Category Archives: Kenner

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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SCUBA — Part 2

Continues from Part 1 here.

The NOGI Spearfishing Rodeo was our big event of the year. Unlike the larger Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo a month later, which was mainly a fishing rodeo with some added spearfishing categories, NOGI was a spearfishing rodeo with some line fishing categories. NOGI stands for New Orleans Grand Isle and was held in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Handmade from Honduran mahogany and signed by the artist, the NOGI trophies were highly coveted. The Bajaos sponsored one, and it cost us $100 back in 1964. They were beautiful works of art with sterling silver award plates. I have one, which takes me to the story of how I won it.

In 1964 we participated in the three-day NOGI Spearfishing Rodeo. We arrived in Grand Isle late Thursday night expecting our chartered boat to be waiting, a stripped down shrimp lugger capable of handling the dozen-plus members of the Bajaos on the trip and all our dive gear plus a compressor to fill the tanks while out in the Gulf of Mexico.

No boat! It was broken down, so a scramble began to secure another boat to get out into the Gulf before dawn on Friday, the first day of the rodeo. It was late, but we dug up an oil field crew boat, 60 feet as I recall. We managed to get everyone onboard and headed out sometime after midnight.

After several hours of travel and maybe an hour before dawn, we arrive at a some oil rigs. Anyone recognize these? Nope! Where are we? We had to wait for dawn to be able to read the rig’s nameplate that we tied off to. And with the dawn came the realization we were nowhere near where we thought we were. How did we get here? That is when we discovered the flashlight laying right next to the compass.

A quick scan of the maps showed we were about twenty miles from Grand Isle and in over 200 feet of water. But oh, what beautiful, clear, blue water it was! We decided to stay right where we were. That turned out to be a good idea. The rig was crawling with fish: Amberjacks, Barracudas, Red Snappers, Shark, and low and behold—down on the bottom, 220 feet down on the bottom, were Warsaw Grouper, which were rare to find during the summer months. They were in the deep cold water down there and living in the crumpled and cast off steel from the rig above after it had been rebuilt twice, once burned by a fire and another when a ship hit it.

Porpoise NOGI R

Bajaos returning on last day of NOGI on the “Porpoise.” I am second from left, third behind the ladder is Dee White, and Buck standing on the cabin.

We started hauling in lots of fish—trophy winning size fish! We returned to Grand Isle that evening and weighed in with our catch. Many Bajaos went on the leader board, including me with a nice Amberjack. We told no one where we had been and went back out later that night and again the next night. We took more trophy-winning fish, but some of our fish were getting bumped by larger fish as more divers returned with their catch. I was bumped right off the board by three larger Amberjacks.

Sunday rolled around, and I was off the board and getting desperate. I dived two tanks on two deep dives down as far as 180 feet with no luck. After consulting the dive tables, I decided I could make one more dive if I didn’t go very deep, but I would have to make two decompression stops to rid my body of absorbed nitrogen before surfacing if I wanted to avoid a painful helicopter evacuation to a hyperbaric chamber. I asked my buddy, Dee White, to dive with me on a fresh tank and stay well above me so I could buddy-breathe with him if I ran out of air before completing my decompression stops.

I was going after the largest Amberjack I could find, and there were plenty of them still down there. I found a school passing through the rig and picked the one I thought was the largest and shot him. The spear entered his side right behind the gills, and he seemed to barely react.

Amberjacks are said to be pound-for-pound the strongest fish in the ocean. I am not sure how accurate that is, but I do know they are very strong and very fast. The ones we were chasing were about 5 feet long.

Because of his non-reaction, I assumed I had hit his spine and paralyzed him, so I worked my way down the cable to the spear and got right next to him. He was looking at me.

Lane Tripletail RED

My “monster” Triple Tail.

Shooting them is only the beginning. You have to get them to the surface and on the boat, and that is usually after an exhausting fight that sometimes involved a wild ride through the rig. Taking them to the surface means grabbing them by the gills, actually the strip of body under the gills, and taking him up, assuming he wants to cooperate, and they often find new life part way up and drag you back down.

I reached out and slipped my fingers into his gills on the far side and my thumb into his gills on the near side and grabbed him.

He woke up!

