Category Archives: Family History

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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Eight Weeks Later

Remember back eight weeks ago I posted about my grandson going off to Air Force Basic Training? It is now eight weeks later and here he is.

Janis and I drove over to Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, to be there for Blake’s graduation from basic training. It was a grueling trip that was supposed to be about eight hours that turned into more than ten with several periods of stop and go traffic—an hour and a half just to get through Houston! It was an intense and emotion-filled weekend as we joined his parents, his sisters, and some cousins as well as an aunt and another grandmother. Having done my basic training at Lackland back in December 1968-January 1969, I found it particularly moving. This was especially so because Heath, my son and Blake’s father, had also been there a few decades after me, in 1996, when he did his basic training at Lackland. Three generations of Casteix men in the Air Force. The three of us are in the pic below.

Blake will next be going to NAS Pensacola for training in “Non-Destructive Inspection”. That means he will be inspecting aircraft for structural integrity, and the testing involves non-destructive processes. It is a highly technical field. Interestingly, Heath has his own business doing aircraft airframe repair and then FAA certification of the repaired parts. He learned that trade in the Air Force. Later as a civilian, he took training in what Blake will be doing, and his business is also a FAA certified NDI inspection station which has more business than he can handle. That means Blake will have a job waiting for him when he gets out.

I guess you have figured out by now that we are all very proud of Blake.

A point I would like to make in closing is that “education” need not always mean college, and success and financial security need not require a college degree. Heath makes a lot more money than I did at this point in his life. I am of the opinion that many kids in college today are wasting their money and would be better served by military training or a good trade school. Unfortunately and incorrectly, that sometimes carries a negative stigma for some people.

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Memorial Day 2017

This one is kind of special. The reason why is that twenty-one-year-old young man in the photo, the one in the white shirt holding up his right hand. That is Blake Casteix, my grandson. That was Tuesday when he was in the process of swearing to “defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic”. He is now at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, for Air Force basic training. That will be followed by tech school at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he will be trained in cyber security. Sounds like a career field he can use when he gets out, assuming he doesn’t make a career of the Air Force.

His dad was also in the Air Force, where he learned a trade, one he is using today, as a civilian, to make a good living with his own business. Everyone thinks you must go to college to be successful and make the big bucks. Ain’t so. There are many career fields in the military where a young man or woman can learn a trade and make a good living at it afterward—or even use it as a springboard to attend college on the GI Bill. Sadly, not many young people are willing to do that. Instead, they whine about not having any opportunities. I am calling Bravo Sierra on that. If you want it, there are ways to get it, but you might have to work for it instead of having it handed to you.

I was also in the Air Force but after I graduated from college. I had my college handed to me by my parents. It took the Air Force to gave me maturity I did not get in college. There I learned to do my job in a way that reflected on the fact that someone’s life might depend on how well I did it. For that reason, I believe in universal military service. Unfortunately, that would open the military up to having a lot of people that will never “get it” and never appreciate what it can give them. And maybe it is better if it isn’t that way.

This Memorial Day I salute Blake Casteix and all those who have written that check out to the United States of America for payment “up to and including my life”.

The complete Oath of Enlistment –

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

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I’m retired?

No, the question mark in the title is not a typo. I have been officially retired since February 15, 2017 after 44 years with SPAR, Inc. Been there since 1973 after I got out of the Air Force. It was a fun ride while it lasted. I got to work on some truly wonderful, challenging, interesting, and rewarding projects. During those years, I had the privilege of working with some very talented people, designing packaging and product promotions for local, national, and international brands. My team at SPAR won numerous awards over the years: locally with the New Orleans Ad Club, nationally with the American Advertising Federation, and even some international design awards. Like I said, I had a talented team.

But all good things must come to an end. Upon reaching 72, I decided I needed to hang it up and go home. My expectation was that I would live the life of leisure after working since I was fourteen. So far, that has not happened. I intended to devote my “leisure” time to painting, writing, and Bible study. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. I have done some Bible study, but no writing and I have not lifted a paint brush yet. Instead, Janis has had me digging holes in the yard to plant stuff in and running a chain saw cutting other stuff down. Seems rather contradictory, doesn’t it? I mean planting and then destroying?

