If you’re from the Acadiana area, the name Elbert Lee Guillory may ring a bell.
The former Louisiana senator hails from Opelousas, where he currently practices law, and is the proud father of children Elbert Guillory II, 43, and Imani Guillory-Fruge, 27.
For the kids, growing up in the public eye had its highs and lows – but Imani looks back at the bright spots with fondness.
“My dad’s always been in the spotlight,” she says. “My dad and mom (Marie Yvonne Guillory) were part of lots of charities and organizations, just heavily involved. We did a lot of traveling around the world – China, Egypt, Canada – they loved the adventure.”
As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Imani’s life has been nothing short of a whirlwind, and as she grew up, adventure never failed to follow.
After graduating from the Academy of Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, she went onto the University of Houston Honors College, but returned home after one year.
“Oh my goodness, I love home,” Imani explains. “I wanted to be back in Cajun Country so badly.”
She finished her degree at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and continued onto Louisiana State University to pursue a law degree.
In addition to getting an amazing education, she also received the blessing of a lifetime.
Imani met her future husband, Jason Fruge, during her time at LSU after being introduced by a mutual friend.
“My best friend was like, ‘I have a present for you,’” Imani recalls. “I was waiting for a bottle of Champagne, and then he points to Jason. He was my gift. The next night we met, I knew he was the one.”
Shortly thereafter, Jason moved from Maurice into Imani’s Baton Rouge apartment, and on Dec. 19, 2014, they got engaged.
Since she was getting ready to graduate law school, they planned their wedding for Jan. 21, 2017.
But things didn’t go quite as planned.
'I was in a state of shock'
On Jan. 5, 2015, Imani had a doctor’s appointment at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital for a gall bladder issue. She was there for an x-ray and ultrasound to determine whether or not surgery would be needed.
“The nurse was giving me an ultrasound, and all of a sudden, she started looking at my paperwork,” Imani says. “ ‘You’re getting an x-ray? You can’t,’ she said. She looked at me so puzzled, like I was nuts. And then, she looked at me, touched me so gently on my arm, and said, ‘Sweetheart … do you know that you’re with child?’ ”
Imani was eight-and-a-half months pregnant.
And she had absolutely no idea.
“I was in a state of shock,” she says. “I was shaking, and wondering what I was gonna do about law school. I know that’s horrible, but it was the only thing that had been on my mind for the past few years. I was supposed to graduate that May. I just started freaking out.”
Luckily, her mother was by her side to keep the situation under control.
Baby switched at birth finally returns to mom
“She said, ‘We need to go to your ob/gyn, get you what you need,' ” Imani recalls. “It was like an out-of-body experience.”
Immediately, they went to Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where Imani and the baby were fully examined.
Miraculously, everything checked out perfectly.
But Imani had yet to tell Jason that he was going to be a father – and very soon.
'I couldn't talk'
“I was silent,” she says. "I couldn’t talk. My mom had to call everyone. I eventually talked to Jason and said, ‘I’m pregnant, we’re gonna have a baby.’”
He was shocked
The couple assumed they couldn’t have children due to medical issues, and it was completely normal for Imani to go months without a period.
The baby was due on Jan. 21, a few weeks from the day Imani found out she was expecting.
Jason, who worked in the oil field, was away on a job, and since they had some time, Imani told him to finish it out.
“I told him that when he got back, we would find out the sex and go from there,” she says.
But Mother Nature had different plans.
'Please let my baby be OK'
“Two days later, I was in excruciating pain,” Imani recalls. “I was at my mom’s, and I woke her up at 4 a.m., went into the bathtub thinking a warm bath would help. But I got out of the tub, and I was bleeding.”
They rushed to the hospital, and Imani was terrified.
“I was in the back seat, singing, ‘Hotel California.’ That’s my ‘calm down song,’ and I was praying,” she says. “Please let my baby be OK.”
Imani, who didn’t look pregnant, walked into the hospital and was greeted by strange stares.
“They looked at me like I was nuts when I said I was in labor,” she recalls. “But when they took me to the room, I was 10 cm dilated.”
In the midst of everything, Imani recalls her father’s arrival.
“Dad got there,” she says. “I remember hearing his cowboy boots … he has a certain walk.”
Imani had to have an emergency c-section because the baby was breech.
The next thing she knew, her little boy had arrived.
