Voices of Louisiana -- Quotations from Louisiana Folk

Louisiana Voices Educator's Guide  
Getting Started With This Guide  
Outline of the Study Guides  
Study Unit 1: Defining Terms  
Study Unit 2: Fieldwork Basics for Teachers  
Study Unit 3: Discovering the Obvious: Our Lives as "The Folk"  
Study Unit 4: The State of Our Lives: Being a Louisiana Neighbor  
Study Unit 5: Oral Traditions--Swapping Stories  
Study Unit 6: Louisiana's Musical Landscape  
Study Unit 7: Material Culture-The Stuff of Life  
Study Unit 8: The Worlds of Work and Play  
Study Unit 9: The Seasonal Round and Life Cycles  
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Voices of Louisiana
Quotations from Louisiana Folk

Children's, School, and Family Folklore

Louisiana's Folk Regions

Oral Traditions

Music Traditions

Material Culture/Crafts and Foodways

Occupational Traditions

Ritual Traditions


Children's, School, and Family Folklore

Games and Play

We children played outside under the fig trees. Emery Bourgeois was the farmer. I was his helper. Libbon . . . Bourgeois and his brothers, Mac and Willard, had filling stations. Howard may have been the engineer. I was the only girl farmer. Aunt Beulah reminded me of the many fights we had. Our whole machinery for the imaginary rice fields we planted were made from empty cans. Tin cans were treasured as toys. . . . Then we had to pretend we had wagons, horses, rice planters, and even a deep well, too. We made many canals and we would use the long handled water pump in the yard to irrigate our rice fields.

--Effie Andrepont, Acadia Parish

I loved to be alone. I'd go in the woods by myself a lot. I discovered a tree that turned like this and then it went up this way. I used to go sit on that. It was my tree. Nobody else knew about this tree, and it was like a horse. So I'd go sit on there and lay and just let my mind go. It would go to Bayou Pom Pom, a fictitious bayou in Cajun music where one can escape and get away from everything.

--Floyd Sonnier, Evangeline Parish

School Culture

I went to school at St. Andrews [Baptist Church]. After that--well before that, the preacher and his wife was living in the quarters and she was teaching us. Her name was Sarah Brown. Her husband was our pastor, and she was our teacher. . . . When the time was up we'd go in the fields, the school was closed then. I'm surprised if kids were learning anything then, I'm telling you the truth. And when it was time to pick cotton, you stopped. There was no more school then. When we could go, we were there. But when the time came, we had to hoe that cotton. I remember my little brother was a baby, Mama had to go, and I had to go home and nurse the baby and go to the field. I remember that.

--Lizzie Johnson, Magnolia Plantation, Natchitoches Parish

The Family

My daddy was a carpenter and my brother also became a carpenter later on. . . . I have cousins that were carpenters too, so the carpenter trade was in the family. I don't know exactly how.

--Amdee Castenell, Orleans Parish

Several men in the community felt the need for a barge to carry people across the high water to Berry Hill, which was a part of the Macon Ridge and consequently not under water [during the 1927 flood]. Therefore, a group of them met at one of the only dry places in town . . . to build a barge. Propelled by a five horsepower motor (big for that day!), the barge was large enough to carry two cars across at one time. Mr. Adams's brother-in-law from Baton Rouge flew over Winnsboro at this time to view the water. After returning home, he called to remark, "Yeah, I saw old Noah out there building his ark!" Hence from then on, Mr. Adams's family nickname was Noah.

--C.R. Adams, Franklin Parish

Decorative towels that hung over the wash basin gave the greeting "Dobre Jitro" (Good Morning). Pillowcases and bed curtains commended one to sleep sweetly. Popular kitchen cloths . . . contained proverbs familiar to the Czechs such as "Without Work You Cannot Eat Kolach," or "Where the Czech Housekeeper Cooks There is Good Living," and "Good Food and Good Drink Will Preserve the Quality of Your Life."

--Rosie A. Walker, Rapides Parish

Louisiana's Folk Regions

Sense of Place

To some people [Pointe Noire] extends from Plaquemine Brulée woods to Ray McGee's. . . . As you cross the road you're into Pointe Noire. Before the road, you're in Robert's Cove. Across the road, you cross Bayou Plaquemine Brulée there, see? And then you're in Pointe Noire.

