Tag Archives: Kenner

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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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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Mr. Frank

One of the joys of growing up in Kenner was being a boy during the best time in history in what was possibly the best place in the world to grow up, Kenner. At least that’s what my cousin, Bobby, thinks. I tend to agree. In post war and prosperous America, we lived a carefree life that simply can’t be recreated today.

For us kids back then, summers were our favorite time of the year for obvious reasons, mainly because the dress code was so minimal, and we didn’t have to go to school. It was a time when we roamed the streets in our neighborhood with no fear, wearing only shorts, no shoes and no shirts—maybe sometimes a baseball cap. It was also the time Mr. Frank would pay us daily visits.

Mr. Frank was our local, roving, ice cream man. He was an over-weight, somewhat elderly man with a fatherly appearance, and wore a worn straw fedora to protect his balding head from the sun. Mr. Frank roamed the neighborhoods of Kenner on his little three-wheeled Cushman motor scooter ringing a hand bell and shouting out, “Ice cream! Get your ice cream!” (As if the bell hadn’t done the sales job already.) He sat in the back of his little scooter over the motor, and in front over the two front wheels was his dry ice cooled icebox filled with a veritable cornucopia of frozen delights for kids.

cushman

He sold the usual ice cream cups that came with a little wooden device for scooping the ice cream from the cup. That “scooping device” was a “spoon” in name only, being only a thin flat piece of wood cut in the shaped of a stubby spoon. Splinters in the lip were not unheard of.

His cooler also contained frozen bars of ice cream on a stick dipped in chocolate, ice cream sandwiches, which were two rectangular chocolate cookie slabs with a block of vanilla ice cream in between, and Dreamsicles—those bars of vanilla ice cream on a stick with a frozen orange sherbet coating, and ice cream cones with a chocolate topping and peanuts wrapped in paper you had to peel back. And, of course, he had the ubiquitous Popsicle in a variety of flavors to satisfy the tastes of any kid.

Mr. Frank rang his hand bell as he slowly motored through the neighborhoods of Kenner. Of course, with our super-tuned kid hearing, we heard that bell approaching when he was still five miles away. With a Pavlov’s dog-like response, we dropped everything we were doing and began an immediate and urgent assault on our parent’s pocket books.

“Can I have some money for ice cream, please, please?

Our parents were notorious foot-draggers when it came to such wild and extravagant expenditures of their hard-earned cash. (A Popsicle cost every bit of 5¢.) As Mr. Frank’s siren song and that clanging bell drew nearer, the pleading increased in tempo designed to break down even the most penny-pinching parent. “Please, hurry! I’m going to miss him!”

As Mr. Frank reached our street, our foot dragging parents finally gave in to our pleading and coughed up some cash. I’m convinced it was a conspiracy among them, because they all paid off at the same time. From every door on Sixth Street, frantic kids clutching nickels and dimes in their sweaty hands burst forth screaming “Mr. Frank! Mr. Frank, wait!

Not one to miss the big sales, Mr. Frank was, by then, exercising his favorite marketing ploy. He had slowed his scooter to a mere idling crawl, slow enough that it threatened to kill the sputtering motor on his scooter, and his bell ringing had gotten even more frantic.

And we assaulted him.

Then came decision time. “Do I want a popsicle or a Dreamsicle today? No. Um. Maybe an ice cream sandwich? I donno…?

And Mr. Frank smiled and waited patiently, knowing he was about to rake in the big bucks from all the kids gathered around his little scooter. When one of us finally made up our mind, Mr. Frank opened the hatch on the top of that cooler box. And the rest of us stared mystified at the dark yawning opening that was spilling out this mystical cloud of “smoke” from the dry ice. And it was just cloudy enough that we couldn’t see into that dark interior. But Mr. Frank could, either that or he had the location of the contents memorized, because he would reach in, his arm disappearing into that black, smoking hole, and always come up with the correct item. And BAM, with a puff of magic smoke, that door slammed shut again over that mysterious hole until someone else finally made up his mind.

The sales made, Mr. Frank pocketed his new-found wealth, mounted his Cushman, and motored down the street ringing his bell and shouting, “Ice cream! Ice cream! Get your ice cream!”

And we kids sought a place in the shade to enjoy our frozen treats and plan our next summer adventure.

 

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

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Earthworms

Me, Manard, Joey 1953I often see posts on Facebook about things we did in our childhood that are considered “very dangerous” today. We ran around barefoot, played with firecrackers (and some of those were potent enough to take off a finger or two), rode in the bed of pickups, played on gym sets that would be the targets for litigation today, got spanked (child abuse today), played with fire, drank from the hose, had pet red ear turtles, rode go-carts in the street, roller skated behind said go-carts, and was made to sit on the front porch in one’s grandmother’s dress while reading the Bible because one used profanity—and got caught. (Yes, that really happened to someone—not me. Another clear case of child abuse!)

