. I didn’t know it was special to eat cold crabs for breakfast and be surrounded by water and bayous, ibis and pelicans, receding land and dying cypress trees.
Here’s more examples of her beautiful writing. From the chapter on crabs: Crabs are the summer sun held together by shell and seawater. To introduce the section on gumbo, she writes: Gumbo is the tie that binds in South Louisiana. It symbolizes family, a shared table, local ingredients, patience, and the subtleties of culture and tradition.
The book is an elegy to a disappearing bayou and culture. As she cites in her introduction, Louisiana loses a football’s field’s worth of land every hundred minutes-that’s sixteen miles of lost barrier islands, swamps, and ground each year. I know what it’s like personally to see the land loss in my lifetime. It’s incredibly sad to watch my hometown, my region, my way of life become one step closer each day to extinction as the water swallows up our communities.
This book will one day, maybe very soon, serve as a history book to what was lost in a few generations in Louisiana. If you want to know more about Melissa Martin or the Mosquito Supper Club, her restaurant, I added a few links below. However, the best way to appreciate this volume is to buy it.
When I was a girl, a grocery bus passed in front of our house every Saturday. My memories are somewhat hazy, since the bus stopped its route in the early 70s or late 60s. I would have been maybe five or six when the bus quit coming down Bayou Blue. On Saturday, I remember waiting on the side of the road with my sisters, looking for the green school bus.
My childhood memory was that the bus was outfitted with wooden shelves filled with rows of candy from top to bottom. I remember Sugar Babies, Sweet Tarts, Now and Laters, Lemon Heads, and Hot Tamales. Making a choice of only one candy was a perplexing choice each week.
When I talked to my older sister about the green bus, she gently remonstrated me about the bus’ contents. According to her, and later confirmed by my mother, it was a bus filled with groceries and hardware items, too. Need a potato? Check the produce bins in the front of the bus. Want a step ladder? They were hung on the ceiling, parallel to the floor. Scrub brush? Near the back. Can of soup or bag of sugar? Middle aisles.
Every Saturday, Mr. Boudreaux drove from Thibodaux, Louisiana, down a rural route along Bayou Blue. He sold his wares to housewives and children who waited by the road. I suppose he had other routes on different days. I remember that our day was Saturday. In my mind, Saturday had to be the best day for a green bus full of candy to stop in front of my house.
In those days, home delivery wasn’t a novel concept. The milk came in bottles from a milkman in his truck. Fresh fruit came from Mr. Ledet’s customized pick-up truck. Of course, frozen confections were available from the ice cream truck, sounding its way down the road.
Today, Walmart allows for orders to be made at home, online, and then picked up in the parking lot. Instacart goes a step further, and online orders are delivered to your door. These ideas are not quite new. They are just new twists on an old theme. The green bus of my childhood lives on in new ways all over the place.
I came across an article from Atlas Obscura: Curious and Wondrous Travel Destinations that says that hog’s head cheese is becoming rare in South Louisiana. Hog’s head cheese is made from, well, the head of a hog, usually as well as other offal of a pig. There’s no actual cheese. Hog innards are boiled and chilled with vinegar in a jelly roll pan. The fat from the hog’s extras gives the concoction a gelatinous binding.
I have never tasted it, although my mother is partial to keeping a small loaf wrapped in butcher’s paper in the refrigerator. She eats it sliced with Saltine crackers. It’s part of my heritage that I’d just as soon forget. Hog’s head cheese made with offal (the word sounds like awful!) is not even remotely appetizing to see or imagine eating.
I grew up in bayou country where Cajun culture reigns supreme. Another product that is nearing its demise in these parts are pickled pigs lips. That’s not a joke. The lips of pigs are pickled and preserved in a red, viscous liquid resembling mercurochrome. It was a common barroom treat, or so I’ve heard. Never ate it, either. I can’t do pigs lips or feet, pickled or not.
