For years, I thought my Aunt Gayle was a rare bird. She could, in her own words, "talk a starving dog off a meat wagon." The only person I ever met who could match Aunt Gayle in a talking contest was my grandmother. Aunt Gayle and Granny used to spend hours together on the phone every day. And I do mean every single day! These were the days before call waiting, so if you called Aunt Gayle during one of her chat-fests with Granny, you were going to hear a busy signal for quite a while.
Aunt Gayle and Granny, as well as my mom and her entire side of the family, were born and raised in New Orleans. My mom moved to Los Angeles in the late 60's, and Aunt Gayle followed a few years later. Granny would visit every summer, to escape the heat and humidity. I grew up hearing those endearing accents tell tale after tale of Mardi Gras, crawfish, Grandpa's pirogue, and shrimping on the bayou. I picked up a lot of weird terms, too, like "lagniappe," "neutral ground," "panee" and a couple of Cajun patois words I can't even begin to spell.
When I'd come home from a visit to Aunt Gayle's, especially when Granny was staying there, my ears would ring. Our house was always peaceful and quiet, which was quite a contrast to the cacophony of Aunt Gayle's apartment. I'd always have a fantastic time over there, though - usually complete with costumes (for no reason whatsoever), music, and lots of junk food. Aunt Gayle and Granny were like a two-person comedy act. They were always "cuttin' up" (another Southern term) and telling jokes and stories. Aunt Gayle's was like a completely different world.
I visited New Orleans only three times during my childhood; once as an infant, during which time I famously slept in an empty dresser drawer, once for a wedding when I was about 7, and once in the middle of August, as a teenager. (NB: don't visit Louisiana in August.) So I was never really close with my many relatives there. I'd mostly hear about a few cousins from Aunt Gayle, who always kept up on the family's gossip. Until today, I believed that I was a California girl with two particularly colorful and entertaining relatives. I didn't really have anyone from New Orleans to compare them to.
Well, I found out today that Aunt Gayle and Granny were by no means unique, at least in terms of the volume of their voices or the length of time they could talk. Today Uncle Ralph came to visit, bringing his cousin and her husband, who generously offered to fly to L.A. to drive Uncle Ralph's moving van back to New Orleans. (He decided to move "back home" after Aunt Gayle passed away last year.) The three of them are on a whirlwind weekend tour of San Francisco, and they decided to stop and say hello to us on their way to Monterey and Carmel. Such nice people! Such charming accents! And WOW, could they talk! Part of me was concerned because they woke Katie up from her nap twice, but part of me loved just sitting there, nodding and listening, and wondering where the conversation would go next. Just like I used to with my dear Aunt Gayle.