Before I left for my December tour, I built a tiny bonfire on the river back home in St. James Parish. We used to build huge ones with a bow saw, me and my cousin Gerard would do the cutting. It would take two months because it was so big. It was normal to spend all day finding the center pole, hauling it and recruiting help to get it in the hole. Each year the logs got fatter and me and Gerard would dare to cut down the biggest tree in the woods.
I enjoyed having a goal and working towards the end and being able to climb to the top of it. One of my favorite things to do during the month of December is to make campfires on the river at night and cook on the open flame. My nephews and I camped out on the river the day we built this before I left. We were so tired that night but managed to stay up playing Batteille and hanging in the upstairs bed of my Westfalia.
photo by: Margaret Hebert
My cousins laugh at me because I had a hard time cutting down trees. We built this mostly with trees that had been felled.
I've always loved these trees with the moss growing on them. Next week when I get back in town, I'm looking forward to putting the cane reed on it so it will pop when we light it.
For many years, I've been wanting to write a Christmas song but could never whip myself up in the right mood. Christmas Eve hasn't been the same since my grandmother died. I remember making up songs in the back of the truck on the way to her house on Christmas Eve. I beat on boxes and sing about the people in our family we were going to see. Such pure joy being a kid on that day knowing you'll eat your dad's gumbo, open presents and then go to the river for the bonfires.
After a few years of living in Brooklyn, I remember returning home for Christmas Eve and when they lit the fireworks and the fires started to catch, I was in the middle of the roaring crowd and had the chills thinking of our tradition that had died but was reminded that it was still going on and that I had to let go and make new ones.
Last November, I sang at my cousin Patti Poirrier Amato's funeral. The choir director, Mrs. Poche, told me I'd have to sing a long time because there were a lot of people in the church going to communion. I began making a song up at the end of Amazing Grace, I don't know where it came from but it resonated with everyone and brought a certain peace. I was encouraged to write a Christmas song after that experience. I've been all over and have never found a tradition like ours. It's a beautiful thing that there's still a place in the world, where the doors remain open to strangers, with a place at the table. So let it snow in the mountains, I'll take my fire by the river. Happy Holidays. "Light the fire, I'll be coming, coming home"!