“The Wealthiest Accordion Player”
If Cajun music is one our culture’s richest commodities, then accordion player Cory McCauley is the wealthiest man I know. I arrived at his home – ten minutes outside of the small town Mamou – where he and Alexie, his five year old son, both sporting straw hats, planted cantaloupes and okra. Lisa, his wife of seven years, teaches French at Mamou Junior High and had to attend a meeting at school that day. After shaking hands, I made a failed attempt to correctly pronounce Alexie’s name, demonstrating my deficient French pronunciation, for it came out roughly as Alex-ee not Ahleck-say. The garden was to the right of the house and separated from the front yard by a waist-high wire fence. Egg plants and sprouting tomatoes, in two rows about six feet long, were already in the dry ground.
“We need rain, yes,” Cory said, pouring water for his cantaloupes. The land was dusty and it had not rained for the past few weeks. But that day, lingering like possibility, was a wall of dark clouds to the south. “Always plant in the mud.” Cory dug a small hole with his hand, unwrapped the damp newspaper from the plant’s roots’ and placed a tiny cantaloupe sprout in the ground. Alexie, in shorts and knee-high black rubber-boots, squatted next to his Papa, taking instructions in Cajun French. I was glad to see a member of my generation – Cory is thirty-one – who could speak our language and I was a little envious that I couldn’t understand every thing being said; but most importantly, Alexie did.
After the two rows of cantaloupes and okra were planted and Alexie, hoe in hand, vanquished a lone cluster of grass at the edge of the garden, we went into the house; first stepping into a deep, screened gallery on the backside of the structure that opened onto a large combined kitchen and dining area with a varnished wood floor. A pair of rocking chairs stood to the left of the kitchen table, next to a new Peavey PA and amplifier positioned under two windows looking out at the garage and garden. It was a quarter to noon and Cory prepared two hot dogs for Alexie, who sat across from me at the round kitchen table squirting ketchup on both sides of the buns.
On Cory’s face were small, round glasses, giving him the visage of a philosopher, while his closely cropped brown hair spoke of orderliness, which was also evident in the immaculate house. Not a counter cluttered nor a speck of dust and the wood floor blinded me. To complete the wise, neat look, Cory had a pencil-thin mustache. You may wonder how an individual with an Irish last name can be a Cajun musician, but Cory’s early ancestors who arrived in south Louisiana became Cajun by marrying the women. “My last name is Irish and that was mixed with some German, some Desoehotel, and Manuel, which is probably Spanish. My mother was a Fontenot, her mother was a Miller, German again. Some Reed, which is Irish again. None of my family’s background is Acadian, which is quite common in Evangeline parish.” Also ironic, given that the parish was named after Longfellow’s poem which recounted the Acadian exile from Nova Scotia to Louisiana.
“The first MacCauley to come here was named Patrick and he came from Ireland to Virginia, and he married a woman there, then came to Louisiana and settled near Bayou Chicot. He later moved to Chataignier in about 1770, during the time when Louisiana was owned by Spain. So he was Irish, married to an American, was living in Louisiana under Spanish rule, and was a member of the Opelousas Militia fighting for the Americans against the British. He was really an international type of person!”