July 01, 2005

A Cajun Fourth of July

We're heading up to our place in New Hampshire for a long 4th of July weekend. We'll celebrate the holiday in the idyllic village of Hancock, incorporated in 1789. The main street is lined with centuries-old brick and clapboard homes and the Hancock Inn, New Hampshire's oldest inn, which serves a mean Shaker cranberry pot roast. For the 4th, the town puts on an ice cream social in the old church and lights up the sky over Norway Pond with a great fireworks display.

I won't be blogging from the New Hampshire woods, so I thought I'd share a short Independence Day-related excerpt from Ribbons of Highway. On America's first 4th of July after September 11, the kids and I had wound our way down deep into Louisiana's Cajun country:

On the 4th of July, we found ourselves at Avery Island, home of McIlhenny’s Tabasco Sauce factory. Being a holiday, the factory was closed, and the workers had a day off to crab. We hung at the dock outside McIlhenny’s with 2-year old Trey, his mom Tracy, dad Doug, his grandma, and his “nanonk,” Uncle Travis. (I wondered if nanonk owned Nonk’s Car Repair back up Route 329 in Rynela, near the trailer of the lady that advertised “Professional Ironing.”)

Trey, in his little jeans and bright red rubber Wellingtons, held his hands on both sides of his head and, with eyes wide as plates, told me about what was “in there.” Turkey necks tied to strings and weighed down with washers were the bait of choice of all the crabbers on the dock, and a four-foot gator had decided to come and help himself. He’d just been shooed away and waited on the other side of the canal.

Trey had his own cooler filled with crabs. His parents had a second cooler, so full that when they opened it, crabs spilled out. Tracy and grandma sat on chairs under striped umbrellas and tried to keep Trey from climbing the dock’s fence. Nanonk said, “If’n you fall in, I ain’t goin’ in after ya. Gonna let the gator git ya.”

That night would be America’s first 4th of July night since September 11. All through Louisiana we’d seen evidence that people planned to celebrate with spirit. Fireworks stands were busy. But there’d be caution, too. I’d seen a Times-Picayune story titled “United We Plan” about security measures to protect celebrations large and small around the country. Americans would be out on Independence Day, but with their guard up.

We stood on the balcony of our Bossier City motel and watched fireworks from Shreveport, just across the Red River. Inside the room, James Taylor and Ray Charles entertained on TV from New York City, and two giant crickets tried, unsuccessfully, to elude me.