I’m having to take more doses of OTC pain killers these days, and a good bourbon on the rocks in the evening feels mighty rewarding after a day swinging a shovel or a chain saw—and feeling it. I’m hopeful that this period of physical exertion I had not previously associated with retirement comes to an end soon—before it kills me. Otherwise, I may have to go find a day job so I can get some rest.

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Boy Scouts in Kenner

boy-scoutMost of my friends were in the Boy Scouts when I was a kid. Henry Legasse was the Scout Master when I joined, and that position was later taken over by Mr. Hansen and Mr. Carter.

We joined when we turned 11 and some of us were even in the Cub Scouts prior to joining the Boy Scouts. I joined because I liked the outdoors, and the Boy Scouts were all about the outdoors, plus I was into uniforms then, especially if they looked military. (I played army a lot.)

Boys like to go camping, and the troop had a supply of WWII pup tents, also known as “shelter halves” because two halves were put together to make one tent. We used these tents only once as I recall. Our Scout leaders, most having recently served in WWII, had had their fill of camping and anything remotely related to the Army. And pup tents and sleeping on the cold ground certainly fit that bill.

Instead, they took us places where there were cabins and real (alleged) beds, like Camp Salmon and Fountainbleu State Park group camps. The latter was probably a bit emotionally triggering for them because the buildings we stayed in were surplus Army barracks. But they had a roof instead of pup tent canvass and real beds with alleged mattresses.

Manard Lagasse was not what I would call a “momma’s boy” but every “camping trip” we went on, he puked all the first night and had to be taken home the next day by his dad. Frankly, the rest of us were glad, because it was hard to sleep and listen to Manard’s “Oommmoooogggg!” followed by liquid hitting the floor.

We played games and worked on merit badges on these trips, and learned Army stuff, like: fall in, ah-tennn-HUT, count off, parade rest, and other nifty things that would come in handy less than ten years later when many of us went into the military.

On one trip to Fountainbleu, we begged our adult leaders to take us on a hike. They weren’t into hiking either, having recently hiked all over North Africa, Italy, and Europe. They decided to break us of that desire and took us on what more resembled some sort of death march rather than the leisurely stroll we had in mind. They took us into a swamp—into muck up to our knees—and we could barely move forward—and they urged us on deeper into the swamp, and some of us lost our shoes. When we came out, we were covered with stinking swamp mud, and we never asked for a hike again. And I don’t recall them ever offering to take us on one, either.

Once when we were on a winter campout at Camp Salmon in the little buildings with (alleged) real beds, we had a giant pillow fight, which, unfortunately, went badly. At least one of the pillows quite literally exploded, resulting in a blizzard of chicken feathers. That was a mess to clean up!

One of our favorite games was “infiltration” which we always played at summer camp at Camp Salmon. The objective was for all the scouts, under the cover of darkness, to sneak up on the campfire area along the bayou. Success was just about impossible without taking out a few of the camp counselors, but cutting throats was not then allowed. The scouts would blacken their faces with charcoal, dress in dark clothing, and crawl around in the woods infested with briars, snakes, spiders, ticks, and red bugs and attempt to sneak up on the campfire ring. We actually believed we had a chance of succeeding. I don’t recall anyone ever succeeding.

At summer camp, they were very strict about littering. They even had a rule about it. If you bought any candy at the little camp “trading post” and tossed the wrapper on the ground, whoever picked it up could charge you, and you had to buy them the same thing. It is amazing how many kids toss their candy wrappers on the ground. Some of us (punks) saw potential in this and formed a “vigilante” group. We hung around the “trading post,” and when we saw some kid eating candy, we followed him until he dropped the wrapper—and we pounced. I gained weight that year at camp. Yes, I know. I’m ashamed of myself. But hey, they needed to learn a life lesson about littering.

The last night of summer camp at Camp Salmon was the big campfire when we sang Kumbaya, did skits, and received awards. We would dress as Indians, and the costumes were pretty lame. We used towels as loincloths held on by our scout belts. Having that wad between your legs was pretty uncomfortable, and I don’t recall anyone taking a shower after that.

