Category Archives: Family History

Mr. Hubwumpus

My dad had a story he told to us kids, one which I will always remember and have tried to pass on to my own kids and grandkids. And that is the story of Mr. Hubwumpus. I don’t know where MB got it; perhaps from his own father or mother. He first told it to me when I was around five. I can distinctly remember the settings, which was at my grandmother’s house one evening not long after my mother married MB.

Mr. Hubwumpus was a strange animal indeed. He was a dragon of sorts. He was green and had scales for skin, and he breathed fire and smoke like a dragon. His most unusual feature was that he had a light on the end of his tail and eyes on the back of his head. In a weird kind of logic, the light on his tail and eyes on the back of his head were there because, as MB put it, “He needed to see where he has been.”

No, I can’t make any sense of it either, not now and not when I was five. Light on his tail? Eyes on the back of his head to see where he’s been…? It’ll give you a headache.

About the time I turned fourteen my mother decided she was going to turn the tale of Mr. Hubwumpus into a children’s book and get rich while confusing kids all over the world with the tail light/eyes on the back of his head to see where he’s been brain teaser of an animal. I had some artistic ability, which I eventually turned into a profession designing ads and packages for some large international brands. I got this talent from my mother. Interestingly, she studied art at Southwestern Louisiana Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1941, later dropping out of school when the war started. I studied advertising design there in 1964 when it was called the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). The director of the art department was a Dr. Robertson. When I met him, I asked if he remembered my mother and he said he did.

Back to my story.

My mother decided I needed to illustrate the story, which she would write. Since the story of Mr. Hubwumpus had never gotten past a description of this creature in its early tellings, she had to invent a tale for the book, which ended up being along the lines of Mr. Hubwumpus had something of an identity crisis over his frightening appearance but wanted to make friends with a “people”, which turned out to be little Jimmy. But Jimmy’s mother saw them together told her son he must have nothing to do with that horrible looking monster. That was not good for Mr. Hubwumpus’ ego, and he retreated away from “people” back into the swamp. Jimmy ran away in search of his friend and fell into quicksand, and Mr. Hubwumpus came to save him. He huffed and puffed and breathed fire, which made his tail longer and its light brighter so Timmy could be pulled from the quicksand. All this was witnessed by the townspeople—you know the type: those holding the pitchforks and torches. And seeing the evil-looking Mr. Hubwumpus save Jimmy…well. (This is Copyrighted, BTW.) I just reread the manuscript, and the story is actually quite charming.

Meanwhile, my friends wanted to know what was taking up so much of my playtime. Being sworn to secrecy by my mother, I had to reply. “It’s Top Secret. I can’t tell you.”

Well, I ran into one of my old childhood buddies recently. That would be Lebo Centanni. Hadn’t seen him since we were kids in Kenner except very briefly in 1972 in Anchorage, Alaska when I was getting out of the Air Force, and Lee was flying C-130s out of Elmendorf AFB. Evidently, poor Lebo had been consumed by this top secret thing ever since we were kids and now some sixty years later he asks me, “Lane, I have to know. Back when we were kids you were working on this ‘Top Secret’ project with your mother. What in the hell was it?”

Wow! Sixty years and not knowing about Mr. Hubwumpus has been eating Lebo up all that time. For a brief moment, I considered stringing poor, eaten-up Lebo along and saying it was still “classified” but decided to finally spill the beans about Mr. Hubwumpus.

I think he was disappointed, but at least he can sleep at night now.

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The Lost Rocks

I was recently reminded by Janis (again) of an incident that happened over 45 years ago. I had received  PCS (Permanent Change of Station) orders from George AFB, CA to King Salmon, AK. King Salmon AFS was a remote, unaccompanied tour (no dependents) for one year, which happened to be my final eleven months in the Air Force.

I made Staff Sergeant (paygrade E5) the first of November. We were leaving on the first of December for leave before I had to report to Elmendorf AFB, AK by the end of the year. I did get to spend Christmas at home that year.

