Friday, January 27, 2012

The Hermit Crab

from Stories of Bayou Life

I grew up living on the gulf coast, but when our family first moved to Cameron, Louisiana, in 1957, I met the funny little hermit crab for the first time.

My brother and I walked along the sandy coast in our bare feet on a hot June day. We saw the strangest thing. Shells were moving across the sand. When we approached them, the legs that had propelled them, withdrew into the shell. The strangest thing to me was that the shells didn’t seem to be of any specific type. I was eleven, and of course, I had to ponder on that. It was as if some pointy-legged thing had crawled into the shell and borrowed it to hide in. I had to figure this out.

I had nothing to carry them in, so I gathered a few of them in the skirt of my dress. My brother stuffed some into his pockets. Carrying as many as we could, we hauled them back home.

We set them down on the front porch and began our experiments.  We tried to get them to come out of their shells. We learned if we turned them over, they'd come almost all the way out to right their shells. We had races with them, drawing a circle with chalk and seeing whose would leave the circle first. They were very entertaining at a time when we had no television. Well some folks did, but we didn't. We had to make our own fun. And, once Mama told us what they were, our hermit crabs were lots of fun. 

 That night, we put them in a box on the table. Surely they'd be safe there until we could play with them again in the morning.

But when morning came, the box was empty. Where did they go? We soon found them in every corner of the house, under furniture, and in shoes. Some of them had died in their attempt to find water.

We learned a valuable lesson. Don't take a creature out of its habitat no matter how fun it is to play with. We could walk to the beach and play with them in their home, but not ours.

About hermit crabs:

 Hermit crabs are not born in those shells. They use them to protect their bodies. When they outgrow the shell they are in, they look for a bigger one, and crawl in. That is why they are called hermit crabs. There's a lot more information on Wikipedia. Watch the video of a hermit crab changing shells.

 Some people buy these crabs for pets, and keep them in an aquarium. But before you do this, be sure and get familiar with the care and feeding of them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hurricane Audrey

from Stories of Bayou Life
Hurricane Audrey, 1957, Cameron, Louisiana.

Water and more water

 It was June of 1957. We had evacuated to the one building in town that seemed sturdy enough to withstand the winds and water that were quickly coming ashore the small southwest Louisiana town.

 The water came in, not with a crashing blow, but swiftly and with purpose, lifting houses from their foundations, ripping propane tanks from their anchors, and shooing people from their homes like they were mere ants. And the water kept coming.

 Houses floated by with people on the roofs, shouting for someone to help them. People floated by on mattresses, waving and crying. No one in our building could help them. We had no way to reach them from the third floor where we were all stranded at the mercy of Mother Nature…or God.

 It would be 24 hours before the water receded, leaving an unimaginable pile of mud, upside down houses, cars parked on top of each other, and even boats in trees. We were still stranded, as power lines lay like one of those games kids played on the school ground, where they made designs between their fingers with a piece of string.

 Food was brought in by men that were brave enough to go out and loot the demolished grocery stores. We finally  had something in our stomachs, since we’d arrived with no thought of having to bring something to eat, but merely to save our lives.

 Another day passed, when we were herded out of the building like cattle on their way to slaughter, over ramps that had been placed over the debris for our safety.

 It would be a long time before the town of Cameron, Louisiana would repopulate, and the citizens that survived there in 1957 would get back on their feet. But come back they did, with only the help of family and friends, they came back strong.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Selling Crabs - a story short

One of my story shorts about life on the bayou in the 1950's.  They are from my childhood memories, injected with a little fiction to round them out. This one was one of our summer jobs on the levee.

Selling Crabs on the Levee

“Here comes a car,” I told my brother, George, who jumped to pick up a pair of metal tongs.

We’d been standing on the road beside the levee all afternoon trying to sell a bushel full of crabs for Dad, and as soon as it was empty, we could go play.

These crabs were too small for the restaurant where he usually sold them. But, they were still pretty good eating.

Standing next to our sign propped against a stick, boasting ‘fresh crabs, 50 cents a dozen,’ we must have looked pretty shabby—a couple of grade schoolers, barefoot, with baggy clothes.

The car pulled over. A heavy set man stepped out with a grin on his face and looked into the basket of squirming crabs, bubbles oozing from their mouths.

“They’re kinda small.” He reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of Camels. “I’ll give you forty cents.” He shook out a cigarette and stuck it between his lips.

We looked at each other. “We gotta git fifty for ‘em. Daddy says,” George told the man.

“They’re really fat crabs,” I said. “Good and heavy. Wanna feel one of ‘em?”

The man lit up his cigarette, took a long draw, and threw the match on the ground, as he bent over the wooden basket, eyeing the blue critters, who were looking warily back at him with their pincers all aimed up.

George reached in with the tongs, grabbed one, and held it out. “Grab it by the back, or it’ll get ya good.”

“I know how to handle a crab,” the man said with his cigarette wiggling up and down as he talked. He held out his hand and took the crab by the back of its shell, as George let go. “He is pretty heavy. Guess I’ll take a couple doz…” His fingers slipped from the damp shell, and the crab fell to the ground.

We all jumped back, watching for where it would go. It happened to run sideways—like crabs always do—toward George’s bare foot.

“Watch it!” I pushed him out of the way, knocking over the bushel of crabs. “Oh no!”

Crabs began to scurry every which way, trying to get away from us—and the man that wanted them for supper.

“I ain’t got time for this nonsense!” The man flipped his cigarette toward the lake, jumped into his car, and drove away.

It took us the rest of the afternoon to get all those crabs gathered up and back in the bushel, while a few cars slowed down, folks gawking at us as they passed. No one stopped to help, or to buy any.

As the sun got low, we carried our basket back over the levee to where Mama would fixing supper in our small shack by the bayou. We made our way out to the end of the pier and dumped them into the gumbo colored water—to live another day.