He clamped his gill plates down on my fingers and thumb and took off like a bat out of hell! Since I was on one side of him and creating drag, that meant he went in circles with me as the hub. Round and round he went, and I am spinning like a top and wishing he would let go of my hand. Though my mask was gone, I had a death bite on the mouthpiece of my regulator to prevent it from disappearing, too.

Finally, he let go of my hand and took off. I held onto the cable attached to the spear, anticipating that wild ride through the rig, but the spearhead pulled out, and he disappeared into open water.

And frankly, I was glad!

I located my mask on the side of my head, repositioned it over my face again, and cleared it, then made my way up to meet Dee. We made our decompression stops and returned to the boat, where Dee told me he watched the whole thing from thirty feet above and was laughing so hard at how that fish was having his way with me, that his mask filled with water.

I was over my bottom time limit and risked the bends if I dived another tank, so I was done with SCUBA for the day. We left that oil rig and made one more stop at another one nearby for those with some bottom time remaining. I donned mask, fins, and snorkel, grabbed my speargun, and hit the water for one last shot at a trophy. As soon as I reached the rig, I saw a fish, feeding on the growth on the stanchion, that I had never encountered before. Its dorsal and bottom fins extended almost all the way back to its tail fin. I later found out it was called a Triple Tail. We played cat and mouse around the rig, until I got a fleeting going-away shot and nailed him. Back at the boat I was told its name, and it was a category on the NOGI board.

Lane NOGI Trophy RED

OK, so the trophy was bigger than the fish.

With everyone back onboard, and it getting close to weigh-in closing time, we headed in to Grand Isle and got there just before the scales closed. We had several fish from our boat that got on the board, including my Triple Tail, which was first place at 2 pounds 4 ounces, a smallish specimen, but the ONLY Triple Tail taken during the whole three days of the rodeo.

And to top it all off, they had several drawings for $100 each. Yep, I won one of those, and that was a lot of cash for an 19 year old back then. I went home with a NOGI trophy, $100, and a great story to tell!

Oh, and I never messed with amberjacks again after that.

Continues with P–3 here.

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SCUBA – Part 1

That stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. The SCUBA system and the modern version of sport diving were invented by Jacques Cousteau in France right under the noses of the Nazis during World War II. By the late fifties and early sixties, the cost of the equipment had come down enough many in prosperous post war America could afford it. TV shows like Sea Hunt staring Lloyd Bridges, which aired from 1958 through 1962 and in reruns for years after, plus The Aquanauts (CBS 1960-61) staring Keith Larson and later Jeremy Slate, played a major role in promoting the sport.

By the time I graduated from high school in 1962, I had a strong interest in diving, which, at that time, was limited to snorkeling when we went to Florida on rare vacations there. In the summer of 1962, my friend Dee White announced to the rest of the gang he was taking SCUBA diving lessons. That immediately got the rest of us interested.

Buck Lane Diving Mod

Buck and I were the first to follow Dee’s lead and promptly begged a diver we knew to teach us how to safely do that. I had been reading everything on the subject I could get my hands on and had developed a bookish knowledge of the sport. It was enough for me to figure out we had chosen the wrong person to teach us. He knew less than we did.

By reading and picking the brains of other divers like Dee, we developed what we thought was a satisfactory level of knowledge about the sport and how not to “get bent” or experience an air embolism. We acquired a copy of the US Navy Dive Tables and learned all about decompression to avoid the dreaded bends, which could paralyze and even kill you.

So we bought our equipment and went diving. This included: mask, fins, and snorkels, one 72cf tank, one backpack for strapping the tank on our backs, one dive watch for timing our bottom time, one wrist depth gauge, one demand regulator (the thingie that supplied the air in the tank to our lungs), and a spear gun. We were now undersea hunters!

I had access to a boat, the Yellow Jacket Buck and I almost sunk on an earlier camping trip to Cat Island. Buck also had access to a boat. Look out Lake Pontchartrain, here we come!

The lake was a good place to begin. It was rarely over twenty feet deep anywhere, and back then, it was relatively clear with twenty feet visibility at times. The Causeway bridge stanchions and the powerline towers in the water off the end of Williams Blvd were great fish attractors, mostly Sheepshead with an occasional Jack Cravelle showing up, but the latter was too fast for us to get a shot at them. We shot tons of sheephead and feasted on fish after every trip.