After this long list of things we did as kids, the FB post usually ends with “and we survived.” And we did. My, how times have changed.

One of the members of our little rat pack of kids, who barely survived the fifties and sixties, was a couple of years younger and smaller than the rest of us. Though smaller, he was wiry and strong, and very hard to catch and hold on to and bring down when he was carrying the football. (Yes, add tackle football without any protection to that list above.) As a result, he picked up a nickname, “Grease-ball” shortened to just “Grease.

Grease went on to become a successful “rock star” (he even played at Hard Rock Café one night) and eventually developed some modicum of respectability as an attorney, father, and grandfather, thus the need to protect his identity.

Grease, being younger and wanting to fit in, was susceptible to dares from us older boys, especially the impossible-to-refuse-ultimate-throw-down “double-dog-dare.” As pointed out so well in the great, classic movie A Christmas Story the double-dog-dare was never taken lightly, and its use called for a series of gradually escalating dares that culminated in the double-dog-dare.

Poor Grease was often the victim of abuse by us older boys, especially after our failure to tackle him in a football game. One form of such abuse, and I have no idea who started it (Grease may remember), but we double-dog-dared him to eat an earthworm—a live worm—and swallow it—on more than one occasion.

I can see one such time in my mind as I write this. It took place in the vacant lot across Sixth Street (now Toledano Street) from my grandmother’s house on the corner with Minor Street. This same empty lot was our favorite playing field, just the right size for a football game or even baseball until we got big enough to hit the ball across the field into one of the Giammalva’s windows, or a fun game of shoot the arrow up in the air and see where it lands. (Add that one to the list, too.) At the end near Sixth Street were two trees, a sidewalk, and the ubiquitous open ditch (but that’s another story).

On this occasion, we stood under those two trees and dangled a wiggling earthworm in front of Grease’s face while we hit him with the double-dog-dare. He looked scared, though he tried to hide it and look defiant instead. But with me, Manard, Kibby, and Joey standing there and repeating, “we double-dog-dare-you,” Grease had no choice but to eat the worm. It was that or be compelled to live forever in the shame of refusing a double-dog-dare, never finding acceptance with the older boys and forever wondering aimlessly in the wilderness of social peer rejection. That was NOT going to happen as far as Grease was concerned.

I think his lower lip trembled involuntarily for just a second before he snatched the worm from Manard’s hand and dropped it into his open mouth in such a way that it was clear to the rest of us that he was indeed eating that worm.

I don’t think he chewed, but he did swallow.

I wanted to throw up.

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SCUBA — Part 3

Didn’t expect a P3, but I was cleaning out a storage building in preparation for tearing it down and found a treasure trove of “Memory Lane” stuff, everything from my old Air Force papers, to art I did as a kid, and some old mags and photos. Among the photos was my “missing” picture of the Porpoise returning to Grand Isle on the last day of the NOGI Spearfishing Tournament mentioned here.

Sadly, many in the picture are gone now.

Porpoise NOGI R

 

I am the second from the left, handling the rope. Moving right, Dee White is next, partially hidden behind the ladder. Buck Roy is standing on top of the cabin with Mickey Rodosti (SIC?), who is sitting and gazing into the harbor. Dee, Buck, and Mickey are gone now. Al Easterling is standing in the cabin door, and I think he is also deceased. I can’t remember the names of the other two “rope handlers.”

Long time ago and so many good memories….

And what do we learn from that? Life is short—I didn’t think I would grow old so fast! And we need to spend more time with friends, because there comes the day when they may not be around any more—or you may not be around any more. Get together, crack open a brewski, and swap “lies” and laugh while you still can.

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Fire and Fireworks

Boys have a fascination with fire. The fact that we like to grill is an indication of that. One of the reasons I joined the Boy Scouts (Troop 176) was so I could play with fire. But I was attracted to fire long before that.

As kids in rural Kenner, we had plenty of opportunities to play with fire. We never missed an excuse to build a campfire in the Manard’s key lot and cook something, sometimes one of our fingers—ouch! Our parents always tried to discourage our fire building and cook outs in the key lot with a lame excuse, like the City of Kenner doesn’t allow fires.

“And? So what?” was our usual come back. What followed was about ten minutes of a half dozen kids badgering parents, who only wanted to be left alone and drink beer. “Oh, OK! But don’t come running to me with burnt fingers.”

And we had a one-match fire going within minutes. (Hint: gasoline helps.)

