Category Archives: Kenner

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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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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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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Mr. Frank

One of the joys of growing up in Kenner was being a boy during the best time in history in what was possibly the best place in the world to grow up, Kenner. At least that’s what my cousin, Bobby, thinks. I tend to agree. In post war and prosperous America, we lived a carefree life that simply can’t be recreated today.

For us kids back then, summers were our favorite time of the year for obvious reasons, mainly because the dress code was so minimal, and we didn’t have to go to school. It was a time when we roamed the streets in our neighborhood with no fear, wearing only shorts, no shoes and no shirts—maybe sometimes a baseball cap. It was also the time Mr. Frank would pay us daily visits.

Mr. Frank was our local, roving, ice cream man. He was an over-weight, somewhat elderly man with a fatherly appearance, and wore a worn straw fedora to protect his balding head from the sun. Mr. Frank roamed the neighborhoods of Kenner on his little three-wheeled Cushman motor scooter ringing a hand bell and shouting out, “Ice cream! Get your ice cream!” (As if the bell hadn’t done the sales job already.) He sat in the back of his little scooter over the motor, and in front over the two front wheels was his dry ice cooled icebox filled with a veritable cornucopia of frozen delights for kids.

cushman

He sold the usual ice cream cups that came with a little wooden device for scooping the ice cream from the cup. That “scooping device” was a “spoon” in name only, being only a thin flat piece of wood cut in the shaped of a stubby spoon. Splinters in the lip were not unheard of.

His cooler also contained frozen bars of ice cream on a stick dipped in chocolate, ice cream sandwiches, which were two rectangular chocolate cookie slabs with a block of vanilla ice cream in between, and Dreamsicles—those bars of vanilla ice cream on a stick with a frozen orange sherbet coating, and ice cream cones with a chocolate topping and peanuts wrapped in paper you had to peel back. And, of course, he had the ubiquitous Popsicle in a variety of flavors to satisfy the tastes of any kid.

Mr. Frank rang his hand bell as he slowly motored through the neighborhoods of Kenner. Of course, with our super-tuned kid hearing, we heard that bell approaching when he was still five miles away. With a Pavlov’s dog-like response, we dropped everything we were doing and began an immediate and urgent assault on our parent’s pocket books.

“Can I have some money for ice cream, please, please?

Our parents were notorious foot-draggers when it came to such wild and extravagant expenditures of their hard-earned cash. (A Popsicle cost every bit of 5¢.) As Mr. Frank’s siren song and that clanging bell drew nearer, the pleading increased in tempo designed to break down even the most penny-pinching parent. “Please, hurry! I’m going to miss him!”

As Mr. Frank reached our street, our foot dragging parents finally gave in to our pleading and coughed up some cash. I’m convinced it was a conspiracy among them, because they all paid off at the same time. From every door on Sixth Street, frantic kids clutching nickels and dimes in their sweaty hands burst forth screaming “Mr. Frank! Mr. Frank, wait!

Not one to miss the big sales, Mr. Frank was, by then, exercising his favorite marketing ploy. He had slowed his scooter to a mere idling crawl, slow enough that it threatened to kill the sputtering motor on his scooter, and his bell ringing had gotten even more frantic.

And we assaulted him.

Then came decision time. “Do I want a popsicle or a Dreamsicle today? No. Um. Maybe an ice cream sandwich? I donno…?

And Mr. Frank smiled and waited patiently, knowing he was about to rake in the big bucks from all the kids gathered around his little scooter. When one of us finally made up our mind, Mr. Frank opened the hatch on the top of that cooler box. And the rest of us stared mystified at the dark yawning opening that was spilling out this mystical cloud of “smoke” from the dry ice. And it was just cloudy enough that we couldn’t see into that dark interior. But Mr. Frank could, either that or he had the location of the contents memorized, because he would reach in, his arm disappearing into that black, smoking hole, and always come up with the correct item. And BAM, with a puff of magic smoke, that door slammed shut again over that mysterious hole until someone else finally made up his mind.

The sales made, Mr. Frank pocketed his new-found wealth, mounted his Cushman, and motored down the street ringing his bell and shouting, “Ice cream! Ice cream! Get your ice cream!”

And we kids sought a place in the shade to enjoy our frozen treats and plan our next summer adventure.

 

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

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Earthworms

Me, Manard, Joey 1953I often see posts on Facebook about things we did in our childhood that are considered “very dangerous” today. We ran around barefoot, played with firecrackers (and some of those were potent enough to take off a finger or two), rode in the bed of pickups, played on gym sets that would be the targets for litigation today, got spanked (child abuse today), played with fire, drank from the hose, had pet red ear turtles, rode go-carts in the street, roller skated behind said go-carts, and was made to sit on the front porch in one’s grandmother’s dress while reading the Bible because one used profanity—and got caught. (Yes, that really happened to someone—not me. Another clear case of child abuse!)

