What goes into a good story? Content that: 1) gives my readers a takeaway, any takeaway at all and 2) shows that I am entertaining in some way.
CRABBIN IN YOUR UNDERWEAR
Let’s go crabbin’ now, everybody’s crabbin’ now, come on a Crabbin’ Safari with me! The crabs are awake and it’s just after a full moon, so it’s crabbin’ time in Hackberry. Going crabbin’ with my family is another of my most treasured childhood memories.
For those of you who’ve never experienced crabbin’, fishin’, huntin’, or just being in a south Louisiana marsh, please be advised that it possesses a powerful aroma that is unmistakable. Fully one-third of Louisiana sits squarely on top of some of the richest and most extensive oil and gas fields in the entire world.
The smell of methane mixed with the aroma of decomposing hydrocarbons creates a stench somewhat akin to a backed-up sewer system, but you actually get used to it after a while, and it just becomes a memorable part of crabbin’.
As a Top Operator from ConocoPhillips, I feel a certain thrill to know that we were standing and fishing over such rich petroleum deposits and I would suggest very strongly; “DRILL BABY, DRILL”… Politics be damned… let’s just do what is right for our Country and our People. We used to have a saying at work when the smell was particularly bad; we would say, “That’s the smell of money.” Then we would smile.
Beginning the night before, my excitement would build steadily until early the next morning. Then we would drive to Saunier’s Grocery to get our bait. Chicken necks, wings, feet, gizzards, just whatever. The crabs did not appear to have a preference. I have since found out they love dead gaff top catfish.
Next, we were off to the farm, where we would rummage through the old wooden garage shelves, looking for heavy bolts or nails to weigh-down our bait. Then we located the dip-nets and the old washtub, which served as both crab-vat and outdoor bathtub for Jeffrie and me.
When I first started fishing my mother would tie me to the bumper of the car and park it just far enough away from the water to prevent me from falling in.
Our lunches and bait were in the cooler, and the dip-nets and washtub were in the trunk of the car. Ha! Those crabs don’t stand a chance now!
Jo hated to wash muddy, crabbin’ clothes, so we always crabbed in our “underwear.” If you think it strange that we went crabbin’ in our underwear, please understand that it was different back then. We were very little and Jo was watching over us. We ran our crab lines until dark, filling our washtub with those beautiful big blue crabs.
Most Crabbin’ Safaris would take us down to the first bridge south of Hackberry for some great action. In addition to our underwear, we would add to our wardrobe some huge old rubber boots because the banks were really muddy there.
The ride all the way down to the first bridge seemed to take forever, but we knew what adventures awaited us. Sometimes we would just go crabbin’ at the Intracoastal Park, which was closer, but the banks were high and the tugboats’ waves would scare all the crabs away.
On the drive down, we would pass over the Choupique Bayou Bridge. Right after this bridge, there was a place in the road that would always develop a big long dip every time they would repair it. This dip was not rough and you didn’t have to slow down for it so it felt a little like a roller coaster ride with that feeling you get in your stomach. I asked my Uncle Ercell once why the dip was there and he told me an alligator had built its den there and every time they fixed the road it would cave back in again. He must be an awfully old alligator because the dip is still there to this day.
My Uncle Ercell, Paw-Paw’s brother, was one of a kind. He was always telling us kids some kind of tall tale that we believed readily. In fact, I still believe some of them today. He used to tell us that we may be able to tease the water moccasins as we did, but we better never tease a blue runner snake. If we did he would chase us down and bite us. Blue runners can run way faster than people. Look out ya’ll, it’s a blue runner!!!!!
Once we arrived at the first bridge, we would set out our crab lines that were tied to sticks we hammered into the muddy banks. We waited and watched for the crab lines to be pulled taut by the crabs. Then with the dip net in hand, I’d patiently and skillfully pull the treasured prey slowly in to be captured with the net. This was a very delicate process that I’ll tell you about later.