There was a priest there who somehow managed to attach himself to our troop. He was from some foreign country and spoke broken English. When he saw us dressed as Indians, he flipped out. I think the “skimpy” towel loincloths did it. We tried to reassure him we were pretending to be Indians just for the night. His reply was a pleading, “NO! Christians!” We went in our crotch-irritating loincloth towels anyway. He remained behind prayed for our lost souls.

And I must not forget the meals on these camping trips. Almost always we had access to a kitchen and lots of surplus Army aluminum pots, but every once in a while we got to actually cook our own meals over an open fire. That usually meant foil stew. Done right, foil stew can be very good. You simply make a pouch out of two layers of aluminum foil and place in it chopped potatoes, carrots, onions, bell pepper, and some kind of meat cubed up. Throw in a little seasoning and a dash of water, seal the open end well and toss that puppy onto a bed of hot coals and scrape a few on top. Cook it for about 20 minutes. Retrieve from the fire and split open the foil and enjoy. Later in life, we would make foil stew on hunting trip camp outs, only being older and wiser then, we used steak instead of the cheap of meat cut our parents gave us as kids and substituted beer for the water. Yuumm! And no pots to wash!

The weekly meetings at the Kenner VFW Hall were always the high point of my week. I really looked forward to them and getting together with kids I saw only then. We worked on merit badges and different scout projects. I never did learn Morris Code, however. The biggest event was the “Court of Honor” when we received our merit badges and promotions to the next level of scouting. It was all rather formal with everyone in uniform with candles glowing softly as the ceremonies played out. We scouts received our new uniform decoration and our proud parents stood by smiling and applauding.

Those were some good times.

I encourage readers, especially former members of Troop 176 in Kenner, to post their experiences in the comments section below.

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Fifty Years Ago Today

wedding-leavingToday, 21 Jan 2017, marks fifty years of marriage for Janis and me. Yes, fifty years ago I watched her father escort my weeping bride down the aisle of St Rita Church in Harahan. Why was she weeping? I don’t know, and she doesn’t either. I asked. “Emotional moment” was the best she could come up with. It was so intense I don’t remember much about that day, the weeping bride being one of only a few things, but let me try to relate some of what I do remember.

I remember my friend Sam showing up at my door thoroughly confused about the workings of the bow tie on the monkey suits we wore. Gads, but they were stupid looking suits. “Does the tie go inside the collar or outside?”

I remember standing in a reception line for about a week. At least, it seemed that long. We survived only because my best man and a few frat brothers kept us supplied with food and adult beverages. Thankfully, they don’t do reception lines anymore. The bride and groom can now enjoy their reception.

At the end of the “week,” we were rushed from the reception line for the cake cutting, then the dance. Or was it the other way around? Then change clothes and leave for the honeymoon. We went to Hot Springs. (I know what you are thinking, but try to ignore that. I am referring to the place in Arkansas.) It was all we could afford, and I don’t recommend it for a honeymoon.

We visited the chicken circus where chickens do tricks. Whoo-hoo! I even have pictures of that somewhere. We visited an auction where I was suckered into buying a diamond ring. No one was bidding on the cheap diamond ring being offered, and the slick auctioneer asked me, “Would you give $125 for this ring, sir.” I think the “sir” impressed me because I replied in the affirmative never thinking he was asking for anything more than my “expert” diamond appraising opinion.

“I have a bid of $125. Do I hear $130?” He didn’t. “SOLD for $125 to the gentleman with exquisite taste in jewelry.” And I was the proud owner of a diamond ring, and my bride was looking at me like I had two heads. We immediately went and had it appraised. It was worth maybe $65. We went back to the auction house and complained and got some of our money back. The diamonds were chips, and Janis later had them reset and the ring melted down for its gold value. We actually made out on the purchase, but it took about thirty years.