--Pierre Daigle, Acadia Parish

[Isleños] started naming every lake, every pond, for what they left in the Canary Islands. That's how homesick they were.

--Irvan Perez, St. Bernard Parish

It is trite to say that Louisiana is culturally diverse. The truth is that few people realize the degree of complexity and variation in the cultures of the state. . . . Scholars divide the state into three major cultural regions, New Orleans, South Louisiana, and North Louisiana, each of which contains groups whose cultures remain distinct from that of the larger region.

--Maida Owens, East Baton Rouge Parish, from
"Louisiana's Traditional Cultures: An Overview"

The long leaf pine needles used to be plentiful in this area, and we [Koasati] never had any problem getting them. It's not at all like today, when all of the land is posted and the best trees have been clearcut by the timber companies, who re-forest with a shorter leafed tree. Today to get the needles you have to drive a really long way to find the trees, and even then you risk snakes by going deep into the woods. If you want to buy your needles, it's very expensive.

--Loris Langley, Allen Parish

[Working in North Louisiana swamp country as a "woods cowboy" wearing rubber boots with spurs and working with Indian-bred Catahoula herding dogs was tough.] A woods cowboy is a man that can go in these thickets here. . . . They take these range cattle, most people say "wild cattle," they're not used to bein' handled. They live here in these woods. . . you don't put 'em up in a pasture and feed 'em. And they can make it, cause if the grass gets short I have seen them old cows rare up just like a goat and get that moss down out of them trees and eat it. . . . They got to be tough to keep away the coyotes, cats, and wolves and stuff.

--Brownie Ford, Caldwell Parish

Oral Traditions

Traditional Learning Process

In Louisiana Indian communities, there now exists a new genre of folklore--mostly concerning anthropologists and folklorists. Stories abound about the "giants of academia. . . ." Perhaps the most astounding thing to Indian people is the apparent inability of these "trained" people to remember what they see or hear. One Coushatta elder put it candidly, "Why can't anthropologists learn our language or remember what we say--they have to take notes or make tapes. We all learn without doing that!" Indians somehow noticed that professors were terribly "slow learners" by Indian standards. In Indian communities some people knew three to four languages; anthropologists and folklorists were having trouble learning what children already knew!

-- H. F. "Pete" Gregory, Natchitoches Parish from Louisiana's Native Americans: An Overview

Ghost Lore

A certain place at Evergreen you would pass there and you would always hear somebody murmuring, and that's the place I used to be scared. When I'd get to the certain place, my hair look like it would stand up straight on my head. But I'm positive that a lot of people saw ghosts at Evergreen and at the "big garden" [La Petit Versailles].

--Grace Populas, St. John Parish


As I would go from place to place, . . . some of these storytelling events . . . didn't work out sometimes. Lots of people have different ideas of who I am, who the Indian people are. If I don't put together an atmosphere to tell my stories, it doesn't work. All they expect to see is me with feathers and a drum and bow-and-arrow. I can't take the stories anywhere like that. . . . "Put that Indian on, let him tell a few stories. In fifteen minutes, he's off the stage. . . ." They shouldn't be treating these people this way. They should be able to listen to their stories in a place or atmosphere where they feel comfortable.

--Bertney Langley, Allen Parish
from A Storyteller's Perspective

Language and Dialect

My family, the Freys, are from Alsace-Lorraine, a part of France that is right next to Germany. Most people consider us to be German, and we might as well be. When I was growing up, the porch talk was done in German and French. I can remember a question would be asked in German and the answer would be given in French.

--Larry "Bubba" Frey, Acadia Parish

Folk and Family Heroes and Heroines

All that spring, Mama was talking about Tuskegee, and I was talking about Tuskegee. And there was a period of time that they weren't talking about Tuskegee too much. But I never gave up. . . . My daddy said, "Well, I'm going to put in more cotton, and I'm going to plant an extra couple acres. Whatever that yield, we're going to use that money for going to school." One day my daddy came home with a trunk. And I knew then he had faith enough to know that I was going to be able to go to college. And then the university had sent an itemized list of things that you were to bring--galoshes, umbrellas--I never had seen galoshes before! My daddy had gone and bought galoshes for me and brought them back. I was the first one in my family to go to college. When he brought the galoshes, I don't think I slept the whole week. I was so proud of my galoshes. And I studied my list and my checkoff. Whatever he get, I put it in that trunk.

