Last weekend, I went to a local farmer’s market for the first time and fell prey to the booth of local children’s book authors. One particular book caught my eye and I started to flip through it. As soon as I picked it up, an old man behind the booth started to tell me about it. His daughter had written this Cajun version of an old story that he used to tell her when she was growing up. He informed me that the original version of this story, written by Scottish author Helen Bannerman, was now considered politically incorrect, because it was called “Little Black Sambo.” Anyway, his daughter, Amie Ducote, took this politically incorrect story and “Cajun-ized” it, making fun of a fair-skinned Cajun boy instead of a dark-skinned Indian boy.
Of course, I bought the book at once and even got a signature from the author, Tante Amie. I am thoroughly pleased with my purchase (you can buy your own copy on their website). Evangeline has been asking me to read it over and over again, and I have been impressed at what a great lesson it teaches about the good life.
The story follows Tee-Blanc Sambeaux (Little White Sambeaux) as he paddles down the Bayou in his sinker-cypress piroge (canoe), wearing his fancy new overalls with extra pockets, his extra-wide brimmed chapeau (hat), and his shiny white Cajun rubber boots. On his journey, Tee-Blanc encounters a series of hungry alligators. One by one, he gives away his new boots, hat, and overalls in exchange for the alligators not eating him. After losing each prized possession, “The only thing Tee-Blanc could do was sigh and shake his head. ‘C’est la vie,’ he said, and paddled on.” Not much later, however, he meets a fourth alligator and all he has left to give is his brand-new sinker-cypress pirogue. So Tee-Blanc jumps into the swamp and swims to the nearest cypress stump, where he sits, sighs, shakes his head and says, “C’est la vie.” Left with nothing to paddle onwards, he hangs his lip and cries. Poor Tee-Blanc knows he needs to get home now but he was honte (embarrassed) because he had nothing left but his caleçons (underwear). He decides to swim home as fast as he can.
As he approaches home, he encounters those couillon (crazy) alligators arguing over who was the best in the bayou. They had taken off all of Tee-Blanc’s clothes and thrown them into the pirogue as they began to bite and tear each other apart. Tee-Blanc watches in amazement as they take hold of each other’s tails and start chasing each other faster and faster around the pirogue. Soon, “they all just melted away, and there was nothing left but a great, big pool of roux around the pirogue.” Tee-Blanc gets his pirogue and his clothes back, and his mama makes a big pot of gumbo with the gator roux. After such a long day, Tee-Blanc Sambeaux is hungry and he goes back for a second and third bowl of gumbo. “Then, all he could do was sigh and shake his head and say, “C’est la BONNE vie!” (That’s the GOOD life!).
The whole story is fun in itself, and I don’t want to reduce it by over-moralizing it. But as I read Tee-Blanc’s story over and over again to my daughter, I can’t help but marvel at what a great example Tee-Blanc gives us for how to live life well! He shows us how to live life to the full while also having a proper attitude of detachment from worldly goods. He loves his possessions, but he does not love them to the point that he would give his life for them. And when he loses his things, he doesn’t moan and despair but rather accepts it as the way life goes. Even when he is stripped of everything and left naked on the stump of a cypress, he doesn’t sit long in self-pity. “That’s life,” he says, and he makes his way home.
On the other hand, the alligators are consumed by pride, envy and wrath and their misfortunate end gives a hellish image of the results of sin. They take themselves too seriously and, by seeking to save their lives, they lose themselves. Tee-Blanc, by contrast, after patiently suffering the injustice done against him and being left with nothing, is now in a state to receive the blessings that come to him. He doesn’t expect to get his things back or seek vengeance because he was wronged. But when justice is done and he receives his reward, he accepts it with the same graciousness that he accepted the prior sufferings. “That’s the good life,” he says, and rests in peaceful leisure.
As we “paddle” through life with our various gifts and possessions, may we learn from Tee-Blanc how to accept all things graciously. May we praise God for the goods with which He blesses us and praise Him still when those goods are taken away, for such is life on this side of eternity. We are on our way to happiness, but we can rest assured that God will make all things right in the end, so long as we accept His will for us along the way. May we be able to let go, sigh, shake our heads and say “C’est la vie,” so that, at the end of our lives (and at various moments along the way) we can enjoy “la bonne vie.”
- Amie Ducote. The Story of Tee-Blanc Sambeaux. Lafayette, Coty and Coty, 2017.