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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1943 is LIVE!

PrintMy latest book “1943” is now available. This one is very different from my previous Catahoula Series, which was historical fiction with strong romantic overtones, especially in the first two books. “1943” takes place in contemporary times and is a romantic comedy, road trip, mystery, action/adventure story. The story blurb is below.

*****

Still grieving over the death of his wife, retired San Bernardino Sheriff’s detective Mac McConnell is a lost soul wasting away with life passing him by. His closest companion is his deceased wife’s little, black and tan Pug dog (named “Pug,” of course), but the two barely get along.

During restoration of an old Harley-Davidson WLA Liberator motorcycle from WWII, Mac’s friend finds a faded photo of a beautiful young woman that was taken during the war and a never completed V-Mail letter that was written to her by her fiancé, a soldier serving somewhere in Italy in 1943.

Knowing only the couple’s first names, Betty and Alvin, and with the letter, the photo, and the old motorcycle the only clues to go on, Mac and Pug set out to solve a seventy-year-old mystery. That leads them on a cross-country journey on the old Harley as they go in search of “Miss Betty.” Along the way the unlikely pair encounter some unusual new friends and find themselves in some unexpected, sometimes dangerous, and often humorous situations. In the process, Mac discovers there is indeed new life (and love) after a death.

*****

For Amazon Kindle Unlimited members, the digital version is available FREE here. Regular price is $4.99 for non-Kindle Unlimited members. The paperback is also available at the same link or at Create Space.

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Fifty Years Ago Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough of that…

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

wedding-janis

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

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

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

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

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

I’m thinking about keeping her.

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1943 UPDATE (And FREE Excerpt!)

OK, I am a little behind on this—like two months! But it will be worth it. Beta readers have had their say, and I made changes accordingly—at least where I agreed, which was almost all suggestions. The manuscript has been edited and re-edited, but I’m sure something snuck through. The files have been uploaded both to Amazon and Createspace (paperback). I am waiting on a proof copy from Createspace before I hit the publish button. Most likely date now is before the end of January. So, hang in there.

1943 is very different from the Catahoula Series. It takes place in contemporary times as a retired sheriff’s detective attempts to solve a 70+ year old mystery and find two people from WWII. All he has to go on is an old Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a photo of the woman, and a V-Mail letter from her fiancé serving somewhere in Italy in 1943 (of course). Mac McConnell is drawn out of his grief over the death of his wife by what becomes an obsession to find Miss Betty and Alvin. This leads him and his little dog, Pug, on a cross-country road trip on the old motorcycle as they go in search of Miss Betty.

Along the way, they meet some “strange” people who become their traveling companions on this journey of discovery and recovery. The excerpt below is from when he meets the first of his new traveling companions. Also, note the redesigned cover. Enjoy.

*****

PrintWith the sun going down and a few hundred more miles behind them, Mac pulled into a gas station in Vail, Arizona and popped the cap on the gas tank while Pug ran off to relieve himself in a grassless patch of sand beside the paved area. As he stood there fueling the bike, Pug rejoined him and begged for a drink of cool water. Mac opened his last water bottle, took a long pull himself and then offered it to Pug, who eagerly drank right from the bottle.

And that’s when they showed up: four bikers, wearing their “colors,” and all riding a Harley in some form or another. One was a trike, pulling a small trailer.

“Oh, joy,” muttered Mac under his breath as they pulled up to the island he was using. A gas station with twelve empty pumps, and they come to my little fuel island.

The rider of the trike had his “bitch” on the back, and she was on the hefty side with weather balloons for boobs. Both of them were heavily tattooed, including full “sleeves.” The other “bitch” was riding a chopper with ape-hanger handlebars. She was a tall, lanky woman in tight-fitting leather pants and snug leather vest with her shirt open just enough to reveal ample cleavage with a tattoo of a black widow spider crawling from out of the crack. A lizard tat was wrapped around her neck and looking as if he might be after the spider for lunch. She was made-up like she was auditioning for a porn movie. Except for that, she was down right good-looking.

