What you hear again and again here in South Louisiana is that no one has the TIME to work on campaigning. Most families are still recovering from three years of hurricanes, and by simple observation one has to wonder how much more the infrastructure can take before the whole area implodes. However, serendipity is a friendly muse, and a link to a YOUTUBE video, Cajun's For Obama, found its way to my inbox. The video is a perfect introduction to the "joie de vrie" of the bayou country.
A blog called "the wounded bird," which originates from a town a half hour away from my "headquarters," here on the delta was a source for the link. How good could it possibly get? OfftheBus's gift from the Muse! Cajuns for Obama! Obama Zydeco! A gumbo Granny, bloggin' from the bayou, was a writer's dream come true, and she was a short drive away. Oui, On Peut!
But, first I had to find her. OnStar would have a field day with directions in this part of the world. Finding one's way across the bayou, up the bayou, down the bayou-- and dodging overloaded sugar cane trucks, rotting hurricane debris, and smoke from burning cane fields-- is a gauntlet. So goes the journey along Bayou Lafourche, from Raceland to Thibodaux, on Highway 1.
Grandmere Mimi was waiting for me in the driveway, concerned about the Yankee with no sense of direction. This formidable, yet approachable and endearing woman was born in New Orleans to "a family straight out of Tennessee Williams." Her pale blue eyes and snow-white hair attest to Anglo genetic dominance in a self-described "Gumbo mixture of French, Cajun, Spanish, English, Portuguese and German."
"I blog whatever I want," 74 year old Grandmere Mimi fearlessly told me before I had a chance to open my notebook. I knew immediately that I was in for quite a ride. It was obvious that Mimi would never fit into a Q&A format-she is a force of nature and it would be like attempting to hold fireflies in a jar. The glow would fade all too quickly.
Trying to structure a conversation with any southern woman is all but impossible. Anyone who has read Mama Makes Up Her Mind: and Other Dangers of Southern Living, will understand the admonition that once a southern woman has made up her mind, all bets go out the window. A favorite passage in Bailey White's book involves Mama insisting that the family head out to a local juke joint to find some smoked mullet. The place is so rough that Hemingway found the atmosphere "too much" to handle.
As it turned out, this blogging "Grandmere" (Cajun for grandmother) from red McCain country has a lot to say about southern living, poverty, Louisiana's resources, the wetlands, families, and gay rights.
Mimi describes a father who was a "gifted man," but hopelessly addicted to alcohol, and a mother depressed for most if not all of the marriage. Something happened to Mimi when she was twelve years old and she just "decided that even though my childhood was awful, traumatic really, that as I grew up the choices would be mine. I decided I did not want to make a life like the one my father made for himself."
Therein rests the origin of her blog title, "The Wounded Bird." Mimi describes "a wounded bird syndrome" that influences those who have endured hardship to be more empathetic to suffering.
"I grew up poor, but we always had music and for some reason that enriched my life and made me aware that even though there was often no food on the table, there was something more to life."
Obviously, Grandmere Mimi is a bit of an anomaly in red state Louisiana, if not in blue Cajun Country, but she attributes her concern for the dispossessed and poor to her "dysfunctional" childhood. She now lives a comfortable middle class existence in this hardscrabble sugar town, but has not forgotten what it is like to have nothing.
'My father was a racist, an anti-Semite, I did not play with black children. The play was strictly segregated. We related well to such folks as, Joe, the young black man who delivered our groceries. He joked around, and balanced milk bottles one on top of the other and generally kept us laughing. Octavia, who came to iron for us in our more prosperous times, was a wonderful black woman, with a quiet dignity about her, but she would brook no foolishness."
Mimi leans forward across the kitchen table and her face is inches from mine as she makes her point.
'It was not a RIGHT relationship with the blacks, but at least it WAS a relationship."
"My coloring is sort of a mystery," Mimi says. "I can't quite figure it out, but my father had an English mother, and that probably explains it." She is fiercely proud of her mixed Cajun ancestry and describes South Louisiana as "a little bit of a foreign country."
Dissatisfaction with the Bush administration, as well as a developing realization that the mainstream media was not telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, combined with the discovery of the infant blogosphere, changed her life.
"The last eight years, I have wanted France to buy Louisiana back," Mimi says, and you get the feeling she is not joking.
Mimi was shocked to learn that her interviewer had never heard of Juan Cole (Informed Comment) and Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo). That defect in knowledge was quickly rectified while Mimi gave me an earful. What is significant is that Mimi's Internet correspondence with these icons changed her life.
Mimi has a master's degree in library science and had always wanted to write. Computer literacy came easily, and she credits Cole and Marshall with "educating me about Florida, the vote count, the subsequent run-up to the war in Iraq, and learning that there was dissent in the media."
"Unfortunately, the dissenting voices were on the metaphorical page 17 of the newspapers, and not on page 1. I might not have read the dissent, had the early bloggers not pointed the articles out to me," Mimi says.
