Monday, November 22, 2010

Simple life on the bayou

Life on the bayou seemed simpler then: Storycorps New Orleans

Published: Thursday, November 18, 2010, 6:30 AM
Bruce Nolan, The Times-Picayune Bruce Nolan, The Times-Picayune 
At 82, Anna Mae Doucet sounds deeply comfortable with herself and her life.
doucet-storycorps.jpgAnna Mae Doucet, 82, of Cut Off, talked with her great-granddaughter Elise Sanchez, now 27, about growing up on Bayou Lafourche. 'Wherever you wanted to go, you'd walk. And you had people sitting on the porches and we'd stop and talk.'
Doucet (she pronounces it do-SAY) is a Cajun.
“I wouldn’t want to be anything else but a Cajun. I’m happy. I’m a very happy person,” she said.
On a morning last spring, she sat across a small table from her doting great-granddaughter, Elise Sanchez, then 26, who had persuaded Doucet to sit before a StoryCorps microphone and tell stories of growing up a country girl along Bayou Lafourche 75 years ago.
Doucet is Sanchez’s “Mommee,” the matriarch of a family extending five generations. And Sanchez, herself a young mother of two, wanted to ask her great-grandmother about Mommee’s parents, her childhood, her husband, her faith — the stories of life along the bayou.
Growing up in Golden Meadow, Doucet and her six siblings wintered four months a year in the marsh where the rhythms of trapping annually consumed their father. Then it was back on the bayou to fish and trawl for shrimp.
At home they grew vegetables, picked citrus and peaches, and cared for chickens and two cows. When people baked, they automatically shared a bit with neighbors.
They had no car, Doucet said. Nor, it seemed, did anyone else.
There was no washing machine, dryer or dishwasher. The labor was hard, but there was also leisure time.
“We still had a lot of time to visit, because we had no television,” Doucet explained. “Wherever you wanted to go, you’d walk. And you had people sitting on the porches, and everybody wanted to know everybody. So we’d never get to where we were going too early. Because Momma knew everybody, and we’d stop and talk at the friends, you know?”
In time, Anna Mae met and married young Alcide Doucet. He served in the Navy, came home from World War II and settled with Anna Mae in Golden Meadow to work as a marine engineer.
In 52 years together, they lost two children, but raised two more.
When hard times came, they moved for a few years to Brownsville Texas, where some other families from the bayou country moved to follow the shrimp.
After their return there was another family move, when Alcide arranged to have their house in Golden Meadow jacked up, trucked to the bayou, and barged 10 or 12 miles upstream to Cut Off, where it sits today.
Doucet explained they wanted the safety of a few extra miles inland during hurricane season.
She remembered riding out Hurricane Betsy in a schoolhouse in Raceland in 1965. A tornado hit the place, blew out the windows, and hurled glass at the evacuees huddled inside, she said.
Among other questions Sanchez had for Mommee:
Does she believe in God?
Does she pray?
In English or French?
Sometimes both.
Today, Mommee is the queen of five generations, including 10 great-great-grandchildren.
And I’m your favorite, right? teases Sanchez.
“Oh yeah,” replies Doucet, sweetly.
And then …
“The one that faces me is the favorite, at that time.”
Bruce Nolan can be reached at or 504.826.3344.

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