restricted access 8. Return to Acadiana
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Eight Return to Acadiana “Do we really have to go to Lafayette—again? It was so boring last time.” Alec’s voice mixed the whine of a toddler with the disdain of a worldly thirteen-year-old. Not that he minded another family trip to New Orleans, his fifth in four years. But the thought of a second excursion into southwest Louisiana left him cold. “We’ll have plenty of time in New Orleans at the end of the week,” I reminded him. “And Lafayette will be better this time. You’ll see.” At least I hoped so. For my city-bred sons, the small towns and countryside couldn’t compete with the funky excitement of New Orleans. Even for me, the charms of Acadiana could be subtle, harder to penetrate. But we did the trip right this time around. We’d picked a good time to go—in June, well past Lent, but before the summer heat became unbearable. We hoped to find more going on—more music in the clubs, maybe even some festivals. And we’d arranged to meet up with four of our friends from the jam group. I felt more confident as part of a group, especially with Joan, the veteran of countless visits to Louisiana. I hoped we’d be able to encounter the music and culture at a deeper level this time, without feeling so much like tourists. Beyond that, I had one important item on my agenda: I wanted to buy a hand-built Cajun accordion. I found my dazzling new accordion at Larry Miller’s place in Iota, a small prairie settlement not far from Eunice. He’d made it out of a piece of driftwood he discovered at Holly Beach, the tattered Gulf Coast resort that Louisiana people, with their self-mocking humor, called the Cajun Riviera. “The wood in that accordion floated all the way across the Gulf of Mexico,” Larry told me. He was completely caught up in the romance of woods—their weight, colors, grains, and origins. You 86 Return to Acadiana 87 could tell when he showed Steve and me around the workshop behind his house that morning, talking nonstop, moving in double time, as he told us about the dozens of instruments arranged on the shelves. Some he’d collected, including a few rare antiques, but most were his own creation. He’d stained some of his accordions black, to resemble the old Monarchs and Sterlings, and a couple in brighter hues—red, even green, probably meant for some flashy young zydeco musician. But most of Larry’s hand built accordions glowed with the soft warmth of natural wood. Although Larry knew the history behind my accordion, he hadn’t been able to identify the species of wood he’d used. I could read the whole story, handwritten by his wife, Jackie, on the big tag attached to the accordion. Larry picked up the piece of driftwood while beachcombing in 1992, struck by the “unusual natural light red color with unique small grain patterns.”After two years of air-drying, the wood was ready to be crafted into an accordion. Larry had just finished the accordion, and he had taken it on a family trip to Holly Beach the previous weekend in order to break it in. He already had his newest instrument in mind for me, mostly because of the light weight. The other woods Larry used tended to be heavier than the mysterious driftwood: maple and walnut, and then some of those exotic South American and African woods, like rosewood and zebra. Under his watchful eye, I picked up several different accordions in the key of C, trying to judge their feel, their weight. I agreed with him: the driftwood accordion felt the most comfortable in my hands. But I also loved the story behind it—and the way it looked. That accordion looked almost too beautiful to play. To complement the driftwood, Larry had finished the accordion using two other woods with natural reddish hues. He’d covered the end pieces at the sides with a veneer of padauk, a slightly deeper colored wood with a fine, narrow white grain that reminded me of falling rain drops. On the fingerboard, he added decorative strips of purple heart, a wood with a deep burnished maroon color. The red accents were picked up on the rest of the instrument: red tips on the ten golden flappers, a red-and-black zigzag pattern in...


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