Tag Archives: Martial B. Casteix

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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Waveland

In this blog I have mentioned Waveland, Mississippi several times. In fact there is a whole category for “Waveland” here. It holds many memories for me and my two sisters as well as our cousins Melanie and Bobby. I stumbled upon this image on FaceBook and it inspired me to write a little about Waveland.

WavelandTrain

As I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts on Waveland, we had a house there on the north side of the tracks. MB and his friend Pete built it on weekends and summer vacations from material they salvaged from a house they tore down in New Orleans. It wasn’t anything fancy, three bedrooms, one bath and a kitchen/living room combo with a fairly large screened porch on the front. In the summer, I slept out there under the blast of a huge window fan sucking air out of the house and across me in the top bunk of the bunk bed. I LOVED sleeping there. In the winter I moved inside for obvious reasons.

We fished, and crabbed, and swam, and floundered, if you can call it that, and explored the endless woods surrounding the house. It was the greatest place in the world for a boy to grow up. I so miss Waveland. My biggest regret in life is we were never able to afford a place like Waveland to take my boys in the summer.

We kids would sometimes walk into town to do whatever it is we did in the metropolis of Waveland. The route was along the railroad tracks. One time, we took Michael Manard with us, and he was quite young. Why we did this, I don’t recall, but Melanie might, because she tells this story on occasion. But we left Michael hiding the the culvert of the railroad while the rest of us went into town. Very responsible, weren’t we?

The image of the Waveland train station reminded me of a story MB used to tell. Before the war and before he lost his “fortune” in the Depression, Martial, MB’s dad, would lodge his family in Waveland in a rented house along the beach. They would remain there all summer. It was fairly common for New Orleanians in those days, those who could afford it, to move out of the city during the hot summers (no AC back then), and places like Mandeville and Waveland were popular destinations. Waveland was an easy choice because it was so convenient to New Orleans, and I don’t necessarily mean by car; I mean by train.

During those summers, Martial would depart Waveland for New Orleans by train on Monday morning and tend to his businesses in NOLA all week long. He owned eight drug stores in New Orleans back then. On Friday, he would catch the train and get off in Waveland to rejoin his family.

MB would sware they weren’t wealthy, and I am sure, during the Depression when Martial lost most of his holdings, this was true. But before that, they lived a lifestyle that bordered on wealthy, probably upper middle-class when there weren’t a lot of people who could claim such status.

Waveland Ware

Waveland fell into disuse during the sixties and early seventies. I was either off in college and working out of town during the summers or in the Air Force. My sisters often had other interests, and MB sold Waveland in 1973 or ’74. My sisters and I briefly considered buying it. I was recently discharged and barely making a living, and Jeanne and Martia weren’t any better off financially, so we backed down, and Frank Cavalino bought it. We made one last trip to Waveland to collect our stuff before Frank moved in. I got the stainless dinnerware from there, all war surplus and marked either “U.S.” or “U.S.N.” We use it as our everyday ware today, and every time I sit down to dinner, I am reminded of Waveland.

Ice Box R

I also got the Coca Cola bottle opener off the wall. (MB was not happy I did that.) I opened many a bottle of “pop rouge,” or Seven-Up, or Nehi Sodas on that opener. It resides on the inside of the door of the antique, oak ice box I converted into a bar, and I think of Waveland every time I open that bar to get something out.

Waveland House

Image is clipped from Google Street view.

The house is still there, and a neighborhood has grown up around it. I drove past once about ten years ago. The owners have closed in the porch, and all the pine trees are gone, probably taken down by Camille and Katrina, leaving the house looking a bit forlorn. I experienced mixed emotions that day: sad because it isn’t mine or even like it was when it was mine, and happy for the memories it brought back.

I miss Waveland.

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Manard Lagasse Hated Getting Shots!

Me, Manard, Joey 1953I had a brief discussion with Elton Lagasse, Manard’s older brother, at a meeting the other night, and he reminded me of a story from our childhood. Manard had a needlephobia, a really bad needlephobia. I never really considered Manard to be a coward. He was always there with the rest of us, doing all the stupid and risky things boys did back then, but he really feared getting shots. (Manard is in the middle in the image on the right.)