Eventually we joined a dive club, and there were many to choose from back in the early sixties with more than a half dozen in New Orleans alone, ranging in size from close to a hundred members (Dixie Divers) to some with maybe only a dozen. We joined the Bajaos, which had 30 to 40 members at any given time with maybe twenty or so who were active. The big three were the Dixie Divers, the Hell Divers, and the Bajaos. Some of the members had been at this for many years and proved to be a helpful source of information. Club membership also provided us with access to diving in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Bajaos were named after the Sama-Bajau people of Indonesia, sometimes called the “Sea Gypsies” or “Sea Nomads” because they essentially live on the water and, it is said, get seasick when they go on land. I have experienced this after a three-day dive trip in the Gulf. After all that time on a rocking boat, when I stepped on dry land again, it was moving! I suddenly felt nauseated and had a hard time walking at first.

The oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana are a diver’s paradise with all manner of fish for viewing or spearing, mostly the latter for us undersea hunters. Favorite targets were red snapper and grouper, with lots of Amberjack, large Warsaw Grouper, and huge Jew Fish (also known as the Goliath Grouper) for the more daring. In the sixties the record Jewfish taken spearfishing was 559 pounds.

During the summer, the Bajaos met every Wednesday night in the backroom of some bar and planned our adventures for the coming weekend or some upcoming spearfishing rodeo. It was a great life for a 19 year-old kid.

Part 2 continued here…

The pic is of Buck and me in 1963. He is holding a Barracuda he shot, and I am holding an empty speargun for the one that broke my line. We switched to stainless steel cable after that.

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Joey Giammalva

Last night Janis and I ran into Beverly Giammalva at a function. She is the widow of a very dear old friend, Joey Giammalva. Joey and I grew up together in Kenner, and we go back as far as I can remember, like when I was around six. I lived on Sixth Street near the corner with Williams Street. Joey lived on the same block as me but facing Minor Street, and just so happens right across the street from my future bride, Janis Cristina.

Me, Manard, Joey 1953Joey, Manard Lagasse, and I were the closest of friends in those days and remained so through high school, even though I went to East Jefferson, and Joey went to De La Salle. We kind of drifted apart after that, simply because we were separated by schools. Both Manard and Joey were two years younger than I was. Joey and I reconnected a bit, when I transferred to the University of Southwest Louisiana, and he was attending there.

As I was talking to Beverly, my emotions were flooded with memories of Joey and me as kids. What came to mind?

For one, his home on Minor (in which Beverly still resides). I can still picture every room. I would show up there on Saturday morning and find Joey watching TV in their den, a smallish room at the back of the house. He had a back porch that was initially only screened, and then Mr. Giammalva added jalousie window glass. We were not allowed in the living room. The sofa was even covered with plastic. No, I’m not making that up. I think they used that room only once a year, Christmas.

And, of course the kitchen.

Mrs. Giammalva (Miss Mary) was a fantastic Italian cook and somewhat tradition bound, because they had the same meal every Sunday at noon: spaghetti and meatballs and fried chicken. I’m not sure, but I don’t think fried chicken is very Italian? Whatever, it was great fried chicken! I must confess that I sometimes managed to be around the Giammalva house about lunch time on Sunday a bit more often that perhaps I should have been, and naturally, they invited me to eat with them.

Mr. Giammalva was an ice peddler for my future wife’s family business, Cristina Ice in Kenner. He delivered ice (some of us still had “ice boxes” then) to homes and businesses in his red, stake-bed, Studebaker truck. I will never forget that truck.

And get this! His helper was none other than Lloyd Price, before he became a famous recording artist. Some of his hits: Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Staggerlee, Personality, and I’m Gonna Get Married. A resident of Kenner who made good.

Mr. Giammalva also was a part-time trapper. He ran a trap line somewhere west of Kenner and brought in muskrat and little animals I think were mink. He treated the skins and hung them to dry in his two-car garage.

I spoke elsewhere of Joey and me having Red Ryder BB guns. Did you know robins were good table fare? I didn’t either, but the enterprising Mr. Giammalva did. Robins migrate and in the fall stopped on the way south in his hackberry tree to feast on the little hackberries, often filling that tree with robins by the hundreds. Mr. G and Joey’s Red Ryder BB gun were waiting for them. Many robins went into his freezer after getting their fill of hackberries. And no, that wasn’t legal. But, hey, it was Kenner in the 1950s.