We had driven to California two and a half years before in a red ’68 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu with all our belongings packed in that car and on top. We looked like a modern version of depression era dust-bowl poor Oakies on the way to California. While packing the Chevelle back in New Orleans, we discovered that boxes take up a lot of valuable space, so we packed much of our stuff without boxes, utilizing every nook and cranny in that car. For months after arriving at George, every time I opened the trunk I would discover some nicknack we had missed unpacking that had vibrated out of some nook or cranny in the trunk.

In those two and a half years at George AFB, we accumulated a lot of stuff, more stuff than you can imagine—way more stuff than what would fit in the Chevy Vega we owned then, which was smaller than the Chevelle. We had also “accumulated” a child (Heath) who would be taking up the back seat of that tiny Vega.

Heath would get car sick every time he got in a car back then, so we fed him Dramamine the whole trip. Yes, we drugged him. He didn’t puke, but he slept the whole way home.

Fortunately, the fact that I made E5 a month before we moved qualified me for the Air Force to pay for moving my household goods (HHG). The movers arrived and packed all the stuff we had in our apartment, and I was still under the 6,000 pounds limit for an E5. The mover asked us if we wanted him to pack the various rocks out on our patio that Janis had collected in our trips out in the desert and the nearby San Bernardino mountains. I’m not talking little rocks here. These were big rocks—watermelon size rocks.

Janis said, “Yes.”

I said, “Hell no!”

That was a decision I have come to regret and am still regretting to this day because she is constantly reminding that I made her leave her rocks in California. I suspect she will note that on my headstone. “He left my rocks in California!”

The picture is of that red Chevelle and Janis with Heath (in the oven). I prefer to forget the Vega.

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Two-Bits

Two-Bits was my cat. I was about six when he came into my life. He was a pitiful black and white kitten roaming the street behind Kenner High School and in danger of being run over by a car. I wanted to bring him home, but my grandmother, who picked me up at school, would not allow it. I told my even more soft-hearted mother about the kitten, and she immediately went and retrieved him.

And much to my dad’s chagrin, we owned a cat, or more accurately a cat owned us. MB claimed he hated cats, but either he got over that or he was lying because he seemed to take to Two-Bits. In fact, he is the one who named him Two-Bits.

Two-Bits grew to be a big old, handsome, butt-kicking tomcat, and like most all tomcats, Two-Bits would go “tomcatting.” He would disappear for days at a time and come home somewhat lighter in weight and usually battle-scarred. He would stay home on R&R for a while to rebuild his vitality before he would go out tomcatting again. I imagine old Two-Bits had hundreds of progeny around Kenner.

Alas, my mother decided to end his tomcatting days, and Two-Bits made a short trip to the vet to returned minus two body parts. That was supposed to solve the tomcatting problem, but tomcatting was so ingrained in his psyche by then that the fact he no longer had the necessary “tomcatting equipment” didn’t even slow old Two-Bits down. He continued to tomcat the rest of his days and come home with just as many scars—albeit without leaving any more progeny around Kenner to carry on his heritage.

I don’t recall how long he lived or even when he died, but he was still around when I was a teenager and dating Janis. That would put him at ten years or better.

Two-Bits had the run of the house, and he exercised that privilege to its fullest. He went wherever he wanted and pretty much did whatever he wanted to do. That fact shocked Janis when we were eating a roast beef poboy at the kitchen table one night. She was not accustomed to having a cat in the house, so Two-Bits was a bit of a cultural shock for her. His actions were especially shocking that night when he jumped up on the kitchen table to investigate what we were eating. Janis freaked out and so did Two-Bits. They both decamped from the table. Janis and I had cats after we got married, but they were NEVER allowed on the kitchen table or countertops.

Two-Bits was an important part of my childhood, and I do miss him even after all these years.