--Fochia Wilson, Tangipahoa Parish

Tall Tales and Urban Legends

I want to tell you a story about some cold weather we had up there one time--about two years ago it got real cold. A fellow had a pond right close to his house there and late that evening--it was a real cold day--a flock of geese come over and stopped in his pond to spend the night, and it got real cold that night and everything froze over, and this fellow decided he would go down there the next morning and shoot a few of them geese. He got down there and their feet was froze in that pond and they couldn't fly. They got to flopping their wings, and he got to shooting them, and they finally go to flapping their wings together and they flew off with his pond.

--Lonny Gray, Union Parish

First Contact: Indians meet the Europeans

My mother remembers that we had to go to the back of the bus in those days, too, until the Civil Rights Movement changed some of that. It's funny now to watch all those folks who didn't want to have anything to do with us come swarming back to get jobs at the casino and try to get on our rolls again now that they think we have money.

--Bertney Langley, Allen Parish

Of course, we didn't have a reservation in those days, because the Federal government terminated our tribe from the rolls of all Federal Indian tribes in Washington, D.C., during the Eisenhower administration. I like to tell our children that the pen is truly mightier than the sword, because we went to bed one night in 1953 as Indians in the eyes of the Federal government, and the next day we woke up and were no longer considered Indians.

--Bertney Langley, Allen Parish

Historical Legends

The Gullett Gin Company--one of the largest, and I think at one time, only company in the world that made cotton gins--is located here. The people founded it, owned it, and ran it for years. . . . The story is that the old patriarch of the family had a pet deer. And after he died, the deer went wild, and they had to put it to sleep. The deer is buried in the cemetery on Mr. Gullett's lot. Her name was "Beauty." And she has a marker!

--Leah Beth Simpson, Tangipahoa Parish

Personal Experience Narratives

I started school at Morning Star Baptist Church, in Natchez. We lived on Cane River. Now this was the public school system. This is where we were taught; our classes were taught in the churches. I remember crying in school at lunch time, because the teacher wanted me to play with other kids, but their favorite game was baptizing. . . . They'd hold you back like they were dipping you in the river. They said you had to shout. Well I wasn't about to shout. Sometimes I would get sick before lunchtime, and they had to take me across the river to my brother; because my brother was in the building right there. You know where the post office is in Natchez? A little past there out in the field, that's where the school was. So the teacher would have to send one of the older students to take me over to my brother, so I wouldn't have to play baptizing.

--Mary Llorens Listach, Natchitoches Parish

Music Traditions

Cultural Pride

My culture is no better than anybody else's culture. My people were no better than anybody else. And yet I will not accept it as a second-class culture. It's my culture. It's the best culture for me. Now, I would expect, if you have a different culture, that you would feel the same about yours as I feel about mine.

--Dewey Balfa, Cajun Musician, Basile, Acadia Parish

The Joys of Music

When a person sings, he can forget how hard his life is.

--Canray Fontenot, Creole musician, St. Landry Parish

Everybody's got to die for himself. No, I ain't afraid of dying. If I don't get well, I'd just as well I died . . . God gave me the gift to play and I'm going to do it as long as I can.

--Robert Pete Williams, Bluesman, Maringouin,
West Baton Rouge Parish

Sound and Place

I grew up hearing Cajun music all my life, but like most teenagers I got side tracked and wanted to hear popular music. . . It didn't take me long to realize that we had something very special here. . . . It's our music. It's who we are.

-- Christine Balfa, Cajun Musician, St. Martin Parish

You can go to everybody's house and everybody don't cook gumbo the same. Some people have chicken wings, . . . hot sausage, shrimp, crabs, . . . chicken feets. Depends what flavor you put it in. That's the way the music is. It's the way you step in it. . . What kind of groove you put to it. That's what the music is about, putting a groove to it, a great feeling to it.

