Nickole Brown

Claire Comeaux writes about her Cajun Grandmère


I called her Grandmère. It was the name everyone called her—not just her grandchildren. Grandmère:  Cajun Grandmother.  Cajun: land made to take beatings from wrathful storms, and blood made of standing ground. Grandmother: the smell of vanilla dabbed behind her ears; white buckets of rainwater collected for watering the garden; gifts for the dozens of family members at Christmas because she never bought more than she needed, never even owned pajamas, always slept naked.

In my house, thirty miles north of Grandmère’s coastal Louisiana home, my childhood was made of watching the spattered primary colors pixel the always furious Doppler radar of late summer. Greens, yellows, reds. Severe storms, flash floods, hurricanes. I remember one gruesome mass of concentrated red sweeping our boot state on the weather channel, and hearing my mother on the phone, trying to convince Grandmère to let her drive down and bring her back to our house. No luck. Grandmère assured us that she had sandbags for the doors, but I doubt she did.

That evening, it drizzled in our yard and my mother kept the landline close to her body. She called Grandmère when the storm started up, wondering if she’d changed her mind. She hadn’t. In the night, my mother sent up a prayer in thanks that Grandmère had air conditioning. Grandmère hadn’t told us that the storm had kicked it out. Had she, my mother’s cheeks would have reddened like the heat Grandmère was thick in. She would have gotten in the car and headed south.

No, there was no air conditioning, but there was wind. Wind in swells, surging from every direction: sometimes a breeze, sometimes threatening to take down oak branches. Grandmère pulled the mattress from her bed, dragged it with spindly arms across the flower-patterned linoleum, propped open the front door with it, and slept. No sheets, no clothes. Half of her under the roof, half exposed to whatever the night would bring. On that threshold, her naked body welcomed the wind—needed it, in a way. It’s a strange image of her to keep, especially because it’s one I didn’t actually see. But it’s persistent and stubborn as she was. I think of that storm, and I see her fast asleep, rain gushing the panes and gutters, mosquitos struggling to cling to the wall while she dozes, the wind dictating her unconscious breaths. She lived off what the storm gave her—and we off all she gave us.