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OUR Little Gingerbread House

I say “our” because my granddaughter Haley and I made it—from a kit, that is. It began with a “crisis” phone call from Haley. She was home. Her mother was out with friends at Christmas party. Dad and Ruby were asleep upstairs, and poor Haley had just made thirty-five phone calls looking for a gingerbread house kit and finally found one at a Walgreens near our house.

So I put on my red cape and went to Walgreens. There I was confounded by the fact that they had two different kits.

I called Haley on the phone. “Which one?

“I can’t see them. Pick one,” she replied, somewhat exasperated at her grandfather’s inability to decide on a gingerbread house.

So I picked one—the one with the best looking packaging. (I did do package design for a living, you know.)

Arriving at Haley’s house, I softly knocked on the door, and Stella (that’s their Boxer) barked. So much for “softly knocking.” Haley answered, and we promptly began the gingerbread construction while her dad and sister blissfully snoozed upstairs.

I have been involved in many product shoots that involved creating the perfect looking elements in a perfect setting that almost always required the services of a stylist of some description to get that perfect image for the ad. I knew that what was on the box cover was an example that could never be achieved in real life by a couple of amateur gingerbread constructionists like Haley and me. We were not thus disappointed in the results.

Thinking I was better qualified to apply the white icing decorations from the squeeze bag than a ten-year-old, I assumed that role. But my windows looked like they were made of melted plastic that oozed and dripped over the sides of the gingerbread like white syrup. About halfway through the process, I passed that job off to Haley, certain she could not possibly do worse.

We were running out of white icing in the little plastic pouch that came with the kit, and Haley dragged out some red icing from a birthday party cake long past. While I was squeezing out the last of white icing from the bag, hoping against hope I could somehow save some of my blundered decorations, Haley was constructing “people” out of a mini Tootsie Rolls with gumball heads. She used the red icing to stick them to the front of the house by the alleged door made out of two chocolate Tootsie Rolls smashed roughly into the shape of a door and stuck on the front of the house with red icing.

After a moment, she stood back and commented on her work. “It looks like a murder scene,” she said, her voice somewhat critical.

I peaked around to her side of the house, and she was right. Her little Tootsie Roll people looked like they had met a “slasher.” There was “blood” everywhere! “Blood” where they stuck to the house. “Blood” on the ground around them. It looked like an attack by ISIS had taken place in the front of our little gingerbread house.

She tried to cover the “blood evidence” with the last of the white icing with only limited success, as you can see in the first image.

As a final touch of “gore”, we added Rudolph as a “trophy mount” over the back door.

Finished, our little gingerbread house bore only a passing resemblance to the one on the box. It was made out of gingerbread and covered with white icing, but in a way that looked like it had been applied by a drunken sailor on shore leave. But it was OURS.

Merry Christmas!

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Chewing Tobacco

Janis’ family, on her mother’s side, comes from Oxford, Mississippi. There is a world of difference between New Orleans and Oxford. That is one reason I enjoy our rare visits there.  Not many of her relations are left in Oxford, only her Uncle Dick (but his real name is Pat) and two of his kids remain. Others are either deceased or scattered across the US.

Dick is an absolute pleasure to be around. He has an outgoing personality and was born with a smile on his lips and an interesting story ready to tell. I have figured out what makes his story-telling so funny. It is really quite simple: He enjoys telling them so much he is grinning and laughing the whole while he tells the tale.

Dick mostly built houses with a few commercial buildings thrown in for good measure. He is 90 now but still spry and still builds things, albeit mostly much smaller projects like remodeling jobs for one of his kid’s homes.

It seems to be a tradition in Oxford for Dick (and his dad before him) to take what I call “tours” and show guests around to see the “wonders” of Oxford, MS, which, in Dick’s case, were the houses he built, including for some rather famous Oxford residents.

We were stopped and admiring one of Dick’s buildings, and he pulled out his pouch of tobacco and took a pinch for himself and offered the pouch to me. I have smoked cigarettes and a few cigars in my distant past but had never tried chewing tobacco. So out of curiosity, I took the offered pouch and retrieved a pinch and popped it into my mouth.

