Category Archives: School

Fifty Years Later…

In the fall semester of college 1965, I made a decision that has changed my life forever—and for the better. I made a whole bunch of new friends and had wonderful experiences with them I would have never had otherwise. I pledged a fraternity—Epsilon Chi Chapter of Kappa Sigma, to be exact. This was at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL), which is now called the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL).

I began that session with no thought of joining a frat, but my neighbors at our new off-campus apartment were all Kappa Sigs and recruited me and my two roommates. I am thankful they did. I “went active” in the winter of ’66 and finally graduated in ’68. Of all my college experiences, those three years were the best. I made friends that I still have contact with. Some stood in my wedding, and I stood in theirs. While those were fun times, they eventually came to an end with graduation. Many of us went off into the military, marriage, and jobs after leaving school, and many of us lost contact with most of our brothers.

Fifty years later, an event changed that. A brother, Bo Cooksey, was about to pass with cancer, and some of his Kappa Sig brothers reached out to others from Bo’s era for a party in Lafayette. About thirty-five brothers from that period were located and able to come, some from far away states. It was a wonderful time in spite of the reason for the gathering. It stirred in us the need to not wait again until one of us was dying before getting together again. A reunion sprang from that.

A year later 102 brothers from the 1960s were found and able to attend a reunion in the Alumni Center at UL. In the process of searching for all these brothers, we discovered that thirty-seven of us were deceased already, which isn’t surprising, considering we were all in our mid sixties–mid seventies. Some died of diseases or accidents—and even Vietnam—many way too early in life.

It was a gathering with laughter and tears, and it will go down in my memory among my fondest. Yes, a few of us might have gotten a little snockered (not me). Many old tales were recalled, but the truth was never allowed to stand in the way of a good story. David Coughlin regaled us with his memories of the “Mobile Gross-Out Unit” activated in response to us being put on probation. Yes, we were on probation at least once while I was there. Back then Kappa Sigs (on the USL campus at least) were known as the “Animals,” and this was years before the movie “Animal House” came out. I don’t think we were as bad as those guys in the movie, but some might disagree, the Mobile Gross-Out Unit being just one reason for that.

For those who must know the details: It involved several brothers (who shall remain nameless, as they have attained some level of professional respectability as adults) riding around the campus in an IH Scout 4X4 with the top removed (and past the frat house that turned us in) while exposed their backsides, a position which is generally referred to as a “moon.” At least it was a simple moon and not a “double hog-back growler” (which, believe me, is much worse, but that’s another story, and it shall not be told on this blog.)

The infraction was hazing, which the Epsilon Chi chapter practiced back then. It really wasn’t that bad and prepared me well for my military basic training after graduation, which was a cakewalk after experiencing “Hell Week” as a pledge.

What’s my point? We make friends in our travel through the Valley of Death. Sometimes those friendships are allowed to fade away—and we should not allow that to happen. “Friends and Brothers” are too valuable to let slip away.

AEKDB

The pic is of me in my Eric “Otter” Stratton pose.

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More Stupid College Boy Capers

When I got a bit more serious about my college education; that is I realized I couldn’t make a living in fine art or my then minor, beer, I transferred to the University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL, which is now ULL, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and changed majors. I had heard they had a good program in advertising design, and that sounded like something that might actually generate some income.

St Joseph St

Sam made the trip with me, having come to the same conclusion about fine art, but Richard was doing a stint in the Army National Guard. Sam and I got a new roommate, Alvin Bartlett, who we knew from high school, and moved into an apartment on St Joseph Street. Al had just finished up his active duty time in the Navy Reserves. Al was just as crazy as Richard—and Sam and me, for that matter.

The Petty Wars continued with new vigor and fresh creativeness. Sam came home one day with a device about the size of a quarter and twice as thick, that you put in a socket behind a light bulb, and it would cause the light to blink. We installed it in the light over the bathroom sink and departed for the weekend back to NOLA, leaving Al to hold down the apartment.

When we came back, Al complained about the blinking light. He said he had finally managed to time his eyes to blink with the light and shave at the same time. We quietly removed the blinker and suggested Al should get his eyes checked, because the light worked fine for us.

One favorite trick was to wait until one or the other of us was taking a shower, sneak into the bathroom, and douse them with a pitcher of cold water. Much profanity and threats of death emanated from behind the shower curtain after such dousings.

I upped the ante one evening by adding lots of sugar to the cold water and waited for the target, which happened to be Al, to turn off the shower before dousing him. The usual death threats and profanity were forthcoming from the cold dousing, but Al simply proceeded to dry himself—until the towel started sticking to them.

One evening Al and I were cooking onion rings for supper, and Sam was scarfing them up as fast as we fried them. So…we twisted some pieces of paper towel into onion ring shape, battered them, and fried them up. Sam, naturally, stole them and ate them—and swallowed them, only to complain of how tough they were.