As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, my dad, Dr. M.B. Casteix, used to periodically round up all the kids of our extended family for inoculations for just about every disease known to man. Those were followed in a few weeks, or a few years, maybe both, with booster shots. And then there were the tetanus shots for our frequent wounds and rusty nail punctures in our bare feet, and we were always barefoot during the summer. Seemed like we were always getting shots for something when we were kids.

The call would go out, and all us kids would be required to report for inoculations, usually on Saturday afternoon or at night after the my dad’s office closed. The roundup included Manard and Elton Lagasse, Bobby and Melanie Manard, Kibby Manard, and sometimes even my cousins, Stephanie and Robin, and sisters, Jeanne and Martia, who were all quite a bit younger than the first mentioned group.

All of us had “side-entrance privileges,” which means we could go in the side door of the office. Usually escorted by parents, we marched into the last examining room at the side entrance end of the hall and lined up for our shots. On one of the first such inoculation roundups, Manard managed to be at the head of the line, and he was looking a bit nervous—maybe a lot nervous?

CabinetMB went to his instrument cabinet (which now resides in my bathroom) for a syringe. Whatever it was he came out with, Manard evidently thought it resembled something on the order of a turkey baster with a big needle, because his eyes got got as big as saucers, and after only a brief moment of indecision, he concluded he wanted no part of that thing and promptly decamped.

Panic stricken, he headed out the examining room for the side door, but Henry Lagasse, his dad, waiting there for him to take him home, happened to be blocking his way. Upon seeing his dad standing there with a questioning expression on his face, Manard did an about face and headed up the hall that ran the length of my dad’s office, but that offered no means of escape; the front doors were locked. Henry knew something was up and was in hot pursuit of his youngest child. He caught up to Manard in the little room at the end of the hall where the bathroom and coke machine were (Heath has that over in Texas, the coke machine, that is).

Somehow, Manard got past his dad, bolted out of the coke room, failed to navigate the turn and bounced off the hall wall, then headed back down the hall at a full-tilt run for the side door—and needle freedom! About then MB innocently stepped out of the examining room with the syringe in his hand to see what was up with Manard. As soon as Manard got a  look at “Dr. Frankenstein” with his turkey baster hypodermic, he slid to a halt, his Keds making little screeching sounds on the highly-waxed, asphalt tile floor. He did another about face only to run smack into his dad, who was still in hot pursuit but obviously gaining on him.

Henry manhandled the loudly protesting and squirming Manard into the torture chamber—er, I mean examining room—for his dose of whatever it was we were getting that day. MB stuck Manard, and he squealed like a stuck pig.

Kip and ManardThe rest of us kids stood around kind of big-eyed and slack-jawed in complete awe of what had just transpired. Most of us were thinking maybe we should be considering some kind of escape plan ourselves? But the door was by then well covered by at least two parents, and seeing no way out, we reluctantly got our shots with only minimal whimpering. They stung a little, but we lived.

The whole affair became a source of humor for all of us but Manard, of course. All future inoculation summons were somewhat looked forward to, because we wanted to see what Manard would do, and he never failed to impress us with his fear of the needle.

The last photo is of Kibby (on left) and Manard with my dad’s office behind them. Thanks to cuz Bobby.

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“Nanna” and “Tanda”

Anna and Candy were our two dogs when I was a kid. If you were my mother, they were named “Nanna” and “Tanda”, which was my mother’s baby-talk pronunciation of Anna and Candy. They were medium size dogs, about 35 pounds, short-haired mix breeds. The vet thought they had a lot of Fox Terrier in them.

Anna came first. She showed up as a stray around 1951. My dad tried his best to run her off, but she always came back (probably because my mother was feeding her behind his back). Eventually, Anna became “our” dog, and she was pregnant—naturally.

Anna had five puppies in the closet that housed the hot water heater. It was warm in there and she needed it because it was late winter when she dropped her litter. MB managed to give away all five puppies, but my mother managed to get one back. Instead of black and white markings like her mother, this pup was rust and white and marked almost identical down to the thumb-sized spot in the middle of the white blaze on the forehead. My mother named the pup Candy (or Tanda, if you prefer).

