Tag Archives: Kenner

Cherry Bounce Update #2

Two months ago I posted about my cherry bounce experiments and updated that about ten days later with my first update, concerning the second experiment. I was supposed to wait three months before bottling. Well, that didn’t happen. I figured two was enough. So, today I decanted my mash into 200ml bottles and tasted it.

There were two recipes being tested. The first was based on one supposedly from Martha Washington. It called for cooking the cherries and sugar for 20 minutes and using rye whiskey. The second came from a friend, which was his mother’s recipe. It called for cooking only enough to dissolve the sugar and used vodka for the alcohol. Both recipes called for fresh sour cherries, which I did not have and used dried tart cherries instead. Neither recipe made mention of the sugar, but if you have been following my rants here, you will know that I have a fondness for turbinado sugar, which is sugar that is much less refined than white sugar. It is brown and granular with large grains and retains more of the molasses flavor. I especially like it in my Sazerac Cocktail recipe.

I strained out the cherry mash from both of my cherry bounce experiments and transferred the “juice” to bottles for future consumption. Unlike my dad, who was the inspiration for this experiment, I elected not to dispose of the strained cherry mash by bundling it up in cheesecloth and attempting to toss it onto the roof of the building on the other side of Bourbon Street. (This was to hide his foray into adult beverages at age 12. It didn’t make it, by the way.) Instead, I saved it in jars in the refrigerator. Janis plans to use it over ice cream—and probably a few other things she will eventually dream up. In both cases, the liquid came out a muddy reddish color because I didn’t strain it through a fine mesh, only a colander.

Now for the good part, the testing.

The Vodka Recipe – Both recipes had very intense flavors and leaned to the syrupy side of a liqueur, which is what it is supposed to be. This one much favored the taste of the cherries, and the alcohol seemed a bit stronger than in the other. I did not use an expensive vodka because I have very strong opinions on that matter. Since, by law, vodka must not have s discernable taste or flavor, I would never use an expensive vodka in a drink where its subtle (and expensive) attributes could not be appreciated. And this was such a case. This recipe was very drinkable but intense enough you could possibly use it in various cocktail recipes as a flavor ingredient.

The Rye Recipe – This one also had intense flavors but the cherry flavor was a bit less intense than in the Vodka Recipe. The use of rye whiskey also gave it a much a more complex flavor. There was a lot more going on in your mouth than the simpler and very intense cherry flavor of the Vodka Recipe. The rye whiskey came through in a very subtle way that complimented the flavor of the cherries. It was not an in-your-face whiskey experience at all.

Conclusions – While both recipes are very drinkable, and it is quite probable that some would prefer one over the other either way, my choice leans heavily to the more complex Rye Recipe. If I were using the cherry bounce as a flavor element in some cocktail, I might favor the Vodka Recipe for that purpose. Otherwise, for sipping, the Rye Recipe wins for me.

What next? – We scale up the recipe for a larger batch. I will make the Rye Recipe with a few adjustments to my test version. For one, I will not cook the mash for twenty minutes. At twenty minutes, the sugars were beginning to turn into syrup. I think ten minutes might work just fine.

Other experiments? – My dad almost certainly used a different recipe from these two. Unfortunately, he isn’t around to ask about that, and we can find no record of his original recipe. One thing that makes me suspect his was different is I am pretty sure he did not use added alcohol like the two recipes above. The reason I believe that is he had fermentation going on in his version. Once he corked the bottle too tightly, and it blew the top off, scaring the wits out of our maid who was washing dishes right next to it. The added alcohol seems to inhibit that because it kills any yeast present, preventing fermentation. These recipes would more accurately be called “infusions.” If I can come up with a recipe that I think is closer to my dad’s I will run another experiment.

Meanwhile, I will enjoy what I have so far. Cheers!

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Two-Bits

Two-Bits was my cat. I was about six when he came into my life. He was a pitiful black and white kitten roaming the street behind Kenner High School and in danger of being run over by a car. I wanted to bring him home, but my grandmother, who picked me up at school, would not allow it. I told my even more soft-hearted mother about the kitten, and she immediately went and retrieved him.

And much to my dad’s chagrin, we owned a cat, or more accurately a cat owned us. MB claimed he hated cats, but either he got over that or he was lying because he seemed to take to Two-Bits. In fact, he is the one who named him Two-Bits.

Two-Bits grew to be a big old, handsome, butt-kicking tomcat, and like most all tomcats, Two-Bits would go “tomcatting.” He would disappear for days at a time and come home somewhat lighter in weight and usually battle-scarred. He would stay home on R&R for a while to rebuild his vitality before he would go out tomcatting again. I imagine old Two-Bits had hundreds of progeny around Kenner.

Alas, my mother decided to end his tomcatting days, and Two-Bits made a short trip to the vet to returned minus two body parts. That was supposed to solve the tomcatting problem, but tomcatting was so ingrained in his psyche by then that the fact he no longer had the necessary “tomcatting equipment” didn’t even slow old Two-Bits down. He continued to tomcat the rest of his days and come home with just as many scars—albeit without leaving any more progeny around Kenner to carry on his heritage.

I don’t recall how long he lived or even when he died, but he was still around when I was a teenager and dating Janis. That would put him at ten years or better.

Two-Bits had the run of the house, and he exercised that privilege to its fullest. He went wherever he wanted and pretty much did whatever he wanted to do. That fact shocked Janis when we were eating a roast beef poboy at the kitchen table one night. She was not accustomed to having a cat in the house, so Two-Bits was a bit of a cultural shock for her. His actions were especially shocking that night when he jumped up on the kitchen table to investigate what we were eating. Janis freaked out and so did Two-Bits. They both decamped from the table. Janis and I had cats after we got married, but they were NEVER allowed on the kitchen table or countertops.

