It was late in the afternoon when the family came into the mercantile.
Mom was maybe out of her 20s. She wore her dark hair straightened and had on obvious makeup. She looked more like she was on a date at the mall than out having a nature experience.
Dad had the look of a jock whose mid-30s metabolism was slowing down. He wasn’t fat, but his middle was getting soft. He talked loud and fast and seemed accustomed to being the center of his family’s world.
The oldest kid, a son about seven or eight years old, had dark hair like his mother. He spent his entire time in the store trying to convince his parents to buy him a walking stick.
The second child was an adorable little girl, a toddler who was probably not yet three. Her hair was long and straight and blond like her father’s. She had plump, rosy cheeks and was obviously the apple of her father’s eye.
While the woman had a lot of questions about the nearby national park (How far away was it? How did they get there? How late was it open? How much did it cost to get in?), she and the man let the kids roam freely through the store. The little girl was drawn to the breakable bear figurines. Her parents never once discouraged her while she moved them around on the shelves where they were displayed. They allowed her to pick them up one after another and bring them up to the cash register. She could hardly reach to set them on the counter in front of me, but no one in her family tried to help her or take them out of her hands. For one glorious moment, I actually thought the dad was going to buy every bear the child set before me, but I quickly realized he was only letting her play with the merchandise.
All the while the mom was talking—to me, to her son, to her man, to the girl child. Something about her accent was familiar, but I wasn’t sure my guess was correct…
Where are y’all from? I asked.
Texas! the dad boomed. Near Houston.
I supposed it was a Texas accent I recognized. However, the more the woman talked, the more I was convinced it wasn’t Texas I was hearing.
She was standing near the counter when I looked at her and asked, Did you grow up in Texas?
No, she said. I grew up in Louisiana.
I knew it!
You’re Cajun! I exclaimed.
The woman seemed surprised, but confirmed her Cajunness.
Me too! I said. I told her my last name and the town where I grew up.
[amazon template=image&asin=0374515573]She told me her last name and the town where she grew up. Although I didn’t recognize her family name as one of the pillars of Cajun culture, I remember a book I once read that said there’s three ways to become Cajun: birth, marriage, or through the back door. Maybe she’d had a non-Cajun male ancestor who’d married a Cajun gal and assimilated. No matter what this customer’s family name was or how many years she’d lived in Texas, her accent gave her away to anyone in the know.
To his credit, the man of the family returned to their shelves all the bears his daughter had set on the checkout counter. Of course, he plunked them down any old way, and I had to arrange them artfully after the family left.
When they were gone, The Man asked me how in the world I’d known the woman was Cajun. I shrugged and told him it was all in her accent.