Anna and Candy were not supposed to ever get in the bed, but they did and moved in with my mother and dad. Consider that back then, there were no Queen or King-sized beds; at least we didn’t have one. My parents slept in a double with the two dogs.

They were excellent guard dogs and protected their territory with ferocious-sounding barking. Our yard was fenced on all sides but one. My dad’s patients parked along Sixth Street or in front of the office on Williams Street. To this day, I am not sure how he even had any patients. If they parked on Sixth Street, and Anna and Candy were out, they had to “run the gauntlet” past the two dogs barking and sounding for all the world like they would take an arm off if not for the fence. It was so bad that Janis, my future bride, would cross the street when she had to pass my house to visit her friend on Williams Street.

Anna and Candy lived a long time, and where we went they went, and that included our vacations whether to our house in Waveland, Mississippi or a brief trip to Panama City, Florida, and these dogs loved the water.

We had a summer ritual of spending two weeks at our house in Waveland, which was my dad’s vacation. That, of course, included the dogs. We usually managed to go “floundering” at least once. That means we attempted to catch some unsuspecting flounders sleeping in the shallows at night, which was mostly not very likely. That was because we had the two dogs with us.

We would have our “trusty” Coleman lantern that MB would always have to install new wicks in and spent the greater part of the afternoon getting it to work properly. We had homemade flounder spears, which were old broom handles with a sharpened nail stuck in the end. Being a boy, I always went for the “harpoon,” leaving the nets to my two younger sisters. MB carried the lantern. My mother attempted to manage the dogs, unsuccessfully, of course.

So, there we are wading around in the dark in knee-deep water looking for flounders. In all the summers we did this, we never-ever went home with a flounder. I am thinking it might be because Anna and Candy were busy loping and splashing around ahead of us in complete abandon to our “serious” attempts to harpoon a flounder! No self-respecting flounder would hang around after such advance warning.

The dogs also went with us when we went swimming. MB always had a boat and never missed a chance to use it, even if it was just to run out of the mouth of Bayou Caddy, hook a right and drop anchor off the beach there that was not accessible unless you had a boat.

In the late fifties and sixties, it was a twenty-footer he had custom built by an old man up near Hanson City. He named it the Marjelou a combination name made from the names of my two sisters (Martia and Jeanne) and my mother, Neva Lou. (Boys don’t get their names on boats.) It was open with only a windscreen and a small deck forward, MB’s ideal fishing configuration. Aft he had two mismatched outboards, an Evinrude and a Johnson. (MB was frugal; he already owned one and picked up the other dirt cheap; why buy new just to have a matching set?)

On either side of the transom were two small decks about two feet square. Those were where Anna and Candy rode. Most of the time they managed to stay up there, but sometimes while underway, we would lose one or more dogs. No one ever actually saw them when they went overboard, so we were never sure if they fell off or they just abandoned ship to frolic in the water. It would be just like them to do the latter. Either way, we had to turn back and search for the missing dog(s). We always found them blissfully swimming along.

Like most dogs, Anna and Candy loved to hang out the car window and do the “wind-in-the-face” thing all dogs seem to get off on. Back then we had no AC in the car, so the windows were always down. One day while returning from Bay St. Louis along the beach road, Anna was hanging out the waterside of the car and must have had a notion to go swimming? She jumped out the window. We were doing about twenty, and she hit the concrete and rolled down the street. We stopped, called her and she ran and jumped in the car, none the worse for wear.

They were good dogs–unless you ask my wife.

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Crusin’ down Ole Highway 90.

Returning from a week in Blue Mountain, Florida this Sunday, we were alerted to a severe traffic jam on I-10 at the Louisiana/Mississippi state line by my son, Ryan, and DIL who were over an hour ahead of us. We shifted over to US. Highway 90 at the Stennis exit to avoid some of this. Should have gotten off at the Bay St. Louis exit, because we hit the backed up traffic right after passing Bay St. Louis.

Oh well…

When I was a kid and before I-10 existed, we made many a trip to and from Waveland, MS using this route, so crusin’ down Ole Highway 90 was a trip down memory lane for me. I was reminded of those many Friday nights going east and Sunday nights returning to NOLA on that dark two-lane highway.

