Tag Archives: East Jefferson High School

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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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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