As an Alabama native, I’ve always considered myself fairly “outdoorsy”. I grew up hunting and fishing, just like a lot of southern kids, but in adulthood, I embraced my inner “millennial” and strayed away from a lot of those things I grew up doing. But every January for the last three years, I’ve gone down to Cameron Parish for the Louisiana Fur and Wildlife Festival, representing Pelican along with our Lake Charles branch, and once I’m there, I can immediately feel that little kid in over-sized camo, struggling to keep his hunting rifle from knocking him on his behind, come out and find himself at home.
The local folks down in Cameron are as unique as they are alike to the rest of southern Louisianans and their annual “Oldest & Coldest” festival is no different. From the Fur Queen Pageant, Trap Shooting Contests and carnival ride to the Oyster Shucking and Muskrat Skinning Competitions, the Fur and Wildlife Festival has a little bit of everything for everybody (the Gumbo Cook-Off is my favvvvvvvoriteeee *gushes*). But outside of the activities, food and parade, the Fur and Wildlife Festival is less about what these good folks do for one January weekend in our most southwestern parish, and more about why they are doing it.
Once you drive down LA-14, straight through Lake Charles and make that turn on to Highway 27, everything changes. Life slows down just a bit. A peaceful stillness overcomes everything around you. The bustle of I-10 and the bright lights of the casinos bouncing off the bayou are distant memories as you go over the bridge on LA-27 and look over to see the sun break through the foggy sky to glimmer against and dance with the waves rolling across Sweet Lake. That’s Louisiana, folks. The folks down there seem to understand that in a way that comes off genuine, thankful and unassuming. Seeing them gather to celebrate their way of life is as endearing as anything I’ve seen and you can see and feel the deep pride that they have it.
It is such an amazing opportunity for Pelican to be welcomed into their community and allow us to immerse ourselves in their culture. Back in 2013, Pelican began serving all of Cameron’s municipal offices and our relationship with the people of Cameron has grown tremendously. Our Lake Charles Branch Manager, Jackie, has pretty much become family down there, as she travels up and down LA-27 making sure that we are meeting the parish’s credit union needs.
The partnership that we have with the parish gives us the opportunity to extend our products and services to them, but moreover, it allows us the chance to be a real part of this community and we value that more than any loan or account that we could ever open. Whenever we are extended the invitation to participate in any of the programs, initiatives or events in the area, we jump at the opportunity, but I must say that the Fur & Wildlife Festival by far has to be my favorite.
As the Zydeco band plays in the background, you can see kids running around with powdered sugar and chocolate all over their faces and clothes (it was the deep-fried Oreos that did it) and their parents and grandparents dancing around square, all the while holding a chicken breast on a stick in one hand and a bowl of gumbo in the other. Our booth is always located adjacent to the festival gates and as people walk in, they stop and say, “Hey, that’s Pelican! Hey Pelican! What y’all got going on over here?”
Our members always make us feel warm and welcome. Even as we drive through the parade, people will see our logo on the side of our van and yell, “Hey Pelican, throw me something! Mrs. Jackie, I’ll be in there to see you next week!” The reception we receive affirms that we are doing our job and that the folks down in Cameron appreciate us, but in all honesty, we appreciate them even more.
While you have a better chance of me hulling a pecan opposed to a muskrat, it is certainly a skill that I appreciate no less and every January, I get the opportunity to see it done with the utmost proficiency, speed and expertise. I fill my stomach with gumbo and deep-fried desserts, and by the time we pack up to leave, I feel as though I have hugged or shook the hand of every person in Cameron Parish. As I head back up LA-27 on my way back to Baton Rouge, going back over the bridge over-looking Sweet Lake, I think about all the good folks, good times and those muskrats, hide-less, catching a cool winter chill.
Good ol’ Cameron Parish. Until next year.
I’m a writer, music lover, fitness fanatic and sneaker enthusiast. Roll Tide.