We always had a station wagon, which was the van or SUV of my day. It was always a nine passenger with a rear facing third seat. That was my favorite place to ride on those trips. The middle seat was folded down, and quilts were spread over the flat floor for my two little sisters to sleep on the way. They shared the space with our two dogs and sometimes a bird or that blasted rabbit mentioned elsewhere.

Seatbelts? We didn’t need no stinking seatbelts! Besides, the cars weren’t even equipped with them back then.

Did I mention luggage? No, because I can’t recall us ever carrying any. We must have had some little something somewhere, but it never took up much space. We had extras of almost everything stored in our Waveland house, so we don’t need no stinking luggage! Well, not much anyway.

No AC in the cars either, at least not in ours. Only the “very wealthy” bought cars with AC back then (1950s), and MB was too frugal for that. I can recall several times we noticed water dripping from other cars, and being ever concerned for the safety of others, we flagged them down to report the strange water dripping from under their cars. Inevitably, they would roll down their windows (because they had AC) and say, “What?”

To which we replied, “Water! You have water dripping from your car!” And we continued on, thinking we had saved the lives of some poor family that we were sure their car was close to exploding—or something.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the dripping water was condensation from their AC!

We didn’t know any better!

One story MB told of a trip to Waveland has always stuck in my mind. He and his friend, Pete Constancy, built our house in Waveland, mostly from scraps of a house they tore down in NOLA that Pete owned. They carefully removed the window frames and sashes and stacked them on a homemade trailer. The trailer was, shall we say, a bit bouncy. They stacked the windows flat, not on edge like they should have. Stacked so, the glass could not stand the bouncing, and they arrived in Waveland with every pane broken, and Highway 90 strewn with broken glass from NOLA to Waveland.

My sisters, Jeanne and Martia, and my cousins, Melanie and Bobby, will remember the “Pama-Pama Bridge,” which I think was the one over the Chef Menteur Pass. (One of the four will comment and correct me if I am wrong.) Why was it called the “Pama Pama Bridge?” Because your car tires made “pama-pama” sounds as they passed over the expansion joints. I never knew of any other bridge that sounded quite like that.

I went over it today, and, sadly, it doesn’t go “pama-pama” anymore. Another childhood memory lost forever!

Motorcyclists have it right when they say, “It isn’t the destination, it’s the trip!” We are always in a rush to get somewhere. We need to spend more time on the Old Highway 90s of our lives and enjoy the ride.

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Box Turtles

I am referring to highland terrapins, more commonly called “box turtles.” The turtle saga began about 1957 or so with an article in the Dixie Roto Sunday Magazine supplement in the Times Picayune. The article was about box turtles in the garden and how the author used them to controlled the bug population. Anything that gave my mother an excuse for another pet was welcomed in our house, except by the pet-longsuffering MB, of course.

I looked at the pictures in the article and was immediately struck by the fact that I had frequently seen these box turtles while I was roaming the woods around Waveland. I made the mistake of telling my mother this and was immediately dispatched to hunt box turtles on the next weekend we were in Waveland, a task I gleefully accepted as hunting was in my blood. In short order, I collected at least a dozen box turtles, which we took back to Kenner to do bug control duty in my mother’s gardens.

What seemed like a good idea really wasn’t. The problem was our yard was not completely fenced. There was a stretch between the house and my dad’s office of about 20 feet with no fence, an obvious avenue of escape for our new bug patrol. Our solution was to identify the turtles as our own, so I painted “Casteix” on the back of each turtle’s shell with a different “serial number” for each on top. That actually worked for a while. We would get phone calls from neighbors over a block away to come retrieve our turtle.

That got old, but MB had a solution. By then he had bought into the turtle/pet thing and knew we had to deal with the turtle escape issue to maintain peace in the household.

A couple of years previously, MB had built a “swimming pool” for the kids. It was a “swimming pool” in name only, thus the quotation marks. It was simply a concrete tub about the size of a king sized bed and maybe 18 inches deep. Since it lacked a filtering system and any means to drain it once the water became fouled, it failed in its design function.

Now, my dad was a brilliant man in many respects. He skipped two grades in school and entered LSU two years younger than his classmates. He was a great family doctor. In the days before all these tests, he could make an accurate diagnosis of an illness with only a brief examination and a few carefully worded questions. Other doctors often described him as one of the best diagnosticians they ever knew. But as a “tinkerer,” he lacked finesse, the alleged “swimming pool” being a good example.

