Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Chicken Stew (Cajun Style)

Sunday at my house was chicken day.  As long as I can remember, Momma would cook chicken on Sunday.  She would stew the chicken more often than not.  We always ate it over rice.  Momma would serve a simple coleslaw made with a little vinegar, salt and black pepper.  She also usually cooked up a green bean dish to go along with the stew.

1 stewing chicken cut up
½ cup oil (Canola is good but I usually use olive oil.  I’ve tried using a little less oil, but you’ll
            need every drop of it for the roux.
3 tbs flour
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 small bell pepper chopped
2 fresh cayenne peppers (You can use any kind of pepper with heat here.  Just remember that           different peppers taste different and pack different amounts of heat.)
4-6 mushrooms, chopped
2 cups chicken broth or stock
2 or 3 medium potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
¼ cup onion tops or shallots, chopped
2 tbs parsley or cilantro, chopped (I use cilantro, but it is an acquired taste and not a part of the
Cajun diet.)

Heat the oil.  While it is heating, season the chicken.  (I use a little salt, black pepper and ground cayenne pepper.  Add the chicken to the hot oil and brown.  Remove the chicken and set aside.  (I usually let is drain on a paper towel or two.)  Add the flour to the oil/drippings and stir constantly until browned.  (That’s your roux and I like it about a tan color for chicken stew.)  Lower the heat and add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and cayenne peppers to the roux.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the onion is translucent.  Add the chopped mushrooms and cook about one or two minutes more, until mushrooms look cooked.  Add the broth, potatoes, and return the chicken.  Cover and simmer for two or three hours.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.  Add parsley and onion tops about five minutes before serving.  Serve over hot rice with coleslaw and green beans on the side.  A beer or glass of white wine goes good with this.  C’est bon.

Leave a comment if you've got a different version or you do something different. You can bet I'll try it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Searching for Lilith

Searching for Lilith: A Cajun PI Series by [Roy, Jude]

When part time Criminal Justice teacher and detective, John Legrand, answers chemistry teacher, Zack Miller's phone call wanting him to find his daughter Lilith, missing for over twenty years, he figures it will be a simple missing person case. However, it is anything but simple. John traces Sandy Miller, Zack's wife, to post-Katrina New Orleans and learns that Sandy is in Houston. The only problem is that she recently died in a house fire. Sandy's daughter has disappeared, but is she really Zack's daughter, or is she the offspring of Sandy and Anthony Wates, an attorney working for drug kingpin, Carlos Garza? John finds out that Annie Wates, Sandy's daughter is in Springfield, Missouri. He arrives just as Garza's sniper tries to kill her and her new friend, Tyler Royston. Unbeknownst to Annie she possesses information that could destroy Anthony and possibly Carlos too.
LeGrand has only one choice. He has to save the two kids, and the only way to do that is to lure the killers to his turf, where he plans to set a trap. But will it work?
Searching for Lilith takes you on a rollercoaster ride from Ellisonville, Louisiana to New Orleans, Houston, Springfield, Missouri, and back to Ellisonville. It is filled with mystery, suspense, and budding love affairs.

