June 4, 2021
Author and financial adviser Blaine Lourd is a Coonass devil. We could all learn a thing or two from Mr. Lourd in this PPE (post pandemic era) in principles of self-reliance, ingenuity and work ethic – fundamental principles that Coonasses often learn from their fathers. On this Fathers Day, DGC celebrates the work of Blaine Lourd and his bestselling book Born On The Bayou: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster). In it, he chronicles the triumphant lessons and intermittent missteps learned from his charismatic Coonass Father “Puffer” while growing up during the 1970-80’s “awl bidness” boom in the heart of Cajun country. Economists know that boom is almost always followed by bust so what can we all hope to gain from the ideology of a Coonass? For starters, we can learn how to win.
What exactly is a “Coonass?” A Coonass is a very resourceful person who follows their gut instinct. Race, religion, class, wealth, poverty, gender, white-collar or blue-collar – the decree remains tantamount. They belong to The Coonass Mafia, a special club that harbors in its core, a laissez-faire policy. In order to qualify for membership, one must be able to check all 5 of the following boxes: #1. Must be born & raised in the swamplands of South Louisiana, #2. must know where the Bonnet Carré Spillway is, #3. must own at least one boat, #4. must know how to catch, kill and clean any critter that inhabits the Atchafalaya Basin and surrounding marshlands and #5. always eats whatever they kill. I am a proud card-carrying Coonass by default. Wait, lemme explain.
North Louisiana and South Louisiana
My family is from Tensas Parish in North Louisiana. It is the smallest parish in the state. The sluggish pace makes for passive living. There’s only one stoplight in the whole town and even to this day, it only works half of the time. The most thrilling pastime is fishing in Lake Bruin or Lake Saint Joe. When my father was a boy, he and his friends would ride their bicycles to Lake Bruin to swim, fish and dive down into the murky lake bottom to pick up coke bottles to sell for a penny at MacIntine’s Grocery store out on Johnsons bend road. My father’s father Burt (born in 1900), was an “uneducated biologist” who worked for the Louisiana Game and Fish Commission (that was the name in the 1940’s; today it’s called The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries.) He ran a fish hatchery in Lake Bruin that caught a lot of Sturgeon and Paddle fish. The eggs of these fish were then served in the finest New York City restaurants to patrons as caviar under the company name Bruin Caviar. Burt also invented The Garr Trap.
This patented device trapped the predator fish “da Garr” so that it would not eat the lakes game fish such as Bass, White Perch (or Sac-a-lait as the Coonasses call it) and Brim fish. Louisiana Governor Jimmy Davis (1944-1948) owned a sprawling 300 plus acre farm that surrounded Lake Bruin and appointed Burt as a Louisiana State Police Special Agent. Burt taught his son (my father) how to hunt duck, squirrel, dove and white-tail deer there. Dave Lide, a Texas oil-tycoon, also owned land on Lake Bruin and a couple of plantations such as the Winter Quarters Plantation in Tensas Parish which grew cotton and soybeans. Burt worked on Mr. Lides’ property as a foreman before falling ill with tuberculosis. My father meanwhile “cowboyed” the land and minded the farm animals, bailed hay and drove a tractor – anything to make a living. The song A Country Boy Can Survive by Hank Williams Jr. is my daddy’s favorite song after all.
By 1969, my father was in his second semester of college at Northwestern University. He barely escaped the Vietnam War draft simply by having the good fortune of being color blind. My teenage Mother meanwhile, was the youngest of seven children whose impoverished family was barely surviving as sharecroppers. Her natural beauty caught the eye of my Father (she was a dead ringer for singer Michelle Phillips from the musical quartet The Mamas and the Papas) and they were soon married. I was born in 1972. My Father wanted a boy but…we don’t always get what we want. And so, he raised his only child the way his father raised him – harsh, rough and sometimes cruel. “I got tired of pickin’ shit with the chickens,” he said, “so I went where the opportunity was, where the Coonasses work hard and play even harder.” In 1974, we moved 150 miles south to Cajun country – to the “wettest, wildest and freest” part of the entire country where kids get an entire week off from school just to celebrate Mardi Gra. He landed an entry-level job loading rail cars at one of the local chemical plants in Iberville Parish and then worked himself up the ladder before retiring in 2015. During this time, our family became good friends with many Coonass families. My father had friends with nicknames such as “Fonk Hebert”, “Big Chief”, “Hubcap”, “Lightnin'” and “Filthy Ralph”, to name a few. They spoke Cajun French, hunted and fished the swamps, smoked cigarettes, pickled everything, brewed their own muscadine wine, mowed their own grass and danced the two-step with their wives and daughters to zydeco music. One family even had a pet alligator named “T-Claw”.
And so, I grew up hunting and fishing, swimming in the bayou and playing softball and football with a gang of neighborhood Coonass boys that my father affectionately called “The Turd Heads”. We lived “down the bayou” among cypress, pine and pecan trees, along the edge of Bayou Plaquemine. We spent summers swinging into the muddy, dark green water from an old rubber tire that was expertly hung in a giant cypress tree by a thick rope that river barges dock with. Swimming amongst cottonmouth snakes and alligators was normal. “If you don’t mess with them, they don’t mess with you,” my Father always said. I became an entrepreneur at 8 years old when my daddy told me “Look at all dat money laying on the ground…all you gotta do is go pick it up.” Pecans, of course. (This ideology continued into adulthood when I moved to Los Angeles in 1998 to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. I opened a dog walking company in 2006 with less than $600 and grew it into a profitable business which helps fund my films to this day.)
My father had an Acadian style fishing camp in the tiny town of Grand Isle that was mounted on tar-seasoned telephone poles to offset high rain water, tides and flooding. (Grand Isle is a small Coonass community on a narrow barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico that’s locally famous for its fishing tournaments like The Tarpon Rodeo). One day, after a morning of “bottom bumping” in blue water (deep sea fishing) out by the oil rigs, my father drove me down the two lane highway to the very end of the island where the highway simply vanishes into marsh. “Shug, this here is the end of the world,” he said proudly as we both peered out into the Gulf of Mexico. For a 10 year old girl, it certainly seemed to be true. I didn’t know it yet, but I had already learned how to not only survive in this world, but to also win. For I was blessed with the gift of storytelling. I loved writing short stories about our fishing trips and swamp shenanigans. My father of course, was always the hero.
A Coonass is a natural salesman. They know how to live off of the land. These are my people. They boil crawfish in giant pots and stir the spicy brew with their boat paddles. Coonasses are always up to “pass a good time, cher” and have hearts of gold and will lend a helping hand to anyone in need. For example, anytime the area floods, (which you can set your watch by) hundreds of Coonasses take to their boats, calling themselves “The Cajun Navy” to help rescue strangers and pets from rising water. No one tells them to do it. It’s just the nature of a Coonass. I’m grateful to have been raised Coonass. Within that creed, is work ethic, ingenuity and moxie. Coonasses have mental toughness, resiliency and grit. As an entrepreneur, it’s definitely my secret sauce for success. Unfortunately, lazy people often mistake these seasoned characteristics as white privilege.
Happy Fathers Day 2021 to the Coonass men who help build and shape their children into capable adults who work hard and play even harder.