After this long list of things we did as kids, the FB post usually ends with “and we survived.” And we did. My, how times have changed.

One of the members of our little rat pack of kids, who barely survived the fifties and sixties, was a couple of years younger and smaller than the rest of us. Though smaller, he was wiry and strong, and very hard to catch and hold on to and bring down when he was carrying the football. (Yes, add tackle football without any protection to that list above.) As a result, he picked up a nickname, “Grease-ball” shortened to just “Grease.

Grease went on to become a successful “rock star” (he even played at Hard Rock Café one night) and eventually developed some modicum of respectability as an attorney, father, and grandfather, thus the need to protect his identity.

Grease, being younger and wanting to fit in, was susceptible to dares from us older boys, especially the impossible-to-refuse-ultimate-throw-down “double-dog-dare.” As pointed out so well in the great, classic movie A Christmas Story the double-dog-dare was never taken lightly, and its use called for a series of gradually escalating dares that culminated in the double-dog-dare.

Poor Grease was often the victim of abuse by us older boys, especially after our failure to tackle him in a football game. One form of such abuse, and I have no idea who started it (Grease may remember), but we double-dog-dared him to eat an earthworm—a live worm—and swallow it—on more than one occasion.

I can see one such time in my mind as I write this. It took place in the vacant lot across Sixth Street (now Toledano Street) from my grandmother’s house on the corner with Minor Street. This same empty lot was our favorite playing field, just the right size for a football game or even baseball until we got big enough to hit the ball across the field into one of the Giammalva’s windows, or a fun game of shoot the arrow up in the air and see where it lands. (Add that one to the list, too.) At the end near Sixth Street were two trees, a sidewalk, and the ubiquitous open ditch (but that’s another story).

On this occasion, we stood under those two trees and dangled a wiggling earthworm in front of Grease’s face while we hit him with the double-dog-dare. He looked scared, though he tried to hide it and look defiant instead. But with me, Manard, Kibby, and Joey standing there and repeating, “we double-dog-dare-you,” Grease had no choice but to eat the worm. It was that or be compelled to live forever in the shame of refusing a double-dog-dare, never finding acceptance with the older boys and forever wondering aimlessly in the wilderness of social peer rejection. That was NOT going to happen as far as Grease was concerned.

I think his lower lip trembled involuntarily for just a second before he snatched the worm from Manard’s hand and dropped it into his open mouth in such a way that it was clear to the rest of us that he was indeed eating that worm.

I don’t think he chewed, but he did swallow.

I wanted to throw up.

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SCUBA — Part 3

Didn’t expect a P3, but I was cleaning out a storage building in preparation for tearing it down and found a treasure trove of “Memory Lane” stuff, everything from my old Air Force papers, to art I did as a kid, and some old mags and photos. Among the photos was my “missing” picture of the Porpoise returning to Grand Isle on the last day of the NOGI Spearfishing Tournament mentioned here.

Sadly, many in the picture are gone now.

Porpoise NOGI R

 

I am the second from the left, handling the rope. Moving right, Dee White is next, partially hidden behind the ladder. Buck Roy is standing on top of the cabin with Mickey Rodosti (SIC?), who is sitting and gazing into the harbor. Dee, Buck, and Mickey are gone now. Al Easterling is standing in the cabin door, and I think he is also deceased. I can’t remember the names of the other two “rope handlers.”

Long time ago and so many good memories….

And what do we learn from that? Life is short—I didn’t think I would grow old so fast! And we need to spend more time with friends, because there comes the day when they may not be around any more—or you may not be around any more. Get together, crack open a brewski, and swap “lies” and laugh while you still can.

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Fire and Fireworks

Boys have a fascination with fire. The fact that we like to grill is an indication of that. One of the reasons I joined the Boy Scouts (Troop 176) was so I could play with fire. But I was attracted to fire long before that.

As kids in rural Kenner, we had plenty of opportunities to play with fire. We never missed an excuse to build a campfire in the Manard’s key lot and cook something, sometimes one of our fingers—ouch! Our parents always tried to discourage our fire building and cook outs in the key lot with a lame excuse, like the City of Kenner doesn’t allow fires.

“And? So what?” was our usual come back. What followed was about ten minutes of a half dozen kids badgering parents, who only wanted to be left alone and drink beer. “Oh, OK! But don’t come running to me with burnt fingers.”

And we had a one-match fire going within minutes. (Hint: gasoline helps.)