The one who turned out to be the leader, a hard-looking stout 180 pounds on a five foot nine frame with a sparse beard, pulled it up to the remaining open pump and shut down his tricked-out Fat Boy and stepped off. Both ears were adorned with a series of rings along the edge. Another pierced his left nostril and looked like it might interfere with a good sneeze. He was also tatted and was wearing faded jeans, traditional high-top harness boots and black leather jacket over a tee shirt. His helmet, not required in Arizona, was strapped on the sissy bar above his sleeping bag. The do-rag he wore on his head sported a flame pattern.

He smiled, displaying bright white teeth, somehow not what Mac was expecting. “A WLA! Classic iron! Outstanding, man!” And he proceeded to walk around Mac’s bike, admiring it as Mac put the gas cap back on. The others shut down their bikes and while waiting their turn at the pumps joined the classic iron fan club.

“They call me Darth Trader,” said the leader. “What’s your handle?”

“My name is Mac.”

“No, man, what’s your riding handle, you know?”

“No, I don’t know. Mac has always worked, at least until now.”

“Man, you need a handle. I guess Mac will have to do. Nice ride. You restore it?”

Mac looked around at his new groupies and replied, “A friend did most of the work.”

“Beautiful bike. How’s she run?” the lone “bitch” asked as she knocked the kickstand down on her chopper. She stepped off and leaned closer for a look at the WLA’s motor. “Name’s Loco,” she added casually.

“Runs like she came off the assembly line yesterday.”

Loco noticed Pug then. “A Pug. Sweet dogs. I had one once. He yours?”

“More or less,” Mac replied.

“Where ya headed, man?” asked Darth Trader.

(REDACTED to avoid spoilers)

“Cool, you and the dog making a road trip to (REDACTED)?”

“Um, yeah. Where you headed?” Mac asked, hoping it was maybe north or south or west, anyplace but east.

Darth looked around at his friends and shrugged. Some of them shrugged, too. “Don’t know, man. Wherever the road takes us. You know, man, it’s the journey not the destination when you’re on two wheels?”

Mac nodded. “Yeah, the ride,” he replied while thinking, If he says “man” one more time, I might have to slap him. But then he thought better of that, seeing as he was outnumbered.

Darth put a reassuring hand on Mac’s shoulder. “Say, I have a great idea. We’re headed in the same direction.”

Crap! thought Mac.

“Why don’t you ride with us?”

Double crap!

*****

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December 30, 2016 – The Last Day

Technically, it isn’t the Last Day. That will come in about a month and a half when we close the books. But it is effectively the Last Day for SPAR, Incorporated, because it is closing its doors forever. SPAR was born December 17, 1956. I have worked at SPAR since January 1973, forty-three of SPAR’s sixty years. I began as a graphic designer right after my discharge from the Air Force, then art director, then creative director, and finally general manager. SPAR is closing because I am retiring, and the owners of the company decided they are in the beverage/alcohol business and not advertising and saw no need to keep SPAR open. The small profits we generated were “pocket change” for the owner.

There are seven of us (including me) who call ourselves “SPARtians.” (Bet you can’t guess why? Oh, you did guess correctly.) SPARtians are like family, complete with highs and lows and even a few spats from time to time. We went through the birthing of babies, the pain of personal losses, several moves, and being flooded by Katrina, in which we almost lost the business only to come back with one of our most profitable years. Through it all we were SPARtians drawn together by a common purpose, a deep personal fellowship, and a long history willing to pull together for our common good. Of the six who are losing their jobs, the shortest tenured has been with me just shy of ten years, the longest for almost three decades. You can’t be around someone for that long for five days a week and not develop some level of attachment.

