15th Annual Carrier Family Dance
January 1, 2012
“How you doin’?” says the man as we walk off the dance floor wiping the sweat off our faces. Chubby Carrier and his Bayou Swamp Band is in the middle of a smokin’ set of Zydeco at the Carrier Family Festival in Lawtell so I’m doing pretty damn well.
I launch into the litany of reasons I love this part of Louisiana. High on the list is the all-encompassing sense of friendliness I feel from people here. "When I was in Lafayette last March, a man in a local bar drew me a map so I wouldn’t get tangled up in traffic on Mardi Gras day."
“That’s the way we are down here,” the man says. “We aren’t trying to impress anyone, I don’t even think we know that we do it.” Surely there are random acts of kindness performed by strangers at home in Boston. There is nothing random about the friendly behavior here.
“I first came down here in 2008 and my life hasn’t been the same since,” I say with a grin. "I didn’t know much about zydeco and cajun music. This week I flew down here from Boston to dance to it for five days straight!" . And I tell him I never tasted gumbo or po boys or shrimp etouffee before then. “I never ever even heard of couchon de lait. Now I can tell whether or not gumbo has okra in it.”
Ricky Norman’s eyes twinkle. “I was raised in an okra patch,” he says,” with chickens and corn and pigs all around. We put up most of our own food. When I was about nine years old, I remember my father doing “boucheries”, slaughtering three or four hogs and making all kinds of food from them. A local TV station came by years ago to record the event and a museum in Lafayette has photos showing the whole process."
A generation or two ago, boucheries were usually held at homes on a rotating basis, a way to distribute fresh food to the families in the area in a time when country folk had no refrigeration. Boucheries were also social occasions in which tales were told, updates regarding romance, good or ill fortune discussed, and perhaps singing and dancing.
The hog's meat, internal organs, brains, and intestines were all used for some kind of food. Gratons (cracklins) were made by frying the skin, and boudin, sausage filled with hog’s meat and internal organs and rice, still are favorites here (and unknown in Boston). It is said that nothing was wasted in the process of butchering the hog except the squeal.
Ricky put two kids through college while working on an oil rig in the Gulf, two weeks on, five days off.
“My kids found jobs in California and Manhattan,” he says. “They warn me in advance that they want some home cooking when they come home to visit. Every time they leave, they take a cooler of food with them because they say their friends want to try some of the food they’ve heard them talk about.”
“Something else that knocks me out are the house parties people throw around here,” I shout over the music. “Parties I go to around Boston might have ten to twenty people. I just went to a house party yesterday that had over 100 people AND a live band!”
Ricky claps his hands together. “I'm 56 years old.That’s one of the first things I’m doing when I retire!” he shouts. “People throw house parties here all the time. I have a big concrete patio. I’m going to put a roof over it, get some lights going and my wife and I will be holding our own house parties.”
I'll bet that if I had asked for an invitation, he’d have put me on his guest list.
Photo by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.