Enough of that…

Our relationship goes back way past fifty years. We started dating when I was sixteen and she was fourteen, some six years before the wedding. She followed me wherever I went. I went to USL (University of Southwest Louisiana now ULL, University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and she followed. After a year or so, her dad asked while writing out a tuition check, “Tell me again why you are going to college in Lafayette.”

wedding-janis

Janis lived on Minor Street in Kenner. I lived on the intersecting Sixth Street (now Toledano), and since there was a vacant lot between my house and her house, we grew up within sight of each other. But I never noticed her until the hormones kicked in. Among many I have one very vivid memory of that time. It is of her walking home from the Airline Highway bus stop in her Mercy Academy uniform complete with saddle oxfords and white bobby socks, clutching her books to her chest, and her long ponytail dancing behind her head to the rhythm of her steps. In retrospect, I think that was when I fell in love with her.

After school and marriage, it was the Air Force for me, and of course she followed. Our oldest son was born in the base hospital at George AFB in Victorville, California. It was a difficult delivery that ended up as an emergency cesarean. She was in the hospital for nearly a week and got no real food until near the end. When I checked her out, I had to pay $14 and some change for her meals. She wanted me to go back and ask for a refund. “I didn’t eat that much.” I figured $14 for an emergency caesarian is pretty cheap regardless of how much she ate, but Janis was and remains very frugal.

In all that time, our only separations were the time I spent in basic training, tech school, the occasional short TDY assignment, and the eleven months I spent at King Salmon AFS, a remote station in Alaska.

Then came discharge in ’72 and buying a house in ’73. We had to borrow the down payment for the house. That money came from Janis’ grandfather in Oxford, Mississippi. When told the house was costing us $24,500.00, he asked, “What are they buying? A mansion?” I gather you get a lot more house for your money in Oxford. It was a two bedroom one bath little 1,100 square foot house built in the thirties. Son number two came along in 1975, another caesarian but planned this time. We moved into a larger house in ’86, and we are still there.

So two boys, five grandchildren, five great grandchildren, and fifty plus years later, we are still married.

I’m thinking about keeping her.

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The BIG Bang

Two holidays (besides Christmas) hold great interest to us kids growing up. I am referring to July 4 and New Year. Bet ya can’t guess why?

“Fireworks,” you say?

Good guess. Explosive devices have magical charms for boys and probably a few girls, also. Nothing is more satisfying than a big bang and something being blown to smithereens. Yes, our parents allowed us to play with fireworks—unsupervised. Of course, prior to being released to go wreak havoc on the world, we got the usual lectures about the safe handling of fireworks followed by periodic reminders of their dangers via scare stories of some kid getting his fingers blown off. That barely slowed us down.

As kids we only had access to the usual over-the-counter verity of fireworks—oh but what fireworks they were. What you buy today pales in comparison to what we could get back in the fifties. I refer of course to the infamous, finger-removing M-80.

m-80

The M-80 was originally used by the military to simulate artillery fire (no. really its true), thus were way more potent than the run-of-the-mill Black Cat firecracker or even the more potent “Cherry bomb” or the similar in appearance “Silver King.” The only thing the Silver King and the M-80 shared was that both were small tubes of black powder about ¾” in diameter and 1.5’ long with the green fuse sticking out of the middle. The Silver King was silver, naturally, and the M-80 was colored a danger red. That’s because it contained more powder—and would take your finger off. The M-80 was said to contain 3 grams of black powder.

Today’s M-80 is a weak sister to its older brother thanks to government regulations and is not as potent as an old Silver King. That is because modern fireworks are limited to 50 milligrams of powder versus 200 mg or more before. Our M-80s more closely resembled a quarter stick of dynamite in explosive power—at least it seemed so to us—and evidently, also to the government.

We used the M-80’s potent explosive potential to blast all sorts of things into next week. Favorite targets were red ant hills, but you needed to get far away from the blast area or risk getting showered with a lot of only temporarily stunned red ants. When they recover from the blast, they are REALLY mad.

Once we built a mortar in the Lagasse’s key lot. The tube/barrel was some kind of pipe we found that empty beer cans fit in nicely. We stuck one end into the dirt and propped it up point skyward at about a 45 degree angle and dropped in a lit M-80 followed by a beer can—and BOOM—that can was sent to the other end of the key lot and almost to Williams Street. That lasted until our “mortar tube” succumbed to the potency of the M-80 and was blown apart. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

No problem. What can we blow up next?