A favorite Boy Scout meal was foil stew. It was easy to prepare. You simply make a pouch out of some heavy duty foil (preferably) and fill it with chunks of meat, potatoes, carrots, and a little seasoning. Add just a small splash of water and seal it up real tight. (The water part became beer when we got older)

You get a good fire going and let it settle down to coals, spread those out and flop that pouch of foil-delicious on them, then add some more coals on top. Let that puppy cook for about 20 minutes and pull it off the fire.

Carefully slice the pouch open and peel back the sides to make a bowl—and dig in. I ate many a foil stew while in the Boy Scouts and with my boys on later camping or hunting trips.

Fire included fireworks, and in those days we had M-80s. If I had to guess, I would say an M-80 was close to a half a stick of dynamite! Well, it seemed like it, and was close enough you can’t get the “real” M-80s today. It is amazing we never blew fingers off, and yes, we did hold them, light-em-up and throw them, not advisable, especially with a “half-stick-o-dynamite” M-80.

Son and Margie Manard, Bobby and Melanie’s parents, had discarded a kitchen trash can. It was the kind made out of steel with a pop-up lid and a removable can insert for the garbage, also made out of heavy steel. It was in July when we had ready access to M-80s, and we decided to see how high an M-80 would propel that heavy steel, can insert. So, we got out in the middle of Sixth Street and flopped that can face down over a sizzling M-80. After which, we all ran for cover.

BOOM!!!

That can went straight up almost as high as the nearby trees were tall, forty feet or more! WOW! We gotta do that again! And we did; numerous more “agains,” until that can was all bloated looking and dented from M-80 detonations.

I was really into building plastic model airplanes, and another of my favorite uses for fireworks was to glue bottle rockets under the wings and make my plastic F-80 or P-51 fly. Trouble is, it never quite worked out like I expected. Getting the two bottle rockets, one on each wing, coordinated was something outside my skill set at eleven years old. My airplanes mostly went in circles as one rocket fired off before the other, and the in the opposite direction when the other finally lit up. Then the wings melted from the heat. That game got expensive, so I gave up.

This fascination with fire lasted even into my parenting period. I went on a father/son camping trip with my youngest son’s (Ryan) Scout troop. We stayed in the Group Camp Cabins at Fountainbleau State Park. Part of the weekend pitted the scouts against their dads in various scouting skills like first-aid, wilderness navigation, and, of course, fire building. The dads faced off against several teams of scouts on who could build a fire and get it going enough to burn through a thread stretched over the fire at eighteen inches above the ground. And we had to use flint and steel to start the fire. The scouts, not being clever like their devious dads, went the traditional route: first laid down some flammable material like dry leaves, then some kindling , then larger twigs, and finally some sticks.

In our scavenging through the woods for materials to build our fire, I discovered that dry Spanish Moss, the black stuff, burned like it was soaked in gasoline.

You know what’s coming.

With all our fires built and ready to fire up, the scouts looked questioningly at our mound of dry, black Spanish Moss, piled up high enough to almost touch the thread.

Ready, set, GO!

I struck flint to steel and FFOOOMMMPP! In a blaze of fiery glory, that thread disappeared in about three seconds flat.

We won.

Ah, the good old days. And I suddenly feel the need to fire up the Weber…

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Going Downtown

For us living in Kenner, even though “downtown” New Orleans was less than ten miles away, going “downtown” was somewhat akin to a trip to Jerusalem and held near religious significance. We made these trips maybe once a quarter.

We didn’t just hop in the car and head for Canal Street like we do today. This was more like an expedition, requiring careful preparation with a ritual-like execution.

First, it was expected to be an all day affair, leaving early in the morning and return about sundown.

And you dressed for the occasion.

That means the women wore nice dresses and fashionable shoes, usually heels. I was forced to forgo my shorts for nice trousers, a pressed shirt, and shoes and socks. And my hair was greased and combed.

My grandmother drove her Ford downtown. She ALWAYS had Fords; never knew her to own anything but Fords, and in the nearly thirty years of our shared time on earth, I can recall only three, and the first two had standard transmissions. We piled into her Ford and made the trip down Airline Highway to “downtown.”

She always parked in the same parking lot on the corner of Iberville and Burgundy. We then made a circuit of the stores on Canal Street, first the upriver side and then the downriver side. My favorite was Kress’ Five and Dime Department Store, which had a great toy selection. We usually ate lunch in the D.H. Holmes cafeteria and ended up back at the parking lot in the late afternoon loaded down with packages.

Many years later, when I started dating, one of our frequent destinations was downtown to one of the movie houses on Canal Street like the Joy, or the Saenger, or the Lowes, or the Orpheum on University Place, because they got the first run movies. In those days (late 1950s-early 60s), these dates required coats and ties for the men and nice dresses and heels for the ladies.