Yet, I have eaten other foods not eaten by most Americans. I enjoyed fried frog legs as a child. My daddy sometimes went frog hunting along the bayous at night. He’d come home with a burlap sack of bullfrogs and whack off the legs. Then, my mama fried them up the following day after soaking them in buttermilk. There’s nothing quite like eating frog legs that just a day before were appendages to bellowing amphibians.
Sometimes after church, we would head towards Morgan City, Louisiana, and stop at Chester’s, a vintage diner near Morgan City. My family ate mounds of fried frog legs, fried chicken, and fried onion rings at Chester’s. And yes, frog legs do taste like chicken. Chester’s is a just a memory now, and frog legs are hard to find these days.
Since I was a little girl, I’ve eaten and loved turtle soup. Not too many people in my family like it, although my grandpa supposedly liked soup from the snapping turtles he caught in the bayou. It’s a specialty of the house in gourmet restaurants in New Orleans such as Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s. The best turtle soup usually involves a bit of sherry to the dish. Delicious!
Then, of course, there’s crawfish. I can’t recall the first time I ate them. We grew up eating them: boiled, stewed, or in an etouffe. Good Friday in our part of the country is often celebrated with crawfish, boiled, and spread on an outside table. Friends and families are invited to eat crawfish, as well as the potatoes, corn and sausage that are added to the boiling pot.
I’m glad crawfish is still enjoyed here and now in other parts of the country, too. Personally, I don’t mind at all that hogs head cheese, fried frog legs, turtle soup, and pickled pigs lips are scarcer and scarcer in these parts. Some things are better left in the past.
Incidental note: Alligator has never been a cultural food in bayou country. It’s served now in many restaurants in these parts, but I never, ever heard of anyone eating gator when I was growing up. There are beasts. I refuse to eat them, even though they would be happy to eat me.
The month of May continues with cooler weather than normal. We’ve had continued bouts of mild weather. This week is no exception. It’s warm, but not hot. The humidity is low. The good weather as well as continued caution in getting out very often due to the Quarantine has led me to enjoy working in my yard more than usual.
Today, I spent a few minutes looking for my yard art. I think yard art is a Southern thing. We like to display flags, signs, or metal fashioned into all sorts of creatures to grace our yards. For some reason, I haven’t been particularly generous with displaying my yard art. The only thing that’s planted in my yard that’s not a plant is my blue heron made of metal.
The heron falls a lot. He’s developing bent feathers from falling over. He’s starting to rust. But I like my blue bird. After every thunderstorm or bout of windy weather, I find the rusty bird and stake him out again in the flower bed.
I have a few other items that need to be attached to the fence outside. I need to grab my hammer and some nails, maybe later today, and attach them outside. There is a metal sun to nail to the fence. Somewhere in the shed there is a an old license plate, as well as a sign that spells LOVE in swirly green and blue letters. Then, there’s the old piece of wood with a Bible verse on it. This is, after all, the Bible belt.
Any yard in the South without yard art is just a lawn. A true Southern yard has a collection of eccentric, whimsical pieces scattered about. Maybe it’s a wooden, painted sunflower that was a gift from Aunt Edna. Or. maybe, it’s an American flag. There’s a house nearby that has a bathtub in the front yard. It’s not for bathing. It’s for decoration, for planting a few flowers. Those old tubs in yards are not uncommon in these parts. I’ll let you know what things look like after I dig around the shed looking for my yard art, although I’m fairly sure I don’t have anything that needs plumbing to add to my yard.
Inspired by an article in the Washington Post rating quarantine experiences, I wrote a review of my home as if I were staying at a vacation rental.
Abita Springs, Louisiana
When I arrived at Casa Gumbo, I noted the quiet, tranquil atmosphere. No other guests were there during my stay. I thought the rooms were clean but wouldn’t pass the white glove test. After my first night, I left the sign on the door requesting housekeeping, but no one showed.
