Voodoo and Moccasin Snakes

by MichelleR on March 6, 2012


When I was little girl living in Louisiana I couldn’t tell you how much I loved seafood gumbo. As I think back on that gumbo my belly is getting warm from all the memories that surrounded our gumbo pot. I remember when we would all go out to where the rice patties grew in the water to catch crawfish. It was like little blades of grass sticking out of the murky water. We would take a small piece of bologna and tie it on a string. No more than moments later, there were about 30-40 crawfish clinging to it! We would come home with “gunny sack” (burlap bags) full of crawfish and toss them into the bath tub. With a little rock salt water, they would clean themselves up by what I call “burping up” all the dirt. After 2-3 washes, they were ready to be thrown into the gumbo pot. That gumbo pot was big enough to put your children in it, so no surprise that we would load it up with hot links, whole onions, bell peppers, ears of corn, potatoes and whatever else was around. We would lay newspaper on the tables and have ourselves a “Crawfish boil” or sometimes a “Crab boil”, depending on the season.

The house we stayed in Louisiana was what you would call a “Shotgun house.” Not because we had any shotguns, but because you could throw a ball straight through it when both doors were open. That house was held up by layers upon layers of newspaper. Even though it was still cold during the winters and hot in the summers each season we would put on a new layer of paper. Sometimes if there was a slit in the paper, you could see through it to the outside. The worst thing though, was going to the outhouse at night. You had to carry this big old clunky lantern and watch for snakes. Ooo I hate snakes! The snakes would hang in the trees and always drop out right in front of you. I swear sometimes they were out to get me. They were usually water Moccasin Snakes or Cotton Mouth Snakes, I was never warned they were poisonous, but they are.





Water Moccasin Snake

There were warm afternoons when we would all go down to “the Tank”, a swimming pond. The boys would play a game called “drown the snake” where they would grab the Moccasin snakes by the tail under water and drag them down to the bottom. The key is they can’t bite you under water because the snake is trying to hold its breath too.

I always remember hearing music. Everyone in my family was a musician. They played everything! The piano, bass, rub-board, saxophone, guitar, drums and even trombone, everything you hear in good New Orleans jazz. Everyone could sing too, except for me, but that’s ok, I’m a dancer. With no clubs like there are today, a general store on Friday nights would open up for “Jam” sessions. All the musicians would be playing on the porch of the store, while we were all out “cuttin’ the rug” on the dirt lawn. I was also dancing what we called “Hoofin” then. Doing moves before the world knew about them.

During the hot summers, we would have to crack our windows open to let in any form of cool air. During those times that’s when our neighborhood Peeping Tom would come out along with the other summer bugs. My Aunt was rumored to be a Creole Voodoo Witch, but her beauty still brought the Peeping Tom to her cracked window at night. Well one night she decided to play a trick on him and when he came to her window, she blew Talcum powder his face. Suddenly through the neighborhood all you could see was a powdery white face and eyes running around screaming in the dark that he was going to die, “She threw acid in my face! I’m going to die! I’ve been hexed by a witch!” He was so distraught that later, he even showed up with the police trying to get my Aunt arrested because he thought she put a hex on him.

My Aunt was a drum majorette. Every year she would twirl her baton in the Mardi Gras parade. The costume she wore was beautiful and every Mardi Gras she would add something like a button or keepsake to it. Her costume now is so heavy but even in her late age she still puts it on and twirls her baton. My mother would take all 5 of us to the Mardi Gras parade. She would tie us all together with a piece of rope so we wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. They always had, what folks not from the South would think as strange food, at the parade. People from Mississippi would come to New Orleans and bring “Gator Fish” also known as gar-fish, because it looks like an alligator. There was also real alligator, rabbit and even raccoon, which is delicious. I remember when the men would go hunting and bring back raccoons. We always knew they had bagged a “coon” because the little black paw was hanging out of the top of burlap bag.

My mother is a strong woman; she had to be raising 5 kids. Her strength and independence also came from raising herself and her siblings at age 12 when her own mother died. Being half Indian she spent most of her life living on the Indian reservation until she left at 18. My mother would never know for sure, but speculated that her mother died from a voodoo hex. The story goes that the women in our family are cursed by “men who are lovers”. My grandfather’s girlfriend wanted him all to herself so she put a “haint” on my grandmother. Soon my grandmother started getting sick, it might have been cancer, but we will never know for sure. I don’t believe in voodoo, but I’m certainly not going to mess with it.

I like the closeness of my family the best. In Louisiana there was family all around, those were good times and I was sorry when the day came that we moved away. I do have a piece of family with me every day, which was my grandmother’s long ago.

At the foot of my bed is a beautiful wooden chest, which is too heavy to move anywhere else. My grandmother used it as a cooler, for her pies and cakes. I remember my mother storing her pies and flour in it as well and the lining of it would keep it cool and fresh during the hot summers. Now I put pictures and keepsakes of my children in it and one day I will pass the chest on to them. For this chest I am grateful to have a piece of the women in my family with me.

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