As a child growing up near the swamps of southern Louisiana, there were a couple of things I was sure of….
Alligators could come to visit us whenever they wanted.
Crawfish were fun to play with.
Growing up poor on the bayou didn’t give me many opportunities to play with the fancier toys other children in my small hometown would, so I would make up my own unique forms of play…like hunting for crawfish.
There was a tiny ditch zig-zagging its way through our back yard at one of many houses I lived at during my childhood. Whenever it rained my siblings and I would get ready for what we knew was going to happen. That little ditch would fill up with water and before you know it, crawfish would be drawn to that mini-bayou in our back yard.
I never knew how they actually got there, but as soon as mother told us we could, we would run barefoot through the squishy backyard to that ditch. My brother David, who was six years older than myself and far braver than I would ever be while living in that house, would calmly tread his way in that water from one side of the yard to the other. He was using his toes as bait for the crawfish we knew were hiding just under the surface. Of course it would hurt like the dickens when one of those mudbugs caught a toe with those front pinchers, but my brother would just scramble out of the water to toss his prize into a nearby bucket we brought for just such an occasion.
You would have to ask my sister, Janet, if she ever followed our brother into the ditch. My memories feel like she did, but I just might be putting her on a bravery pedestal like I did my brother. Scaredy-cat me, I did the next best thing. Stretching out a long piece of string, I dipped one end into the mudholes I would find nearby. Even at six years old I knew crawfish liked to burrow themselves into the mud after a rain and I’d never met a crawfish that didn’t like to grab onto anything that got in its way. Patience eventually paid off and I could pull that string up with one or sometimes two angry crawdads clinging on for dear life.
We never caught more than a handful, but it was just enough to have some crawfish races on the sidewalk. All Cajuns knew crawfish ran backwards when they’re trying to get away from something so the “finish-line” was always placed behind them.
When you’re a kid and dirt poor, there are always ways to have a little fun on the bayou…