Tag Archives: Martial B. Casteix

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!”


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


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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MB at ParadiseIf you knew my dad, MB Casteix, you knew at least two things about him. First, he was a doctor, and second, he was an avid fisherman. That man loved to fish! I never knew him not to own a boat, and they were first and foremost fishing boats. They were selected or designed for that single purpose. Any other applications were purely secondary and largely coincidental.

He loved to fish in the Louisiana marshes for red fish and speckled trout, known elsewhere as “red drum” and “spotted sea trout.” (Actually, speckled trout are not trout but are in the drum family.) When he was a teenager, he and his friends would go duck hunting in the marshes, and after they got their limit of ducks or the ducks stopped flying, they put away their shotguns and got out the fishing poles. No part of the day was wasted for them.

I got him into fresh water fishing in his later years. I was a member of a deer club in Alabama that had a private, 100-acre lake on it. We went there in the summers for long weekends of lazy days fishing for bass, perch, and sac au lait*, followed by great meals in camp at night with adult beverages and lots of tall tales and laughter. We had some wonderful times together on that lake.

I never knew MB was also a poet until not too long before his death in 2003. I don’t remember the circumstances under which he confessed he had written a poem. And if he wrote more than one, I don’t know about it, but I love the one I do know of.

Bet you can’t guess what it is about? Sure you can – fishing! He did a marvelous job of expressing his true love. And here it is.


By Dr. M.B. Casteix, Jr.

Men prate of the thrills they crave.

Some of a sparkling wine,

Some of a song sublime,

Some of a tempting dish.

But give me a lonely shore

Hard by the breaker’s roar,

Where the sea expends its might

In a long unceasing fight,

Or a sandy sunlit beach,

Where the wavelets gently lave

A distant windswept reach.

Give me the feel of the rolling keel

As it plunges over a breaking wave.

Give me the feel of the striking steel

When the hook goes home in a fighting fish,

And he dives beneath the keel

In a sizzling, rushing swish.

You can have your song sublime,

Your sparkling wine, your epicure’s tempting dish.

I thrill to the song of the reel.

I sure do miss him!

*Sac au lait – French for “sack of milk,” also known as “white crappie” outside of south Louisiana.


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How Kenner Got a New Doctor

PO.Abdos, MB Office

I am going to tell you an old Kenner story few, if any, have ever heard. My dad was Dr. Martial B. Casteix, Jr. Most folks called him “Doc” or “MB.” He had his office on Williams at Sixth Street (now Toledano), but that was not his first office.

In the modern day image above, the door on the left was the US Post Office back then. The second door was to Abdo’s Drug Store, and the little attached building on the right was MB’s original office (later Shirley’s Jewelry Store) before he opened the office on Williams at Sixth.

MB was a major in the Medical Corps in WWII and served in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy with the Fifth Army. His sister, Margie, was married to Robert L Manard, Jr. (also called “Son” or “Boo”), and they had a daughter, Melanie, in 1943. After the war Boo was an insurance agent, and Margie taught at Kenner High. I had her for math in the 9th grade.

Margie’s and MB’s dad died while he was in Italy during the war. He came home on leave to help settle the affairs of his late father. This was near the very end of the war in Europe, and every time he reported to a port of embarkation to return overseas, something happened, and he was sent home to wait for new orders. He was not paid during this period, and he insisted until his dying day the government owed him money—with interest. But he never challenged that for fear they might decide he was AWOL to avoid payment. The war ended and he was honorably discharged (I have his discharge papers to prove it).

While in this state of limbo and after his discharge, he lived with his sister and her daughter Melanie, and later her husband when he eventually returned from the war. Margie and Son lived in a shotgun single on Williams in Kenner right across from where MB eventually located his office. With the war over, MB intended to go back to med school and specialize in pediatrics.

Circumstances were about to squash that dream.

Dr. Kopfler was the only other doctor in Kenner then, and he was retired. When the citizens of Kenner heard there was a new doctor living with Margie and Son, the sick and wounded started showing up at their house. They came at all hours of the day or night suffering from every malady imaginable, including broken bones and knife wounds from bar fights. They bled and barfed on Son’s sofa and rugs.

Boo had enough!

He took his brother-in-law aside and told him, “MB, I can live with the people showing up all hours of the day or night and throwing up or bleeding on my furniture and rugs, but I just can’t deal with the ones having convulsions on my living room floor. GET AN OFFICE!”

And so he did. And that is how Kenner got a new doctor in 1945.


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