Then there was the famous sandwich caper. We were at the apartment for lunch and fried up some bacon for BLT sandwiches. Al and I finished ours, but Sam had only just finished making his and hadn’t even started eating yet. I informed him I was still hungry and could I please have a bite of his sandwich? Suspecting some trickery on my part, like stuff the whole sandwich in my mouth, Sam thought he was going to be clever. He smiled and said, “Sure,” whereupon he picked up his sandwich and licked the bread on one side before he handed it to me with a broad smile of triumph on his face. Even Al figured he had me that time.

With the “Chiclet’s Caper” from two years before still on my mind, I took the offered sandwich, licked the other side, and handed it back. “I’m not hungry anymore.”

Eventually, the local garbage men became targets-of-opportunity for our pranks. We lived in a the second floor apartment (the one on the left in the pic above), and our kitchen table was located under the front window. Window open on a warm spring day, we had a good view of the street as we ate lunch when the garbage truck came along, making their garbage collections. They had a system worked out. The nearly-asleep truck driver stopped the truck positioned so the back was near the garbage cans to be dumped. The “can-handler” dropped off the little step on the rear of the truck where he rode, grabbed the can, tossed its contents into the hopper in the back of the truck, tossed the empty can over on the sidewalk, and whistled for the nearly-asleep driver to move on to the next set of garbage cans.

You know where this is going, right?

Timing must be perfect, and it was. We waited until the “can-handler” was just about to dump the can and whistled. The half-asleep driver pulled out, and the contents of the garbage can ended up in the street. Not wanting to be reported by our neighbors across the street whose garbage was strewn all over St. Joseph Street, he had to pick it up. Much profanity issued forth from the can-handler, while the half-asleep driver waited patiently down the street at the next set of garbage cans.

My favorite story did not involve me. I was living in the frat house at the time, and Richard, fresh out of his six months active duty with the Army National Guard, had joined Alvin and Sam on St. Joseph Street. Alvin worked for CLECO (electric utility in Lafayette) and had to get to work around 7am. Sam and Richard set his clock ahead an hour, so Al woke up an hour early and arrived at work an hour early—only to find the gate locked. He should have been suspicious when he left the apartment with the sun just coming up, and usually, it was well up when he left. He probably wasn’t fully awake yet….

A very irate Alvin arrived back at St Joseph Street to find Richard and Sam having lunch. Richard looked at him and calmly said, “We expected you home an hour ago.”

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The Gonzales Light

This is written from memory of events that took place up to 50 years ago. It concerns a phenomenon called the “Gonzales Light.” In Louisiana, these eerie swamp lights are known as feu follets. In other parts of the world, they are called will-o’-the-wisps. This mysterious light appears around Gonzales, LA and is generally assumed to be luminescent swamp gas given off by decaying organic matter. Sorry, not buying that one after my experience with it.

I was introduced to the Gonzales Light by my friend Dixon Wilson sometime before or about graduation time in 1962. Dixon told Mike (Buck) Roy and me the story one day, and we decided to make the trip to Gonzales that night to see it. We ended up out in the woods in Dixon’s Corvair parked in the dark in what appeared to be a recently logged or cleared area.

Lights out, Buck, and I smoked cigarettes in the dark with non-smoker Dixon until the light appeared. (Cigarettes were “in” then.) It appeared off in the distance as nothing more that a distant faint light fairly well defined (localized) and changed colors. It was faint enough that it was possible to convince yourself your eyes were playing tricks on you. It appeared off and on several times over the period we were there, perhaps an hour or more.

Dixon, recovering from a spinal tumor was partially handicapped and did not have full control of his right leg. Whenever the light appeared, Dixon’s right foot would begin vibrating, tapping rapidly on the floorboard. At first it scared Buck and me, until Dixon admitted it was his out-of-control foot.

That was about the extent of the light’s appearances that night. We went home somewhat disappointed.

Dixon and I began college at Southeastern LA College in Hammond, LA in the fall (Buck went into the Army soon after). Dixon and I revisited the light at least twice over the next year or two as I recall. The first of those trips were very much like the one described above, except it was to a different location in Gonzales, and others were with us.

It is the third trip, the second after starting at SLC, that is most vivid in my mind. I believe it happened in the fall of 1963 but I cannot be certain. Several of us were going to Baton Rouge to give blood. As college students we were always in need of beer money. We went to BR because they offered $20 instead of the $10 offered in Hammond. I cannot recall all that were on this escapade. I do remember Dixon Wilson, Alex Oliver, Tony DeMarco, John D’Antoni, and several others, enough people that we took two cars, my ’57 Chevy and John’s ’58 Chevy. We gave blood in the late afternoon and went and had a few beers that evening before returning to Hammond. (I know! Spare me the lectures.) Someone suggested we visit the Gonzales light. Time was probably late evening, tenish, when we got to Gonzales. We went to the same place we had gone to on the second trip mentioned above.