Joey was a bit chunky when we were young but slimmed down as an adult. He suffered from flat feet, and I mean flat as pancake. We often played with the hose on the summer and Joey’s feet would make flatulence sounds on the wet concrete. Funny what you remember. And that one brought on the tears.

We also had go-carts, and we were often chased by the Kenner Police for running them on the streets of Kenner. I wrote about some of those adventures here and here.

The photo above of (from left to right) me, Manard Lagasse, and Joey was taken by Mrs. Giammalva in Joey’s back yard. He carried that old photo around in his wallet for decades. Finally about twenty years ago, he made 8×10 copies for Manard and me and presented them to us. It hangs in my home office. I am sorry to say that both Manard and Joey are gone now.

I miss them both, and unfortunately, we often don’t realize how much we miss someone until they are gone. If you have friends you love, spend time with them, because they won’t be here forever, and neither will you.

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Manard Lagasse Hated Getting Shots!

Me, Manard, Joey 1953I had a brief discussion with Elton Lagasse, Manard’s older brother, at a meeting the other night, and he reminded me of a story from our childhood. Manard had a needlephobia, a really bad needlephobia. I never really considered Manard to be a coward. He was always there with the rest of us, doing all the stupid and risky things boys did back then, but he really feared getting shots. (Manard is in the middle in the image on the right.)

As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, my dad, Dr. M.B. Casteix, used to periodically round up all the kids of our extended family for inoculations for just about every disease known to man. Those were followed in a few weeks, or a few years, maybe both, with booster shots. And then there were the tetanus shots for our frequent wounds and rusty nail punctures in our bare feet, and we were always barefoot during the summer. Seemed like we were always getting shots for something when we were kids.

The call would go out, and all us kids would be required to report for inoculations, usually on Saturday afternoon or at night after the my dad’s office closed. The roundup included Manard and Elton Lagasse, Bobby and Melanie Manard, Kibby Manard, and sometimes even my cousins, Stephanie and Robin, and sisters, Jeanne and Martia, who were all quite a bit younger than the first mentioned group.

All of us had “side-entrance privileges,” which means we could go in the side door of the office. Usually escorted by parents, we marched into the last examining room at the side entrance end of the hall and lined up for our shots. On one of the first such inoculation roundups, Manard managed to be at the head of the line, and he was looking a bit nervous—maybe a lot nervous?

CabinetMB went to his instrument cabinet (which now resides in my bathroom) for a syringe. Whatever it was he came out with, Manard evidently thought it resembled something on the order of a turkey baster with a big needle, because his eyes got got as big as saucers, and after only a brief moment of indecision, he concluded he wanted no part of that thing and promptly decamped.

Panic stricken, he headed out the examining room for the side door, but Henry Lagasse, his dad, waiting there for him to take him home, happened to be blocking his way. Upon seeing his dad standing there with a questioning expression on his face, Manard did an about face and headed up the hall that ran the length of my dad’s office, but that offered no means of escape; the front doors were locked. Henry knew something was up and was in hot pursuit of his youngest child. He caught up to Manard in the little room at the end of the hall where the bathroom and coke machine were (Heath has that over in Texas, the coke machine, that is).

Somehow, Manard got past his dad, bolted out of the coke room, failed to navigate the turn and bounced off the hall wall, then headed back down the hall at a full-tilt run for the side door—and needle freedom! About then MB innocently stepped out of the examining room with the syringe in his hand to see what was up with Manard. As soon as Manard got a  look at “Dr. Frankenstein” with his turkey baster hypodermic, he slid to a halt, his Keds making little screeching sounds on the highly-waxed, asphalt tile floor. He did another about face only to run smack into his dad, who was still in hot pursuit but obviously gaining on him.

Henry manhandled the loudly protesting and squirming Manard into the torture chamber—er, I mean examining room—for his dose of whatever it was we were getting that day. MB stuck Manard, and he squealed like a stuck pig.

Kip and ManardThe rest of us kids stood around kind of big-eyed and slack-jawed in complete awe of what had just transpired. Most of us were thinking maybe we should be considering some kind of escape plan ourselves? But the door was by then well covered by at least two parents, and seeing no way out, we reluctantly got our shots with only minimal whimpering. They stung a little, but we lived.

The whole affair became a source of humor for all of us but Manard, of course. All future inoculation summons were somewhat looked forward to, because we wanted to see what Manard would do, and he never failed to impress us with his fear of the needle.