Remember the old kitchen trash cans with the pop-open lid that opened by stepping on a little pedal on the base? Remember the removable can liners used in them? They were heavy gauge steel then—and great M-80 projectiles. Out on Sixth Street we lit an M-80 and dropped the can on top and hauled butt. BAM—that can was sent up above the tree tops, with kids scrambling in every direction to avoid the can’s re-entry into the atmosphere. A few more attempts at attaining orbit, and the can was a mangled mess that no longer fit in its outer shell. Re-entries were hard on the can—not to mention lift-off.

One of us got to go onto the ultimate explosive devices. Buck joined the Army, and they put him in combat engineers. He got to play with some really cool stuff like C-4 and det cord, which was a handy and quick way to cut down a tree. But Buck also got to play with the ultimate explosive device—nuclear weapons. No, I’m not kidding. He was in “atomic demolitions and munitions.” Only he never got to “light the fuse” on one, which is probably a good thing. He was stationed in Germany and when the “flag went up,” their job was to assemble some small nukes and blow bridges with them. They REALLY wanted those bridges to come down, didn’t they?

The rest of us were left to be content with ever more anemic government version M-80s and lecturing our kids on the safe handling of fireworks with periodic reminders of their dangers via scare stories of some kid getting his fingers blown off. As if…

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Christmas Trees

christmas-tree

What is Christmas without a tree? When I was young we had only live trees of the spruce verity with short needles about ½ to ¾ inches long. And they had a fantastic smell, but they shed, and I mean shed a lot! I suspect they were actually cut sometime the previous May, because by the time we got them up and decorated a mere soft breeze would defoliate a branch. We fed them water, and they drank it like a camel preparing to cross the Sahara, but it did no discernable good. Obviously, all that dryness meant they were a fire hazard, but amazingly, I don’t recall any tree fires, although I am sure we had a few around Kenner.

Some of my friends and relations were on a different schedule, but it was always two weeks before Christmas when we put up the tree at my house. In those days the lights were the large bulb verity. The bulb was about the size of a thumb. And naturally, they burned out. That meant we spent the first hour or so of decorating dedicated to finding burned out bulbs and replacing them. Some of those lights were bubble lights with the “candle-like” tube of colored water above the base in which bubbles rose when they were turned on. Bubble lights were, and remain, my favorites.

The lights went on first careful we did not knock off any of the needles on the nearing-ready-for-defoliation branches. That was followed by the decorations. In those days, the decorations were brightly colored globes of some design made out of glass thin enough to crumble at the slightest provocation. Don’t even think about one surviving a drop on the floor. We also had some made to resemble birds with long bristle-like tails. These we clipped to the top of the branch, unless we wanted the dead bird effect, in which we clipped them to the bottom.

That was followed by the ubiquitous “icicles,” thin strips of a foil we draped over the branches to resemble (if you had a really good imagination) icicles hanging from the tree. Later these were made from some metalized thin vinyl material, which didn’t tarnish like the earlier real metal ones. True patrons of the icicle art form added them to the ends of the branches only a strand or two at a time. For me, that lasted all of about two or three branches, and I would look at the gazillion branches eagerly awaiting their custom draped icicles and decide another method was called for. By then I was getting bored with the tree-decorating thing, anyway. That called for “rapid-deployment.” That meant standing back and throwing handfuls of icicles at the tree letting them land where they may. My mother didn’t much care for that method.

In the early post-war years we carefully removed the icicles after Christmas and stored them for use next year. As we prospered, the old icicles became expendable (and tarnished) to be replaced the following year. What? Maybe a buck and a half cost total?

The tree was topped, in those days, with a spire of sorts made of the same fragile glass as the aforementioned decorations. I don’t recall very many angels up there.

In the mid-late fifties, various simulations of “snow” began to appear for decoration. The most effective came in an aerosol can. It took a true snow artist to get this stuff to look real. Mostly, it looked like lots of bird droppings on the branches and over-sprayed walls around the tree. I never much cared for it, although applying it was fun.

Around the same time, they started selling painted trees. We went several years with silver trees. But the Lagasse family across the street remained “true” to the Christmas tree spirit and bought only green painted trees. The green was so dark it was almost black (Goth tree?) and only vaguely resembled real tree color, but they seemed to like it. In addition to silver and green, you could get white or even pink (a popular color in the fifties but a sacrilege for a Christmas tree). The paint increased the flammability of the tree but helped hold the dry needles on—oh, for perhaps an extra day or so.