-- Benny Jones, Tremé Brass Band, Orleans Parish

I remember the first old radio we had in our home. At first it had earphones--that was the only way you could listen to it--was plug the earphone in it. Then later on somebody got smart and invented a speaker, and it looked like a great big tuba that you see in these brass bands. Boy, they really had something then, but you still had that wolf howl when somebody down the road was tuning his set in; boy, it would knock your ears off--oooooh! That'd go on for hours, and static! You never heard as much static in your life as it was on the radio. And the only stations you could get really was at night, and then WLW Cincinnati, and then you had WSM in Nashville which everybody favored on Saturday night because of the Grand Old Opry.

--Eddie Raxdale, North Louisiana String Band fiddler,
Rapides Parish

Generational Music Communities

The fiddle was the first thing I picked up. I think I got my inspiration from my uncle. He was a real fine fiddle player; he had a fiddle; I guess he played it more than anything else he owned. He didn't want anyone to touch his fiddle, especially a kid, and I'd wait until he was gone-he didn't keep it in a case-he kept it on top of an old upright piano. I'd sneak it down while he was gone and try a little tune or two on it, and I'd put it back up when I thought he was coming back. He slipped in on me one day just as I learned to play. The first tune that I learned was "Jingle Bells," and I was playing it on one string with one finger, and I was sliding it up and down. It sounded horrible, but you could recognize the tune, and he was amazed at me. He said, "Are you interested in learning how to play a fiddle?" I said, "Yes, I am." He said, "You quit doing what you're doing right now. You'll never learn nothing like that." So he taught me how to run the scale on the fiddle and went and bought me one-a little three-quarter size.

-- Eddie Raxdale, Fiddler, Alexandria, Rapides Parish

My father was a singer. My mother sang, too. She learned mostly from her mother. I imagine a long time ago they had to have some kind of pleasure for the children. So my music came down that way, through the generations. I learned to sing from my mother. . . . I sang even though Mom told me I didn't have a good voice. I would just sing because I wanted to sing. We often sat together and Mom would watch me while I tried to sing. She would say, "O Lord, you don't know how to sing. Your tongue is too heavy." She sang in a rich, deep voice, but I can't do that. My voice comes from right on top. I tried to sing deep like Mom, but I would be forcing myself and I know I can't do it like that, so I have to do it the natural way, just like I can do it. It's better for you to just act natural than to pretend something you know you can't do, you know?

-- Inez Catalon, Creole ballad singer, Kaplan, Vermilion Parish

My dad, grandfather, and great-grandfather all played four-string show-boat banjo on the steamboats, among many other instruments, and my great-grandfather was also the captain of the Lizzie Castle, which pushed show boats on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. I spent seventeen years as the interlocutor, which is something like a combination emcee and social director, on the Delta Queen. I guess I have this in my blood-it's like a disease. I read music, but as Louis Armstrong said, "not enough to interfere with the enjoyment of my playing." The finale of my act used to be playing "Tiger Rag" on the five instruments at once. I'd play the accordion with my left hand, the xylophone with three mallets in my right hand, the harmonica in my mouth with a neck rack, the bass drum with my right foot, and a sock cymbal with my left foot.

-- Vic Tooker, Musician, Orleans Parish

Moving to Music

You do whatever step you can do. You may not be in a time with the music, but you are enjoying yourself. That's the spirit of the traditional New Orleans [music].

-- Lionel Batiste, Tremé Brass Band, Orleans Parish

[Easter Rock] was real spiritual to me. . . .[Now] you got more younger people that's participating and before they Rock, . . . I let them know that it's nothing to play with. . . . You don't dance, you don't play. If you sincere about it then you Rock. . . [I teach the children] the same way that I saw how to do it, . . . And I let them know, you know, just like I said, that they don't play. If I think they dancing, or got a little dance in it, I stop [them]. . . . It is just a little hop from one side to the other. But you got to get the step, you know, you got to stay in the move with it, . . . They love to dance, and I just let them know that they aren't dancing, that they going to have to get it the way we was brought up to do it, or they don't Rock. . . . They can't add to it, if they just get down with it, I stop and let them know.

