As hard as it may be to believe, my normally level-headed ex-wife recently accused me of exaggerating in this very conservative, fact-filled column.
She not only accused me of gross exaggeration but of wholesale embellishment as well.
I’m sure readers are just as shocked as I am by this obviously unfounded accusation.
Trouble started two weeks ago as my ex-wife and I motored back from a vacation trip to the strategically unimportant coastal community of Arcata.
Traveling east along Highway 299 near the Trinity River, I spotted the exit for Big French Creek.
“Big French,” I mused, “Now there’s a remarkable bit of Northern California history that very few people are aware of these days…”
“Stop right there. Don’t even think about starting one of your goofy stories,” my former spouse said firmly.
“Even if you really knew anything about Big French Creek, it would be so exaggerated that it would bear no resemblance to reality,” she explained sweetly.
“But it’s a truly remarkable story,” I continued, undeterred.
“Oldtimers will tell you…”
“Great, blame it on the oldtimers.”
“Oldtimers will tell you that Big French was a local hero, a 325-pound Parisian chef d’ cuisine who fled political upheaval in his homeland to find his fortune in California,” I explained.
“Nobody knew his real name, so…”
“Of course not,” my ex-wife muttered.
“So everybody just called him ‘Big French.’
He originally immigrated to French Camp near Stockton, but found the prevailing political climate there almost as hostile as in France itself.
So he continued north until he settled west of Del Loma, whipping up culinary delights for lumber camps that had previously subsisted on hardtack, sawdust, hardtack made with sawdust and foul-smelling liquor made from discarded turnips,” I recounted.
Meals prepared by Big French were treasured by lumberjacks, gold miners, highwaymen and goat herders from Whiskeytown to Burnt Ranch and beyond, I continued.
“Big French became the region’s number one celebrity. There were Big French hoedowns, Big French festivals, Big French Road, Big French Creek and Big French Flat. Unfortunately, this put the region’s former top celebrity – Big Foot – in the shadows. And the big bipedal hairball didn’t like that one bit.”
One night, Big Foot had had enough and he lumbered over to Big French’s cook shack to have it out.
“Oldtimers will tell you…”
“Oldtimers will tell you that it was a long and hard-fought battle, but when the dust and confectioner’s sugar cleared, Big French was nowhere to be seen,” I explained patiently.
“Today, of course, Big Foot and his offspring remain the region’s most popular personalities, celebrated from Garberville to Happy Camp.
All that remains of Big French, though, is that lonely little road sign.”
My ex-wife was having none of it.
“See what I mean? The next thing you’ll do is put your mythical hero Big French in that goofy newspaper column of yours. You’re incorrigible!”
Big French in a newspaper column? Certainement, mon petit lapin…
Originally published September 7, 2003