A favorite Boy Scout meal was foil stew. It was easy to prepare. You simply make a pouch out of some heavy duty foil (preferably) and fill it with chunks of meat, potatoes, carrots, and a little seasoning. Add just a small splash of water and seal it up real tight. (The water part became beer when we got older)

You get a good fire going and let it settle down to coals, spread those out and flop that pouch of foil-delicious on them, then add some more coals on top. Let that puppy cook for about 20 minutes and pull it off the fire.

Carefully slice the pouch open and peel back the sides to make a bowl—and dig in. I ate many a foil stew while in the Boy Scouts and with my boys on later camping or hunting trips.

Fire included fireworks, and in those days we had M-80s. If I had to guess, I would say an M-80 was close to a half a stick of dynamite! Well, it seemed like it, and was close enough you can’t get the “real” M-80s today. It is amazing we never blew fingers off, and yes, we did hold them, light-em-up and throw them, not advisable, especially with a “half-stick-o-dynamite” M-80.

Son and Margie Manard, Bobby and Melanie’s parents, had discarded a kitchen trash can. It was the kind made out of steel with a pop-up lid and a removable can insert for the garbage, also made out of heavy steel. It was in July when we had ready access to M-80s, and we decided to see how high an M-80 would propel that heavy steel, can insert. So, we got out in the middle of Sixth Street and flopped that can face down over a sizzling M-80. After which, we all ran for cover.

BOOM!!!

That can went straight up almost as high as the nearby trees were tall, forty feet or more! WOW! We gotta do that again! And we did; numerous more “agains,” until that can was all bloated looking and dented from M-80 detonations.

I was really into building plastic model airplanes, and another of my favorite uses for fireworks was to glue bottle rockets under the wings and make my plastic F-80 or P-51 fly. Trouble is, it never quite worked out like I expected. Getting the two bottle rockets, one on each wing, coordinated was something outside my skill set at eleven years old. My airplanes mostly went in circles as one rocket fired off before the other, and the in the opposite direction when the other finally lit up. Then the wings melted from the heat. That game got expensive, so I gave up.

This fascination with fire lasted even into my parenting period. I went on a father/son camping trip with my youngest son’s (Ryan) Scout troop. We stayed in the Group Camp Cabins at Fountainbleau State Park. Part of the weekend pitted the scouts against their dads in various scouting skills like first-aid, wilderness navigation, and, of course, fire building. The dads faced off against several teams of scouts on who could build a fire and get it going enough to burn through a thread stretched over the fire at eighteen inches above the ground. And we had to use flint and steel to start the fire. The scouts, not being clever like their devious dads, went the traditional route: first laid down some flammable material like dry leaves, then some kindling , then larger twigs, and finally some sticks.

In our scavenging through the woods for materials to build our fire, I discovered that dry Spanish Moss, the black stuff, burned like it was soaked in gasoline.

You know what’s coming.

With all our fires built and ready to fire up, the scouts looked questioningly at our mound of dry, black Spanish Moss, piled up high enough to almost touch the thread.

Ready, set, GO!

I struck flint to steel and FFOOOMMMPP! In a blaze of fiery glory, that thread disappeared in about three seconds flat.

We won.

Ah, the good old days. And I suddenly feel the need to fire up the Weber…

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Going Downtown

For us living in Kenner, even though “downtown” New Orleans was less than ten miles away, going “downtown” was somewhat akin to a trip to Jerusalem and held near religious significance. We made these trips maybe once a quarter.

We didn’t just hop in the car and head for Canal Street like we do today. This was more like an expedition, requiring careful preparation with a ritual-like execution.

First, it was expected to be an all day affair, leaving early in the morning and return about sundown.

And you dressed for the occasion.

That means the women wore nice dresses and fashionable shoes, usually heels. I was forced to forgo my shorts for nice trousers, a pressed shirt, and shoes and socks. And my hair was greased and combed.

My grandmother drove her Ford downtown. She ALWAYS had Fords; never knew her to own anything but Fords, and in the nearly thirty years of our shared time on earth, I can recall only three, and the first two had standard transmissions. We piled into her Ford and made the trip down Airline Highway to “downtown.”

She always parked in the same parking lot on the corner of Iberville and Burgundy. We then made a circuit of the stores on Canal Street, first the upriver side and then the downriver side. My favorite was Kress’ Five and Dime Department Store, which had a great toy selection. We usually ate lunch in the D.H. Holmes cafeteria and ended up back at the parking lot in the late afternoon loaded down with packages.

Many years later, when I started dating, one of our frequent destinations was downtown to one of the movie houses on Canal Street like the Joy, or the Saenger, or the Lowes, or the Orpheum on University Place, because they got the first run movies. In those days (late 1950s-early 60s), these dates required coats and ties for the men and nice dresses and heels for the ladies.