The useless “swimming pool” would become the new home for the turtles and was christened the “turtle pond.” These were land turtles and needed “land” to live on, so MB built an island in the middle of the pool leaving a moat all around. My mother populated it with various kinds of plants and had MB erect a statue of St. Francis in the middle of the island.

Baby Box TurtleThe turtles moved in and thrived. My mother feeding them cat food daily must have helped. They mated and laid box turtle eggs and we had new generations of turtles! (The one in the picture is a baby.)

Eventually, my folks moved out of Kenner to River Ridge. In fact they moved no less than four more times, and my dad had to build a new turtle pond at each house. (This was their “gypsy phase.”)

Meanwhile, I grew up, went to college, married, went in the Air Force and moved back home after discharge, settling in Old Jefferson. Finally, my dad got tired of building turtle ponds and moving turtles, so I inherited them. I wasn’t asked, I was told, “Here are your turtles.”

Well, I wasn’t about to build any turtle ponds, but I did have a fenced vegetable garden area inside my fenced yard, and the turtles went in there to “free range.” And they prospered, mated and laid box turtle eggs! Our boys learned about sex watching box turtles mate.

The turtles also came in handy for Heath’s and Ryan’s birthday parties. I would collect up as many turtles I could find, paint numbers on their shells, and the kids would have turtle races. Each kid picked a turtle, which we placed in a circle in the grass. The first turtle to make it out of the circle won a prize for its “owner.” The kids loved it and those we run into years later often mention our turtle races when they were young.

Disaster struck. We had a couple of really cold winters. Box turtles bury themselves for the winter and most did not survive. But a few must have, as we would sometimes encounter a young box turtle in the yard for years after.

In 1986 we moved from that house to one about four blocks away as the crow flies. Every few years I find a box turtle roaming around the yard. When I do I release it into the fenced area of our yard. Either they get out again or are really good at hiding, because I very rarely find one inside the fence again. However, last summer Janis found a baby box turtle in our garden. We must have a mated pair somewhere in our yard!

I am sure the ones I am finding today are descended from that original bunch I brought back to Kenner from Waveland.

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That Sinking Feeling

Lane & Buck ca 1963We were in our camping phase. Roughly translated that means we used camping to get out from under the supervision of our parents to do stupid things—mostly at night. To our parents, it seemed innocent and wholesome enough. “They went camping. Isn’t that nice?”

Camping meant: Fire! Meat! Um! Good! Sleeping under the stars! You know, that whole primeval thing boys are so into?

It began innocent enough as “camping” in the Manard’s key lot, then came the Boy Scouts, but our Scout leaders weren’t all that much into “roughing it.” The fact that they had been “roughing it” in WWII only a few years before may have had something to do with their lack of interest in pup tents and sleeping bags. They much preferred the cabins at Camp Salmon or the Small Group Camp at Fontainebleau, which had real beds and mattresses.

We liked to cook over open fires, too. My favorite meal as a kid was foil stew. Who knows what that is? Chunks of meat (insert simian-like grunt here), potatoes, and carrots in a pocket made from tin foil (OK, aluminum foil!). Add some seasoning and a dash of water (beer when we got older) and throw that puppy on a bed of glowing coals, toss some more coals on top, and wait 20 minutes or so. Just slice it open and dig in. GOOD!

Back to camping.

As we grew older and could drive and even had automobiles, we pushed the camping envelope. Once we pushed it all the way to Cat Island, but we needed the assistance of a boat to complete the trip.

Cat Island is a small island about seven miles off the coast of Gulfport. It seemed like a great place to camp, and it was. But you needed a boat to get there. My dad had one, so we borrowed it. I still can’t believe he actually let us use it. It was a small speed skiff with the brand name of “Yellow Jacket,” and it was fast with a 35hp Evenrude on the back. By then MB had graduated to his 20-foot custom built fishing boat. The little 14 foot Yellow Jacket was left mostly unused.

We were about to finish it off.

