By C. Paul Bergeron
Part 5: Sleepovers
Sleep overs were done on school nights and involved mostly
the rural kids. I would accompany a classmate or other schoolmate to his home after school, spend the night as one
of the children of the household, ate what they ate, did what they did, slept where they slept, helped with the chores.
The custom was reciprocal and my mother and the other mothers seemed to approve.
We were all poor. None of us had electricity or running water or sanitary plumbing. All of us had outhouses. All of us had substitutes for toilet tissue, but here there was a wide variety. Out dated issues of the Sears-Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs were popular. So was old newspaper. Sometimes there were rags cut from old clothing. Sometimes there was only Spanish moss. And one time there was only a basket full of corn cobs.
Many times the mattresses were different. Usually I wound up sleeping on the floor, as there were hardly ever enough beds and bedrooms to accommodate all the children. All mattresses were home made. Some were stuffed with feathers. That's mostly what we had at home. My mother plucked chickens, ducks and geese for our meals and saved every feather for our pillows and mattresses. These were soft and warm in the winter but awfully hot in the summer. Most mattresses were stuffed with cotton. There were some stuffed with dried Spanish moss, and these were pretty hard. The most unusual ones were stuffed with corn husks. They tended to be lumpy and noisy. Yes, noisy. Every time you moved there was a rustling sound as the husks moved within the mattress. It seems the husks never bonded into a unit but maintained their individuality.
Coush coush, cornbread, milk and cane syrup provided the fare for morning and evening meals. Sometimes there was some homemade bread. The coush coush and cornbread were usually made from yellow corn meal, ground from the corn grown there on the farm. Sometimes the milk was as bitter as quinine. There was a bitter weed that was called "arbsant" in French which grew profusely and infested just about every pasture in the area. Some people salvaged the milk by adding cane syrup, which masked the bitter taste somewhat. Sometimes the cow was dry and there was no milk. When this happened at our house, my mother burned sugar in a pot and added water, sort of how you burn flour to make a roux. I never did like the taste, but it was better than nothing.
In those days the noon meal was called dinner and the night meal was called supper. Dinner at our house and at other places where I had the privilege to partake included meat and rice and gravy and vegetables. There was no refrigeration, so fresh meat could not be kept for long, so the farmers formed a cooperative. Each member committed to furnishing one veal animal and one beef animal. A veal animal was slaughtered on Tuesday, and a beef animal was slaughtered on Saturday. The members shared equally. The oldest members in terms of age were appointed to see that the distribution was fair.
Some households kept their meat in a birdcage like contraption that was screened on all sides, hung in chinaball trees, which were noted for their cool shade.
When young people got together they many times made popcorn balls and drank "lemonade" made from vinegar sweetened with sugar or cane syrup. The popcorn was grown on the farm. Making pralines from pecans or sesame seeds mixed with cane syrup was also popular.
A Cajun Boyhood, by
C. Paul Bergeron
© 2007 by C. Paul Bergeron