-- Hattie Addison, Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble, Franklin Parish

You ain't supposed to cross your legs. . . They say you're dancing when you cross your legs.

-- Ellen Addison, Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble, Franklin Parish

Music Is Business

I started at four.... I danced mostly when I got to first grade, which is six. . . . There was this dance at that time, they call the Sloth. And it was a dance where you take one hand and you swing and you back up your feet. Not the Michael Jackson back-up. . . .You go up and down and you would shake. . . . At one time I used to do the dance, and I'd just pick up all the money and put it in my pocket. But my daddy had me to practice at the house. "Boy, I know how you could make more money." I say, "What, Dad?" "It would be exciting if when they'd be throwing you the coins, you dance and pick up the money at the same time." So that's what I started doing for more money because it made it more exciting. "Look at him. Look at him. He can dance and pick up the money at the same time."

-- Celton J. Potier, zydeco dance instructor, Duson, Lafayette Parish

The way we organized, one Saturday evening we decided we'd get a group of us together. Brother Pete and R.C. and myself. We walked to Spring Creek, and Brother Rufe was up in the swamp, fishin'. It seem like today, when it come back to me. We called him like one of the disciples called Peter, called him off the creek bank and said come down here and meet us. We had a job for him to do and we organized right there on that bridge, fifty years ago this coming August.

I called it to order, the first day we started out. We had a prayer service right there on the bridge, just the group. And then we began to get our rules together, that we was going to live by. The first and most important rule was don't let no girl or no bottle ever interfere with the group. If we be somewhere, early, sitting' around in the car before the program, if the girls come up to the car, get out! Don't never let no one-on-one be standing' around talking. If you in a bunch, laugh and talk and have fun, but don't take no seriousness to it. And if you drink, you don't sing. We didn't need you, regardless how good you was, cause we was gonna do this religious. I remember we said, "Boys, we boys now, but we got to be men to do this job."

I well remember when we sang our first church appearance in a program at Kentwood, at Sweet Home. Everybody got stalled for words, nobody could lead and there always got to be a break-off. And it fell my lot, and I remember singing "Where Jesus Lead Me, I'll follow." And that's all it took. Now I wasn't a lead singer, but after I broke out Pete caught it, and tore house all asunder.

-- John Brumfield, Bolivar Humming Four, Tangipahoa Parish

Words of Wisdom

Where you come from is what you are. Whatever you are, be that. Don't try to be more than you are, and you'll always make it. Don't go above your means. What fits you, stick with it, you know. That's what I did. I figured French music fit me and I stayed with it. Rock & Roll didn't get me that Grammy. Zydeco got me that Grammy. Maybe that's going to show some of the young ones that's where it's at, right here. People don't know that. It's here. Just got to do something with it, that's all.

--Clifton Chenier, zydeco musician, St. Landry Parish

Material Culture/Crafts and Foodways

Cultural Continuity

There's not a lot going on in Itta Bena so you learn to tat and chat at the same time.

--Susan Dollar, Natchitoches Parish

A culture must be preserved one generation at a time.

--Dewey Balfa, Acadia Parish

To make a good roux, constant stirring is a must. Don't answer the door if there's a knock, and don't answer the phone if it rings -- a roux needs constant attention, so keep your eyes riveted to the inside of the pot the whole time. Start with slightly more flour than oil, making a cream-colored paste. About halfway through the process, the roux will become more liquid, but it will thicken to paste consistency again as it is near completion. Remember, stick with your stirring spoon.

--Maude Ancelet, Lafayette Parish

I am always seeking for most of the older [Chitimacha basket] designs. I feel that this is a way of preserving the natural history of my culture. My basket weaving provides a better living for my family.

--Melissa Darden Brown, St. Mary Parish

Cultural Variation

You can go to everybody's house and everybody don't cook gumbo the same. Same people have chicken wings, . . . sausage, shrimp, crabs, . . . chicken feets. Depends what flavor you put it in. That's the way the music is. It's the way you step in it. . . . What kind of groove you put to it. That's what the music is about, putting a groove to it, a great feeling to it.

