SUNDAY LETTERS
photo of boiled crayfish
15 October, 2000

Dear Friend,

. . . Louisiana culture has more influence here in Delaware than it does in its neighboring state, Texas. Thirty years living in Texas, no one ever served me boiled mudbugs for dinner. Last night I ate my fill.
. . . As a kid on a U.S. Navy base in Oklahoma, me and my friends would catch crayfish -- we called 'em crawdads. It never occurred to us to boil and eat them. It never occurred to our parents, either. Crawdads were no more considered food than grasshoppers, snails, or grubs.
photo of Denis
. . . Later in life I did eat crayfish, but in jambalaya, never by themselves, never boiled and savored as though they were miniature lobsters. Our Louisianan neighbor, Denis (at right), celebrated his fiftieth birthday last night in the style of New Orleans, and served forty pounds of crayfish.
. . . First, you pull the tail away from the head. Then, with the torn side of the head in your mouth, you squeeze and suck out the juice. Yummy. Then you get to eat the meat from the tail. Delicious. Like I said, I ate my fill. I ate two, then quickly drank a bottle of Dixie beer.
. . . "Delicious crayfish" was not the only apparent oxymoron to confront me at Denis's party. As you enter his house, you see tiles set into the concrete of the front steps. If you look closely, you see animals and letters. The letters spell words, one of which is "PHYSICS."
. . . As you know, my first degree was in physics, so seeing this word set in concrete intrigued me. Why would an Arts and Crafts house proclaim anything about neutrinos and bosons? I looked to see the other words. They didn't make sense. They said, "THE LABOUR WE DELIGHT IN PHYSICS PAIN."
. . . The language, it turns out, is old. Long ago and far away, "physics" was a verb. It meant "cure" or "ease". We still see this meaning today in the word "physician" -- someone who cures or eases our pain -- if things go well. In this case, the quote means "The work we delight in cures our melancholy, eases our distress." Delightful work? Another Louisiana oxymoron?

P H Y S I C S on the steps

. . . After the party, I searched for this enigmatic quote's author. Looking in a book of quotations arranged by subject, I found several quotes about work.
. . . "Give me love and work--these two only." --William Morris
. . . "As a cure for worrying, work is better than whiskey." --Thomas Edison.
. . . "I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours." --Jerome K. Jerome
. . . "The man who does not work for the love of work but only for money is not likely to make money nor to find much fun in life." --Charles. M Schwab
. . . "The moment a man can really do his work, he becomes speechless about it; all words are idle to him; all theories. Does a bird need to theorize about building its nest, or boast of it when built? All good work is essentially done that way; without hesitation; without difficulty; without boasting. --John Ruskin
. . . In another book of quotations, arranged by author, I found the author of the quote, that great Louisiana playwright, William Shakespeare, from his play, "MacBeth."
bunny rabbit tile on steps
. . . Is delightful work possible? probable? an oxymoron? When Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden, work is Adam's curse, not his delight.
. . . "I have placed a curse upon the soil," says the Lord God near the end of the third chapter of Genesis. "All your life you will struggle to extract a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you ... All your life you will sweat to master it, until your dying day. Then you will return to the ground from which you came."
. . . Have I missed something? Toil that produces only thorns and thistles? Does that describe your work? If anything, it describes the desperate work of farmers in the Hill Country of Texas during the Great Depression. For a moving description of those farmers' lives, and the benefits of rural electrification, read two chapters of Robert Caro's Lyndon B. Johnson: The Path to Power. You'll never think of washing machines the same again.
. . . As for thorns and thistles being a curse, I'll bet they aren't considered a curse in Louisiana. I'll bet recipes for Thorn and Thistle Casserole can be found in any self-respecting Louisiana cookbook -- as well as recipes for soup, bread and beer.
. . . You know, there was one side dish served at Denis's party last night I couldn't identify. I wonder....

R E S P O N S E S

As my great aunt used to say, "Now you've gone to meddlin!" I was born and raised in Louisiana before transversing to Austin. I have eaten many more than two mudbugs -- and if you had looked carefully, you would have found to every detail (save size) an exact lobster --and I guess you don't eat those either. We did what your friend Denis did for my son's graduation in Simsbury, CT. We flew up 50 pounds of crayfish to feed all his friends, but we did lobsters too. The kids did a comparison, and lo and behold! You should have skipped the sucking the head part and just stayed with the tail. Sorry to hear you can't stoop to eating our delicacies :) Haven't you heard Louisianian's will eat anything that doesn't eat them first?
--jbw

Don't knock grasshoppers and grubs. I had a delicious platter of fried grasshoppers down in Oaxaco, Mexico. That is their specialty. They are small and very crunchy -- you can roll them up in a tortilla. My wife, Barbara, did not offer to help me eat them. In China this summer, we did not have any grubs but we did have eels and silkworm pupa. They fry the silkworm pupa and sprinkle salt on them -- they are quite good. Nothing goes to waste in China. In parts of the Torah, it says you will go straight to hell for eating those crawdads, shrimp, crab claws, and catfish. It also has some strange comments about God picking out a few chosen people to be his very own. God must have a sense of humor and he/she must laugh at all the
--Jimmy S.

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Text and photos copyright 1999-2000 Danny N. Schweers