What followed was not expected. About the time I got it all situated over on the side of my mouth, my taste buds suddenly discovered its foreign presence and screamed, “FIRE! FIRE! QUICK, WE NEED SPIT TO PUT IT OUT! LOTS OF SPIT! SPIT! STAT!”

My mouth immediately filled up with spit, like fire-hose-wide-open full of spit! Good thing we weren’t moving, because I couldn’t get the car door open quick enough to rid myself of it. My mouth was so full my cheeks looked like a chipmunk hoarding a year’s supply of nuts. By the time I got the door open, tobacco-brown spit was already oozing uncontrollably from the corners of my mouth with a volcano-like eruption imminent.

BLAH! But that didn’t end the fire response from my taste buds. They continued to call for more spit to squelch the flames.

After a few minutes of me violently clearing my mouth and with tobacco juice running down my chin, I turned to Dick, who, by the way, was laughing, and  I said, “That is the last time I’ll do that.”

The pic above is of Uncle Dick taken only a few years ago.

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Cherry Bounce Update #1

I wrote of my Cherry Bounce experiment where I am attempting to reproduce my father’s recipe here. Not having his original recipe, I used a modified version of a recipe attributed to Martha Washington.

What I did not mention in that post is I later added a second experiment using an old recipe from a friend’s French mother, although slightly modified to accommodate my available supplies. I will call that one my Roy Recipe in honor of Mrs. Roy. She used wild cherries from her own yard. Not having a cherry tree in my backyard, I used dried, tart, pie cherries. Her recipe called for vodka instead of whiskey or brandy and not cooking the mash. So I have two jars set aside to rest for three months.

Well, I couldn’t wait any longer. I know, it has been slightly less than two weeks, but I had to taste them.

I could drink them now, and probably will next week for Christmas. The Martha Washington recipe with the cooked mash and Sazerac Rye whiskey is rich in flavors and complex, much of which comes from the rye whiskey. The Roy Recipe is less complex due to the vodka but is still quite good. Without the MW version to compare to, you would like it a lot. But I think I much prefer the more complex Martha Washington version. I’m pretty sure that one or a version of it will be the basis of my next and larger batch I’ll make after Christmas.

I will allow others to taste both at Christmas and let you know what comes out of that.

Cheers.

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Cherry Bounce

My dad, Dr. MB Casteix, used to make cherry bounce. His foray into creating adult beverages began when he was quite young. Since he started college two years earlier than most, having skipped two grades, he must have been younger than 16 on his first attempt because he was still living at home with his parents. At that time they were living on Bourbon Street in the building that is now the Famous Door Bar. It was a pharmacy at then, and the family lived above it. I wrote about his cherry bounce escapades here.

I decided I would like to attempt to recreate MB’s cherry bounce, but I don’t have his recipe and have no idea how he made it. I did a search online and found a few recipes, including one that is attributed to Martha Washington.

I did know one thing about MB’s recipe, and that was that it evidently continued to ferment in the bottle. In that linked post above, there was a recalled incident of the top blowing off the bottle and scaring the hell out of our maid. The recipes I found called for adding bourbon, rye, or brandy to the cooked cherry mash then storing that for three months. The alcohol should prevent any further fermenting, I would think. But I have to go with what I have.

So…I created a modified version of Martha’s recipe in smaller test proportions and cooked up a batch. The attached pic is the cherry mash before adding the rye whiskey. Unfortunately, we will have to wait three months to see if it is any good.

So, stand by…

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“You going to wear that?”

I used to consider myself a pretty good dresser. (Note the past tense.) As finances allowed, I stayed up with the styles, especially when younger. While in school, we young men were careful not to make any fashion faux pas that might hurt our chances with the ladies. We would exchange the latest fashion trends amongst ourselves. (Surprised, ladies?)