The last photo is of Kibby (on left) and Manard with my dad’s office behind them. Thanks to cuz Bobby.

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Buck Barbre and Me

Buck Barbre RThere have been two Bucks in my life (not counting the deer). Both are deceased. One was my good friend Michael “Buck” Roy. The other was my grandfather, Stephen Jefferson “Buck” Barbre. He was known as “Prof” by most of his friends and acquaintances, because he was an educator. But I knew him as “Buck,” not “Gramps” or “Grandfather” but just “Buck.” My sisters and cousins also called him “Buck.” And no, I don’t know why.

Barbre is French, and the family tree shows it spelled several different ways. Buck Barbre hailed from McCrea, Louisiana in Pointe Coupee Parish. He went to college at the Southwestern Louisiana Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana. It was called the University of Southwestern Louisiana when I attended in the sixties, and is now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He later attended Mississippi A&M and Louisiana State University for advanced degrees.

Upon graduation, he took a position as a teacher at Carencro in Lafayette Parish and then another in Washington Parish, then finally at Jena High School in LaSalle Parish. There he met and fell in love with Rubye Ina Boddie. They married in 1922. From 1922 to 1924 he was principal at Loranger High School in Tangipahoa Parish.

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In 1924 a new high school was built in Kenner, Louisiana in Jefferson Parish, and he took the position as it’s first principal. That building was designed by architect William T. Nolan who designed a number of buildings in Louisiana that are on the National Register of Historical Places.

When Buck and his young family moved to Kenner, they stayed in what I will call a “boarding house” until they could find proper housing. I think this boarding house was somewhere along the tracks not far from the Cristina Ice House. The only thing I remember them saying about this place was how the water from the cistern tasted funny. That was because they found a dead rat in it.

They then moved from there to a rented house on Third Street about a block from Clay Street. At this time the levee was being pushed back closer to Third Street with First and Second Streets disappearing into the Mississippi River. Like many back then, the Barbre family had chickens, and the levee construction crew overdid the dynamite just a tad and blew a hunk of tree stump over their house and killed their rooster in the back yard.

From there they moved to Williams Street between Sixth Street and Airline. They had chickens there too, and family lore has Buck catching a chicken-stealing possum by the tail as he exited the coop. He dispatched him with a whack on the head with a hammer.

They then built a house on the corner of Sixth Street and Minor. Son Lockbaum built that house. That was around 1947 or 48. They remained there until both Buck and later “Mother,” as we called Rubye, passed away in the seventies.

When Jefferson Parish built East Jefferson High School in 1955, they picked Buck to be its first principal. I graduated from there in 1962.

He never drove a car. My grandmother or a friend always chauffeured him around. She took him back and forth to Kenner HS, and later, Joe Yenni drove him to EJ and back. And no, I don’t know why he never drove. We were never given an explanation when we asked.

Buck and I were very close. My mother and I lived with them between her divorce from her first husband and when she married Dr. M.B. Casteix in 1950. She worked at Keller Zanders on Canal Street, so Mother and Buck took care of me while she was at work.

I had a pedal car of sorts that was like an airplane with stubby little wings and tail. I was only about four and got into some paint and proceeded to paint it white. Mother caught me down in the garage with paint splattered all over my airplane/pedal car, the garage, and me. “What are you doing?” she asked. “Painting my airplane, and I have to hurry and get this done before Buck gets home and catches me,” was my lame answer.

School Bell 2RBuck retired from EJ in 1964. At his retirement party, they presented him with a copy of the portrait that had hung in the office at Kenner High School. They also gave him the handheld school bell he used to ring to start classes at Kenner HS before they put in the electric bell system. That’s it on the right. During the many speeches at his party, someone asked him why he waited so long to retire, probably expecting some pontificating from him about personal dedication to the job and the kids of Jefferson Parish. His replied with a chuckle, “I wanted to make sure Lane graduated from high school.”

Buck died in December of 1972 right after I got out of the Air Force. He went in for heart surgery and died of complications from the surgery. They could not account for all the surgical sponges after they closed him up and had to open him up again to search for the missing sponge. They did not find it inside him but later found it in a trashcan. He never recovered from that. He lingered on for a few more days, and one of the last things he asked was, “Is Lane home yet?” I had been discharged and was home two weeks before his surgery, but he was so disoriented he did not remember. Christmas that year was the worst I have ever experienced.

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