Tag Archives: New Orleans

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!”

1 Comment

Filed under Family History, Growing Up, Kenner

The Last Day of Forever – Excerpt 4

Here is another short excerpt from The Last Day of Forever. Enjoy.

My mother is a woman of quick and decisive action. She inquired at the desk and was told there was a very nice haberdashery just a few blocks away on Royal Street. Upon entering the store, she approached the clerk. “Sir, my son is in need of some suits.”

For a moment the clerk, a well-dressed, smallish man with a thick moustache and pomaded hair, looked at me in a curious manner. I assumed he found my appearance in a poorly fitting and out of style suit distasteful in some way. In heavy, French-accented English, he replied, “Of course, Madame. I am sure we can have him fitted with a custom tailored suit in two or three days. Would you come with me, and I will show you some cloth to choose from. We have the finest selection of French broadcloth in New Orleans.”

“Two or three days? That won’t do. I must have something this very afternoon,” replied Analee assertively.

The tailor looked surprised. “But, Madame…”

She cut him off. “But, Monsieur, I must have at least one suit today.”

The tailor’s nose went up, and he looked down it at my mother. She parried with her left eyebrow. For a long moment they stared at each other in this New Orleans duel of wits. My mother obviously won the fight, as he turned to me and, with a discerning eye, looked me up and down and quickly took my measure.

He turned back to my mother, her eyebrow still raised lest he forget his place. “Madame, may I suggest a solution? I have two suits in the back. They were a special order by a young gentleman here in New Orleans, but before he could take possession he was killed in a duel. The late gentleman was about your son’s size. I am sure I could fit those suits to him this very afternoon.”

I looked at my mother thinking a dead man’s suit?

Leave a comment

Filed under Catahoula Books, Civil War, Excerpts, Last Day of Forever

The Last Day of Forever – Excerpt 3

Here is another brief excerpt from The Last Day of Forever, where Ethan is describing some of his family history.

My mother was the daughter of a Creole planter from New Orleans. My grandfather was a widower, having lost his two older children and later his wife to yellow fever. He took to strong drink and soon fell upon hard times. As a result of flooding two years in a row, he suffered disastrous crop failures and tried gambling to make up the losses. He proved to be as poor a gambler as he was a planter and quickly got so deep in debt he lost his land.

My mother was well educated, having been left in the care of the Ursuline nuns for her education. Not only was she intelligent, but she was also one of the most beautiful young ladies in New Orleans. She had long black hair and dark eyes to melt the heart of the hardest man. However, beauty and intelligence counted for little among the pseudo-aristocracy of New Orleans if you were without property, deep in debt, and your honor despoiled. In spite of this, she was in love with the son of a wealthy planter. The two young lovers spoke secretly of marriage, though she was barely sixteen, and he was seventeen at the time. The boy’s father would not have entertained for even a moment the suggestion that his son was contemplating marriage to the daughter of a pauper.

When Morgan Davis arrived in New Orleans, my grandfather and his daughter danced one step ahead of his creditors. Within hours of stepping off the boat, Morgan met my grandfather, who in spite of his poverty still dressed as if he were a man of means. The two struck up a casual conversation in one of the local coffee houses, and over brandy laced with bitters served in what the Creoles called a coquetier, Morgan spoke frankly of his plight. In about as much time as it takes to tell it, my mother was quite literally sold to Morgan like one of the Negroes. My grandfather’s debts were settled, and he was left with a small sum of money to start over. In exchange, my sixteen-year-old mother, sight unseen, was to become Morgan’s new bride.

It will surprise the reader to discover that Analee went along with this arrangement with only a brief protest. Now, you might ask yourself why my mother would consent to such if she were in love with another man? The answer is really quite simple: she had no other choice. She loved her father, and she knew the marriage to her young beau was impossible under the circumstances. Morgan offered financial relief for her father and a restoration of his honor only she could deliver by agreeing to the arrangement. Though older, Morgan was a handsome and wealthy gentleman, and could be quite charming when it suited him, and it suited him at this time. Thus, Analee did not find him totally unattractive.

“Honor” is a word you will see used often in this story. It is variously described as an unsullied reputation free from even the suggestion of impropriety, with perseverance in the face of adversity, unbowed by suffering, and a high disdain for those who hold to a lower standard. Honor is not viewed lightly in the Creole culture of Louisiana. It is like a magic badge bestowed by the gods. Its mere possession endows its holder with special powers and prestige, and with this often comes the right connections and at least the appearance of wealth. Personal and business relationships hinge on honor. With it you are someone; without it you are no one. Thus, the possession of honor is valuable currency. However, hypocrisy is often its stable mate, and honor can become the handmaiden of many less than honorable deeds.

Leave a comment

Filed under Catahoula Books, Excerpts, Last Day of Forever

The Last Day of Forever – Excerpt 1

What follows is a brief excerpt from chapter 1 of The Last Day of Forever, which I hope to have published in early February. Enjoy.

*****

Cover B1CRed BlogI awoke with a start, drenched with sweat, and breathing hard as I tried to orient myself. The room was in semidarkness with only a weak light coming through the small round window above my head. All was quiet except for the throbbing, mechanical sounds of a steam engine. A riverboat? “I’m on a riverboat,” I said softly to myself with a sense of relief. “I’m on a riverboat on my way to New Orleans.”