Nor can you bring talented people together to create without them leaving a legacy, and SPAR’s legacy is huge. We designed some of the most famous beverage/alcohol packages and branding in existence, including the Buffalo Trace Distillery and Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Sazerac Rye, the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, WL Weller, Mr. Boston’s, Ten High, Nikolai Vodka, CLIX, Herbsaint, and Caribou Crossing just to name a very few. Sadly, we never got to complete one project, taking it right up to final approvals before we closed. I cannot give details or the brand name, but we redesigned one of America’s iconic brands. Hopefully, the designs will eventually be brought to market. I have no doubt that some of our designs will live on for many decades, maybe even longer.

It is painful to see these talented people go back out in the world and look for a job. All have families and financial responsibilities to meet. While the company is giving them a severance package to help in that transition, it softens the pain of the change and the sharpness of the fear very little. They are all capable people, and should be able to find employment, but it is a hard world out there.

After New Year, only my accountant and I will be coming into the office as we close the books on the company. I expect we will find the office to be quite “empty”—empty of the sometimes heated conversations about designs and presentations to clients, empty of the expressed frustrations when clients demanded some change we thought not wise, empty of the joy of seeing one of our designs approved and go on to win yet another design award, but most of all, empty of the laughter and even the tears we sometimes experienced as SPARtians working—and living together. I WILL miss that—and them.

How do you tell these people goodbye? How do you express your love for them and appreciation for their support through the years? You don’t really, at least not adequately.

Today, there was pain, and weeping, and hugging along with an unexpressed fear to say the word, “goodbye,” which sounds so final. There were vows to stay in touch and get together again for lunch—or something. But the truth be known, we will never again capture what we had for all those years as SPARtians.

That’s because December 30, 2016 was the day SPAR died.

closed2

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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.

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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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WOXOF

I sometimes visit a FaceBook page for USAF Weather. Someone there posted a question about the most unusual weather you ever encountered. I jumped in with an account of an incident that happened to me while serving as an Air Force weather observer at King Salmon AFS, Alaska (AKN). King Salmon was a small Air Force radar site on the base of the Alaskan peninsula southwest of Anchorage. It is closed now. AKN also had a paved runway and alert aircraft armed and ready to scramble to protect all you folks down in the “lower 48” as they would say up there

King Salmon MapI usually worked mid-shifts. That is from midnight to 0800. I liked mids because they were usually quiet. Unlike my previous assignment at George AFB, California, which was in the middle of the Mojave Desert and void of any weather most of the time, AKN was a busy little weather station. We got lots of snow, rain, wind, and fog depending on the time of the year.

On this mid-shift, it was a cold and a relatively weatherless winter night with clear skies and unlimited visibility. From my reclining desk chair with my feet propped up on the equipment console and with only minor swiveling, I could easily see about 250 degrees of the horizon, and nothing was happening. The neighborhood bear had already made his rounds of the village garbage cans and had passed the ROS (Representative Observation Site – the weather station) moving on to fresher cans on the south end of the runway. On this quiet night, I had been writing a letter home with occasional glances at the horizon I could see.

About fifteen minutes before the hour I stood to walk out onto the catwalk surrounding our second floor perch we called the ROS to take my required hourly observation, and low and behold what do I see on the moonlit horizon that had been hidden from my casual view by the weather console, but FOG! Lots of fog! A solid wall of fog moving toward the station.

Station visibility is calculated by the visual sighting of certain landmarks at a known distance from the station and was suppose to represent over half of the horizon circle. Well, one half of the horizon circle was rapidly disappearing as that fog bank rolled silently and relentlessly toward me.

I was scheduled to take an “hourly” observation, encode that, and transmit it on the hour. If certain conditions regarding weather, winds, visibility, or cloud cover were met that were clearly spelled out in standard operating procedures (SOPs), I was required to take an abbreviated “special obs” (special observation) and transmit that. And some of those “certain conditions” were being met as I stood dumbfounded looking at that fog bank. I promptly took a special and transmitted it and then immediately went back to completing my hourly and transmitted that.