Two-Bits was an important part of my childhood, and I do miss him even after all these years.

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Cherry Bounce Update #1

I wrote of my Cherry Bounce experiment where I am attempting to reproduce my father’s recipe here. Not having his original recipe, I used a modified version of a recipe attributed to Martha Washington.

What I did not mention in that post is I later added a second experiment using an old recipe from a friend’s French mother, although slightly modified to accommodate my available supplies. I will call that one my Roy Recipe in honor of Mrs. Roy. She used wild cherries from her own yard. Not having a cherry tree in my backyard, I used dried, tart, pie cherries. Her recipe called for vodka instead of whiskey or brandy and not cooking the mash. So I have two jars set aside to rest for three months.

Well, I couldn’t wait any longer. I know, it has been slightly less than two weeks, but I had to taste them.

I could drink them now, and probably will next week for Christmas. The Martha Washington recipe with the cooked mash and Sazerac Rye whiskey is rich in flavors and complex, much of which comes from the rye whiskey. The Roy Recipe is less complex due to the vodka but is still quite good. Without the MW version to compare to, you would like it a lot. But I think I much prefer the more complex Martha Washington version. I’m pretty sure that one or a version of it will be the basis of my next and larger batch I’ll make after Christmas.

I will allow others to taste both at Christmas and let you know what comes out of that.

Cheers.

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Cherry Bounce

My dad, Dr. MB Casteix, used to make cherry bounce. His foray into creating adult beverages began when he was quite young. Since he started college two years earlier than most, having skipped two grades, he must have been younger than 16 on his first attempt because he was still living at home with his parents. At that time they were living on Bourbon Street in the building that is now the Famous Door Bar. It was a pharmacy at then, and the family lived above it. I wrote about his cherry bounce escapades here.

I decided I would like to attempt to recreate MB’s cherry bounce, but I don’t have his recipe and have no idea how he made it. I did a search online and found a few recipes, including one that is attributed to Martha Washington.

I did know one thing about MB’s recipe, and that was that it evidently continued to ferment in the bottle. In that linked post above, there was a recalled incident of the top blowing off the bottle and scaring the hell out of our maid. The recipes I found called for adding bourbon, rye, or brandy to the cooked cherry mash then storing that for three months. The alcohol should prevent any further fermenting, I would think. But I have to go with what I have.

So…I created a modified version of Martha’s recipe in smaller test proportions and cooked up a batch. The attached pic is the cherry mash before adding the rye whiskey. Unfortunately, we will have to wait three months to see if it is any good.

So, stand by…

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“You going to wear that?”

I used to consider myself a pretty good dresser. (Note the past tense.) As finances allowed, I stayed up with the styles, especially when younger. While in school, we young men were careful not to make any fashion faux pas that might hurt our chances with the ladies. We would exchange the latest fashion trends amongst ourselves. (Surprised, ladies?)

I worked in a men’s store part-time while in college and learned many things about the proper gentlemanly dress from another salesman who was a VERY dapper dresser, and the women absolutely loved him. From that experience, I learned about proper trouser length, how much cuff should show from under the sleeves of your coat, proper color matching, NEVER mix patterns (which seems to be de rigueur these days, go figure), and other sundry dressing codes for young men.

This carried forward even into my military service. My uniforms were always starched with creases sharp enough to cut thick-skinned tomatoes into paper-thin slices. My sense of style even got me into trouble when I tapered my trousers. My CO obviously wasn’t as fashion conscious as I was, and he made me take the taper out.

Even though my business life after the service, I was required to wear suits to work and I even enjoyed it. As the years passed, the dress codes relaxed to allow just trousers and a nice shirt—but no jeans. Then dress-down Friday came along, and “nice” jeans were allowed. As I neared retirement, even jeans became acceptable every day. Ah, the times they were a-changin’. But that excluded wives.

Eventually, every married male will, at some time, hear that fear-inducing question from their spouse concerning whatever it is they have on when about to head out for the night’s festivities. It comes in three versions, representing ascending levels of both distaste and threats should the offensive behavior continue. Whatever the level of distaste expressed, they all come at that moment when the spouse steps out of the bathroom fully dressed to the nines and encounters innocent you standing there buttoning the last button on your shirt or tidying up the knot of your tie. Let me expand on this below.

Threat Level 1 – She steps forth from the bathroom and finds you standing there. She stops in her tracks. One eyebrow goes up and the other goes down in a questioning glare that begins at your feet and slowly makes its way up to the top of your head. The innocent (clueless) you look like a deer caught in the headlights of a car that is a half a second away from the impact. You very stupidly say, “What?”

Here it comes. In a tone that suggests only mild disagreement with your fashion choices, she casually tosses out (like a hand grenade), “You going to wear that?”

Gentlemen, let me clearly state that “yes” is the wrong answer. Don’t waste your time arguing. Whatever you have on must be changed immediately.

Threat Level 2 – Same scenario as above, but this time that question is asked just a bit differently. It comes out as, “You going to wear THAT?” Note the very strong emphasis on “that.”

Gentlemen, a “yes” answer will mean being sent to the couch for at least three nights. Don’t even think of going there, but tuck your tail and find something to wear that she approves of.

Threat Level 3 – Same scenario but this time the question becomes a command, “You are NOT going to wear THAT!”

Gentlemen, a “yes” reply here will ultimately involve lawyers and cost you lots of money—assuming you survive the night. Save yourself some grief and just let her pick something out, put it on, and shut up.

I don’t know what happened to our sense of fashion between our early years and retirement, but we obviously lost it along the way. At least, that’s what my wife tells me whenever I attempt to dress for some social event.

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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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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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