Students at Zachary Elementary School played pickup sticks and other low-tech, old-fashioned games, danced to Cajun tunes and learned about the history and culture of the Acadian people April 2 during a Louisiana Day program.
Leading the games and lessons were a group of about 25 volunteers including parents, grandparents, Zachary residents and a few Cajun culturalists who traveled from New Iberia, Pierre Part and Baton Rouge to visit and teach students about the customs and traditions of Louisiana and the culture of the Acadian people.
Some of the group were members of the now-defunct Zachary Area French Preservation Club headed by Church Point native and Zachary resident Kathy Mier, known to many around south Louisiana as “Mamee Mier the Cajun Lady.”
The volunteers, which included Zachary High Z-Star students — teens hoping for a career in education — introduced the second- and third-graders to vintage toys and folk games such as learning how to play pickup sticks and throwing jacks or knucklebones, which are made from the ankle bones of sheep, explained Mark Mills, of Zachary.
He and his wife, Deana, volunteered to man the Jacob’s ladder toy station while others taught the youth how to spin tops, throw marbles and play string fingers or “frones.”
“The old game of frones also involves string but has a large button with it,” Mier explained. “If you visit the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois, you’ll find one of these but using a disc (with holes) made of stone. The Acadians played with these when they were little.”
Mier said the name, frones, comes from the sounds made by the spinning button.
“There are no electronics here,” Mier said. “Look around. These kids are captivated by these games, and not one of the toys or games runs on batteries or needs to be charged.”
Stations were set up throughout the school on Louisiana Day, and volunteers read stories, designed colorful masks and taught the students how to dance.
In past years, musicians have played Cajun accordions, fiddles, a frottoir (washboard) and triangles for the students while they learned the two-step, and a food court area often features boudin, fried alligator, catfish and beignets for the students to taste.
“We’re just a group of people from the community who like to pass a good time sharing the customs and traditions of Louisiana with an emphasis on the Cajun culture,” Mier said.
Mier’s oral history presentation about events before and after the Great Deportation of the Acadian people included a reading of “Evangeline for Children,” the story of the tintamarre and the Mardi Gras parade.
The tintamarre is an Acadian tradition of marching through the streets of a community while making noise with improvised instruments and other noisemakers often in celebration of National Acadian Day, Mier said.
The “Evangeline for Children” story is written by Alice Couvillon and Elizabeth Moore, Louisiana natives who reside in Covington and graduates of Newcomb College in New Orleans, who also authored “Mimi’s First Mardi Gras,” “Mimi and Jean-Paul’s Cajun Mardi Gras” and “Louisiana Indian Tales.”
Zachary’s Sally Jones, a retired French teacher, storyteller and culture hobbyist, often accompanies Mier to read “Jacques et la Canne a Sucre,” a Cajun fairy tale.
The two women have visited youth at area schools, libraries, BREC’s Magnolia Mound and have been guest speakers at clubs and organizations.