The fog rolled relentlessly on and was enveloping the station. Visibility was rapidly dropping, requiring another special, and that was followed by another almost immediately. In about 15 minutes, AKN went from clear and unlimited visibility to a condition, in weather reporting parlance, called “WOXOF.” Translated: zero feet visibility and zero feet ceiling in fog. AKN, as an airport, was effectively shut down.

With my weather observations and reports reflecting current conditions, I stood there surrounded by gray nothingness and tried to calm my rapidly beating heart. That’s when the phone rang, and that would be the duty forecaster back at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, and he wanted to know what the hell was going on?

“Fog bank rolled in and socked-in the station.”

“You should have warned me it was happening. You blew my forecast!” he fairly screamed.

I didn’t say it but was thinking, I didn’t create this soup. Maybe it was you who blew the forecast?

That was life for weathermen in the wilds of Alaska in the winter, but there is another story I want to tell. It also happened on a mid-shift and during another period of WOXOF.

Several airmen from the King Salmon AFS decided to walk to Naknek, which is a little fishing village few miles up the road. The night was very foggy, and along comes a local in his car hauling down the gravel road and hits one of the walking airmen. And he was hurt badly, bad enough his injuries were potentially fatal and beyond the equipment and skills of the “docs” at AKN who were really Air Force trained medics. Evacuation back to the hospital at Elmendorf AFB was called for, and that meant by air, as there was no other way. A crew was pulled together, and the four turboprops of a C-130 were fired up at Elmendorf.

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They arrived at AKN with WOXOF conditions at the station. Normally, that would have meant no landing would be attempted for safety reasons, but this was an emergency. A man was badly hurt and might not live without the care he could get only back at Elmendorf.

The air traffic controllers at AKN attempted to guide the pilot down for a landing using the GCA radar (Ground Controlled Approach). They watched the GCA screen, told the pilot what to do, and he listened and did as they said, because he could see exactly zero. He was making a blind approach in the dark at an airport with the ceiling and visibility both at zero and trusting the training and judgment of a three-striper staring at a blip on a radar screen. The pilot was instructed by the controller to tell him as soon as he saw the approach lights, and these are VERY bright strobe lights. He didn’t see them even though the GCA indicated he was right over them.

“Execute missed approach and try again,” he was told.

The pilot powered up the four engines of the big cargo plane and climbed back up to go around for another attempt. The controller clearly heard him as he flew passed halfway down the runway where the GCA radar was located.

The pilot brought the C-130 around for another GCA approach and was talked down by the controller watching that blip that represented that plane on the radar screen. Again he was told to tell the controller when he had the approach lights or the runway in view.

Following the verbal instructions from the controller telling him if he was on or missing the glide path, the pilot skillfully settled that C-130 down closer to the ground as he approached the end of the runway. The controller knew where the plane was relative to the end of the runway, but the pilot did not. “You should have a visual on the end of the runway. You are right over it!”

“Negative.”

“Execute missed approach!”

That was followed by silence for a moment or two. “Too late. I’m on the ground,” said the pilot as the controller heard the plane with its prop’s blade pitch reversed and four engines screaming to stop the C-130’s roll down the runway.

“You had a visual on the runway?”

“Negative. Never saw it until the wheels touched. You did a great job!”

Trusting in the GCA controller’s training and judgment, that crew risked their lives to get that wounded airman back to Elmendorf that night. The pilot told air traffic control at AKN, “One way or another, I was putting that plane down on the runway.”

 

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Yancy Derringer

yancy_derringer_cast_2I cut the cord, or in my case, since I have (had) satellite, I broke the dish. I got fed up paying for 400 channels and watching six. Saved $91 a month. I have switched to receiving over-the-air (OTA) channels through a Tivo device. That meant installing a TV antenna on my roof. Now I get over thirty local stations, mostly in HD, and all for FREE.

