Tag Archives: Melanie Manard

Letters From the Front – Italy 1944 – Part 2

I posted a letter from my dad, Dr. M.B. Casteix, to his father, Martial, written in October of 1944 and seen here. He wrote a second letter to his sister, Margie, a week before that one, which is the subject of this post. These are the only two letters I have from him during that period. I do have his diary written while overseas and will post some things from it later.

Sharing the same birthday, Margie was exactly two years younger than MB. Margie was married to Robert L Manard, Jr. who was serving overseas as a pilot, and they had one child at that time, Melanie, called “Mel” in this letter. She was born on 21 Oct 1943, a year before this letter was written. She would have been only a year old, which makes MB’s comment about Mel thinking he was a “stingy old uncle” a bit confusing. MB is obviously replying to something Margie said in an earlier letter that is lost to us. Both MB and Margie had a well-developed sense of humor so this must have been an inside joke between them.

As for the content, I have no idea what MB was talking about in the second paragraph. The letter goes on to describe what we called “R&R” (Rest & Recreation) in a later war. The setting is Rome, Italy, and MB gives us a glimpse on what R&R was like, at least for officers, in 1944. He closes the letter with a request for some foods unobtainable over there.

Enjoy a little trip back in time.

As usual, click on the image for a larger view.

 

 

 

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Fire and Fireworks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOM!!!

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

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

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

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

You know what’s coming.

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

Ready, set, GO!

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

We won.

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

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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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Jim 1 / Boo ZERO

This story takes place not in Kenner but over on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Waveland. Waveland was such a huge part of my growing up, that I can’t tell stories about life in Kenner without mentioning it.

We had a summer home there. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a three-bedroom house with one bath, a kitchen and sort-of den, and a screened porch. My dad, MB, and his friend, Pete Constancy, built it themselves on weekends and summer vacations, mostly from materials they scrounged from a house Pete was tearing down. It wasn’t on the beach, either. It was back behind the RR tracks that run through Waveland, about 4 or 5 blocks off the beach. As you can see, I am not talking fancy summer beach home here. Such was not my father’s style. It sat on about an acre of land purchased from my uncle and aunt, Son and Margie Manard who lived in Kenner on Williams at Sixth.

Son Manard’s name was Robert L. Manard Jr. Most adults called him Son or Sonnyboy. We kids knew him as Boo, which is a term of endearment down south, especially in South Louisiana.

Boo and Margie owned ten acres as I recall. They called it “Manard’s Manor” and even had a “fancy” sign hanging over the entrance gate announcing its name. Their house wasn’t any fancier than the one my dad would eventually build, a low slung three-bedroom with a screened porch. Before our house was built, we would visit Boo and Margie at theirs for weekends and even use it for a week at a time during the summer. Often there would be a crowd of people there, mostly family, and lots of kids.

That ten acres was heaven for us kids. About a two-thirds of it was wooded and the rest mostly open with scattered pine trees. We played baseball and football in one of the fields and explored the woods, discovering all manner of animals and other interesting stuff not found back in Kenner. Those were absolutely wonderful days! Waveland was a really cool place for kids and adults.

The story I am about to tell took place one summer at Manard’s Manor around 1952. I was about 8 years old at the time. I was witness to the first part and only found out the conclusion many years later when my dad told me.

My aunt and uncle and my two cousins, Melanie and Bobby, were there. My family was also there as guests as well as a few others from the Lagasse clan for a weekend of swimming, fishing, crabbing, and fun. The kids had ten acres to play on, and the adults had lots of adult beverages cooling in a tub for when we weren’t at the beach or fishing or crabbing.

Jim and BooTwo horses resided at Manard’s Manor: Jim and Nancy. Jim was a big gray horse and very gentle. Their days were largely spent grazing on the grasses and drinking cold water from the continuously flowing artesian well on the property, a pretty easy life for a horse.

On this occasion, Boo decided he wanted to ride Jim, and when Boo got something in his head, it was hard to get it out. Normally, Jim would come right up to you, and you could pet him or feed him treats. But instead of a slice of bread or sugar lump, Boo approached him with a bridle. Jim took one look at Boo with that bridle in his hand and knew exactly what was coming, and he wanted no part of that program. Jim promptly turned and decamped with Boo in hot pursuit calling to him, first in gentle dulcet tones eventually becoming a lot louder and laced with profanity.

Jim got the message, but Boo got the lasso.

Evidently, Jim also knew what a lasso was for, because he then put even more distance between himself and that crazy man with the rope.

Boo moved closer. Jim moved back. Boo threw the lasso. Jim ducked. The rope missed. Boo got madder.

If horses can laugh, Jim was definitely laughing.

After collecting the rope, Boo went after Jim swinging that lasso over his head like some deranged cowboy.

Jim ran. Boo ran. Jim was faster.

I don’t recall how long this game of “catch Jim” lasted, but it went on for quite a while. (Did I mention that Boo didn’t give up easily?)

I do recall sitting outside the house with my cousins, taking a break from play and enjoying cold Dr. Peppers, Nehi sodas, and such, when Jim came trotting from around behind the house, trotted passed us kids, and went trotting around the other side of the house. Boo soon followed swinging that lasso over his head, but he was obviously much blown from the effort.

Eventually, Boo caught Jim. I never knew how, but I am guessing he managed to corner him and get the lasso on him.

Then came the saddle.

Boo’s saddle was a genuine, war surplus, U.S. Cavalry, McClellan saddle. It was old! George McClellan designed it around the time of the Civil War, and they had been in continuous use by the Cavalry until they traded in their horses for armored vehicles about World War II. At the time, it could have been anywhere from nearly 100 years old to maybe only 20 or so. In my opinion, McClellan saddles are not the most comfortable looking devices.

Boo got the saddle on Jim and rode that horse all the way to Clermont Harbor, which was about six miles round trip. He arrived back at Manard’s Manor, feeling much the winner in this little contest of wills, and joined the rest of the party for dinner. Jim went back to slurping cold water from the artesian well—and probably laughing.

My dad told me the next part of the story years later.

Sometime after dinner when all the adults were sitting around talking and enjoying adult beverages, Boo started squirming in his chair. He leaned over to my dad and suggested they take a walk. Many reading this will know that MB was a doctor. Boo escorted MB into one of the back bedrooms where he confessed, “MB, my butt hurts! Bad!”

Now, MB couldn’t make a proper diagnosis without an exam and calmly replied, “Drop your pants.” Boo obeyed.

This is how he described what he found, “Lane, Boo’s butt was so inflamed that it looked like it was from one of those red-assed baboons in the Audubon Zoo!”

Boo couldn’t sit down and had to sleep on his belly for a few days. Jim had gotten the last laugh. I don’t recall Boo ever riding Jim again.

Jim 1 / Boo ZERO.

The image is of Jim and Nancy with Boo and my two cousins Melanie and Bobby in Waveland. Thanks to Bobby for digging this old image up – Lane

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