There were four of us: Dee White, Bob Hansen, Buck Roy, and moi. Problem was we couldn’t carry all four of us with our camping gear out to Cat Island in one trip. So, we did two trips. I dropped off Dee and Bob and returned to Gulfport to pick up Buck and most of the gear.

Things went well, until we discovered Cat Island was heavily populated with horse flies—the kind that hurt when they bite. Big fires and mosquito nets kept them under control most of the time. We swam and fished and cooked over open fires and had boy-type camping fun on our own little deserted island. We went to sleep that first night to the sound of a crackling fire and campfire tales. It was heaven!

We woke up the next morning to discover the Yellow Jacket was gone. We were marooned!

We found it later that morning way down at the other end of the island. The winds and tide had carried it down there dragging the anchor the whole way. Whew!

Unfortunately, it had suffered some damage on some concrete something-or-the-other along the beach, but we did not realize this at the time. We pulled it up on the beach well above the high tide mark to make sure it remained safe.

My dad showed up the next day in his new boat to check on us, having come all the way from Waveland. That was convenient, because we were about to leave. So, he took Dee and Bob and most of our gear in his bigger boat and left Buck and me to take the Yellow Jacket back to Gulfport where my car waited.

MB left, and Buck and I finished packing the Yellow Jacket, getting a late start near sunset. We are cruising full speed for Gulfport and were about half a mile from Cat Island when Buck taps me on the shoulder. Over the roar of the Evenrude, he yells, “We have a problem!”

“What kind of problem?”

“The worst kind. We’re sinking!”

“WHAT?”

He points at the back of the boat, and I see lots of water where it should not be—inside the boat!

“BAIL!”

And he did. I had the throttle wide open, and Buck was bailing as fast as he can. The outflow was just barely keeping up with the inflow. It is dark by then, and don’t you know we come upon a big shrimp boat pulling his trawls. I can’t run in front of him for fear he will run us over, and going behind risks getting fouled in the lines or his nets—and sinking for sure—and maybe getting shot! Behind is the only option, so I swing wide, and Buck bails faster still.

We got it around it without fouling the prop, but there was lots of vigorous hand waving and yelling issuing forth from the shrimp boat’s crew during the maneuver. We did make it to Gulfport and got the boat on the trailer before it sank. My ’57 Chevy struggled to pull that water filled skiff up the ramp. It probably did not stop draining until we were nearly to our house in Waveland.

The cement whatever had punched a hole in the bottom right at the transom. Turns out that was a place that held water even with the drains open, and the wood was rotten there. We gave up on camping on islands after that.

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Party Time!

Martial & May CroppedMartial and Maguerite May Casteix, my grandparents, were party animals, at least in the context of partying in the twenties and thirties. Their partying ways were hampered with the passage of the Volstead Act in 1920 which became the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and rendered the sale of alcohol illegal; Prohibition as we know it.

There were few exceptions to the production and sale of alcohol, medicinal uses being one of them. A few distilleries stayed open making medicinal alcohol. The Buffalo Trace Distillery was one of them, although it wasn’t called Buffalo Trace back then.

Martial was a pharmacist and owned a number of drug stores in New Orleans as mentioned elsewhere on this blog. That meant he had access to medicinal alcohol as long as he could get enough of his doctor friends to write scripts for a bottle or two. Evidently, he was successful in those efforts. The doctors were probably all invited to the party, too.

From what I can gather from my dad’s tales of their parties, they didn’t just throw cocktail parties where you showed up, munched a few hors de vers, or durves—snacks—sipped a few cocktails and engaged in conversations with old friends. That was too dull for them. Their parties often had themes and even surprises.

Scavenger hunts seemed to be a favorite theme. The guests got an invitation but no location for the party. Instead, the invitation included a clue to a location. The invitees had to figure out the clue then go to that location. Upon arrival, they would be met by an employee of one of the pharmacies who would give them the next clue to find the next location. That went on and on until the invitee ultimately ended up at the party. I imagine this made for some interesting conversations once everyone arrived at the party

Charlie ChaplinOne clue I remember MB mentioning was “Charlie Chaplin’s Pants.” That was supposed to tell the invitee an exact location in New Orleans. For the younger readers, Charlie Chaplin (on the right) was a famous comedian/actor in the silent movies of the time. Everyone back then knew who Charlie was and what his pants were like. (Can any of you figure out the location from the clue? The answer is at the end of this post.*)

With alcohol being illegal for personal consumption, their parties ran something of a risk, although it was minimal (this was New Orleans after all). The cops mostly looked the other way unless the Feds were somehow involved. In that case, the cops pretended they were actually serious about this prohibition silliness.