--Benny Jones, Tréme Brass Band, Orleans Parish

Speaking of Crafts

A round basket is just like a person--it has thirty-three ribs when finished. You only lay down thirty-two, but then you have to add another.

--Azzie Roland, Union Parish from Keeping It Alive

When I was a little girl my paw-paw used to bring the moss in from the swamps and up the bayou on his flat boat and then he dumped it in piles and we had to keep it wet all the time. It had to be continually turned, you had to turn it all the time to keep the bottom from getting hot. They used buckets of water from the ditches and bayous cause they didn't have no hosepipes in those days. And, oh, how the children did love it cause they got to play in the water. Sometimes though it got out of hand and paw-paw would fuss at us. Then when the black crust fell off the moss they hung it on the cyprus [sic] fence or string clothes lines for it. Then the man from the gin would come around and buy it. I didn't sleep on a cotton bed until 1931 when I got married cause all we had when I was a girl were moss mattresses. But my husband's family they raised a little cotton so they had cotton mattresses.

--Anonymous 80-year-old woman, Lafourche Parish

I've made so many [pine needle baskets] that now I can make any size or shape I can see in my head. There's no pattern for these [Koasati] baskets. I just have to do it by feel. I have to know how to start it and make it uniform in the stitching. You can see from different baskets that everyone has different styles. No two are alike.

--Loris Langley, Allen Parish

It's a difference in seeing something out your eye. This [walking] stick, this is imagination until I bring it out to what it's going to be. Imagination don't leave because it's in your mind.

--David Allen, Claiborne Parish

I've been quilting since I was old enough to sew. My mother always done that, and I was a nosey little old girl, and I always stood in the way. Every scrap she'd drop, why, I'd pick it up and sew. I kept sewing until I got where I could make a good block, and she put it in her quilt as encouragement.

--Cloaner Smith, Claiborne Parish
--from "Traditional Quiltmaking in Louisiana", by Susan Roach

We'd have quiltings then, you know . . . we'd sit there and quilt out sometimes two or three quilts a day. You see, two people would cook, and the rest of ‘em would quilt. They be there singing and having fun quilting. Well, it'd be in the first of the fall, at that time, ‘cause we would have a fire in the hearth, and peanuts and potatoes, you know, and my uncle would go and kill squirrels and coons and stuff like that, rabbits, and we'd be just cooking molasses and bread and maybe peanut candy, and stuff. Oh, we'd have a good time. You'd have five or six ladies who'd stay till first night, then their husbands would come get them.

--Turlie Richardson, West Feliciana Parish

I bought the whole workshop from an old man. He raised twelve kids and provided for his family by making a living from the making of furniture and putting hide-bottoms in chairs. . . . There is a doctor in these parts that was raised in Mississippi who says he was twenty years old before he knew that there was any other kind of chair. That was more or less the way I was. We just always had ‘em.

--Herman Davis, Sabine Parish

Family Foodways

When my father's bourré club came over to play cards, my mother always served them matzoh balls.

--Carolyn Masur, Assumption and Ouachita Parishes
from "Jewish Folklore in Northeast Louisiana", by Ben Sandmel

In November, we start grinding canes. I start making syrup as soon as I get the juice. Squeezing the canes is not the problem. The problem is to cook the syrup, you're in trouble from then on. I cook as much as six hours for one pot of syrup.

--Edwin Normand, Avoyelles Parish

Occupational Traditions

Cultural Continuity

I'm not going to be around that much longer, and I want someone to carry on the trade so that it doesn't die out with me. I have two boys but they aren't interested in being mechanics. I want someone to learn how to blacksmith so that it will be passed on.

--Jack Taylor, Webster Parish

On Working

I don't know what I ain't did in my life. I done work so much, girl. I done plant cane, I done hoe cane, and I done cut cane. I done work at Celotex. Ma daddy had me plowing for him to plant corn and cane. I done been an overseer, sat on a horse from seven in the morning to four--in the field--I can cook and wash, and iron. Let me tell y'all one thing. Work don't kill nobody. If it had to kill, it would kill me. And at that, I was sewing for out. I'd take my sewing around nine o'clock and I'd sew till two o'clock in the morning. Then I'd go to bed, and get up in the morning to go to work.