“I heard my baby crying,” Imani recalls. “I said to my mom, ’Oh my God, he’s so handsome … oh my God, he’s white! “(Because her husband is Caucasian and she is African-American), I knew he would be light, but he was white! And he had jet black hair, just like his daddy.”
Jason missed the birth, but once he arrived, it was love at first sight.
“There was so much love in the air,” Imani explains. “From thinking we couldn’t naturally conceive together, to having this gift in our arms. It was just beyond all expectations.”
Their son, Jason Paul, weighed more than 6.5 pounds and was 19 inches long. Shortly after giving birth, the new family of three went home and started settling into a brand new life.
But there was one problem – neither Imani nor Jason had a clue what to do next.
“We didn’t know anything,” she says, with a laugh. “We had to learn everything. I didn’t even know how to change a baby boy.”
'The most difficult time'
On top of adapting to motherhood, Imani was committed to resuming her studies and graduating from law school that spring.
Her schedule consisted of 4:30 a.m. wake-ups, driving from Lafayette (where she relocated) to Baton Rouge, pumping breastmilk three times a day, and repeating – all week long.
“It was the most difficult time of my life,” Imani says. “My friends all came together, gave me outlines, brought me my books, and came together to make it work. I did full makeupand wore heels to class because everything else in my life was flipped upside down – so I needed to see normalcy in the mirror.”
After months of a grueling routine, Imani graduated law school – but made a very difficult decision.
“I decided to be a stay-at-home mom because I missed so much of his first few months,” she explains. “We were blessed with this miracle, so I wanted to do anything necessary, put my life on hold, because it was so worth it to see that beautiful face. Everything was worth it.”
While she was home with the baby, Imani dedicated her life to making the best possible home for her family.
“I embraced that whole domestic life,” she says. “And I loved it.”
Here comes 'Cajun Mama'
She started spending a lot of time in the kitchen – and that’s how her business, Cajun Mama, was born.
“I would create dishes just for fun,” Imani explains. “I would go to the farmer’s market, get different things … I was like the go-to meal planner. Then, I started making these quiches with all different Cajun meats and spices. Everyone kept requesting them.”
Before she knew it, Imani was making her quiches for showers and several other events.
“More and more people started requesting and liking them,” she says. “Last year, the week before Christmas (2015), I was lying in bed with the baby and something hit me: I should make a bunch of the quiches and sell them so people can buy them as gifts, just for the holidays. I posted it on my personal Facebook page and said I will deliver them. I tagged 40 people, and within the first hour, my phone wouldn’t stop ringing. I wound up making 60 from that one post.”
And the rest was history.
Orders kept rolling in, and Imani decided to extend her sales until New Year’s – and that rolled into Mardi Gras and Lent.
“I just couldn’t stop,” she says.
Imani rents space downtown to cook, and sometimes makes 25 pies in one day.
“In a year, it’s snowballed into something I never in a million years expected,” she says.
Cajun Mama is a family affair; Imani’s husband is beyond supportive, encouraging her to pursue this passion and accompanies her on deliveries.
“He’s a good-looking guy,” Imani laughs. “They call him the Cajun Bradley Cooper. I got him a little polo to wear on the road.”
Cajun Mama offers free delivery upon request “because that’s my brand,” she explains. “I like to meet my customers, accommodate them, get to know them. They text me, ‘the usual,” and I know what they want. No matter how big it gets, I want to maintain that personal touch.”
Currently, Imani makes a variety of quiches, including low-cal and vegetarian options. Visit cajunmamalouisiana.com for the full menu.
This busy lady certainly has a lot on her plate – but the question she gets asked most has nothing to do with her time in the kitchen.
How did Imani not know she was pregnant, for almost nine months?
“Every symptom that could have been a red flag, I was able to explain away,” she says. “I felt some movement, but it felt like water sloshing around, so I took gas medicine. Around December (close to Jason Paul’s birth), my pedicurist asked if I was pregnant because she said my feet were swollen – but I said maybe it was because I had been doing a lot of walking in New Orleans.”
Life’s been a wild adventure – so what does Imani think about at the end of a long day?
“Everything happens for a reason,” she says. “God puts things in your life and you could go through the greatest struggle, but it’s all worth it … because when I look into my son’s big beautiful brown eyes … every sacrifice, all the sleepless nights, sitting in my car pumping milk … it’s worth it.”
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