Flocked trees came after that, but only “rich people” bought those. Flocked was not allowed in our house by my tight-fisted father. One of his few wins over my mother.

With fragile trees and families full of rough and tumble boys, naturally, there were accidents. My cousin Bobby got a trampoline for Christmas one year and somehow Boo, his dad (Santa), managed to fit that assembled trampoline in the house more-or-less “under” the tree. Of course, you had to crawl under the trampoline to get to any of the other presents. Not patient enough to wait for Boo to disassemble the trampoline, move it outside, and reassemble it, Bobby, of course true to his nature, tried it out in the house. After he hit his head on the ceiling a few times, he did an unanticipated “dismount” and landed in the Christmas tree for a combined judges score of -1.2.

And defoliated the tree!

One year the day before Christmas Eve, the tree at Manard and Elton Lagasse’s house decided to “faint.” Clutching its little tree heart, it fell over dead—well, maybe it just realized it had been dead for months?

Defoliated!

I have no idea what happened, and Manard and Elton weren’t talking. Not a needle was left on that tree. All that remained were bare sticks grotesquely reaching out for water, and the presents under it were just a lumpy pile of needles. Henry Lagasse had to scramble and buy a new tree on Christmas Eve.

After Christmas when the spell of the Christmas tree had worn off, I used to enjoy running the branches between my finger and thumb and listen to the patter of needles hitting the floor. By the time we took the fire hazard down after New Years, most of the needles were on the floor. When MB finally dragged the dead carcass out the door, it left a trail of its remaining needles as a reminder of its glorious past. And out came the Hoover.

Then along came the ultimate answer to the tree defoliation problem—aluminum Christmas trees! No lights on these “high-tech” trees. Underneath you had a disk of rotating red, green, and blue gels that a light projected through and colored the highly reflective aluminum tree “needles.” But it wasn’t real and smelled like metal instead of pine. And that rotating/projecting colored light thingie always made an annoying squeaking sound as it turned, industrializing the whole Christmas mood. Some considered the aluminum tree the height of tree sacrilege, but my parents were the neighborhood trendsetters (Snork!), and we got one. Eventually my grandmother gave in and bought one, but no one else did that I recall. I think the Manards and the Lagasses secretly looked down their collective noses at our “apostate” Christmas tree.

For all their problems, it wasn’t Christmas without a tree. I remember only one Christmas without one, and that one was in 1968 at Lackland AFB in Texas when I was going through Air Force Basic Training. And it didn’t feel like Christmas that year, at all. Otherwise, I spent many hours lying on the sofa in the living room just staring at that tree with all the other lights off except the tree lights (even the aluminum tree / squeaking light projector years) and dreaming of what it would look like Christmas morning. It was the most beautiful sight in the entire world for a boy growing up in Kenner.

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Filed under Family History, Holidays, Kenner

Christmas

Growing up in Kenner in the fifties, Christmas was always a special time of the year for us as it must have been for most others growing up elsewhere. There was a “ritual” of sorts associated with the Christmas season. Each family had its own traditions and some got passed down to the next generation, but usually each generation has to establish their own. Back then in my family, we could count on the same series of events occurring every year without fail, and I began looking forward to them as early as Halloween, which for us kids “officially” kicked off the “holiday seasons.”

We kids looked forward to Christmas with the usual expectation of new toys and time off from school. We wrote our Christmas lists and letters to Santa long after we discovered the truth. We wanted to perpetuate the “gift gravy train” as long as we could get away with it.

2017-sixth

Depending on what day Christmas landed on, school let out the day before Christmas Eve and resumed the day after New Years Day. Christmas Eve was for me even bigger that Christmas itself. Christmas Eve was a big extended family night when everyone was having a party and exchanging gifts all over the neighborhood, and most of my extended family lived within easy walking distance, even if inebriated. On Christmas Eve we went first to my grandparent’s house on the corner of Sixth and Minor to exchange gifts. This exchange was among my grandparents, aunts, and cousins on my mother’s side. They always exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve. As I recall, those festivities kicked off at 7pm precisely.

