Thursday, August 21, 2014

GOSH, WHAT COWS!

While I'm in New Iberia, Louisiana on a mercy mission, I feel grateful to be back in my home for a brief visit, but I'd forgotten about the humidity that smothers me every time I step outdoors.  Several days ago, I left a climate of 70 and 80-degree temperatures on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee, and I haven't adjusted to Louisiana heat yet. By the time I leave Sunday, I should be somewhat acclimated but happy to return to cooler climes.

However, one of the pleasures of returning to "The Berry," as we call New Iberia, is the opportunity to graze in my library here and read books about Louisiana that I've collected for more than forty years. This morning, I began looking for a book with which to entertain myself rather than search for one that contained historical information as I usually do. I discovered a book entitled Cajun Folktales by J. J. Reneaux tucked away in a corner with more serious volumes about the history and ethnicity of Louisiana.

Jean Sot is a fellow I most enjoy reading about in Cajun stories, but I had never read the one about this foolish character that Reneaux includes in her volume. The story supposedly circulated around Mamou, Louisiana, legendary home of Jean Sot, and was told by Shirley Bergeron, a well-known Cajun musician and songwriter.  According to this tale, Jean Sot, who was noted for being not-so-smart, married someone equally foolish and, as Reneaux relates, "their two heads together were twice as foolish as Jean Sot's one moss-filled head by itself."

Jean Sot had never enjoyed the benefits of either telephone or electricity, and where he lived people still plowed with mules and traveled by wagon. So when a truck pulled up on property next to Jean Sot's land, and men began pulling long poles from what Jean Sot called a "pick-'em up truck" and digging deep holes to put the poles in, he was puzzled. With ropes and pulleys, the men raised the poles until they stood as tall as trees, a formidable sight for this simple country boy to view.

Jean Sot approached the men and asked what they planned to do with the tall poles. The crew boss, puzzled about Jean Sot's ignorance, told him they were going to string some wire between the poles. As they were talking, several men climbed the poles and began stringing wire between what Jean Sot perceived were fence posts.

Jean Sot ran off screaming "Aaiiee," and after he reached home, he commanded his wife to start packing. As his wife loved her home, she refused to comply with her foolish husband's request, and when Jean Sot explained that workmen had invaded the property next door to put up huge fences with posts as tall as trees and were stringing heavy wire between them, she scoffed at him. Cajuns, like Missourians, want to be shown the truth, so Jean Sot took his wife to the work scene and pointed at the fence. "See for yourself," he said. "I tell you one thing, Chere, they're not building that fence for no ordinary animal."

When Jean Sot's wife saw the fence, she was astounded and shook with fear. She agreed that they needed to get home tout de suite and pack up because they weren't going to live next door "to no giant cows."  And the foolish couple moved away from Mamou.


Such is the folklore about Jean Sot and his foolish wife. When this story is narrated aloud by an accomplished raconteur, complete with dialogue and hand embellishments, listeners agree that Cajun folk tales are alive with the joie de vivre that is the hallmark of the Cajun culture.
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