For a brief stint in my life I was a civil trial lawyer in Beaumont, Texas, and there were two things I liked about it. Being in the courtroom and Miss Euna’s gumbo.
Every day at noon all 14 of the lawyers in the firm were expected to eat lunch together around this huge solid marble table in the dining room, unless of course, you were off doing something to make more money.
We each had a seat. A place where we sat every day. In oversized leather tufted wingback chairs.
While Miss Euna served our meal.
Now keep in mind we’re in Beaumont, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with that part of Texas, don’t make the same mistake I did. I thought Beaumont would be like any other city in Texas, but it’s different.
Living there was like stepping back in time.
Beaumont was right on the coast, giving it an oppressive sub-tropic climate that made your sunglasses fog over the minute you stepped out of the air conditioning. Plus, it was right on the Louisiana border, so there was a lot of Cajun influence.
Their Zydeco music wasn’t a favorite, but the practice of having crawfish and gumbo at every meal, well, I liked that just fine.
Every day Miss Euna, dressed in her crisp white uniform like something out of a past I barely remembered, made dirty rice gumbo and would serve a bowl to each of us at the table. When I looked down into that first bowl, I nearly gagged.
It was the filthiest looking concoction I’d ever seen.
Looked like it had just been dipped out of a nearby swamp. There were plenty around. It seriously resembled the puddles in the mud ruts that the garbage trucks used to make in the alley behind our house when I was growing up. A breeding ground for the quart jar of tadpoles I’d scoop up after it rained.
All it took was one bite.
From then on, I didn’t care what it looked like.
Huge shrimp the size of my fist and whole crawfish. I know, the head on the crawfish thing was disgusting, but with all the rice and the spices, this was amazing gumbo.
After they told me about the oversized swamp rats called Nutria that lived around there, I always wondered if those might be in the gumbo, too.
But by that time I didn’t care.
I tried to let Euna know how much I enjoyed her gumbo. Everything she cooked. It seemed to please her, knowing that what she did mattered.
That somebody saw the woman behind that white uniform.