Her blog is fairly successful, receiving a consistent 300-500 hits per day. Mimi very seldom has problems with her visitors being out of line with comments or attacks, but if they cross the line, "I zap 'em." She says with a wicked smile.
She is very proud of the fact that her readers comment frequently.
"If I got 2,000 hits and no one commented, I would probably quit."
"I don't want it to go to my head, and want to keep it all in perspective. What is important to me is that I make a difference and have an effect."
Her hope is that Barack Obama will realize that her beloved South Louisiana needs help.
Obama was not her first choice. Dennis Kucinich was her "first love." Once Obama became the Democratic candidate, she began to "admire him more and more."
"I used to admire McCain in 2002, but I think I just did not know him."
I asked Mimi what she thought Obama would do for Louisiana, and her husband, Tom, a very nice man who has been eyeing Mimi's new internet friend with some suspicion, loudly pipes in "Nothing!"
Tom has been moving in and out of the cozy, kitschy, kitchen, and I wonder if it because he is worried about Mimi's tendencies to befriend people on the internet, and now there is one of those weird internet people sitting at his kitchen table. Mimi had just finished explaining to me that Tom "almost flipped" when she went to New York "to meet a bunch of people that I met online." But Mimi had made up her mind and went anyway.
Mimi looks at Tom with the patience that only a long time partner can muster and gently suggests, "Obama will realize the importance of the oil and gas pipelines that run all through this state."
Tom is still not impressed and raises his voice in a firm but non-threatening way. He is obviously frustrated with politics in general. "We have been saying all along how important the wetlands are and no one is listening."
Tom turns to me and asks if I think "anyone will really care?" I demure, but am tempted to get into a discussion with the man. He is an outdoorsman and is very unhappy with what is happening to the landscape of Louisiana.
Mimi rescues the moment and says she has "hope that Obama is smart enough to realize how important the natural heritage of Louisiana is."
I finally am able to get a question in, and ask Mimi what is going through her head in terms of a message she would like the candidates to hear.
She would like to say something to Obama and offers "the theme of Death of a Salesman. 'Attention must be paid."' Mimi explains, "When people hurt as they do in South Louisiana, it is just wrong to look away."
"Obama should come to an understanding of our rich culture and pay attention. We should save the wetlands just for their value. What we have here is a land of bounty and there is no reason to have such poverty. I hope he (Obama) has enough sense to pay attention. He is smart, he is really smart."
So is Grandmere Mimi, judging by the substantial bookshelf alongside her computer desk, which features a red tome on Kierkegaard among many other heady titles.
One might be surprised to learn that a 74-year-old Cajun grandmother is a fearless advocate for gays and lesbians, but there you have it. I never thought to ask, but Mimi wants it clearly understood that "One of my causes is inclusivity for gays and lesbians in my church. If a church can't be inclusive..." she says as her voice trails off to the obvious conclusion.
Why is this issue of so much importance to a woman who has no gay members of her immediate family?
"My conversion is a long story that covers a number of years," Mimi says, and then directs me to a web log she wrote: Confessions of a Recovering Homophobe
Her "confessions," are a four part series, and a must read.
Here is an excerpt involving her husband, Tom, getting used to the idea that gay friends would be staying with them.
"Since ours is an empty nest, and we have not moved to a smaller house, we have bedrooms to spare. Our guests arrived, and I introduced T., and we met N., who was a absolute dear. I took them upstairs to unload their luggage and showed them the rooms and told them to sort themselves out wherever they chose. When I came back downstairs, my husband asked me who was sleeping where. I said that T. and N. had chosen our daughter's old room. He said, 'That has a queen bed in it.' I said, 'Yes. Which room did you want them in? The one with the twin beds?"' He laughed.
Mimi had once again made up her mind.
And what about Obama? Mimi made up her mind and voted early:
"Yesterday, I took advantage of the early voting procedure. There was no crowd, only a steady stream of voters making their way to the electronic machines, which I do not trust to record the votes properly. Nor do I have confidence that they will not be hacked. It's been proved that it can be done, and that it's not all that difficult. But it's all I have, so I voted.
"I voted for Barack Obama (D) - Joe Biden (D) for president. Yay! It's done.
"I voted for Mary Landrieu (D) for the Senate.
"I voted for Chip Badeaux (R) rather than Beau Brooks (R) for the vacant position on the Thibodaux City Council. As you see, both are Republicans, but for a city office-holder, party doesn't really matter all that much. I know Chip, but I don't know Beau, and I'd find it a little hard to vote for someone named Beau, unless I knew him. How can a parent name a boy the equivalent of handsome? Suppose they grow up to be ugly. I know a young woman named Jolie, and fortunately she grew up to be pretty. But it's a risk.
"I voted for some of the several constitutional amendments to the state constitution and against others. The Louisiana legislators think they must put everything into the constitution, rather than just pass laws. As a result, it is a bloated document, which will soon need to be redone in a constitutional convention. They should stop.
"Now for a little soul-baring. I am a wreck, and I will be a wreck until the election is over."
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