Lenten Sacrifice, Memere's Candy Jar and Billy Gumbo

Growing up Catholic, we took Lent seriously and were encouraged to give something up. Usually it was candy.

Nowadays that doesn't bother me in the least, but it was a difficult sacrifice for a child. My resolve rarely lasted a week. I'd be fine the first three days, and would feel highly virtuous, a feeling I like more now than I did then.

But within two days of Ash Wednesday, I craved sugar with an intensity that made my teeth chatter, and I usually found some way to sneak red licorice or chocolate into my mouth. (Giving up red meat would have been a far easier sacrifice back then, as I loathed the stuff and resorted to all sorts of ingenious ways of avoiding it.)

The entire family (except my father) was sacrifice-prone for the dreary weeks leading up to Easter. Candy jars would go unfilled until Holy Saturday when no one could wait any longer and the deprivation generally ended.

My father ignored such things, as he ignored religion. But he relished the culinary customs of Catholicism. On Shrove Tuesday, he'd prepare some fatty dish and hum "Jambalaya" under his breath, always deliberately mishearing the lyrics so he could ask, "Who's this Billy Gumbo fellow, anyway?"

During Lent, he'd order lobster and clams and shrimp, having some of it flown in from the East Coast (a huge extravagance in those days). It was for the restaurant, of course, but we enjoyed it, too: Lobster with chive-y butter, clam chowder, oysters, scallops, shrimp - oh my!

For school-day lunches, there were fish sticks and French fries and macaroni-and-cheese.

Today I try to give something up, not for religious reasons (I stopped practicing when I got it right), but because it feels good.

Note: The candy dish belonged to Mémére. I noticed today that it has a few small splashes of red paint on it, same as Annie's pressed glass goblets (Sept. 25, 2006).


Lydia said…
Billy Gumbo -- I love that. Thanks for sharing another beautiful memory of your dad.
Mimi said…
Of course, now I cannot get that song out of my head....
Jann said…
Mimi," get thee to a sweet shop"-I think you are in need of a piece of that candy! Hee..hee!What a delightful story from the past.....thanks for sharing!
Mimi said…
Can't do it, jann. It's Lent.
Kristen said…
I've given up fountain drinks. It's going to be a long several weeks.

Good luck with the candy thing! I loved this post.
Mimi said…
Yes, very long, Kristen. I am also doing some serious carb watching and I've started a diet blog, too. Just for the next few months!

Thank you for the encouragement. I've been out of the loop lately, and I am just catching up.
Laura Florand said…
I once gave up sugar for all of Lent! And one time, you won't believe this, chocolate. But I was a young teenager and had been given Lives of the Saints to read. I thought if they flagellated themselves, I could do something just as hard.

After that, I learned my lesson, and when a priest said I could do good works instead of giving up something for Lent, I leaped on the opportunity.
Mimi said…
Laura, the nuns never told us about good works in Lent. We were supposed to do them all the time AND give something up.

I think they wanted us to be miserable.
Michelle said…
I love the "Billy Gumbo" line too! I never understood how it was a sacrifice to give up meat every Friday if we were just going to have a big crawfish boil instead. Seemed more like a treat than a sacrifice. My mother is giving up alcohol, gambling, and all sweets (even graham crackers!). I think we may need to have her committed by the end of this. That is, if she doesn't drive all of us crazy first!
Mimi said…
Yes, I loved fish on Fridays. Still do.

Wow! Your mother is a brave woman, Michelle!
Katie said…
What a pretty candy dish!
We always gave up candy for lent, too - but I used to stock-pile it and pig out on Easter Sunday! I don't think that's quite the point!
Mimi said…
Oh, Katie, we did the same thing!

That's what deprivation does to you!
I don't understand how you snuck this past me but I sure didn't see it when it came out.
Sweet memory now, not so sweet then.
Love the Billy Gumbo! Neat dad.
Mimi said…
Well, I am sorta sneaky, Tanna.

My father was a real character, that's for sure.

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