Kathleen Bader DesHotel is a teacher, short story writer, artist, sometimes poet and deep thinker on a journey to a celebration of life and personal beliefs.
Whenever Père came home from a long trawling trip, he would have to dock the Lafitte Skiff, hose it down, and pack all the shrimp on ice. He would tell his girls every day that hard work was all that mattered in this life. “Hard work equals self-respect. Remember ‘dat, Brigitte and Clotilde,” were his daily words. Brigitte would roll her eyes in response, and Clotilde would nod in understanding, and then Père would take a long nap.
During those times, Mère would do all the cooking. She cooked for her family and for her papa and for business. She would sell her gumbo and her crawfish bisque and her shrimp Creole to the restaurants. Mère was always working, and her twins were always somewhere nearby; she told them to listen to the world because it had ideas to share with them. “La monde parle,” she would tell them. When Brigitte wasn’t drowning out the world with the sound of her own voice, she would hear her mère. Clotilde on the other hand always heard sa mère. Mère told Clotilde that she would have to look out for her sister because she did not listen to the world. Brigitte could only listen to her own ambitions. Clotilde would fidget, but she would hear her mother as well as the sound of the water slapping against the dock in back of their home on the bayou. At night, she could hear her grand-père’s snores from the camp next door as they bounced rhythmically over the water.
As soon as Clotilde and Brigitte were old enough, Mère would bring them with her in le bateau to pull up the crab traps. Everyone in the family worked on the water and always had a tan, or in Brigitte’s case, a sunburn. Daddy ran the Lafitte Skiff, and when the shrimp ran, so did Père. He spent most of his time pulling up the boards from that big trawl net and picking through the shrimp to toss back the little ones that no one would want to buy or to boil. Sometimes he was out all night doing the backbreaking work, so Mère was responsible for raising the twins. They were a handful too!
Clotilde almost never sat still, and Brigitte almost never stopped talking. “Elle parle, et elle parle, et elle parle très beaucoup! Mais, oui!” said Maman. While Clotilde moved all about in her orange life jacket and Brigitte talked, Mère would pull in the heavy traps, dump the crabs in the bottom of the flat boat, and go through them just like Père did with the shrimp to find the ones that no one would want to buy. She used big tongs to grab them from behind. They tried to evade her squeeze not realizing that the squeeze meant that they were about to be set free to grow and have a good time until Mère came back to catch them again. She liked the fat males because their meat was easier to pick and because they had the yellow fat inside their shells that made the magic taste in the gumbo that Mère sold to the restaurant in the city.
Clotilde always had little pinch marks on her legs and hands, as she just could not leave the little blue claws alone. She would hop from seat to seat tormenting the little crustaceans, and sometimes they made her pay for her persistence!
Conversely, Brigitte remained sitting on her own feet to avoid dangling them in the crab pit, and she talked about everything from the color of the water to how hot it was inside her pink life jacket. She would talk about her friends at school and her Barbie dolls and the pretty clothes they wore and what she would say when she was someday crowned Miss America.
She was the fair-haired Duplechin girl who constantly complained about the heat and who everyone said was so pretty and so nerve wracking with all the words that fell like summer rain from her lips. Tante Marie said that Clotilde was cute but very much like a t-boy. She was a natural born athlete who could walk on the edge of a boat in high waves and never fall overboard. Clotilde didn’t like most of Brigitte’s chatter because it blocked out all the sounds of nature that Mère taught her to listen for. What she loved was the sounds of the birds that swooped to show them where the shrimp were running in the water and the water splashing against the boat and the little bubbling sounds that the crabs would make as they scuttled across the bottom of the aluminum flat boat. Even though Clotilde was quiet, she required more discipline from Mère than Brigitte did. She was fearless, and this can lead to disaster. Mère provided brakes for Clotilde. Mère could talk too when she had to protect her twins, and she told them many stories about the murmurings of the water and about the ancestors who passed down the lessons about listening to what the world has to say.
Mère would call her twins le soleil et la lune because they were so different. The blonde Brigitte was le soleil, and Clotilde the swimmer was la lune, sun and moon… Clotilde listened, and Brigitte talked. Mère hoped that someday Brigitte would hear as well. Mère did her best with Brigitte to teach her about all the world could tell her, but Brigitte was destined to live in another world, a world more concerned with the physical beauty of a woman, a world far away from Poissonville. Mère could see separate destinies for her girls because Mère could hear the world talking to her.
Mère would tell Clotilde that she was born with a different gift than what Brigitte. She knew that Brigitte would get attention because she demanded it and because the wind and the rain and the Mississippi River and the bayous all said so. Mère could hear Grand-mère even though she had been gone for many, many years – since Mère was only fourteen years old. In many places in the world, people thought you were crazy if you said you communicated with your dead ancestors, but not in Poissonville. People there grew up with belief and faith in their people and in nature. Clotilde had this gift, and until Brigitte found her way to another destiny, Clotilde was responsible for keeping her alive in spite of her deafness to the murmurings of the world around her.
