The week of Thanksgiving, my husband and I loaded into a three-car caravan, along with my parents, five of my siblings, and an assortment of spouses. We drove down into the heart of Louisiana. There, we split our time between the two sides of my extended family.
My mother’s people are Gremillions—very Cajun and Catholic—and are located in Baton Rouge.
Baton Rouge is just like most smallish cities. Not swampy at all, although it is flat and piney like the rest of the state. You can get good beignets and café au lait there, and all the mainstream grocery stores carry etouffee mix and Tony’s seasoning. Seafood is easy to find in abundance, and gas station signage (I saw a gas station called “Stop and Geaux” on this trip) brags about the “best shrimp po’boys around!” There is also good cheap coffee grounds—Community Coffee is the brand my mother carries back with her when she goes.
My father always stops at the same gas station/meat shop, between Lake Charles and Baton Rouge, where he stocks up on a week’s supply of boudin.
What is boudin, you ask? It’s a kind of fatty, meaty rice mixture, stuffed into a sausage casing and served hot. You eat it with your whole mouth—lips, teeth, and throat are all necessary to squeeze the rice mixture out of the casing and devour it.
I’m embarrassed to say that it’s delicious.
We don’t usually make the trip down south over Thanksgiving. In the past we went at New Year’s quite often. Sometimes, also, for a wedding, or during a summer holiday. But I don’t know why we never thought of going on Thanksgiving before; it was absolutely the perfect time to go.
Most people had one full day of stuffed-to-bursting table time. I had a week of it. Everybody else in America spent Thursday eating turkey and stuffing, and that’s all very well and good, but I got a full week of strange Cajun-Southern combinations: gumbo one night, turkey the next; jambalaya and etouffee on the same potluck table with fried chicken and salad. Sweet potato casserole laid out alongside au gratin potatoes; crawfish cooking in the fryer while a traditional beef roast baked in the oven.
It was a grand time.
In the morning, we tried to anticipate the coming day’s food by exercising. We organized a family 5K, rowed around in the swamps of Birds Nest (my dad’s people are English-Irish swamp folk), walked in the genteel neighborhoods of Baton Rouge, and hunted squirrels. These efforts at working up an appetite were never equal to the supply of food.
My father’s people, as I mentioned, live in Birds Nest. This is about an hour outside of Lake Charles, and it is always a riot of a time there. Our own party was larger than usual, because of the spousal additions, but we were only a drop in the bucket. This trip, the cousins had begun to produce children, so in addition to spouses and girlfriends and boyfriends, babies were being handed around liberally just to add to the general confusion and merriment.
The center of activity was two large homes on the same backwoods road—my grandparents’ and my uncle’s. The homes are within walking distance of one another, and the movement between them was constant. We had a family-wide compulsory talent show one evening (best entertainment I’ve witnessed in a long while) and a barn dance with a live band on the last night of the trip.
When we loaded up the cars for the ride home, many of us cried (it’s tradition). More memories made.
I’d proposed this trip to my family as sort of a ‘last hurrah’. Babies are on the way (yes, more than one in my immediate family, but that’s all I’ll say), and I figured this would be a great time to get all of us together for an adventure. By some miracle, everybody’s crazy schedule was able to accommodate it.
But from the beginning, we’ve all been assuming that the twelve hour drive south is not going to be as easy to manage when there are schedules AND young ones in the mix. At least, not all of us at once, like this time.
But the more I think about it, the sillier it is to me. Since when do children preclude wonderful family friendly trips like these? Families have been taking road trips for ages. What’s not fun about taking your young children along to introduce them to more people they are related to?
If it means more weeks like this one, I’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. Toddlers and all—we’ll just pick up and geaux.
Photo: My dad’s progeny (children and sons-in-law) in white. My aunt’s progeny are in red. My uncle’s progeny are in black. Granny and Grandpa are leading it all up. This fun photo was taken in a barn with a canvas dropcloth backdrop; one of the aunts orchestrated.