Sample Saturday: Cajun Country Christmas

It Happened in MemphisToday’s snippet is from my current work in progress, It Happened in Memphis and Other Stories.  As is always the case with early drafts, the final product may look significantly different.

I’ll write more about the tradition of Christmas eve bonfires along the Mississippi in a post tomorrow.  In the meanwhile, enjoy the latest entry in this year’s Blogmas event.


After a delicious dinner of gumbo, buttermilk biscuits, Pauline’s favorite boudins from the market in Mowata, and chess pie for dessert, everyone gathered up jackets and sweaters to go watch the bonfire lighting along the river. Those who weren’t already wearing jeans and sneakers changed to more casual attire.

“No need to take everyone’s cars,” Riley said. “I’ve got room for Miss Laurie and her boy with me.”

“I was hoping to ride with Evie and her folks,” Harv said.

“Well, that’s all right then. I guess it’ll be just us old folks together.”

“Billy and I will take Miss Pauline, Jimmy, and Cindy in the van,” Annie said.

As other family members made their arrangements, Riley helped Laurie into her jacket.

“I hope you don’t think I’m being too forward,” he said. “It’s just that, well, you’re about the prettiest gal I’ve seen in a long time. I’m divorced myself, but my ex and I were never blessed with children. You’ve got a fine boy there. ‘Course, if he messes around with my niece, I’ll clean up what’s left after Amos beats him to a pulp … but he’s a fine boy.”

Laurie couldn’t help laughing. “I don’t think Evie really knows he’s alive, to tell you the truth. They go to school together, and they’re friends … but he says someone else gave her her first kiss. She won’t say who … but whoever he is, Harv hates his guts.”

“Yep, that’s high school love for you. I remember it well.”

It didn’t take long before they all gathered at a boat slip, which confused Laurie.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“You will,” Riley said, as he unlocked the gate at the end of the pier. “This is where I live.”
The whole family piled onto the biggest yacht Laurie had ever seen. All the children were helped into life vests as Riley let Laurie into the wheelhouse. “I have been lucky enough to work all over the world, helping people in need of medical care. I’m a doctor. Seemed to make the most sense to have a boat large enough to live on wherever I might go … and to bring my friends and family out on the river for Christmas Eve. How else are we going see all the bonfires? Have a seat.”


Blogmas Bonus Track: “Holiday Melody”

Each year, we order the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS “Carols for a Cure” album.  Current casts of hit Broadway musicals donate their time and talent to these recordings, which fund medical care, meal delivery, and more for people living with HIV/AIDS all across the country.  I have supported this charity for a number of years; I did a lot of theatre growing up, and the community was one of the most heavily impacted at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.  BC/EFA was founded to help theatre folk, who typically had no health insurance or much of a support network.  The work is now expanded far beyond the theatre community, and I’m proud to be a regular donor.

This track, by the cast of “Chicago” (the longest-running American musical on Broadway) is from the 2016 album.  Enjoy!

Weekend Reads: March Forward, Girl

March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock NineMarch Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine by Melba Pattillo Beals

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Melba Pattillo Beals was a very little girl when she came to realize that people of color were treated differently from white folks in Little Rock — and not in a good way.

In this volume, aimed at middle grade students, Beals writes clearly and honestly about what life was like before Brown v. Board of Education for people of color in the deep South. Separate facilities that were never really equal. A lynching within the walls of her church. Her abduction by the KKK at age 11 — and the kind woman who helped her escape. The unwritten rules that governed behavior for people of color vis a vis white people.

Beals eventually becomes one of the Little Rock Nine, integrating Central High School under the force of Federal law and protection. Her honesty about the experiences she had growing up in the deep segregated South were disturbing and enlightening. In view of today’s political climate, I feel as though this book should be mandatory reading in classrooms across the country.

View all my reviews

Christmas in Catalonia

I have only been to one city in Spain:  Barcelona.  Because Barcelona is Catalonian, the holiday traditions are different from the rest of the country.

From Why Christmas:

Via Getty Images

In the Catalonia province of Spain there’s a Christmas character called ‘Tió de Nadal’ (the Christmas log) or he’s sometimes known as ‘Caga tio’ (the pooping log!). It’s a small hollow log propped up on two legs with a smiling face painted on one end. From the 8th December (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) Catalan families gives the log a few morsels of food to ‘eat’ and a blanket to keep it warm. On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, the log then ‘gives out’ small gifts! People sing a special song and hit the log with sticks to help its ‘digestion’ and the log drops sweets, nuts, and dried fruits. When garlic or an onion falls out of the log, all of the treats are finished for the year.

Nativity Scenes ‘Pesebres’ are also popular in Catalonia (and all throughout Spain!). Many towns also hold ‘Pastorets’ which are big plays/presentations about the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus. They have lots of music and readings from the Bible. You can find out more about Pastorets on the Pastoret Society of Catalunya’s website (goes to another site).

An unusual figure which is popular and traditional in Pesebres in Catalonia is ‘El Caganer’ which means ‘the poo-er’! And yes, it’s a figure of a person going to the toilet! It’s normally a a figure of a Catalan peasant, wearing the traditional red Catalan cap (called a barretina) squatting with their trousers/pants down and well, you know… New versions of El Caganer are now produced each year, often with the faces of celebrities and politicians! This figure has been part of nativity scenes in Catalonia since the early 18th century. It’s often hidden in a back corner of the Pesebre, well away from the stable! Similar figures can also sometimes be found in scenes in other areas in Spain such as Andorra, Valencia and Murcia; in Northern Catalonia (in southern France), Naples (in Italy) and some parts of Portugal.

Via Getty Images

A special cake called ‘Roscón’ is eaten at Epiphany. Roscón means ‘ring shape roll’. It is very doughy and is bought from a bakery on Epiphany morning. Roscón can be filled with cream or chocolate and contain a little gift.

Christmas in France

I thought it would be fun to share some of the holiday traditions from places I’ve visited and/or written about.  In The Eye of The Beholder and In The Eye of The Storm take place primarily in France, so I’m starting there.

From Why Christmas:

Christmas in France

In France, a Nativity crib is often used to help decorate the house. French cribs have clay figures in them. During December some towns and cities, such as Marseilles, have fairs that sell Nativity figures. As well as having the normal Nativity figures in them, French scenes also have figures such as a Butcher, a Baker, a Policeman and a Priest.

In French Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Joyeux Noël’. In Breton (spoken by some people in Brittany, Northern France) it’s ‘Nedeleg Laouen’ and in Corsican it’s ‘Bon Natale’. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.

Yule Logs made out of Cherry Wood are often burned in French homes. The log is carried into the home on Christmas Eve and is sprinkled with red wine to make the log smell nice when it is burning. There is a custom that the log and candles are left burning all night with some food and drinks left out in case Mary and the baby Jesus come past during the night.

In France, Father Christmas / Santa Claus / St. Nicholas is called Père Noël (Father Christmas). In eastern France he is accompanied by Le Pere Fouettard, a man dressed in black. He might be the same person as Zwarte Piet in The Netherlands.

The main Christmas meal, called Réveillon, is eaten on Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning after people have returned from the midnight Church Service. Dishes might include roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, oysters, foie gras, lobster, venison and cheeses. For dessert, a chocolate sponge cake log called a bûche de Noël is normally eaten.