The Joy had a curving staircase to the balcony level (which was perfect for necking, BTW). One night, after the movie, when Janis and I were descending the stairs, I was not paying attention to my date as I should have been. As I made my way down the stairs, Janis, who was one step behind me, suddenly passed me on the way down. Trouble is she was bouncing down the stairs on her butt, skirt all in her face and high heels in the air. She reached the bottom before I could catch up to her.

That date did not end well.

But most other dates downtown did end well, usually for pizza at Gibby’s on North Rampart, but that’s another story.

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Playgrounds? What playgrounds?

I feel sorry for kids today. My son won’t let his daughter play outside alone, and they live in what most would consider a very safe neighborhood. It wasn’t like that back in the fifties, sixties and even later into the seventies. We came home from school, changed clothes, and disappeared into the neighborhood. Our parents never knew where we were, and we were never in any danger, except to ourselves, because of some of the stupid things we did. We sometimes stepped on a nail—tetanus shot. Cut a foot or hand on a piece of metal—tetanus shot. Burned a finger with a match or firecracker—tetanus shot. Fell in the ditch—tetanus shot. My dad dispensed so many tetanus shots and penicillin shots we were probably immune to every disease known to man. We lived through it, even thrived, and we certainly had fun, and our parents worried very little.

We never had any formal playgrounds. The whole world was our playground. Unless it was raining, we were outside. And we stayed outside, until it either got dark, or we were somehow rounded up by a parent.

Our homes had fairly large yards, but only rarely were they large enough to contain our activities. We needed and sought more room and more varied topography to play in—and, in Old Kenner back then, there was plenty of variety.

For organized sports, like football or baseball, we had at least two immediate choices. There was an open field on the corner of Sixth Street and Minor Street. It was plenty large enough for us to use for baseball and football until we grew old enough and strong enough that it became too confining and we risked putting a baseball through Mr. Giammalva’s window. No problem—when we needed larger, we had a whole city block to play in. Our Lady of Perpetual Help School now occupies that block. When we were growing up in Kenner, it was completely unoccupied by any permanent structure.

Kids love the woods, and we had plenty of wooded lots to choose from. When we were really young, we had Joe Lorio’s wooded lot between my grandmother’s house and the Manard’s house. It was small but large enough we could hide from parents and do kid stuff in it.

After that we had the Manard’s key lot behind the double belonging to the Manards and the Legasses. It was only lightly wooded but remote enough to be a wonderful playground. Next door was a huge (to us) wooded lot facing Williams Street. When we were old enough to be allowed machetes and hatchets we chopped down small trees in that lot and built forts in the Manard’s key lot.

On that aforementioned wooded lot on Williams, one year they went in and bulldozed most of the trees and pushed them into big piles and left them there like gracious gifts for us kids to play in. We scampered over those piles of trees with our hatchets and machetes and built even bigger forts to play army in.

Every summer the Lagasses would bring in a load of spillway dirt and dump it in their key lot, and they “allowed” us kids to level and distribute it for them. That process started with “dirt wars.” There was enough clay in the dirt we could make balls and throw them at each other like snowballs. And they hurt! Then we dug small tunnels and built little villages in it to play with our toy trucks and cars. At dusk, we all went home covered with river sand and tracked it into our respective houses. My mother hated those dirt piles! (I am still trying to figure out how they got that dump truck back there?)

On Minor Street near the IC tracks, two blocks from my home, was another wooded lot. Beside it was the closest thing we had to a creek in our little world, a nice deep ditch with flowing clear water containing small fish and crawfish.

Me, Manard, Joey 1953In the summer our “uniform of choice” was shorts—period—no shoes, no shirts. That was from the end of school in May until it started again in September. At the beginning of summer our feet were tender and very sensitive from a year confined to shoes, and our skin was pale white. By the end of summer our feet were so calloused we could run across the clamshell-covered streets and feel no pain, and we were nearly as dark as some of the African Americans in Kenner.

Doors were not locked unless you were leaving your house for an extended period of time. We slept with our windows open and an attic fan roaring in the hall drawing the “cool” night air in through the open windows.

We had no TV. The elderly Manards were the first to get a TV in our part of Kenner. (Why them, I have no idea?) We had one or two stations broadcasting only a few hours a day. It was a novelty for us kids, but outside was far more interesting.

People lived their leisure lives outside or at least semi-outside on screened porches. The Manards and Legasses living across the street were always on their front porch or in their small patio behind the house. My grandparents had a screened back porch and they spent as much time as they could out there in rocking chairs.

Life was so different back then (1950s-1960s), so much less stressful, and much more interesting for kids than playing on an iPad.

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