Allow me to set the scene…

First of all, we are one pint low and have been drinking beer, not that that should mean anything.

We drove down a dirt road in rural Gonzales, a good ways off Airline Hwy, and there was not a light from a building in sight. The road was intersected from the left at a 90-degree angle by another less traveled dirt road. We turned onto that road and stopped about 50 yards from the intersection. On the left and right were pastures with fencing around them. No cows as I remember. On the right back near the intersection of the two roads was an abandoned farmhouse. Ahead was a tree line about 75 to 100 yards away. The road was a perfectly straight, one-lane dirt road with grass in the middle of two tire tracks, and shallow ditches on either side. It appeared it was rarely ever used. About 50 yards into the woods a small fairly straight dirt trail wide enough for a vehicle intersected the road we were on from the left. I don’t know where this trail went, as we did not follow it to its end. Our road went through the woods for perhaps a quarter mile or more and crossed a blacktop road, continuing on the other side as a well used gravel road.

It was very dark, no moon. Once we parked and turned off the lights, it got very black. We knew the tree line was ahead from having seen it in the headlights, but we could see it only vaguely even after our eyes got accustomed to the dark. We got out of the cars (my car was in front), and we stood around in the dark, smoked cigarettes, and talked as we waited for the light to appear.

We didn’t have to wait very long before the light appeared down the dirt road some distance away. It looked to be at or just inside the tree line. It changed from red to blue to green and various colors and back again. It was fairly small in size; I would guess a bit larger than a basketball assuming the distance was estimated with any accuracy. It was not well defined but it wasn’t a vague shape either. In other words, it had no hard edges. It was a little brighter than on the two previous sightings, not real bright but bright enough and clear enough that everyone saw it.

It came and went over a period of time, perhaps a half hour or more, always in the same general location. Eventually we became curious of the source and began to speculate that it was car lights up ahead or something easily explainable. At this point, we had not yet been down our road so we had no idea what was ahead. We decided to send out a scouting party, and somehow I got elected; I guess because my car was ahead of the other car.

I took one other person with me, and we drove down the road in the direction we had seen the light. I do not recall who was with me, probably Tony or John. We noted the little trail to the left in the woods and passed it, going on to discover the blacktop road further on. (There was no traffic on that road all night that we could see.) I crossed over the blacktop and stopped, blinking my brake lights back at the rest of the crew. I turned around and faced back the way we had come and flashed my brights several times and turned out my lights completely several times, then drove back to the group.

I turned my car around to face back towards the woods again, and we got out to discuss the results of our experiment. The others had clearly seen my tail lights, brake lights, headlights, brights, etc, and they all said it was clear that it was my car and looked nothing like what we had been seeing.

So, we are standing around the front of my car again and talking, when someone notices the light is back. This time it is a little brighter and seemed a little closer. We all oohed and aaahed as we watched the light change colors and this time move about just a little, left and right, up and down slightly.

Then things got really interesting!

Suddenly the light quite literally charged us, coming closer and growing larger and brighter as it charged. It moved rapidly and was almost on us in a matter of a few seconds. As I recall it seemed to be to the left side of the road and almost in the pasture as it approached.

Panic ensued!

Eight “brave” souls decamped immediately and scrambled for the cars. We roared down the road in reverse headed for the road we came in on. Tony backed around in front of the farmhouse and I was right behind.

This is what I was thinking: The light was so bright and came so quickly at us, I am assuming we have angered some farmer by trespassing, and he was coming after us.

As I threw it in first and prepared to haul butt, someone said, “It’s gone!” We stopped and regrouped. What do we do? Where did the light go? What was it? Another car? Someone with a flashlight? We regained our courage and decided to investigate.

We went back down the road (cautiously) and stopped again where we were parked before. Cautiously, we got out of our cars (engines still running, however) and had a war council. Then began the rationalizing.

We decided it had to have been someone in another vehicle, and he must have turned down that dirt trail I had seen earlier. “Yes, that’s it! Let’s check. You go, Lane, we will wait here.” Or something like that…

Why do I always get the dangerous assignments?

I took my car and someone to ride shotgun, probably Tony again, (I wasn’t about to go alone!) and we drove back down the road to the trail in the woods. Don’t ask me how I got the courage to do this, but I shut the ’57 down, and Toni and I walked down that trail through the woods. It had rained that day only lightly enough to pockmark the dust. Those pockmarks were clear in the dust of that trail, and there were no tire tracks in the dust! Nothing had driven down that road!