Come lunchtime, we’d eat with our dirty paws covered by napkins, and drink a coke from the cooler. Back then every soft drink was a coke for some reason. They always tasted a bit like bait. Anyhow, a quick break then back to the task at hand, more crabbin’! Sometimes we’d catch some crawfish (not crayfish) which we’d either use for crab bait or just keep them as our pet for the day.
Once a crawfish pinched my finger and wouldn’t let go. Oh, boy did that hurt. Henceforth, if we kept them as pets, we would break their pinchers off. By day’s end, we were so tired; ready for our baths and bed. In fact, we would be asleep long before we got home with our muddy little smelly selves. We would fuss and cry a little at having to bathe, but being clean made us appreciate sleep all the more.
Often times, we would go to PaPaw’s camp south of Hackberry. He was my mother’s daddy. PaPaw Deax’s camp was on the west side of the ship channel just south of Hackberry. It also had a nice wharf and we got to wear clothes. When there, we would bring crabbin’ strings with chicken necks attached and weighted with rocks down to the nice long clean wharf.
I loved that camp. I can almost picture the old linoleum floor that was curling up at some of the edges and smell the mustiness of it behind the PineSol that MaMaw used trying to mask the smell of a locked down camp at the beginning of every summer.
When I was a teenager I tried to find it, just to walk around and maybe find something left over from my days as a child there. The camp was not there anymore. Neither was the wharf. Just an empty lot with high grass, so high that I did not even try to walk around.
I was usually the one required to pull the crabs in, and Jeffrie would operate the net. As a little kid, two years younger than me, Jeffrie lacked the crabbin’ skills that I possessed, so often-times our efforts were not rewarded with a crab. As I got older I could pull the crab in and operate the net by myself with great precision. I was always, and still, am, one to do things all by myself.
There was definitely a knack to crabbin’, a knack that required great skill. Crabs have very good vision. They can see you through the water with those eyes of theirs, on short toothpicks. While pulling up the line you had to pull very slowly because crabs can sense sudden movement too. When you are close to seeing the crab, you must lower the net into the water and hold it very still. Remember, as soon as you can see the crab, he can see you. If you make any sudden movement, he will let go of the bait and swim off sideways the way they do. At the instant you have room below the crab and bait to fit the net, you must scoop him and the bait up very quickly. Then as you are lifting the net high in the air, you scream, “I got one!” It was very exciting when there was more than one crab on the bait.
Sometimes our catch wasn’t so big, but like MaMaw used to say, “It doesn’t take many to stink the gravy.” Good Stinkum, that is.
I used to get so excited when a ship would pass by in the ship channel because it created a phenomenon that I have yet to completely understand to this day. Because the ship channel was between the Big Lake and the camp, every time a ship would pass by, all the water would recede towards the ship and leave crabs and fish behind on the muddy bottom. We would run out and try to catch them before the water came rushing back in after the ship passed. It still amazes me that a ship can command so much water with just its passing.
It was so gratifying and it built our self-esteem as a child to catch something for our family to eat; especially something so larruping good. Sometimes we would just boil them in Louisiana Crab Boil, lemons and onions. They were so juicy and sweet; the saying around our house was that it didn’t get really good until the juice was running down to your elbows.
More often than not, Jo would cook crab stew with the crabs and add some shrimp. We would gleefully crack and eat those delicious crab claws with our little hammers. A bowl of rice covered with stew gravy would be placed in front of us and we would cover the top with lumps of crab meat. This way a chunk of crab meat was in every bite.
During my youthful crabbing days, sunscreen had yet to be invented, so by summer’s end our hair was bleached blond by the sun, and our skin was almost as brown as South Louisiana dirt. Our little feet were tougher than a fire-walkers.
Jo had just discovered that Avon’s Skin So Soft gave our little bronze bodies perfect protection from those giant mosquitos. They were almost big enough to carry us off.
I was so fortunate to be raised a little Cajun child in my beautiful state of Louisiana. How I wish that all children could experience the wonder that comprised my childhood. I felt so much, learned so much, lived so richly and still do.
