One might wonder as did I, one sunny Louisiana morning, with my head leaning out of the back window of my Dad’s new blue Ford Galaxy,.. what kind of a name is Chin? As I was looking at the moss hanging from the old trees we passed and feeling the already humid thick air on my face, I asked my mother, “why is aunt Chin named that?”
“its only a nick name.” She responded. “ her real name is Lougenia.”
Aunt Chin was married to my father’s older brother, Gustan, (Augustine). And they lived in southern Louisiana, as did all our relatives. We were indeed Cajuns way back before Cajun culture, and food, were cool! Though my immediate family lived in the west Texas desert during the school year, holidays and summers were spent home in Louisiana.
I had met uncle Gus and aunt Chin many times before at family gatherings, but this is the first time I can remember us going to their house. I suspect now, Chin was just another of the many odd sounding nick names folks down there seem to have, odd sounding at least to those not from the area or culture. Names such as Couyou, meaning stupid,-- Papou, meaning just Cajun,-- Catin, meaning doll, and Pitou, nickname for Pierre or Peter, were all names I heard used for family members. Then of course there’s always Cher…pronounced more like Sha, which means “dear” and which everybody calls everybody.
The situation was that my parents were traveling near their house on some business, some papers needed to be signed or something, I believe to do with the new family car my Dad had bought from my mom’s brother Cleophus. We (us kiddos) didn’t really like the new car, “at all” my sister said. It had no air conditioning. And even though it was the early 60’s, my dad had traded in a Chrysler New Yorker, with big turquoise spaceship fins on the back, and air conditioning!!, which even though a luxury at the time, we had grown accustomed to on our summer trips. And now in the Louisiana heat without the AC we had to wonder just what Dad was thinking.
So here we were stopping by for a morning coffee visit, with Gus and Chin. They lived over in Jefferson Davis parish, in a small town near a lake about as far south and a little west as you can go and still have mostly solid land. Past there was marshes.
As we drove I was slightly enthralled in the green of it all. The El Paso desert had neither grass nor trees. And though in late august I loved to return to the mountains of El Paso each school year, I loved, in June, to return to the green lushness of south Louisiana. Yet my mind was still on aunt Chin. She had always intrigued me. She was the sweetest, most joyful soul….and this was matched by the opulence of her body. Aunt Chin weighed somewhere around 400 pounds, I figure, more or less. I remember once looking at her calves as she sat down and comparing them to a large fish bowl full of change on the bureau. The bowl was smaller. I suppose at that young age, I was now about seven, ..she was the first obese person I had ever known. Her weight was more intrigue to me than in any way distaste. I thought she was grand.
Again I queried my mom.. just couldn’t let it go, “is aunt Chin called that cause she’s so fat” I guess in my young thoughts heavier people have double or even triple “chins”, but exactly why the question made since to me I’m not truly sure. Regardless it was a “un grande erreur” (a huge mistake). My mother spun around in her seat, eyes blazing at me. My brother and sister were laughing.
“she is not FAT, she is large, and I had better not hear you say that again.”
My mother had no real Cajun accent, having lived many places in the world as my dad had been career military, and stationed all over.
My dad however never lost his Cajun brogue, and I’m guessing the fear of my candidness causing embarrassment precipitated his threat.. “you had butter shut dat mouth up t-man, or I’ll slap it off your face.” T-man is another Cajun thing. Placing T-, or Tit (pronounced teet) before any male title is a term of endearment. It simply means little, and is short for Petite. So we had boys being called t-man, t-boy, tit-Paul, t-Bud, tit-Mond, nick-name for Edmond, and then there was tit-pette, which meant favorite, and the widely used pauvre-tit (pronounced pauv-teet) which meant for either gender “poor little thing” and was used regularly by the French and English people too as a term of empathy. I still say it without thinking.
After my father’s scolding I decided quickly to shut up. Even an apology would seem risky at this point. They both knew I had a knack for piping up with the “all too honest” observances. And I’m sure they wanted to safe guard my big mouth. So on we drove with no more from me. My siblings snickered for a bit and my parents spoke for a bit in French. We didn’t understand much French, us kids, but I would bet they were discussing aunt Chin’s “largeness”.
So returning my face to the open window, and the terrain I watched farmland turn to oaks then become marsh, back to farm then water, and swamp and back again. The road ahead began to curve and I saw we were coming to some sort of village. The barely descending drive sported a view of a sizable lake just past this little township. It was flat and open and with wonderful cypress trees growing up out of it in places. As I was examining the lake, we were passing the town, but then we turned right and went up a street away from the water. We passed a few homes and then I saw the tidiest sweet house ahead. The yard was beautiful, and the house looked as though it had been painted yesterday. Very pale yellow with red, white, and pale green trim, a little gingerbread work here and there, it was the most pleasing of invitations. It had a homey sweet purity like a picture in a periodical. We turned into the drive. And my spirits lifted with the site of the place. It was like getting the readers digest each month and seeing the new picture on the back for the first time.
I was going to ask a silly question, “is this their house?”…but I didn’t get to it. For almost immediately the “larger” than life figure of aunt Chin appeared out the door and on the porch between two huge rocking chairs. She wore a bright but simple red print dress, a top knot in her hair, and a smile that let you know just how completely happy she was to see us. Framed at the porch center between the rockers she looked like a grand ruby setting in the middle of a fancy dinner ring.
to be continued...
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