My breathing slowed as I swung my feet out of my bunk and onto the floor. That dream, I had not had it since I was a young boy. Why now? I thought. Why now?

I dressed myself and joined my mother, Analee, for a breakfast of eggs, bacon, grits and biscuits prepared by Mabel Honeycutt, the captain’s wife.

“You sleep well?” my mother asked as I took my seat at the table.

“Tolerable,” was my noncommittal reply. I did not bother to tell her about the nightmare, as she would only have reminded me it was just a dream like she did when I was a child. “Sarah up yet?”

She smiled. “You didn’t expect her to be, did you?”

I shrugged. “Brandy and Zeke get fed?”

“A little while ago,” she replied before taking a sip of her café au lait.

I pushed my plate aside, its contents half eaten.

“Something wrong, Ethan?”

“Nothing. I’m fine. I’m going topside,” I announced before pouring a tin cup of black coffee and heading up to the hurricane deck, my refuge on these trips on the Shreveport Belle.

“Morning, Ethan,” said Captain Honeycutt when I entered the wheelhouse.

“Morning, sir. When do you think we’ll reach New Orleans?”

“Early afternoon.” He gestured at the river with his ever-present corncob pipe. “The Grand Ole Lady is high and fast with a strong spring runoff. We’re moving right along.”

Captain Jonathan Honeycutt knew the river as well as any man alive, both the Red and the Mississippi. He was mostly soft spoken with a quiet manner about him, but perfectly capable of making a deckhand think the wrath of the Lord was upon him if he did wrong. He was also a student of the Bible and frequently quoted verses from memory. Being something of a student of the Scriptures myself, we often discussed the Bible when I had occasion to travel on the Shreveport Belle. But not this morning as I wanted to be alone to clear my head. I excused myself and took my cup of coffee and found my usual seat on the bench directly in front of the wheelhouse.

On my little bench high above the activities on the decks below, I had a commanding view of the Mississippi as we churned south to New Orleans. And it was peaceful there, with only the reassuring throb of the steam engines and an occasional whistle greeting between passing riverboats. I stretched out, crossed my legs and leaned against the back of the bench while I sipped my coffee and slipped into my thoughts.

That dream was still troubling me. Even though it had been a many years since I last experienced it, I knew in my heart it meant something. If nothing else, it had influenced how I felt about the “peculiar institution” of slavery.

There were other troubling “peculiarities,” so to speak, such as Brandy, my mother’s personal servant. Her mother was Martha, our mammy back at Catahoula Plantation. Mammy was very light skinned, some said at least a mulatto and maybe even a quadroon, having the white blood of some previous owner flowing through her veins. Brandy was as white as I was, even lighter, considering I was usually sun burnt from the performance of my chores caring for the animals at Catahoula and providing fresh game and fish to add variety to our meals. She was not only fair, but also very comely with dark hair and hazel eyes, and the smoothest skin I have seen on any woman. We were like brother and sister, as she was born the same day I was.

She more lived the life of the pampered daughter of the plantation owner, and it was whispered among the slaves that Brandy’s father was Morgan Davis, my mother’s husband. That would indeed make her my half-sister. When I asked my older half-brother, Peyton, about that, he only warned me not to listen to the tales the darkies tell. But I could not escape the feeling that Brandy was a slave trapped in a white woman’s skin, a foot in each world and a member of neither.

I shook my head as if to rid it of those thoughts­­—and that dream. But I could not shake the feeling that my life was about to change, and I admit I was a bit anxious about that. Some of that change was expected, as I would soon turn eighteen and be off to school at the Virginia Military Institute. This would be my last summer of adolescence. But another change loomed, one I was unsure of, because Morgan expected me to play an important role in it, one I was not all together comfortable with.

It began almost two months before when Morgan received a letter from someone he had not seen in over 14 years. As I entered his office that day, I noticed the concerned expression on his face as he read his mail at his desk. “Something wrong?”

He leaned forward in his chair and continued reading as if he had not heard me. His expression grew ever more grave.

“Father, is something wrong?”

He put the letter down on his desk and looked up but said nothing. Instead, he stared blankly and unfocused as if bewildered and struggling to comprehend what was troubling him. He shook his head as if to relieve his confusion then looked at me. “I just received some bad news.”

“What happened?”

He paused as he continued to struggle with his thoughts. “Do you remember me speaking of my friend from Virginia, John Whitcomb?”

“He died a long time ago as I recall.”

“Indeed, fourteen years ago. He left a widow and an infant daughter by the name of Rachel. Right after it happened, Jenny, his widow, wrote and told me about his death and the child. This was after I lost my bid for re-election to the House.” He paused and took a deep breath. “Well, I just got this letter from Jenny—and she’s dying.”

I knew there had to be more to it than that, and there was.

“She wants me to come to Virginia right away, before she passes, and take her daughter as my ward to raise as my own.”

*****

3 Comments

Filed under Catahoula Books, Civil War, Excerpts, Last Day of Forever