TRAVIS PERKINS, AUTHOR
AS TOLD TO OYEA KENDALI
PLACK-EN OR TEND-LIKEN’
As I was “growing up” in Sulphur and Maplewood, my cousins were also my very best friends. There was Marcia, (The Cute One) Alece, the “Model-Tall” one, (I’d still like to put some mud down her jeans) and Me, Travis (The Complete Package). We were all born in the same month of the same Year. What collective activity could our parents have been involved in?! Oh, and I can’t forget Susan, a year older than we, but she had failed the second grade and wound up with us. (I secretly think that she failed on purpose so that she could be “one of us”.
When we were together, it was “Play-like” this and “Play-like” that, but we said it so often that it just came out “PLACK”. The four of us Placked and Placked and Placked some more. You might say we “Placked our childhood years away”.
Most of our Placking was done at my house because Jo was more tolerant than most mothers; Susan called her “JO”, so we all did. There were a bunch of other cousins scattered about South Louisiana, but they were either too old or too young to qualify for our “COUSINDOM”. Well, there was Gwen from Baton Rouge. She had Nanny’s green eyes and bigger boobs than we did, in a word, she was BEAUTIFUL. We were secretly glad when she went back home to Baton Rouge. She could sure dim the shine on a group of Placking cousins.
As we grew into our teens, I was a very confident one. Marcia was really cute, but I had bigger boobs and was thusly more popular. I was usually in trouble with my folks because my boyfriends were too old; it was okay for them to be delinquents, con-artists, or tattooed wonders, but God forbid they be “older” than I. (Please note that Keno Kendali was only two years older and I could have saved myself a whole lotta grief by just waiting for him to mature a little. We didn’t talk much, but when we beheld one another, it was pure MAGIC, just a tiny indicator of THINGS TO COME….AND THINGS YET TO COME) (Keno was a “TEND-LIKER” as opposed to a “PLACKER”.)
Susan was “going steady” with Kent. Marcia had lots of boyfriends. (She was the cute one, remember?) And Alece had fallen in love with a paraplegic disc-jockey named Wayne. They were engaged to marry at one point, but things just did not “come to pass.”
It seems as though we always did “FAMILY PLACKING”. There was always a Mom, a Dad, and a Baby…If we were too few to form an entire family, a coke bottle of mud would suffice for the Baby. More often than not, I would Plack the family dog. A part for which I was apparently well-suited, for I could run on all-fours as fast as the rest of the “family” could run on two! “WOOF, WANNA PLACK?” Wow, folks, there are just so many STORIES that I don’t know where to start.
For nearly twenty years, after Church on Sunday, we would all go to Nanny’s house for Dinner. She could prepare the most sumptuous meals. I think of those Sundays so often. More reasons to hope that “TIME TRAVEL IS TRULY POSSIBLE”. You talk about “All seeming right with the World”, those were the days.
As a little Placker of five or six, when we’d get to Nanny’s house, I’d run to close the doors on the old “quail cages”. Nanny no longer raised Quail, but she would put bird-seed in the cages to attract the Sparrows. When I’d slam the doors closed, the sparrows would be trapped inside. They were so Pretty. I’d hold them, talk to them, and Love them, especially the boy sparrows. They were the prettiest. Also, Nanny’s house was right “next-together” with the rice canal where we would swim. We’d swim on the near side of the canal. The far back was too deep and was home to snakes and other dangerous species. I once caught a Giant Bull-Frog in the “Deep End” and Nanny cooked the legs for us to eat. Some said they tasted like “chicken”, but I said they tasted like “frog-legs”.
Once again I say, stay with me sweet memories, never depart again. Become the best part of me. I am going to speak with my beloved cousins soon, and hopefully, we can engage in some world-class Placking. That would surely renew our “collective Love of Life!” Hey, ya’ll, let’s, Plack!
Travis Perkins, Author
As told to Oyea Kendali
FELT LIKE IT WAS MY FIRST RODEO