--Lucretia Becnel, St. John Parish

On the bottom of the ladder you have what you call a roustabout, who runs around and does everything that nobody else wants to do. He's a "grunt." He unloads and stacks pipe, mops, cleans, paints, that kind of thing. . . . After roustabouts, you have the floorman, who is also known as a roughneck. They work the actual drilling floor on the rigs, and make up or break up the pipe. Their job is probably the most dangerous. There was, and still is, a macho stigma attached to that job--some of the oldtimers especially might sort of be proud of having lost a finger or whatever. The description of a typical roughneck or roustabout used to be that he weighed 250 pounds or more, that at least three-quarters of that was located above his belt-line, and that he used a two-inch bull-plug for a hard-hat. In other words, he was a pin-head, and the job called for all brawn and no brains, which really isn't true.

--John Vidrine, Lafayette Parish
from Oilfield Lore, by Ben Sandmel

The floors were scrubbed with water that had to be brought in from the well and the detergent we used was a strong washing powder called "Gold Dust." Really its name was "Gold Dust Twins. . . ." The menfolk of the family made this scrub from a rectangular piece of board that had been bored with an auger. It had about eight holes in it and a hole in the middle for the handle. Then into those holes were drawn shucks. The floor was scrubbed with that scrub and washing powder, and then it was carefully rinsed with two or three clear waters. Then all that was swept up with a straw broom. The straw brooms were made in the fall from straw gathered in the field and bound into brooms. After the water had been swept off, they wiped up with a cloth, generally a fifty-pound flour sack. I recall as a child skating across the floors with that cloth to wipe up the excess water.

--Vivian Womack, St. Helena Parish

Grown-ups At Play

For anybody that's never heard a pack of good running deer hounds running a deer on a good frosty, cold morning, if that don't get your heart to thumping, you ought not to be deer hunting anyhow.

--Bobby Joe Chandler, Winn Parish
from Deer Hunting with Dogs, by Terry L. Jones

Tramp boats served the great purpose of entertaining people. We'd pull into little towns that didn't even have a newspaper, let alone a television station, and when we'd start playing the calliope, people would come from miles around. In those days, middle America didn't have much entertainment at home, and the only way of cooling off was to sit out on the front porch swing. We provided entertainment and a nice breeze off the river. Once people could sit in air-conditioned comfort and watch Milton Berle on the tube, our purpose was replaced, and the business started dying.

--Captain Clarke "Doc" Hawley, Orleans Parish
from Big River Traditions: Folklife on the Mississippi, by Ben Sandmel

Ritual Traditions

Egg Knocking

It's Easter Sunday morning in Marksville, Louisiana. Many of the townspeople are attending services at the various local churches. Meanwhile, Brent Scallan and Mike Bordelon hurry to set up tables and chairs for registration and a loud speaker system they will use in the big egg knocking contest that will begin soon, after the church crowd arrives. Brent will be the Master of Ceremonies, a capacity in which he has served for the past thirteen years, since he was eighteen years old. Mike, as his assistant, will be in charge of registration, as well as helping to keep everyone organized, and checking eggs at knocking time (to make sure that each contestant is using only the three eggs he or she has had registered, stamped and numbered). Years ago, Mike, now age forty five, was the announcer. Now he leaves that task to Brent. When it is time to begin, Brent calls out, "Last call to register your eggs." Then starts the T-toddler contest for children under eight. Their prizes will be baskets of Easter candy. A few adults are still scrambling to get their eggs registered. Brent calls out for numbers one through forty to line up on the steps. Mike is checking the eggs, making sure everyone is there, helping people find the knocking partners. And the big moment is here! "Ready! Knock!" Brent continues, reminding the contestants, "If all your eggs are cracked, please step down. If your eggs are not cracked, pair up with the next person in line and continue knocking. If you are finished knocking, please move off the steps." Soon there will be a winner, and a great, fun tradition continues in Marksville.

