When you drive up further up Barataria Boulevard, you’ll see Sal’s Seafood. You can see a five-foot mountain of oyster shells from the main street. You can see the workers loading off fresh seafood from their worn out pick-up trucks and other workers boiling seafood under the pavilion that is attached to the restaurant. When you pull off in the loose, rocky white gravel in front of the restaurant you can smell a fishy odor in the air. The kind that would make you throw up if you weren’t a local. There is dim lighting inside of the restaurant and the tables are covered in a thick, sticky plastic table cloth. That is, until our waitress came over and put down a nice fresh sheet of newspaper. That’s when I knew our seafood was about to come out soon.
In the meantime, we ate the entire rectangular basket full of crackers and butter that was already set on the table. My dad always wanted a second basket. He told my brother and me that when he was little instead of eating cereal he would eat unsalted crackers and milk. I assumed that’s why he would eat the most because his brain was hard-wired to do so. When our boiled seafood was ready, the workers would come and pour it out all over our table, creating an instant sauna with spicy steam kissing our faces.
We stayed in there for hours until every last piece of shrimp was peeled and crawfish was eaten. I could never eat that much food so to pass the time I would watch the shrimp juice slowly drown the obnoxiously happy people in the newspaper. My brother and I made the most disgusting concoctions known to man. We had a competition to see who could make the most rancid. The rules were always the same: we could only use the things that were already on the table like Mayo, ketchup, salt, pepper, lemons, crackers, crawfish carcass, shrimp juice, and left-over soda. Maybe a couple of pieces of gum left under the table. Now that I am a waitress, I feel like I would have killed the children who created these vomit worthy concoctions. I feel sorry for the waitress who had to clean up our mess, and I pray that my parents tipped her well.
Every time I pass Sal’s Seafood before turning on to August Avenue where my paternal grandparents lived, and where my father grew up, I remember a photo that’s stapled to a worn-out yellow piece of paper with messy script on it. It says, “My two brothers standing. My father sitting at oyster camp.” On the back of the photo in worn script it says, “Joseph, Pierre, Uncle Young, and Kerner Leco. #2.” It was my grandfathers’ photograph. Now it lays around my house. In the picture, there are mountains of oysters around my great-grandfather, Pierre Leco. He was at Manila Village, a barrier island off of Barataria Bay where Filipino-Americans like him worked.
My father, Vincent Joseph Paul Leco Jr., was raised by a Cajun French mother and a Filipino father. His skin is a tan, like the top of a freshly cooked golden brown biscuit. His hair was short and black, but it has faded a bit and is losing his color as he gets older. At first glance, you would think he has brown eyes, but if you take the time to look closely his eyes are multi-colored. I love to get close to his face and admire all of the different colors swirled together. I see red, brown, green, and specks of black almost like little freckles. I inherited blue eyes, and if you look closely at my left eye, you can spy a little brown freckle. I like to think I got it from my dad. He is a very big man, very strong, and very smart. He wears a serious stare when he isn’t speaking. Reserved, he is actually a very comical person. He doesn’t like to smile with his teeth. He never says so, but I know. But when he thinks something is very amusing, he flashes a full smile with his teeth. I love seeing my dad this way.
For as long as I’ve known my father, he has always called me Nou-noun. I asked him why. He says that it just came to him one day, but it is a term of endearment in French for small child. When I was young, we lived on Alison Drive in Gretna in a big beautiful brick house with forest green window shutters. On the porch was a wooden white swing that my father built. Whenever I woke up in the middle of the night feeling sick, he would pick me up and carry me down the stairs and swing me on the swing. I remember looking to him on a cool clear night with the stars and moon out before falling asleep in his arms. Other nights, it would take hours for me to fall asleep. I’ve always saw this as a sign that he was very patient.