When I got the e-mail from Deanna asking for a Christmas
column by FAOL's Sunday production deadline, I had already
more on my plate that I thought I could handle for the
weekend. I really didn't think I'd have the time to write
it, but as the day progressed I thought more and more about
the idea and, at the last minute of course, sat down and
got it done.
I'm not one of those people who gets depressed around
the holidays, but I admit, melancholy is a familiar
friend. It's because of my upbringing. Really all I had
where my parents and grandparents. I was an only child,
virtually friendless due to some funky politics here on
the Reservation that never should have filtered down to
children. Christmas was signaled by the emergence of an
artificial tree, one of those silver ones that was the
fad in the 1960s or something but regretfully never quite
expired in our house. The presents would materialize
overnight, of course, to be opened gleefully Christmas
I never asked for much and was refused little. In retrospect,
I know that in addition to his weekday job at the carbon black
plant, my father was repairing fiberglass boats, building
wooden boats, making indigenous crafts to sell in the little
crafts shop my grandparents ran, raising fishing worms to
stock the local mom and pop stores. It's obvious to me now
that the emphysema was inevitable, but on Christmas morning
what kid thinks of such things? I had red Keds to wear, crisp
Dickie jeans, or maybe they were Rustler, or maybe some brand
that doesn't exist anymore...? I don't remember. There was
always food on the table, a few luxuries throughout the year.
We went to supper, the five of us, every Friday night at a
local boiled seafood place, crabs or crawfish depending on
the season, and my parents and grandparents split the bill.
It was their outing, and today I know it was partially their
But we were talking about Christmas. My grandparents would
arrive midmorning and my mom and grandmother would get the
table ready. It was never turkey. Not even for Thanksgiving.
My father despised turkey, so we never ate it. I still don't
have much of a taste for it. My mom made a dish we called
The Stuff. It's difficult to describe with any sense of its
true glory, but in its simplest terms, it was a slow-cooked
beef roast and pork roast, shredded by hand, put into a huge
baking pot with shell-shaped noodles, cheeses and tomato
sauce, then baked for a few hours. I can't describe how
exquisite The Stuff is, sprinkled with a little dried
Parmesan and Romano cheese, served with whole corn and
fresh bread, but that's our holiday tradition. Mom only
cooked it Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.
We'd go visiting in the afternoon, or if we didn't, somehow,
by some psychic network, we'd stay home and kinfolks would
come visit us. These were my mom's family. Except for my
grandparents, all dad's immediate family lived in either
New Orleans or Ft. Worth, Texas, residencies resulting
from the exodus from the Reservation back during the
Depression. My mom was Lydia Marie Gaudet, a Cajun belle
whose father, Edwin and mother, Eremise, were farmers who
spoke very, very little English. Mom was one of ten kids.
The aunts and uncles would visit or be visited, and we kids
would compare notes on our Christmas booty, and it occurs
to me now that none of us was better off than the other.
There was no clear indication of financial difference. As
I like to tell people only half-jokingly, I'm proud to be
descended of two of the most oppressed peoples to be found
I moved into this old house about seven years ago, having
fled a failed marriage by literally piling everything that
meant anything to me into my pickup truck and boat. This
included my two dogs, Chance and Shadow, who sat on the
bench seat of the boat amid the packed-in debris of a
lifetime as I trailered it down the street in retreat.
They looked decidedly confused by the sudden journey and
all the ruckus. I moved into my grandmother's house, the
house I had grown up within as much as my parents' home,
the house that had been in my family since it was built
in the 1840s. By then, my grandparents were gone, and
within a year or two my father would join them. There
was no Christmas spirit here, not even a wreath on the
door and going through the motions of Christmas was
burdensome at best. It just brought memories of happier
times, with little promise of the same to come.
Yet there is always renewal. This year, for Thanksgiving,
my mom made The Stuff again, and my lady - who I like to
call My Better Three-quarters rather than My Better Half
because she's waaaay more than that - was there to help
and learn how it's done. This year, she brought in plywood
toy soldiers about six feet tall and, though I grumbled
and groused and Scrooged vehemently, mounted them in front
of the house along with red and white candy canes poked
into the ground and I admit, I heard the old place sigh
a little, felt it breathe a little breath of memory.
Sometimes the scent of pumpkin bread drifts out from
the kitchen, and while there's only a tiny, countertop
tree inside, there's a wreath on the door and a few
brightly-wrapped presents scattered around the house.
I admit, I like the feel of it. A bittersweet, melancholy
cheer. Yes, that's the best way to describe it, and in the
end, really, that's what it should be.
I'm not much of a church-going man, except to that magnificent
cathedral of rivers and bayous and blackwater swamps beyond
my door. My convictions might be best described as Christian
but tempered with indigenous stubbornness, refusal, I guess,
to be absorbed even now. My mom carried me off to the Baptist
church every Sunday morning when I was a kid, and though I
haven't set foot in one for many, many years, enough of the
preacher's finger-wagging thunder sunk into my thick skull
to keep me from forgetting that Christmas is about a birth.
It's about birth and rebirth, really, and both halves of my
soul understands that without getting lost in the details,
all of me finds peace in this without getting mired by tangles.
Merry Christmas, then. Give a thought to those lined up
across the years behind you, as well as those at your side
this season. We're, after all, the sum total of those who
came before us, and we're individualized by our own
experiences and those who walk along with us throughout
our lives. ~ Roger
It's out! And available now! You can be one of the
first to own a copy of Roger's book. Native Waters: A
Few Moments in a Small Wooden Boat
Order it now from
or Barnes & Noble.com.
Roger will also be giving away three autographed copies to
readers. Stay tuned, for an announcement on the Bulletin
Board on that soon.