Retired Assistant U.S. Attorney Charlie Spillers has published a non-fiction account of his experiences during 10 years undercover, six with the Baton Rouge Police Department and five with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics in “Confessions of An Undercover Agent: Adventures, Close Calls and the Toll of a Double Life.” Here is an excerpt.
I was born in Louisiana into a family with a rich Cajun French heritage. Living deep in the heart of Cajun country, my great-grandparents, Bertrand Borel (pronounced bow-rail) and Bernadette Perrilleaux (pair-uhloh), grew sugarcane near New Iberia, and couldn’t speak or understand English— they spoke only Cajun French. During our visits, my mother and grandparents, who spoke both languages, acted as interpreters.
My grandmother recalled that she and my grandfather, Amilcar Frederick, met at a “fais-do-do” under moss-covered oaks with wide, lowhanging limbs. The aroma of spicy gumbo in large black iron pots filled the air and foot-stomping Cajun music soared as accordions and violins accompanied plaintive ballads of love and loss sung in Cajun French.
For the first years of their marriage they lived in a cramped, homemade houseboat tied to overhanging trees on a small bayou, a big change for my grandmother, who came from a well-to-do family in Saint Martinville. They lived on game, fish, gardening, and bartering, and their only mode of transportation was a pirogue, a small wooden boat my grandfather paddled on the bayou.
After the birth of my mother and her sister, they moved to Krotz Springs, a sleepy fishing village on the banks of the wide and deep Atchafalaya River. My grandfather made his living by fishing in the river with hoop nets in the summer and trapping mink and otter on the bayous in the winter. He never owned or drove an automobile, never had a bank account, and never purchased anything on credit. He was a renowned and widely respected hunter, and villagers talked about his special skill at hunting deep in the swamps.
Growing up, I stayed with my grandparents during summers. Occasionally I accompanied my grandfather and his partner, Adoir (ad-war), when they went out on the river in a bateau, a long, wooden flat-bottom boat, powered by a puttering gas engine, to check their nets, an exciting adventure on the wide, deep river. They took the day’s catch in Adoir’s old pickup truck to Ortiz’s fish market in Krotz Springs where they collected ten to twenty cents per pound, depending on the type of fish.
French was dominant at their house. My grandfather listened to the news broadcast in French from radio stations in Opelousas and Lafayette, and he and the men who came by to visit would often talk in French. I couldn’t understand them, but was fascinated by the mysterious French sounds and the animated discussions: gesturing hands, expressive eyes, and heads nodding and shaking. Perhaps without realizing it, during those summers I was learning at an early age to pay close attention to body language. When the womenfolk came to visit my grandmother, she served small demitasse cups of strong Cajun coffee even when it was sweltering outside, and they would gossip in French so that I wouldn’t know what they were talking about.
In addition to Cajun French and Cajun hospitality, their home was filled with the delicious aromas and tastes of Cajun cooking: game stews made with thick brown roux, steaming chicken and sausage gumbos, spicy jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, and crawfish bisque. My mother cooked Cajun dishes she learned from my grandmother, and now my five sisters carry on the tradition. Instead of turkey, our family Thanksgiving dinners in Louisiana consist of large pots of chicken, sausage and seafood gumbo, potato salad, French bread, and wine.
My grandfather’s side of the family came to Louisiana in the early 1700s from Alsace in eastern France near Germany. My great-grandfather Traismond Frederick was a “bayou doctor” who administered homemade potions along with old Celtic-sounding incantations and chants to cure ills up and down the bayous. My great-great-grandparents were Telesphore Frederick and Elizabeth LeBlanc, and after Elizabeth died, the Savoys became part of our family tree when Telesphore married Julie Savoy.
My grandmother’s side of the family was pure Acadian French forced from what is now Nova Scotia in Canada to Louisiana. Her grandfather, Pierre Alsace Perrilleaux, fought for the South in the Civil War with the Eighteenth Louisiana Infantry in battles around Corinth and Vicksburg, Mississippi. The richness of our Cajun and French heritage is reflected by the last names in our family line: Borel, LeBlanc, Savoy, Perrilleaux, Berthelot, LeTuiller, Giscair, and Dupuis.
Spillers, Charlie. Confessions of an Undercover Agent: Adventures, Close Calls, and the Toll of a Double Life (Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography). University Press of Mississippi.