Clotilde knew that what we learn in childhood from our parents can make our adulthood an easier place to exist. But, Brigitte knew only to listen to her ambitions. Brigitte left Poissonville after she became Miss Poissonville at age 16. She knew how to make a lot out of a little and eventually became a model. She never returned home. Sometimes she sent checks or European silk scarves for which neither Mère nor Clotilde had any use. Brigitte neither listened to the world nor to anyone else. She didn’t listen when her first husband said he needed more attention, and she didn’t listen when her second husband stole all of her money, and she didn’t listen when her agent told her that by age 30, her modeling beauty would be gone. Brigitte could only hear herself. Leaving home before she was finished with high school broke Mère’s heart and led her to an early grave. Grief can do that. This also put an end to Clotilde’s chances to get an athletic scholarship to go to college. She was not only smart but also an amazing track star and great swimmer. She could have been the first Duplechin to go to the university, but when Mère died a year after Brigitte ran away, Clotilde took over all of Mère’s duties. She cooked, and she fished, and she ran the crab traps when the crabs were biting. To do all of this, she had to do what her mère did; she had to quit school. There was no other way for the family to survive. Clotilde heard her mother’s murmurings and lived up to her responsibility to her papa and her grandfather.
When Clotilde was out in the boat all by herself, she would hear all of Mère’s advice. “Listen. Écoutes les murmures. Listen to the water; it will tell you where the fish are. You will hear the bubbles that the crabs make, and you will catch them. Smell the air, and know when the rain clouds are about to gather. The world will give you messages that will help you. Listen to the murmurings in the water, and you will hear me, Clotilde.” Clotilde listened, carefully.
One day, Clotilde could feel and hear the rain clouds gathering, and after she pulled in the last crab trap, she steered her flatboat towards the safety of shore, but the motor stopped. The purple-gray clouds were gathering fast. Clotilde was listening to the water and watching the white caps form geometric patterns as they marched on the lake, and she could hear her mother telling her to paddle. She paddled until she thought her shoulders would burst, but the waves were pushing against her progress. She closed her eyes and paddled and listened and thought she heard a boat motor in the distance. Clotilde wondered whether this was just wishful thinking, but then she heard her mother’s familiar whispered murmur, “Stay, he is coming to get you. Pay attention to him. It is important for you to do so.”
Within minutes, Pierre pulled up in his fishing boat. “Need help?”
“Bien sur. I thought I would not make it back.”
Pierre hooked up her boat and towed her in as Clotilde paid attention to his every move. She was grateful for this moment and for this man at this time. Père had always told her, “Two tings’ in life are important, hard work and timing.” Whenever anyone would ask him “when” questions, he would answer, “When da’ time is right and no sooner.” It seemed that this time was right for Clotilde to meet the man she was to marry. When they got to shore, and Clotilde asked him what made him come back out in the lake, he told her that he heard the sounds of the water telling him that someone important would need him. Pierre was smart and hard working. He even had a high school diploma and a good job.
After only a few months, they were married, and after only ten months, Clotilde gave birth to twin girls. She named one Geneviève after her mother and the other twin Michèle after her grand-mère. They were identical, both dark haired like her and with blue, blue eyes like his and like the water. Clotilde was so happy that they were identical because she thought they would be more alike than she and Brigitte were. After Clotilde had the babies, Pierre insisted that she stay at home and out of the boat. He said, “Don’t worry cher, I will take care of everything for my family.” Clotilde didn’t argue because she had no one to leave Geneviève and Michèle with, and she adored them and took to motherhood with bliss. Geneviève was a wiggly baby, and Michèle cried often.
Finally when they were about four and old enough to wear life jackets and go out en le bateau with her, Clotilde took them out to run the crab traps. She was so happy to be like her mother and to be on the water again and to listen to the sounds. She told her daughters to listen to the world because it had much to teach them and that they had to be smart enough to pay attention and interpret the sounds. As the sun shone down on their three tanned bodies and twinkled on the water like sparklers on the Fourth of July, Michèle whined about the bouncing of the boat on the waves. Clotilde considered the complaint without comment then heard her mother’s murmuring, “They are not alike, Clotilde. Écoutes les murmures.” Both Clotilde and one of her daughters smiled and nodded.
Kathleen Bader DesHotel was born and raised in the culture and tradition of New Orleans, then moved to Slidell, LA in 1990, and began teaching at Northshore High School. Over a thirty year teaching career, which was her calling, she taught Gifted English, French, Writing, Yearbook, Photography, and TV Broadcasting/Video Editing. Kathleen has a BA from SLU in English and French, teaching certification from Tulane University, and MEd from Our Lady of Holy Cross College in Curriculum & Instruction also adding a Reading Specialist degree. At UNO she earned her gifted teacher certification and then added +30 graduate hours in photography and literature from Loyola University in New Orleans.
After retiring, she made the transition by immersing herself in her own writing, photography, pottery, and painting. For the 12 years following Hurricane Katrina, she wrote a weekly art column for local newspapers. In that process she respected and adored everyone she interviewed. She says that the rewards for her were great in all that she came to learn and understand about each person’s muse. It is the essence of the artist’s journey that she tried to capture in each weekly article she wrote. “To me art is a celebration of life and personal beliefs that we must respect. Art connects us just as education does,” she explained.
She has been fortunate enough to receive the Bravo! Award in 2013 from the Slidell Commission on the Arts for her excellent contribution to art in the community and in 2014 she received recognition as the Slidell Art League’s Inspiration Artist Award. In 1987 she was the junior high Teacher of the Year in Jefferson Parish, and in 2000 she was the St. Tammany high school Teacher of the Year.
She is a teacher, writer, artist, sometimes poet and deep thinker on a journey to a celebration of life and personal beliefs, all with respect for what the talents and insights of others can teach us and for what her own imagination can create.