I worked in a men’s store part-time while in college and learned many things about the proper gentlemanly dress from another salesman who was a VERY dapper dresser, and the women absolutely loved him. From that experience, I learned about proper trouser length, how much cuff should show from under the sleeves of your coat, proper color matching, NEVER mix patterns (which seems to be de rigueur these days, go figure), and other sundry dressing codes for young men.

This carried forward even into my military service. My uniforms were always starched with creases sharp enough to cut thick-skinned tomatoes into paper-thin slices. My sense of style even got me into trouble when I tapered my trousers. My CO obviously wasn’t as fashion conscious as I was, and he made me take the taper out.

Even though my business life after the service, I was required to wear suits to work and I even enjoyed it. As the years passed, the dress codes relaxed to allow just trousers and a nice shirt—but no jeans. Then dress-down Friday came along, and “nice” jeans were allowed. As I neared retirement, even jeans became acceptable every day. Ah, the times they were a-changin’. But that excluded wives.

Eventually, every married male will, at some time, hear that fear-inducing question from their spouse concerning whatever it is they have on when about to head out for the night’s festivities. It comes in three versions, representing ascending levels of both distaste and threats should the offensive behavior continue. Whatever the level of distaste expressed, they all come at that moment when the spouse steps out of the bathroom fully dressed to the nines and encounters innocent you standing there buttoning the last button on your shirt or tidying up the knot of your tie. Let me expand on this below.

Threat Level 1 – She steps forth from the bathroom and finds you standing there. She stops in her tracks. One eyebrow goes up and the other goes down in a questioning glare that begins at your feet and slowly makes its way up to the top of your head. The innocent (clueless) you look like a deer caught in the headlights of a car that is a half a second away from the impact. You very stupidly say, “What?”

Here it comes. In a tone that suggests only mild disagreement with your fashion choices, she casually tosses out (like a hand grenade), “You going to wear that?”

Gentlemen, let me clearly state that “yes” is the wrong answer. Don’t waste your time arguing. Whatever you have on must be changed immediately.

Threat Level 2 – Same scenario as above, but this time that question is asked just a bit differently. It comes out as, “You going to wear THAT?” Note the very strong emphasis on “that.”

Gentlemen, a “yes” answer will mean being sent to the couch for at least three nights. Don’t even think of going there, but tuck your tail and find something to wear that she approves of.

Threat Level 3 – Same scenario but this time the question becomes a command, “You are NOT going to wear THAT!”

Gentlemen, a “yes” reply here will ultimately involve lawyers and cost you lots of money—assuming you survive the night. Save yourself some grief and just let her pick something out, put it on, and shut up.

I don’t know what happened to our sense of fashion between our early years and retirement, but we obviously lost it along the way. At least, that’s what my wife tells me whenever I attempt to dress for some social event.

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My Tivo Is Possessed by the Devil!

I cut the cable some months ago, or more accurately, I broke the dish and got rid of satellite. In its place I got a very nice antenna which picks up about 40 stations, maybe 20 of which come in clear and I am interested in watching. I also bought a Tivo Roamio OTA DVR which records over-the-air (OTA) channels and accesses apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime among others. OK, now that you have the background here is the problem.

Janis recorded a movie recently off one of the OTA channels. It turns out to have been appropriately named Devil in a Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington. I never watched it, and Janis got about ten minutes into it and decided it wasn’t for her, so she deleted it—or more accurately, tried to delete it. My Tivo disagreed with her decision to delete the movie and refused to do so. None of the usual methods of deleting something recorded on the Tivo has worked. It pretends to delete the movie, but it always comes back! I can delete other recordings, but not the Devil!

It gets worse. Janis called me in to see if I would have any better luck. Nope. After several and various attempts, the Devil would not go away. I decided to let it rest and try the next day as if that might make a difference. It didn’t. Repeated attempts to delete it failed. Each time I deleted it, the Tivo puts an “X” beside its name in the guide, pretending that it is about to delete it—and then deletes the “X” and puts the blue dot back—and, of course, the Devil in a Blue Dress is still there!

