Tag Archives: Joey Giammalva

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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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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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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Barefootin’ – Manard, Joey and Me

I took out the garbage last night, and being too lazy to look for my shoes, I dragged that can out to the curb barefoot.

And my feet hurt!

The driveway is well worn, and the aggregate tends to be a bit more exposed than in recently laid concrete. I felt like I was walking on rocks!

And you are thinking, What is your point?

I don’t really have one, other than my feet never used to hurt like that. I guess that comes with age? I remember when I was a kid, we never wore shoes in the summer, except when we had to “dress up” to go somewhere. Otherwise, once school let out, our shoes went into the closet and didn’t come out again until school started, assuming they still fit.

Our feet may have been a bit tender after nine months being encased in leather, but they soon toughened. Within a couple of weeks or so, we could run across Sixth Street, which was “paved” with gravel or clamshells, without feeling any pain. Naturally, being shoeless, we did incur a few cuts and bruises along with a few rusty nail punctures, but my dad always had the tetanus shot handy.

Those days are gone. Now I am old and a tenderfoot for life. I doubt I could stand the pain long enough to build up the calluses again.

Me, Manard, Joey 1953Actually, that event reminded me of this picture hanging in my office. It is of me on the left, Manard Lagasse in the center and Joey Giammalva on the right. It was taken in 1953. We were best buddies then. I was 9 years old. Manard and Joey were 7 years old.

Note the “summer uniform,” which was limited to shorts and maybe a tee or hat but no shoes. (Side note: Joey had flat feet, and on wet concrete, he could make realistic-sounding flatulence noises with them.)

Joey’s mom took the pic, and Joey carried it in his wallet for years before he made enlargements for Manard and me.

Both Manard and Joey are deceased now. Good times together! Good memories! Good friends sorely missed! Whenever I see Bubba, Manard’s son who I think looks just like him, I want to grab him and hug him, pretending for just a few moments that “Man” is still with us.

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Red Ryder BB Guns

Every red-blooded American boy has to have a BB gun, right? Of course! As I recall Joey Giammalva was the first to get one in my little group. I was already something of a gun-nut even though I did not own any but toy guns, but my toy guns were almost real. I had a plastic Thompson Submachine Gun that looked real, I mean really real! I had a cast aluminum M1911A1 .45 auto pistol. The mold was made using a real pistol, so what came out of that mold looked just like a real 1911A1. Wish I still had it!

Red RyderBB guns were another matter. While the Red Ryder Lever Action BB Gun bore only a passing resemblance to the famous 1892 Winchester seen in all Westerns of the day, the fact that it propelled a projectile out of the barrel was sufficient compensation to get over its somewhat lame and unrealistic appearance. Besides, Joey had one, so I had to have one, too. My first request was rejected by my parents. That meant I had to pitch a kid-fit, and they are usually successful, especially if maintained long enough.

They folded. (Parents have a low threshold for kid-fit pain.)

Next day we made a trip to Cavalino’s Hardware, and I came home with my new Red Ryder BB Gun. Joey and I commenced to terrorize the bird population of our neighborhood to the chagrin of bird lovers everywhere. Don’t worry; the birds remained relatively unscathed since we were pretty lousy shots. That, however, would change with time.

That started a trend. Manard Lagasse acquired a BB gun next. We were then a three-some of bird terrorists. How we did not shoot someone’s eye out is something akin to a miracle, but we didn’t, at least not until later—almost—but that is another story.

My bride loves to remind me of how one of us put a BB through her parent’s front window.

And I will deny that to my grave!

Eventually, we mastered aiming our BB guns, which were not terribly accurate. If you could hit a tin can twenty feet away you were doing good. Terminal performance depended largely on what I would call the shotgun effect, albeit delivered one BB at a time. Shoot at something enough times and eventually you will hit it, like a living room window, even if by accident.

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Kenner, Kids, and Go-Carts – Part 2

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I said in the post Kenner, Kids, and Go-Carts that another story would follow. Here is Part 2, the painful part.