I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

God is Cajun

When Jessie was three years old, she asked me if there was a god because Eddie, our neighbor's seven-year-old, had told her that God was everywhere, watching her, and would punish her if he saw her doing anything wrong. At three years old, Jessie was a precocious young girl, and I could see that this information troubled her. I would have to consider my answer carefully.
"Yes," I told her. "Eddie is right."
Her eyes widened, and she looked around nervously.
"Why can't I see him?" she asked in a tiny voice.
"But you can," I said. "Look around you. There are signs of God everywhere."
She looked around again, curious this time.
"I still don't see him," she said, disappointed.
"What are you looking for?"
"God, silly daddy." She placed her hands on her hips and thrust them forward, a mannerism she inherited from her great-grandfather on her mother's side.
"What does God look like?" I prodded, trying to remember she was only three years old.
"Eddie said he was a big man with long white hair, a long white beard, and eyes blue like the sky." She paused. "That's what he said."
"See anybody like that around here?"
"No, silly daddy."
"He would stand out, wouldn't he?"
"Stand out where?"
"Never mind," I said, regretting my small attempt at levity. This was a serious matter for her, and I needed to handle it with all the dignity and compassion I could muster.
"Honey, if Eddie believes that God is big, white-haired, and blue-eyed, that's his prerogative."
"His what?"
"His right. His choice. Eddie probably believes that because he is a boy with blond hair and blue eyes. People tend to picture God as someone who has the same features as them. Some people believe God is a woman."
Like Momma?"
"Uh, huh, and like you're going to be."
She was silent for a moment. Her face reflected the struggle her young mind was going through trying to deal with the information I had just given her—arched eyebrows; furrowed forehead.
"How can God be both a woman and a man?"
"Some people believe God is nothing more than an idea."
"That God is not man or woman or black or white or whatever—that God is all of these."
This was too much for her. She rolled her eyes heavenward and collapsed on the soft grass at our feet. I hunkered down next to her.
"I don't understand, Daddy."
"Put your hand on your chest. What do you feel?"
"Nothing," she said.
"Concentrate. What's going on inside your body?"
"I can feel my heart beating. Ka thump. Ka thump. Ka thump."
"Good. What else?"
"Nothing, Daddy."
"Concentrate. Look down at your hand. What's happening?"
She stared at her hand.
"It's moving up and down."
"Cause I'm breathing."
"Exactly. Your heart is beating and you are breathing. What does that mean?"
She thought for a while.
"I don't know, Daddy."
"Think hard."
I watched her struggle for a few moments.
"I really don't know, Daddy."
"That's all right. It means you are alive. Some people believe that God is the essence of life."
"God is the beat of your heart; the rush of air in your lungs; the blood coursing through your veins. So when you look at yourself, or me, or Momma, or your baby brother, you are seeing signs of God."
She looked at me, her sky-blue eyes searching mine carefully.
"That's not all, though." She rolled her eyes again. I smiled. "You see signs of God everywhere you see life: in the air that moves that old oak tree by the barn there; in the oak tree itself; in my chickens, in Eddie's goat; in the very grass at your feet."
"In Eddie, too?"
"Now you're getting the idea. Yes, in Eddie's blue eyes and blond hair."
"So Eddie was right? God is everywhere?"
"Yes. God is everywhere."
She hesitated.
"Can God punish, too, like Eddie said?"
"Yes, God can punish, too." Her eyes widened. "If you don't take care of your body, it won't work right. That's punishment of sorts. If you do not take care of the trees, the animals, the air, the water, and the life that courses over and through the earth, you won't have those things, and that's the worst punishment of all. So Eddie was right, Honey. God can punish."
My daughter sat and thought for a long while after that. I imagined that she was assimilating the information I had given her and trying to make sense of it all. Some questions I hoped she would not ask because I don't think I could have answered them. She would have to grow up and find her own answers. All I could do at this stage was show her that any question about God elicited many more questions, and that like all questions and answers, everything depended on who was asking and who was answering.
After a while, she looked up at me, her blue eyes reflecting the life around us.
"Daddy, is God Cajun?"
"Certainment, ma petite," I said and hugged her tightly. "It could never be any other way."
She laughed and struggled playfully against my grasp.
The world was right again.

Today is Jessie's birthday, and I thought I would revisit an essay I wrote when she was three years old. She's a woman now, an intelligent and caring woman, and I'm sure that her god is as proud of her as I am. A version of this essay appeared in The Eclectic Journal, November 1997.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Herbie Hodge