And—it gets even spookier. Forgetting my recent failure with the Sync Witch in my truck, I was determined that I was not going to let some stupid electrical device outsmart me. So I devised a very clever plan to delete the movie. There is a delete option I had not yet tried. You can set the Tivo to delete a recording on a certain date in the future. “That’s it!” I said in my eureka moment. With a sneering cackle, I set the Devil to delete in two days, August 12.

Two days later I checked and the Devil was still there—AND he had reset my delete date to August 14! “This is some crazy fluke,” I muttered and reset the delete date to August 16.

Well, it is August 17 as I write this, and the Devil in a Blue Dress IS STILL THERE and has reset my delete date to August 18!

I have no illusions that it will actually delete on that date. Once more I have been beaten by artificial intelligence. As a society, we are doomed. The movie “Terminator” was prophetic.

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The Honey Island Swamp Monster

The Honey Island Swamp is on the Louisiana/Mississippi border along the Pearl River in the “toe” of the Louisiana boot. The entrance to the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area often referred to as “Honey Island”, is located where I-59 crosses the Pearl. The WMA is a favorite hunting and fishing place for the relatively nearby New Orleans residents. It is mostly swamp and marsh laced with small bayous with not a lot of high ground, especially when the Pearl reaches anything approaching flood stage. Deer and squirrel hunting is popular in the WMA.

It is also reputed to be the home of the Honey Island Swamp Monster (HISM), Louisiana’s version of Bigfoot. My son Heath and I met the HISM many years ago on a squirrel hunting trip. Many years ago is something like 1985ish. It was just after dawn and we had settled into our stands in a grove of oak trees, taking a seat at the base of an old oak. Heath, being around 15 then on one of his first hunts, was sitting with me so I could keep an eye on him and make sure he hunted safely.

Must have been a spot that was hunted out, because we saw no squirrels. Not being an early riser, I was soon dozing off. That’s when we heard “him”. It was a baleful cry off in the distance as if the HISW had lost his momma and was calling out for her.

Heath poked me in the ribs. “You hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“Listen.”

It was obvious he was concerned, so I blinked myself into wakefulness and listened. Soon, I heard it, too. A long tone that changed pitch with no apparent purpose than to cry out almost as if in pain or calling to a like being.

Another poke in the ribs from my 15-year-old. “What’s that?”

“Ummm. Nuttin,” I replied.

Heath wasn’t buying it. “That sounded like something. What?”

We listened but heard nothing more out of our HISM and began to relax. We moved to another area in hope of finding squirrels and settled down again under another big oak tree.

And we heard him again, that long drawn-out cry, but this time it was a bit closer. “Dad, what is that?”

I fessed up. “I have no idea. Never before heard anything like that in the woods—ever.”

Then the unspoken was finally spoken. Heath looked at me and said, “Is that the Honey Island Swamp Monster?”

“Naaahh,” I assured him, but vacating the Honey Island Swamp suddenly seemed like it might be a good idea. “I’m getting hungry. How about we head back to the truck for something to eat?”

Heath readily agreed. We worked our way back to the trail we had come in on, which happened to be closer to the direction the HISM screams had been coming from. As we nervously headed for the truck we catch sight of movement in the bushes beside the trail and out steps a man with a shotgun. We startled each other briefly, and then he waved as he approached. “Any luck with squirrels?” he asked in Spanish-accented English.

“No. We’re giving up.”

“Me either,” he replied. “I’m trying to find my hunting buddy. You see anyone around…?” And he described how he was dressed.

“Nope. Haven’t seen anyone.”

“I’ve been calling to him with my bugle, but he doesn’t answer.” And he reached around his back and pulled out a beat up old bugle that hung by a cord across his shoulders. And I’m thinking we have found the Honey Island Swamp Monster. He must have noticed my questioning expression and said, “We use these down in (some Central American country) where I’m from to communicate in the jungle.”

Heath and I looked at each other and smiled. So much for our Honey Island Swamp Monster.

You can see a video taken in the 1960s that supposedly shows the HISM at this link.

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