Life needs lagniappe. This I believe.
The word lagniappe was a word used by my Cajun-French speaking mother. Not frequently, but often enough to stitch it into the fabric of my own life. To Mom, a telephone call from a long lost friend was lagniappe, as was $5 refund check when it appeared unexpectedly in the mail. She would delight in discovering a juicy ripe cayenne pepper peeking up between the roses in our flowerbed where she had previously simply tossed out a seed. After biting into the pepper, I can still see the smile on her face while tears streamed downward from the intensity of the heat.
Lagniappe is quite simply an unexpected gift. As with other words used by Cajuns, it’s source is mixed. It appears to have come from the Spanish word la ñapa that was, in turn, derived from the Quechuan language. The Cajun French, however, were and still are first and foremost French, so they changed the spelling and made it their own.
As a child my experiences with lagniappe were intertwined in family. With two hard-working blue-collar parents, school day afternoons usually meant going to an after-school care program or staying with a friend until one of my parents came home from work. But the days my mother stayed home represent some of my best childhood memories. I was wrapped in the warmth and wonderful aromas as I opened the back door of our modest home and stepped directly into the kitchen. Those smells and sounds became my lagniappe on those days. Would it be my mom’s wonderful baked apples each wrapped in its own homemade piecrust that oozed hot thick juices of apple and cinnamon? Or perhaps it would simply be the rhythmic “clack, clack, clack” of the small round steam vents on the metal pot lids while something wonderful simmered within.
As I got older, however, the delight and surprise of childhood ebbed as planning and predictability became more of the norm. Cancer changed that. In spite of anticipation and preparation, being educated, well read, and worldly, life was abruptly altered in a matter of seconds. And yet, the surprise of cancer brought its own unexpected gifts. Am I saying that the cancer was lagniappe? Absolutely not. The cancer was unexpected, but it was certainly not a gift. But I managed to unwrap the gift of words within me and learned to delight in sharing them with others. Lagniappe surfaced in the midst of the most unexpected and extraordinary circumstances.
So when I close my eyes, I search to remember my Mother’s voice. “Mais, écoute”. So I listen for opportunities to give lagniappe through a smile or kind gesture when someone needs it most, but expects it least. “Ga”. I watch for an unexpected gift such as the intensity of the purple in the first crocus bloom, after bursting through a blanket of spring snow. Finally, “accepte”. And I accept there will always be lagniappe as long as I continue to delight in life.