This was followed by a visit to MB’s side of the family for a party at Boo and Margie’s house at the other end of the block. Sometime during the evening we paid a visit to Mary’s house. Mary was the black lady who cleaned my dad’s office and did light housework for the Manard clan. We took her gifts like a turkey or ham and Christmas “bonus” cash, a bottle of Seven Crown whisky and stayed long enough to share some Christmas cheer with her and her family.

After returning home, we retired late, and the kids went to sleep (not really), while our parents put out the toys from Santa. There was no way I was going to wait until Christmas morning to play with my stuff that Santa left. For weeks prior, I practiced creeping down the long hallway between our kitchen and the living room where the tree was set up. I discovered that certain boards of the wood floor in the hall of our elevated house creaked loudly when stepped on. After some experimenting, I discovered that if I hugged the walls during my creep down the hall, I made less noise, thus I was not likely to awaken my parents. That was probably overkill, as my parents slept like rocks after all that work, play, and the adult beverages they had consumed at the parties. There was little chance of me waking them, but the stealth was part of the fun and created a genuine adrenalin rush.

About an hour after they went to bed, I would make my first foray to see the goodies under the tree. Ninja-like I would silently roll out of my bed, pausing to see if the rustling of my sheets had aroused my parents. Getting no response, I stood and moved to the doorway, avoiding the center of the room and any creaking floorboards. Again, I paused to see if they had heard me. And again no “Lane, what are you doing?” issued forth from my parents bedroom. I then carefully slipped through the kitchen and into that treacherous hallway and hugged the wall to avoid those tattletale boards and took one careful step at a time toward the living room and my Christmas goodies. Upon arrival, I turned on only the tree lights and beheld a display of toys and gifts so carefully laid out such that the display would shame the window dresser at the Maison Blanche department store downtown. I examined each object with barely restrained glee, lest I wake my snoring parents, and was very careful to put each item back exactly as “Santa” had displayed it. Temporarily satisfied, I then snuck back to bed and tried to sleep. That didn’t work.

Within the hour, I made another ninja-assault on the Christmas tree. This time I not only examined my toys but also those of my sisters. Then back to bed again. This was a case of “wash, rinse and repeat” all night long. Needless to say, on Christmas Day I was very sleepy and went to bed early that night.

Christmas morning was a time to open the gifts of our immediate family and play with the new toys, but before we could really enjoy everything, it was hurry up and get dressed to have Christmas dinner at my grandparent’s house at noon, and they ALWAYS ate at noon! Since they were from central Louisiana (Point Coupee and LaSalle Parish), the fare was different from what was usually found on Christmas tables in New Orleans. We had the usual obligatory turkey, but instead of brown gravy made from the drippings served over the oyster dressing or dirty rice, we had white giblet gravy over white rice. The stuffing was cornbread instead of oyster dressing my wife made as part of our later Christmas meal traditions. The cranberry sauce was always that can shaped gelatinous glob, but I loved it and still do. Janis refuses to let me eat it today and makes her own cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries, and I must admit, it is actually better than the gelatinous glob. The wine was usually Mogen David Concord Grape and sweet enough to almost qualify as grape juice and induce instant tooth decay. But we ate like we hadn’t eaten in days.

That was a long time ago, and we do things a bit differently today. Even our traditions established during our young married life are gone with deceased parents and family members grown, married with kids of their own, and some living in another state. I miss those Christmas Times of long ago, but there comes a time when you have to let go and let the kids establish their own traditions.

Another thing I really wish I could bring back and enjoy today is my Aunt Ethel’s fruitcake. Every fall she and my mother would make fruitcakes a few weeks before Christmas, and she had a great fruitcake recipe! After baking they were liberally dribbled with bourbon whiskey and allowed to soak in the bourbon for a couple of weeks before eating. Man, they were good. I need to find that recipe.

In closing: To all of you reading this, I hope you have some Christmas Traditions you cherish, and most of all, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and remember “He is the reason for the season.”

NOTE: The image is a screen grab from Google Street View of the house I grew up in as it looks today.

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Filed under Family History, Growing Up, Kenner