Outdoor Corner: Only Momma

Lyle Johnson
My momma, Clara Ann Marchand, back in the day when she attended Gonzales High School.

My mom, Clara Ann Johnson, passed away last week one week short of 86 years old. It was bittersweet for her eight children as she was ready to go spiritually and to be with daddy again. We were all very happy for that.

But we will surely miss her as her role in life was not only to be our “momma” but to many others as well. She taught swimming lessons at the Gonzales pool for years, helping kids get over their fear of water.

Clara Ann worked at Marchand’s (her dad’s then brother’s store) showing many a teenager how to prepare that delicious food. She retired after driving thousands of kids to school on her bus. But her greatest role in life after raising (don’t know how she did it!) eight kids was being a spiritual mom to unknown numbers of hurting folks. I thought I’d pay tribute to her with this column about “Momma’s”

Mother’s Day has just passed and as usual some of my brothers and sisters (eight of us) sat around and did some reminiscing about our past with mom, Clara Ann. She will be 85 on May 21, and she spent lots of her life tending to us kids. Now it's our turn to take care of her, but we so enjoy thinking back about how special a mother is.

I thought back about a gumbo I ate that was probably one of the best my taste buds have experienced in a long time. The make up of this gumbo was very special, and you probably can’t find this one in any cookbook around because some of the ingredients are intangible.

It starts off like most recipes of this tasty Cajun delight, a roux cooked to a deep brown hue, some browned onions, some good home made stock and then the meat. Many different combinations of meats or seafood are used in the preparation of this “liquid gold” we call gumbo. But this one consisted of a couple of squirrels, one rabbit, a handful of doves and a little chicken topped off with andouille and smoked sausage.

Here’s why this one is different. The squirrel, rabbit and doves were provided by a young boy who loves to hunt, my nephew Taylor Diez. It’s taken him nearly a year to build up this stash of goodies as his opportunities sometimes comes sparingly, but he takes advantage of them all.

One day he might kill one squirrel, then a couple of weeks later he might harvest another. Then come the doves and hunting season ends. Now it's next year; he bags the rabbit and finally there’s enough meat to hopefully feed our large family.

His effort to provide meat for the table and his love of the outdoors are only a part of the “intangibles” that are added to the mix. The other flavors come from a momma’s love for her son as she probably heard begging of some sort after every successful hunt he made, asking her to cook the kill.

All these ingredients add up to make a great success story, in the kitchen and in the life of a young man. Only a momma (Bernadine, better known as Bernie) can bring to life the dream of a kid that’s had success in the field become a reality.

I remember my first one. Me, my brother Cliff and the preacher’s kid, David Arnold, were hanging around the Church of Christ on Orice Roth Road. The ditch in front had a couple of inches of water in it and me and Cliff started looking around and caught a couple of crawfish with our hands.

Now David was from Tennessee, and not only didn’t he understand our enthusiasm for catching the weird looking creatures, he wouldn’t touch them either. But we found a way to include him in our quest to catch enough mudbugs to eat, yea right! He could spot the crawfish by their whiskers on top of the water, his eyesight was unbelievable! So he would spot them and we would do the dirty work, catching every one he saw.

At the end of our adventure, we had caught about 50 crawfish, none which were big enough to eat, except maybe for a catfish on a trotline. But we went home along with our prize catch looking for our favorite cook, my momma. After much begging and pleading she relented and boiled those crawfish using only salt with the water. They probably tasted pretty bland but I remember them to be delicious.

I remember when my son Wesley killed his first squirrels. He came in the back door with two of them and I was pleasantly surprised at the success he had. I asked him how many times he shot and he replied “Well, two!” looking at me like I asked a dumb question.

The gleam in the eyes of this young man when his mom cooked those two squirrels he brought home was one I’ll never forget. She cooked them in a delicious gravy that we all enjoyed.

Another momma memory came via my Aunt Cat. Jeff Bourque is my first cousin and lives along Bayou Francois. Me, my brother Cliff and Jeff were inseparable in the summertime, spending all of our time fishing.

One of those days we were trying our best to provide some fine dining fare for our lunch. We did our best to catch bream, catfish or any other desirable species for Aunt Cat to fry. We did catch plenty enough to eat but not the kind we were expecting.

Using earthworms for bait we struck out on our normal catch. We were about to give up when one of us caught a mullet. This was a bit unusual so we got a little excited about catching them. We caught five or six more and headed home.

It took some very prolific begging but we finally talked Jeff’s mom into cooking our “prize” catch. I’m sure they tasted really awful but we bragged about how good they tasted. Our taste buds were probably tainted from the joy of the catch.

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s our turn to take care of mom. So I cooked some catfish and bream I’d caught off my pier for the two best mom’s I know: my momma and my kid’s momma, Deborah. Both of them have prepared lot’s of fish for our family.

Today I’d like to pay tribute to every mother who at one time or another, participated in her son’s or another young man’s passage of rites to outdoors’ manhood; the first time he provided meat for the table.

I realize it was a sacrifice, you probably didn’t feel like doing it and maybe even nobody wanted to eat the finished product. Believe me, it was worth the effort for the positive reinforcement you gave him.

Thanks mom for all you’ve done for us in your 86 years. So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard, be safe in the outdoors and may God truly bless you!!

Life on the Diversion with folks helping one another out with a complimentary tow job. Photo by Lyle Johnson