--Sheri Lane Dunbar from,
"If Your Eggs Are Cracked, Please Step Down": Easter Egg Knocking in Marksville,
by Sheri Lane Dunbar

Halloween vs. Mardi Gras

If you wear a rubber mask, that's Halloween, not Mardi Gras. If you wear face paint, that's Halloween. Screen masks are Mardi Gras--and only Mardi Gras.

--J.B. LeBlue, Acadia Parish

New Year's

For New Year, we would cook cabbage. Some people would cook black-eyed peas. That way, you would always have money for the year. And we had to have our egg nog. That was one tradition waiting for the New Year to come in. And when the New Year would come in, Daddy would take his gun and let us shoot a few rounds to bring in the New Year.

--Grace Populas, St. John Parish

May: the Month of Mary

We looked forward to the month of May. We had Novenas in different homes to recite the rosary. . . . Sounds of laughter and singing could be heard as . . . neighbors from miles around . . . all walked together in the moonlight. Bessie recalls the jasmine perfume filed the air a half mile away as Tante Venance had many jasmine plants in bloom. . . . When the 100 or 150 people arrived the novena was recited. Men and women knelt down anywhere they could find. The rosary was recited in the kitchen, led by Tante Venance. Many people knelt on porches and in the yard. . . . Let us remember these novenas were in the time before electricity. Try to imagine 150 people visiting your home while electricity was out.

--Effie Andrepont, Acadia Parish

Holiday of the New Day -- Iranian Traditions

One of the most important things to do [for an Iranian Jashneh-Aide-a-Norus or Celebration of the Holiday of the New Day] is to prepare a Haft Sin which consists of seven items needed for daily life and whose names all begin with the "s" sound in the Farsi language. Some traditional items for the Haft Sin are: Sabzeh, the first growth of green shoots of barley, wheat, or lentil; Samanou, a sweet. . .; Sib, apples; Sekeh, coins (gold or silver--that you may be prosperous in the new year), these are often placed on the Koran Sepan, burned in daily life as an incense to prevent disease, illness, and bad luck; Sombol, hyacinths, the first spring flowers; and Saw'at, a clock.

--Fereshdeh Rasti, East Baton Rouge Parish

Giving Back to the Community

I can remember right here in this [funeral home] a daughter came to do her mother's hair, and I went to help her. There were many times I would do hair on my own--to help tie bows and to be sure everything was right. . . . I did whatever was necessary. . . . I was just a community member. You know people just like you would say, "How do you do that?" And I'd say, "Well, you have friends, and they get sick and they die. And these are our friends, too. We've grown up with them; we've known them all our lives; we know their families; we know their children." And so we felt like we were being as helpful as if a neighbor went into the house to tend to people. Even though it was our livelihood, we didn't try to make it just our livelihood. We tried to give back to the community.

--Gene McKneely, Tangipahoa Parish

First Communion

Your First Communion was usually made when you were in 2nd grade of schooling. Girls wore a white dress, veil, communion pin, white socks and white shoes. Girls were given Crystal Rosary as the male child received Ruby Rosaries. . . . This period began your life as a Christian and to become accountable for what is morally right.

--Barbara Trevigne, Orleans Parish

Croatian Marriage Traditions

[When one Croatian marries another] the conversation is more in Croatian than in English. . . . The band plays a dancing piece or two of Croatian music [polkas and waltzes, and amateur musicians are likely to pull out an accordion and begin singing]. If it is the score of a popular song, the guests may break into song and sing along. During intermissions, the men form into a group and sing traditional songs.

--Milos Vujnovich, Plaquemines Parish

Native American Medicine Women

In those days, we couldn't afford to go to the doctor unless someone was really sick and nothing else worked. The movies have stereotyped Indians as having medicine men, so a lot of people think we had them, but I don't remember a medicine man in our tribe when I was growing up. I remember medicine ladies. My grandmother was a medicine lady. I think she was the last one in my family to do the medicine that we have retained from a long time ago. . . . She said, 'After I am gone, there will be no need for these kinds of practices anymore.' She told my mother that we would be able to use the white people's medicine, and it's a whole lot easier to do.

--Bertney Langley, Allen Parish


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