Making Gumbo

Thu, 27 Aug 2009

Personal History

Town of Opelousas

Born and reared in the bayou country of southwestern Louisiana, I grew up in a town called Opelousas. Opelousas is populated by the Cajuns and Creoles, many of whom speak the Creole/Cajun patois. Opelousas is in that area of Louisiana called Acadiana. Lafayette, New Iberia, Plaisance, Grand Coutou, Port Barre, Krotz Springs, Abbeville, Breaux Bridge are some of the towns. Nacoste, Malveaux, Donatto, Darjean, Mouton, Guidry, Jolivette, Lazard, Semien, Castain, and Boudreaux are some of the family names. Think cayenne pepper, the “holy trinity” of green pepper, onion, celery; think gumbo, etoufee, mudfish, crawfish, gators and swamps. That’s home in my heart; always and forever.

Third child, second son, I grew up with three siblings; August II (Brother), Elinor Nacoste- Eaglin, and Phillip Joseph Nacoste I. I attended Holy Ghost Elementary and High School. As a member of the school, I participated in the choir and band (Alto and Baritone saxophones). We did not have a math club, but I took special math tutoring from Sister Angela Marie. I graduated from high school in 1969, went on to the University of Southwestern Louisiana (Lafayette), got lost for a time and flunked out. I joined the Navy.

Yes, that’s me right at the end of boot camp; 1972. During my time in the Navy I served in Air Antisubmarine squadrons (VS-27 and VS 31). As a member of those squadrons, I did two six month cruises in the Mediterranean on two different aircraft carriers. My first was the USS Intrepid. On the cruise, a race riot broke out on board the ship. It was a hell of a time, and the Navy decided to do something about that.

That’s me on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid, at sea. As I say to my students, I’m so old the first ship I served aboard is now a museum; Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. My second six months at sea was with VS-31 on board the USS Independence. That ship is also decommissioned, but is not a museum. By the time I was on the Independence, I had been trained as a “Racial Awareness Facilitator.” The Navy had instituted a policy that required every sailor, officer and enlisted, to attend a two and one-half day session of racial discussions. Those sessions were conducted by racial awareness facilitators. The point was to help every sailor understand how their racial attitudes might get in the way of a unit carrying out its mission. And the Navy was clear about this; the mission is more important than your petty attitudes, so be aware of what your attitudes are and keep them in check.

Conducting those racial sensitivity sessions, at sea and on shore, for sailors was how I came to find my vocation as a social psychologist. Trained in the art of group facilitation, I became very interested in why these racial discussion sessions worked. I wanted to know what was behind it all and in my independent reading kept coming across the phrase “social psychology.” I investigated that phrase by taking a night course in General Psychology at Florida Junior College, Jacksonville, Florida where I was stationed at NAS Cecil Field. When the class got to the section on “social psychology” I was hooked. People study this stuff and make a career of studying this stuff; oh man, I was hooked. That’s the short of my story. The long of my story is in my memoir “Making Gumbo in the University.”

No matter where I am in life, though, it all comes back to my family. At this point, a lot has happened. Daddy, Mr. O-geese, died in 1999; Mom in 2002. I will always miss those two old people: That’s a picture of them in the around 1989, sitting on the patio at Phillip’s home in Jacksonville, Florida. It was Christmas, but it was Florida. Right after Mom died at the age of 81, out of the blue, Brother died in 2003 (eight months after mom). That was a blow; a hard hit. So now it’s just Elinor, me and Phillip.

That’s Elinor in the middle, her husband J.C. on the left and my “other brother” Craig Brookins on the right. For 39 years Elinor was an elementary school teacher. Just at her retirement, she was elected to the St. Landry Parish school board and she served as President of the board in her first year. Elinor and J.C. have two adult children; Carlos and Tresha: Tresha lives in Atlanta and Carlos in New Orleans.

Tresha and Carlos

Phillip I, my “little” brother, still lives in Jacksonville, Florida. He is Phillip the first because he has a son, Phillip II. Here they are: What rascals they be; you can see it, can’t you. I call them my “heroes of fun” because of all the adventures they have together. Like their passion for cars: My “…heroes of fun”; they are that indeed.

But of our original family, its just Elinor, me and Phillip… but really it’s still all of us, Mr. Ogeese, Ms. Ella, Elinor, Brother, me and Phillip. Part of living in the social world is dealing with social loss. We lose short term relationships and long term relationships; acquaintances, friends, lovers and family. But the best way to cope is to remember what we learned from those relationships; they all teach us something. And my parents, Mr. O-geese and Miss Ella taught my siblings and me more than I can articulate. So although the old people, our parents are gone, we have carried forward.

Eh toi (oh yeah).

C’est, c’est bon (it’s so good).

Laissez les Bontemps roulez (let the good times roll).

posted by admin  |   8:57 AM  |   0 comments