Without a home, but with the tastes of New Orleans

Improvised holidays


The gumbo-making began last night: shrimp-peeling, oyster-defrosting. They would make the winter variety, without okra and with file powder, ground from sassafras leaves. The kind of gumbo that the Dugues have always cooked for Thanksgiving. The kind that keeps them warm inside.

It's a lot colder in Greenbelt than in New Orleans, where - about a mile from the lakefront - there stands a one-story brick house that should be "as busy as Grand Central Station" about now, says Jocelyn Dugue, 74. Instead, the inside is silent and rotting, with the high-water mark up to the ceiling.

Dugue, her husband, several of their children and a grandson fled Hurricane Katrina in August, jumping from relative to relative before arriving to stay with family members in Maryland. Dugue and her husband are with her daughter, Jennifer Tilghman, 48, in Greenbelt.

"The food will lift us up," Jocelyn Dugue said.

Tastes of the city will tinge almost every dish in the feast for 40 that she is helping to prepare. The fried turkey will be injected with "liquid crab boil," a spicy concoction usually used to prepare crabs. The pie will be crawfish. The only traditional food they won't have is mirliton, a pear-shaped squash that should be stuffed with crabmeat, shrimp and ham and cooked with lots of butter. It's too expensive here.

Besides that, though, "we're getting just about everything we would have at home," Dugue said. "The sad part for me is that I have no home."

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