With this in mind, Martial and May cooked up a prank for one of their parties. They planned to have the cops raid the party. Of course, the cops were friends and agreed to simulate a raid. This definitely qualified as one of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” notions that didn’t go quite as planned.

Part way through the party after everyone has had a few adult beverages, the cops show up with loud whistle blowing and lots of yelling, “THIS IS A RAID! You are all under arrest! No one move!”

Despite the warning, EVERYONE MOVED!

Pandemonium ensued, and the party guests, fearful a picture of them being hauled off to jail might show up in the Picayune, abandoned ship! Post haste! As in very fast! The cops got run over in the confusion, and one poor guest literally jumped out a window.

And the party was on the second floor!

The window-jumping guest sustained a broken arm, and the festivities ended for that evening. But I imagine that only barely slowed Martial and May down.

But it seemed like a good idea at the time…

 

* Clue Answer: Toulouse and Broad. For those not from NOLA, that is the well-known intersection of Toulouse Street and Broad Street.

The picture is of Martial and May about 1920ish taken down at La Terre Promise (The Promised Land) Plantation downriver from New Orleans. I love this picture, because I feel it captures May’s mischievous spirit. Martial wears a serious business-like expression in every pic I have seen of him. Both died before I was born.

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Casteix Pharmacy

Casteix Pharm CroppedMy grandfather, Martial Casteix, owned eight drug stores in New Orleans. He was in competition with a pair of gents by the name of Katz and Bestoff, although they were friends. Martial got a bit over extended and lost most of his stores during the Great Depression. K&B managed to hang on for another fifty years before Rite Aid bought them out.

I know the locations of several of the Casteix stores and have pictures of some of the interiors I made from originals my cousin, Melanie, has. At least two of the stores were in the Vieux Carré. One was on Bourbon Street and the other on Dauphine. Years ago I found a picture of the Dauphine Street store online and played with it in Photoshop to give the low-resolution image an old and distressed look, which is what you see here. I visited the location recently and shot a Casteix Pharm Todayphoto of how it looks today. Not surprisingly, it is the French Quarter, after all, the building hasn’t changed much. It appears to be a residence today. Someday, I will go knock and on the door to see what happens.

The Bourbon Street store is a bit more famous in more ways than one. Today it is the home of the Famous Door Bar. Ninety years ago, it was a pharmacy and my grandparents lived there above the store.

They moved out rather suddenly in the twenties after Martial decided the French Quarter might not be a good place to raise a family. He came to this conclusion after my aunt, Margie, came home from school one day with a tale about how a “nice lady with lots of red lipstick” suggested a career in prostitution might be a consideration for someone as pretty as she was. Martial promptly moved the family to Orleans Avenue near City Park.

MB loved to tell the story of how he made cherry bounce in the attic of the Bourbon Street location. Since he started college when he was sixteen, he must have been quite young when he was making cherry bounce. That, and his expressed concern for disposing of the strained pits and pulp in a way his father would not discover what he was doing in the attic also suggested he was well under drinking age, even for New Orleans.

What to do with the pits and pulp? He was stuck with this cheesecloth pouch full of mush after he separated the solids from the drinkable liquid. MB was very smart, so was his sister, but his solution for getting the unwanted pits and pulp past his dad in the drug store downstairs was, shall we say, less than brilliant. But like most less than brilliant notions, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

He decided he would simply heave it from the attic window onto the roof of the building across Bourbon Street. The building there now must not have been there then, because there is no way he could have made that shot.

No matter, he forgot to tie the sack of cherry bounce leavings closed, anyway. And guess what happened in its trip across Bourbon Street? It came open, of course, and spread that pulpy red slush all over the people below!

Martial immediately became aware his son was up to no good in the attic, when irate people covered with cherry bounce remains came into the store demanding 341 Bourbon Famous DoorRedan explanation—and to have their clothing cleaned. MB said it cost his dad a small fortune in cleaning bills.