I must have been about 14. It was a warm summer day in Kenner, and the “gang” was playing with roller skates and our go-carts, which, as it turned out, was a bad combination. The gang that day consisted of Manard Lagasse, Joey Giammalva, Bobby Manard, me, and several others I can’t recall just now. The skates were, of course, the old steel wheel versions you clamp onto your shoes. Kind of hard to do with Keds, but It can be done. You have to get the clamps tight enough the soles of your Keds are folded in half lengthways and your little toe is almost kissing your big toe.

In one of my more “brilliant” moments, I thought it would be a good idea to roller skate behind the go-cart, kind of like water skiing, albeit on a much less forgiving surface, concrete. This took place on Sixth Street between Williams and Compromise, and the concrete was the kind with lots of aggregate in it, meaning rough—very rough. Joey was elected to do the pulling with his go-cart, and I volunteered to do the skate/skiing. Seemed logical, since it was my idea. Actually, I think the others were smart enough to wait and see if I died before they tried it.

Disclaimer: Kids don’t try this at home. Dangerous stunts like this should only be attempted by professional idiots.

It began badly and ended worse.

With me holding onto the back of his seat, Joey headed down Sixth towards Compromise and soon reached maximum velocity, probably around 20mph. The rough concrete was taking its toll on my skates. With the ball bearings screaming, the steel wheels were heating up, and sparks started flying. Those steel wheels on that rough concrete were vibrating so much, I was sure the fillings in my teeth would rattle out. (OK, maybe all that was an exaggeration, but not by much!)

After about a hundred feet of roller skating terror, I decided I had enjoyed as much as I could stand and yelled for Joey to stop. Either he didn’t hear me, or he ignored me, because he didn’t stop. Louder yelling still got no response. With his head down low and leaning into the onrushing wind like some dog with his head out the window of the family sedan, Joey plowed ahead ignorant of my plight. My only option was to let go before the steel wheels melted and burned through the soles of my Keds. So, I did, just about when we hit the turn onto Compromise.

I thought (hoped) I could stay upright long enough to coast slowly to a stop. Didn’t quite work out like that. I managed to remain upright for, oh, maybe a second and a half before I crashed and burned, rolling down Compromise like a very large, wayward football. When I finally came to a stop, I figured something HAS to be broken and immediately took inventory. Feet and legs OK! Right hand and arm OK! Left hand—OH CRAP! NOT OK! BAD! VERY BAD!!

My bird finger was no longer straight but was zigzagged. The index finger wasn’t any straighter, but more significantly, it was not where it was supposed to be! It was on the side of my hand back near my thumb and pointing in a decidedly inappropriate direction—at me!

Manard, Bobby, and Joey stood there in awe, slack-jawed, eyes wide, and I am sure deciding not to try that themselves. One asked, “You hurt?”

I held up my mangled hand and let fly with a string of adult expletives.

“Yeah, he’s hurt!”

The still smoking skates immediately came off, and I headed home, which, fortunately, was only a block away. MB, my dad and doctor, was tinkering in the garage at the time I walked up and announced, “Look!”

He did. I guess his experience treating wounded in WWII had enabled him not to show emotion that might alarm the patient. His expression unchanged, he calmly asked, “How did you do that?”

I was thinking what difference does that make? Fix it!

Not waiting for an answer, with his left hand, he grabbed my wounded hand at the wrist and examined it. I suppose to avoid what would certainly have been my screaming protests, without a warning, he grabbed my dislocated finger and put it back where it belonged.

There, fixed.

I very nearly fainted!

MB decided the rest was beyond his bone setting skills and made me wait until he finished with patients in the office that night before he took me to a bone specialist to have everything set properly. I got to wear a cast for six weeks, which effectively ended my skating behind a go-cart career, not that I was disappointed at its loss. Both fingers healed fine, except I can bend them in directions that make some people a little queasy.

On the plus side, my finger now knows when the weather is about to change.

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