The Joy had a curving staircase to the balcony level (which was perfect for necking, BTW). One night, after the movie, when Janis and I were descending the stairs, I was not paying attention to my date as I should have been. As I made my way down the stairs, Janis, who was one step behind me, suddenly passed me on the way down. Trouble is she was bouncing down the stairs on her butt, skirt all in her face and high heels in the air. She reached the bottom before I could catch up to her.

That date did not end well.

But most other dates downtown did end well, usually for pizza at Gibby’s on North Rampart, but that’s another story.

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Playgrounds? What playgrounds?

I feel sorry for kids today. My son won’t let his daughter play outside alone, and they live in what most would consider a very safe neighborhood. It wasn’t like that back in the fifties, sixties and even later into the seventies. We came home from school, changed clothes, and disappeared into the neighborhood. Our parents never knew where we were, and we were never in any danger, except to ourselves, because of some of the stupid things we did. We sometimes stepped on a nail—tetanus shot. Cut a foot or hand on a piece of metal—tetanus shot. Burned a finger with a match or firecracker—tetanus shot. Fell in the ditch—tetanus shot. My dad dispensed so many tetanus shots and penicillin shots we were probably immune to every disease known to man. We lived through it, even thrived, and we certainly had fun, and our parents worried very little.

We never had any formal playgrounds. The whole world was our playground. Unless it was raining, we were outside. And we stayed outside, until it either got dark, or we were somehow rounded up by a parent.

Our homes had fairly large yards, but only rarely were they large enough to contain our activities. We needed and sought more room and more varied topography to play in—and, in Old Kenner back then, there was plenty of variety.

For organized sports, like football or baseball, we had at least two immediate choices. There was an open field on the corner of Sixth Street and Minor Street. It was plenty large enough for us to use for baseball and football until we grew old enough and strong enough that it became too confining and we risked putting a baseball through Mr. Giammalva’s window. No problem—when we needed larger, we had a whole city block to play in. Our Lady of Perpetual Help School now occupies that block. When we were growing up in Kenner, it was completely unoccupied by any permanent structure.

Kids love the woods, and we had plenty of wooded lots to choose from. When we were really young, we had Joe Lorio’s wooded lot between my grandmother’s house and the Manard’s house. It was small but large enough we could hide from parents and do kid stuff in it.

After that we had the Manard’s key lot behind the double belonging to the Manards and the Legasses. It was only lightly wooded but remote enough to be a wonderful playground. Next door was a huge (to us) wooded lot facing Williams Street. When we were old enough to be allowed machetes and hatchets we chopped down small trees in that lot and built forts in the Manard’s key lot.

On that aforementioned wooded lot on Williams, one year they went in and bulldozed most of the trees and pushed them into big piles and left them there like gracious gifts for us kids to play in. We scampered over those piles of trees with our hatchets and machetes and built even bigger forts to play army in.

Every summer the Lagasses would bring in a load of spillway dirt and dump it in their key lot, and they “allowed” us kids to level and distribute it for them. That process started with “dirt wars.” There was enough clay in the dirt we could make balls and throw them at each other like snowballs. And they hurt! Then we dug small tunnels and built little villages in it to play with our toy trucks and cars. At dusk, we all went home covered with river sand and tracked it into our respective houses. My mother hated those dirt piles! (I am still trying to figure out how they got that dump truck back there?)

On Minor Street near the IC tracks, two blocks from my home, was another wooded lot. Beside it was the closest thing we had to a creek in our little world, a nice deep ditch with flowing clear water containing small fish and crawfish.

Me, Manard, Joey 1953In the summer our “uniform of choice” was shorts—period—no shoes, no shirts. That was from the end of school in May until it started again in September. At the beginning of summer our feet were tender and very sensitive from a year confined to shoes, and our skin was pale white. By the end of summer our feet were so calloused we could run across the clamshell-covered streets and feel no pain, and we were nearly as dark as some of the African Americans in Kenner.

Doors were not locked unless you were leaving your house for an extended period of time. We slept with our windows open and an attic fan roaring in the hall drawing the “cool” night air in through the open windows.

We had no TV. The elderly Manards were the first to get a TV in our part of Kenner. (Why them, I have no idea?) We had one or two stations broadcasting only a few hours a day. It was a novelty for us kids, but outside was far more interesting.

People lived their leisure lives outside or at least semi-outside on screened porches. The Manards and Legasses living across the street were always on their front porch or in their small patio behind the house. My grandparents had a screened back porch and they spent as much time as they could out there in rocking chairs.

Life was so different back then (1950s-1960s), so much less stressful, and much more interesting for kids than playing on an iPad.

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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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