Mama Joe’s Mimosa Tree
A momma’s love shines through her children, and Mama Joe’s eleven children wonderfully displayed their love for her. Lizo Vidrine married when she was 15 and she and Joe Latour raised their 11 kids in Ville Platte, Louisiana. As a kid, I remember going to Mama and PapaJoe’s every week, mostly on Sunday afternoons. When Dad drove the family from Eunice to Ville Platte my siblings and I played a very lame car game called “Counting Horses” ( that’s a “whole ‘nother Oprah” as one of my good friends would say). We traveled a distance of 17 miles, but to 4 restless kids, it seemed like 77 at least!
Back then we mostly kissed Mama & Papa hello and then headed to the backyard to chase Papa’s chickens and eat his scuppernong grapes until he came out yelling at us to leave his chickens alone. Then we fidgeted inside for 8 or so minutes until Dad gave us each a dime to walk to Mr. Theophile’s tiny store on the corner where we each bought 10 penny candies that were placed in small paper bags. To get to the store we had to pass Mama’s next door neighbor’s house that would later remind me of Boo Radley’s place. My sisters and I usually ran when we passed neighbor Gazelle’s because she and her “not-quite-right” daughters lived there with at least 100 cats, and Gazelle yelled at us if she was sitting on the front porch with a gun beneath her chair. (another Oprah-type tale).
However, many years later, Papa Joe has died and Mama Joe is bedridden and somewhat senile. Now her seven children who live closest to her have each claimed a day of the week to come take care of her (or pay for a sitter if they cannot come that week). Usually my momma drives my two sisters and me to visit Mama Joe. Now the house is quiet and after Gayle, Kelly and I kiss Mama Joe hello in her bed full of pillows, we move to the small living room to read or watch a little t.v. Momma stays in Mama’s bedroom and time ticks slowly be with the soft sounds of Momma talking to Mama. Later, the sitter arrives and talks with Momma in Cajun French. Sometimes my sisters and I go outside and pick these hard pears or sour plums from Mama’s trees. Papa Joe had been a gifted gardener, and years earlier he had grown vegetables and fruits galore in his extensive garden. Gayle remembers when he pulled a carrot from the ground once and handed her the best carrot she has ever tasted!
Mama Joe’s yard also had this mimosa tree I really loved. Its beautiful softness, the feathery green leaves, with the flowers that looked like pink dandelions remind me now of my grandmother’s soft, strong beauty. Mimosa trees produce fragile, sweet blossoms in the late spring that attract butterflies and birds and that also contrast with the tree’s tough nature. According to some gardening websites, mimosas do well in droughts and heat, which explains their abundance along southern highways. Also, they produce these elongated seedpods that drop and spread their “offspring” far and wide. The Japanese call mimosas the “sleeping tree” because their leaves gently fold for the night. Like the mimosa tree, Mama Joe had a strong, calm beauty that mixed the Cajun Vidrine in her with the Native American blood my momma always claimed she had. (“Your mama’s great-great grandmother was an Indian princess, for real!”) Also, her eleven seedpods heeded the Catholic directive to “go forth and multiply” well. Mama and Papa Joe had 48 grandchildren and over 60 great-grandchildren and I don’t know how many great-grandchildren since the Latours are still healthily multiplying.
Overall, Mama Joe was a sweet, smiling & laughing Cajun who married at age 15 and raised a family of 11, who only spoke Cajun French until her son P.J. married Polly (an amazing woman from California), and so she learned to speak English to welcome a new member of her family, who cooked rice and gravy like a top chef, who loved life and good times almost as much as she loved all of her many children and their children, and their children’s children, and so on. All Mama Joe gave forth was love and joy which she taught my own mother, Geraldine, to do for her 4 children, who then did her best to teach me to do for my 3 boys. Like the mimosa tree, may all mothers continue to spread strong, soft feathery blossoms of love for their own seedpods.
Thank you to Uncle Jack (Mama’s baby) and Aunt Faye for helping me with some Mama Joe details!