Herbie Hodge

I watched one episode of the television show "Survivors because a colleague told me it was good. These people were not survivors. I knew a real survivor and believe me these television actors were not survivors. Herbie Hodge would have put them all to shame.
On May 13, 1945, just after noon on the island of Okinawa, Sergeant Herbert Hodge lay blind, almost dead, under the blistering Okinawa sun. Seven slugs from a Japanese .31 caliber machine gun pierced his mangled body. He listened to the prayers of the wounded and dying who lay shot next to him and heard their frantic cries for corpsmen. He ached to help them but he couldn't see or move; his left arm was shattered and he was bleeding from seven different holes in his upper torso.
The corpsmen finally reached him. Herbie was lifted onto a jeep and driven away. The strain and loss of blood caused him to go into a coma on the trip to the navy hospital. He remained in a coma for eight days
The navy doctor did a cursory visual examination of Herbie and shook his head. His recommendation: shoot Herbie full of morphine and let him die painlessly.
Fortunately for Herbie, a corpsman friend of his on the scene did not accept the doctor's diagnosis. He found a jeep and drove a few miles to a hospital further up the road where an army captain promised to try to save Herbie’s life, but he was doubtful.
Herbie lost his left arm that day in 1945, but he was alive.
The matronly nurse at the army hospital would not leave Herbie alone. She scolded him when he began to pity himself. She spoon-fed him. She changed his cloths and made his bed. There was no room for self-pity in her hospital. She literally forced him to start living again. She was as instrumental as the army captain and the corpsman were in saving Herbie's life.
When I knew Herbie, he worked as the supervisor of the Veteran Representatives on Campus for the Massachusetts area located on the fourth floor of Boston’s John F. Kennedy Building. He was a GS-11. After he left the marines in 1947, he started as a messenger for the VA Hospital at 17 Court Street, Boston. His main duty was carrying medical folders from floor to floor in the multi-storied building. He was a CPC-1, the lowest government designation. After a couple of years in that position, he became an information receptionist in the Contact Division, a GS-3 position. After that, it was all uphill.
Herbie had been close to death at least a half dozen times. He’d been through four beachheads. He earned three purple hearts, one Bronze Star, and one Silver Star. In 1963, Herbie was struck with a kidney malfunction, which hospitalized him. While in the hospital he also contracted staph pneumonia. His condition was so critical that the last rites were administered to him.
Herbie laughed and joked about his brushes with death. He accepted death for what it was: an unwelcomed guest, but a guest none-the-less. Herbie did not worry about dying. His philosophy was that life was predestined. Nothing you did would change what God had in store for you.
A standard joke of Herbie's was to pretend to small gullible minds that he lost his arm in a revolving door of a USO building while chasing a nurse. His humor and easy-going nature made him a favorite in the Veterans Services Office. People just naturally took to him.
Herbie was not petty, vindictive, or bitter. If you asked him if he was a survivor, he would answer in pure humility that there was a determined corpsman, a talented doctor, and a tough old nurse somewhere who deserved all the credit.
All he did was live.

I don't remember exactly when I wrote this, but it must have been when I was living and going to school in Boston, MA. Herbie Hodge worked in the VA office there and reveled me with his stories. I don't know if his unwelcomed guest visited him again or not, but I know that I am a better person for knowing him.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Lighted Windows

Lighted Windows
I wrote a collection of short stories, Lighted Windows, about a boy growing up in the fifties and sixties in a small community in south central Louisiana. The people who populate the area, mostly prairie Cajuns, are honest—for the most part—hardworking, and persevering. The boy narrator in the collection soaks up their stories like the rich prairie soil soaks up the rain.
I started the collection in the late seventies in a sophomore creative writing class at USL, now the University Louisiana Lafayette. My professor was John Sherrill Fontenot, a wonderful man, who saw some merit in my writing and introduced me to Herb Fackler, the director of the creative writing program at the time. In my senior year at USL, I believe it was, I had the great good fortune to take classes with Ernest Gaines and, with his encouragement and guidance, had several of my stories published in The Southern Review.
By this time, I had read Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, a string of interconnected stories taking place in a single setting, and it blew me away. However, it was not until I read Faulkner's The Unvanquished that I realized what I wanted to do with my collection—write a series of interconnected stories told from the point of view of the boy, have it take place in a single setting, and make it read like a novel.
After I graduated from USL with an MA in English, I enrolled at George Mason University and studied writing under Richard Bausch and Alan Cheuse. I learned as much as I could from those two talented and respected writers and moved on.
Lighted Windows: A Collection of Short Stories by [Roy, Jude]The first story in the collection, which also acts as the prologue, is entitled "The Three Indians." A storyteller family friend answers a question posed by the boy's mother about the importance of storytelling by relating a story about three Native Americans. The tale sticks with the boy and as the collection progresses, he relates his struggles with language, religion, culture, death, segregation, and sex, among others. The collection ends with an epilogue where the same storyteller tells a tale about how he befriended his dog in "Clio's Story." The story serves as an end to the boy's journey and the beginning of a new one.
About half of the stories in the collection are set on the father's sharecropped farm, and then move to the small community of Serpentville (French pronunciation) named after the lazy bayou that snakes past the tiny village. The early stories are all about the boy gaining self-awareness. Once his family moves into the town, they deal with his awareness of those around him and their influences on him.
Each story is a step into the boy's maturity and development. Each story builds onto the next until they reach the inevitable end.
I worked long and hard on this collection, and my only motive was to share a piece of the unique culture in which I grew up. I hope you read it, and I hope it speaks to you in some way.

Thank you.

Prologue: The Three Indians

Prologue: The Three Indians The frozen winter wind rattled the windows of our shack. We all sat in a semi-circle around the fireplace. My...