With the Tivo came some builtin apps like Netflix and Amazon among others. I was already getting Netflix via my AppleTV device and had switched a large portion of my TV viewing to streaming through Netflix using the AppleTV. That made the satellite even less relevant. Besides, it has been periodically failing and taking whatever I had stored on the DVR with it.

It was an easy decision for me, but less so for Janis. You have to change the way you manage your TV watching. I won’t go into that now, maybe later, because some interesting arguments over the controls have been experienced since the switch. I may write about them later.

The title of this post is “Yancy Derringer.” If you were born later than the early fifties, you may never have heard of Yancy, because the old black and white TV show by that name aired in 1958 and 1959. I have discovered that old Yancy episodes are available for FREE on Amazon if you are an Amazon Prime member. So are a lot of other old TV shows, but more on that later.

Yancy is a Rhett Butler wannabe, and in some ways is better than Rhett. He doesn’t have all that emotional baggage and drama associated with Scarlet. The series takes place in New Orleans just after the War of Northern Aggression (Civil War if you are a Yankee), and Yancy is an unrepentant southerner and gambler who owns a riverboat (the Sultana) and a bar in Yankee occupied New Orleans. Yancy actually works for the northern city administer, not because he is a sympathizer with the Yankees, but because he loves New Orleans. He acts as the city administrator’s undercover enforcer to help manage crime in the city.

Yancy usually dresses in the uniform of the day, that being a white linen suit with a brocade vest and a broad rimmed white planter’s hat—oh, and a pencil thin mustache. He is also armed, though not obviously so. Being a gambler, he carries a four barrel derringer pistol up his left sleeve and another inside his hat. Of course Yancy can hit a squirrel at a hundred paces with that little pipsqueak pistol. (Sarcasm off.) But his main weapon is Pahoo.

Yancy has a faithful Indian companion, which was kind of the vogue for westerns in those days. His name is Pahoo-Ka-Te-Wah, which means “wolf-who-stands-in-water.” It seems that Pahoo once saved Yancy’s life, thus altering fate, and now he is responsible for Yancy’s life. Pahoo is a big Indian dude and wears a blanket over his shoulder, which hides the double barrel shotgun hanging from a strap over his shoulder. It comes out from under that blanket a lot, and with both barrels, he blasts some evil doer into the next century. He also carries a really big knife behind his back up by his neck. And he throws it a lot—and always hits what he throws it at. Pahoo, being a non-PC Indian of that day, is also very sneaky, not in a negative way, but you NEVER know when he will be standing right there behind someone ready to protect Yancy. He appears out of nowhere with shotgun blasting, knife flying, and bad guys dying. And he never speaks, communicating instead using sign language.

Pahoo was played by Jay X Brands and is actually of European origin, Germany to be exact. He plays a Pawnee, and members of that nation sent him a letter congratulating him on his accurate portrayal of an Indian and, especially, his learning the native hand language, which evidently was accurate in the series.

Yancy is super cool and nothing ever gets him upset. He rarely raises his voice even when threatened. He is always in control. He is also something of a smartass, coming up with some very sarcastic one liners. Like the time the bearded city administrator is describing his sister to Yancy so he will recognize her on the boat when she arrives in NOLA, “She looks a lot like me with red hair, blue eyes…” Yancy adds without missing a beat, “…and a beard?”

The shows were for thirty minute time slots, so they are only about twenty minutes long with the commercials stripped off. I have also found “Wanted Dead or Alive” with Steve McQueen as a bounty hunter before he became a famous movie star and “The Rebel” with Nick Adams. I haven’t watched any of those yet. I also found three old movies I have been looking for to watch for decades.

Bottom line: I won’t miss satellite, however, Janis might, therefore, I will be made to miss satellite.

The photo above is public domain from Wikipedia. They are from the left Pahoo (X-Brands), Madame Francine (Francis Bergen, wife of Edger) and Yancy (Jock Mahoney)

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