The kitchen had ample supplies, but there was a noticeable lack of snacks and sodas. It’s as if the owner had eaten all of the fun foods before my arrival. Where were the chips? Sodas? Wine? Ice cream? All I had was boring staples for food. It was as if the owner had consumed all of the good food and drinks before I arrived. Speaking of food, I seemed to be expected to fix all of my own meals and clean up afterwards as well.
The picture of the outside of Casa Gumbo was misleading. Yes, this picture is exactly what one sees from the front living room, but the truth is the home is otherwise surrounded by other homes, and the absence of a fenced yard meant there was little privacy.
Casa Gumbo’s bedroom was comfortable. The bed’s memory foam made for a good sleep experience. I will say though that the owner should invest in curtains. All of the rooms had blinds, but no curtains. Therefore, sleeping in late is all but impossible as the bedroom fills with light at 6 a.m.
There was little in the way of entertainment for the solitary traveler. No puzzles. No games. The television had three remotes, far too many for one screen. I figured out the way to watch the television after considerable effort. No HBO or other premium channels, but at least the owner provided the cheaper, popular streaming services like Netflix and Amazon.
There was a bicycle, but the route in the neighborhood was rather limited to circling the three subdivision streets. In order to get a workout, one must endlessly circle the same three avenues or, otherwise risk traffic mayhem by crossing the busy state highway nearby to reach the Tammany Trace for walking and biking.
A close friend in our church texted me this question today amidst the whirlwind of conspiracy theories wildly blowing among believers on social media.
“What are your thoughts towards the uproar of believers posting conspiracy type things online (especially today)? I feel overwhelmed by the amount of fear and disunity.”
This is the worst of Christianity in America. Conspiracy theories are birthed in fear. This is all very convoluted at the grass roots level because people don’t trust leaders for good and bad reasons. Here are my thoughts in short form:
The virus is real. We (Christ-followers) should do our best to be responsible citizens out of obedience to our God who teaches us to pray for and submit to our leaders as far as possible without disobeying God. Also, we live in communities with people we call our neighbors we are to love relentlessly. So we follow guidelines to…
“Hope is (for me) not usually the religious-looking fingers of light slanting through the clouds, or the lurid sunrise. It’s more a sturdy garment, like an old chamois shirt: a reminder that I’ve been here before, in circumstances just as frightening, and I came through, and will again. All I have to do is stay grounded in the truth.” Anne Lamott
I found this quote yesterday on Facebook. It was part of a longer piece written by Anne Lamott for National Geographic in 2018. I like it. To me, it says hope, as well as its cousins, love and faith, are more than holy talismans that stand apart from our ordinary, everyday life. Hope, for me, is something that is as natural as breathing. It sustains me.
In Louisiana, today we enter Phase One of the return to normalcy. Restaurants will open with limited seating. Retail shops are open. Barber shops and beauty salons open with limited capacity. I was able to score a coveted spot with my hair stylist next Monday.
I hope the curve continues downward in Louisiana. For a time, we were one of the nation’s hot spots for Covid-19. Fortunately, the New Orleans area, which was one of the nation’s leader in per capita cases, is now subsiding in new cases. There’s hope for the city and the state.
If you prefer sunrises and slanting light in clouds (in this case a sunset) I have one of those, too. After all, nature too can bring about a sense of hope. I think I’ve had this one on the blog before but I like it. It’s a sunset over Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville, Louisiana.
There is something magical, God-breathed inspiring, about day lilies. For just one day, a bloom is magnificent and break-taking, then each lily shrinks and shrivels into nothing but a memory as a fallen bloom.
Yet, each day, when I wake up, I can’t wait to see which lilies will grace my yard with their glory. They require very little upkeep, and they propagate without my help. All I offer is a bit of weeding and fertilizing, and nature supplies the sun and soil weaving a tapestry of beauty. I don’t have a special macro lens for my camera so this is the best I can do as far as photography will allow me to capture the day’s offering.
“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not[l]arrayed like one of these.Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Matthew 6:28-