We returned to the group and gave our report. Obviously it had not been another car, because it had nowhere to go once it charged us. It didn’t retreat and go down that trail. We concluded that we had REALLY seen the Gonzales Light that night, perhaps more closely that we would have preferred.

We stayed around a bit longer, but it did not appear again that night. After the adrenaline wore off we got bored and went back to school to tell our tale to all that would listen.

What did we see? I do not know, but I do know that some eight of us saw the same thing, and it scared us to death. There was no discussion about running or staying when that thing came at us. The decision was instantaneous, and it was unanimous. We were out of there!

I have never been back to Gonzales after that night. Never got the chance, and perhaps never had the urge. It probably isn’t there anymore. I suppose the area is built up now, besides I cannot begin to remember how to find that location.

The Gonzales light has been mentioned in publications dealing with weird stuff like that. Most believe it is glowing swamp gas, but what we saw was very bright and well defined, enough that we mistook it for possible car lights, at least one car light, but it seemed a lot larger than car lights. What we saw didn’t look like glowing swamp gas.

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School Daze

Few who knew me also knew the principal of East Jefferson High School where I attended, Stephen J. Barbre, was my grandfather. I told a few fellow students, and only those teachers who were from Kenner were aware of that fact. I liked it that way. I flew under the radar most of the time. My art teacher, Mrs. Grant (not from Kenner), somehow knew, because I found out years later she took one of my projects to my grandfather and showed it to him. She thought it was well done, except I had a huge misspelled word in it. Whoops!

EJ had a cafeteria, and the food wasn’t that bad; it wasn’t good either. One day I forgot my lunch money at home. Lunch was only 25¢ or so in 1960. So, I made my way to the principal’s office. As I entered I spied Buck (what I called my grandfather) standing behind the counter in the outer office talking to one of the admin types. There were maybe six or eight other people present on both sides of the counter. I caught his eye and approached, saying simply, “I forgot my lunch money.” He reached in his pocket and gave me enough to cover it and maybe buy some candy after.

After I left, one of the school secretaries who witnessed the whole thing and did not know me began to chastise my grandfather. “Now, Mr. Barbre, you ought not do that. You know you will never see that money again.”

He replied, “Yes, you are probably right, but that was my grandson.”

Electricity

What I knew about electricity at seventeen years old could be summed up in one sentence. “It bites me when I mess with it!”

That bit of education came earlier in life when I was lying in bed reading a book one day. I had a reading lamp clamped to the headboard above my head, but there was no bulb in it, and I am not sure why. It was daytime, and the overhead light was on, so I really had no need of it.

As I read, holding the book with my left hand, my right was over my head clicking that bulbless light off and on and off and on. Eventually, I realized I did not know if it was off or on. Distracted from my reading by that nagging question, I looked up at the hole where the bulb should have been and wondered, is it on or off?

Sometimes I do things with no regard for the ultimate consequences. Dumb things. Really dumb things.

I was compelled by my warped sense of curiosity to know the status of the light switch. The index finger of my right hand pointed at that gaping hole.

Oh what the hell! In it went.

ZZZEEEETTTT! It was on!

Those wires were just calling to me…

Flash forward a few years to high school, and I am seventeen. I had just finished my lunch and was headed back to wait for the bell to go to my next class. As I climbed the stairs, I noticed the light switch at the top that controlled the second floor hallway lights had no switch cover. In fact, it had no switch either. Bare wires poked out from the box, beckoning me to come and mess with them.

And like that empty light socket years before, I gave in to their siren call.

From previous experience and a bare minimum of common sense, I had learned enough about electricity to understand touching bare wires was guaranteed to generate a shock, so I grabbed the two wires, careful to grasp them in the insolated area. I then proceeded to touch the ends or the two wires together, and low and behold, the lights in the hall went on and off and on and off as I touched and separated the two wires.

As mentioned, sometimes I do things with no regard for the ultimate consequences. It never occurred to me that what I was doing could possibly draw unwanted attention.

It did.

A tap on my shoulder, and I turned to see a teacher I did not know glaring at me. Must have been a new one, because he was quite young. “Let’s go to the office,” he said as sternly as he could.

I was escorted down to the principal’s office. This was a really trivial infraction. I didn’t remove the cover or the switch, and a warning would have been more than sufficient, but I went along without protest. Obviously, this new teacher didn’t know who I was, or he would not have wasted his time, and I did not enlighten him. I was told to have a seat in the outer “customer” area, while my “arresting” teacher went in to tell on me to Mr. Breaux, the vice principal and disciplinarian at East Jefferson High School.

The “arresting” teacher soon came out and, savoring his victory, kind of sneered at me as he passed. Mr. Breaux followed a few minutes later.

Mr. Breaux knew who I was. He took one look at the offender, me, shook his head and said, “Lane, I understand you are studying to be an electrician?”

I grinned sheepishly.

He said, “Get out of here!”

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