That’s Martial behind the counter of the Bourbon Street location before it became a bar.

You would think MB would have learned his lesson? He continued to experiment with his cherry bounce recipe for decades after. When I was a kid, there was usually a bottle of cherry bounce fermenting in a recycled whiskey bottle somewhere in the kitchen. He must have consumed it all himself, because I never even got a taste.

He corked one a bit too tight once. (I don’t think you are supposed to cork something fermenting?) It was sitting on the kitchen counter right next to the sink. It eventually built up enough pressure it blew the cork out, rather violently, I might add. Our maid, Adel, was washing dishes when it “went off.” The cork missile zoomed past her nose and ricocheted off the cabinet, went up to the ceiling, and bounced back down into the dishwater, splashing poor Adel.

In the bedroom, my mother said she heard a loud pop from the kitchen, followed by Adel exclaiming, “Oh Lordy, I’ve been shot!”

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Another Chicken Story

This must have been around 1957 or so. A pet shop opened in an old grocery store on Williams and immediately became the favorite hangout for us kids. In addition to pets, it also featured plastic model kits, and I was in my plastic-model-kit-period at that time. The cold drink machine was also a big draw. We motivated there either by bicycle or go-cart, parking them all outside on the sidewalk. The place looked like a biker bar for kids, except the bikes had no motors, just playing cards attached to the frame with clothes pins. They made “motor” sounds when the spokes of the spinning wheel hit it. That is yet another story—for another time.

Come Easter time, they got in a load of cute little baby chickens, which had all been dyed various Easter colors: pink, blue, green, purple, you name it. Way too much eye-candy for a kid my age to pass up, so I bought two and took them home to my sisters for Easter presents. Actually, maybe I bought myself one, too? The two for my sisters were for the sole purpose of legitimizing mine.

My folks were not happy. Well, MB wasn’t happy, but my mother was ever willing to have another pet, even if it was three lowly chickens. She should have held no illusions about chickens as pets, because my grandparents had a chickens for eggs and meat when we lived with them on Williams when I was very young.

Baby chicks do what baby chicks do: they eat, make chicken poop, and become not-so-cute adult chickens, in this case, White Leghorn roosters—no hens, just roosters. By then my sisters and I were bored with the no longer cuddly roosters roaming around in our back yard in Kenner, but we could not even consider eating them! After all, cute or not, they were pets.

The ever-clever MB came up with a solution to rid himself of the three roosters without upsetting the rest of the family. The roosters would make a trip to Waveland to visit Boyd and Mary.

Boyd and Mary were the black couple that lived about two blocks from our house in Waveland. Boyd cut our grass, and Mary cleaned the house after we left after a stay. And they had chickens, lots of chickens, mostly White Leghorns, all roaming their mostly grassless yard making chicken noises among the impressive junk collection they had scattered about.

I shouldn’t be so hard on their hoarding, because Janis and I bought some of that “junk” when we got into antiquing years later. “Mary, how much you want for that old ice box?” (Notice I said “ice box” and not refrigerator? That is because it used block ice to chill the contents.) She would hem and haw, and I would say, “$5?” She would unsuccessfully try to hide her glee and reply, “Oh, OK, Baby.” I am sure she was thinking we were two crazy white folks. She was right.

Back to the chickens—

Our three roosters moved into the Boyd and Mary chicken ranch. Of course, one condition of this gracious gift was they would not actually eat our chickens. Yeah, right! Like they needed three more roosters in their yard. I’m sure MB had worked out some kind of deal with Boyd and Mary, probably paid them to take the stupid chickens off his hands.

We soon mostly forgot about “our” chickens left in the tender care of Boyd and Mary until a trip to Waveland a few weeks later. As was customary, MB visited Boyd and Mary to pay them. Naturally, my sisters and I insisted on going along to “visit” our chickens. We, of course, still laboring under the assumption they had not seen the inside of a stew pot.

“Where are they?” my sisters and I innocently asked of Mary.

Mary was really cool about this. Without hesitation, she simply pointed at one of the numerous and unidentifiable white chickens free-ranging among the junk in her still grassless yard and said, “Look, Baby, there’s one now!”

And we believed her.

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