Being as that I am working my way through the Dave Robicheaux books by James Lee Burke and the fact that I recently visited my son who lives in Louisiana, I thought perhaps it’s time I try to write about the wonderful five years we lived in that state. MORE
I’ve written three stories about specific events while living in Louisiana but my life story would not be complete if I didn’t try to capture all the memories that, for me, underscore the feeling I have for our five years there. Our Louisiana was in Alexandria, midway between the northern and southern points of the state. Maybe some of you have read The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. If so, then you’ve been introduced to Alexandria.
Our Louisiana all began with a short trip from Ohio to visit Louisiana, with the purpose of deciding if we could live there and accept a job transfer. We had lived in Hamiltucky all of our lives; any new place could be ominous or auspicious. And so despite the 105 degrees and 85% humidity out on the oldest par 3 golf course in America, (and sadly, now closed), we ended up making the trek down south.
I was first to move, living alone for a few weeks while my wife finished up her RN schooling at Bethesda in Cincinnati. She phoned me one day and excitedly told me that she had “won the lottery”.
Me – yeah, yeah…what do you really need?
She – no seriously, I won the lottery.
Me – uh, huh…are you going to tell me what you want or not?
She – well, I won 5 numbers! Me and Mom were at the Mall and I decided to buy a ticket.
Yup, she had won $1200. These were the early days of lotteries so there weren’t as many numbers to pick as there are today and that explains the lower bounty. Still, it allowed her to leave her employer for the last couple of weeks, more time to prepare for a move. Other than the $500 we won last year on a ‘scratcher’, I figure we had our shot.
But maybe this was a good sign?
We had two little boys at the time; Mitch was 8 and Corey 3. Corey was the first to introduce himself to the new community. At the local Dairy Queen, he approached a little African-American boy and simply said, “hi, I’m Corey, we be white.” You have to hand it to three year olds – no worrying about protocols or politically correct language at that age.
Another thing 3 year olds are good at is being spongy, they soak up and squeeze out whatever they hear – like the word ‘pank’, for pink. If the wind was blowing just right, we’d get to smell the lemony freshness of the nearby paper mill (International Paper). And so, just a few days after the famous Dairy Queen incident, when walking outside the house with his mother, he proclaimed – “damn national paper”. Hmm, I wonder where he heard that, (Kim)?
We had moved there in November and so we were all set to experience our first Christmas without extended family. Louisiana, the Sportsman’s Paradise; that is their PR slogan. We always love fitting into new areas, experiencing what all the locals do. With that, we bought the kids new fishing poles for Christmas. Well, that is to say, Santa brought them new poles. One of those poles was a Snoopy pole. One thing I’ll say about the Snoopy pole – it was great for casting….and bringing down our Christmas tree that first year. Feel free to read about that right here (link).
While my boys were having fun pulling down trees and building ‘no girls allowed’ clubhouses in our backyard, my wife was having fun practicing her landscaping skills; mowing, trimming, pruning and planting. Our next door neighbor, (the older retired guy with the huge corner lot garden), loved watching my wife work outdoors. Truth be told, he likely wanted me to rent her out for his garden. He even complimented her. Well, it was what you might call a ‘backhand compliment’. He and I were exchanging pleasantries when he told me that “You sure do have a nice horse there. Your wife is a heck of a worker”. (Today she’s a heck of a golfer!)
There really is such a thing as Southern charm and it didn’t take us all very long to blend in and become a local. We all picked up the southern accent quickly, our little Corey the fastest, his being only three. To this day I still catch myself occasionally using the phrase ‘fixin to’; as in, I’m fixin to keep writin this here story.
The one thing about Louisiana that will always be with me is the food! No, I’m not talking about the squirrel head gumbo, (though the true Cajuns absolutely love this). And frog legs, I like them but I can take them or leave them. Oh but yummy, yummy, yummy when I think about meat pies, dirty rice, boiled crawfish, étouffée, red beans and rice, jambalaya and fried catfish filets.
We attended our very first crawfish boil party within a few weeks of moving there. Unaccustomed to the spice, let’s just say that our lips, (Kim and mine), were burning after only a few bites. And we lived only a few city blocks from a place called Coleman’s Catfish Cabin. On many occasion we’d all walk down for a big mess of crawfish or fried catfish and hush puppies.
Recently I visited my oldest son who now lives in Louisiana. I think I put on a few pounds from only a quick visit. Even more recently my wife and I were fortunate to join #2 son’s annual crawfish boil here in AZ. Ok, I’m getting hungry. I’m going to have to cook up one of these dishes soon.
How about I share with you something I don’t miss – the humidity! But there’s air conditioning, you say. Ha! Not if you happen to own a 1982 Toyota Tercel, basic model. My air conditioning consisted of a bean back on my seat, windows down and foot on the pedal.
Oh and I don’t miss those damn fire ants. If you’ve ever lived in the South, you know what I mean. They demand your respect. Their mounds are unmistakable and when you see them, you stay clear. One little disturbance of their area and the alarms sound. Within seconds, the colony becomes as one. Trust me, you don’t want to get on their bad side. No one will attest to this, but I could swear they send a coordinated attack signal because when one starts biting, they all start biting and stinging. They bite for grip and then they sting, using an alkaloid venom called solenopsin.
The sting can feel a bit like, you guessed it, fire. Our 4 year old, Corey, found this out firsthand one day. We looked over at him, screaming as the ants were beginning to crawl up his little legs. My wife quickly grabbed him and jumped into the swimming pool with him. Everyone who’s lived in the Deep South has had the pleasure of entertaining those pesky little varmints.
But the pool wasn’t made just for fire ant emergency first aid. If you ever have the opportunity to live in the Deep South, I highly recommend owning a pool. Especially in the summer, one or all of us made our way into the pool. The house we lived in was nothing of major spectacle but the backyard was fabulous. The pool was huge. If I’m remembering correctly, it was 75 feet long and maybe forty feet wide. It was ten feet deep with diving board and a large slide. The shallow end had two sets of steps at either end. When a work or birthday party was on the menu, our house was the place it was held. If it was a work gathering, 10 times out of 10 everyone ended up in the water.
At least it was our pool and not Lake Kincaid where we’d sometimes go,water skiing with friends – there you better watch out for gators at some of the edges.
What about the school’s you ask? In Alexandria, they had what was called 6th grade centers. Kids went to elementary school kindergarten to fifth grade. Several different schools then were melded together at the sixth grade level. After a year it became time for our number one son to attend sixth so I drove over to look at the location. After seeing the barbed wire, I decided – no way, Country Day school, here you come.
Country Day was a nice school there. Number One played basketball and tennis, had a cheerleader girlfriend and found a best friend his three years there. I always loved basketball myself and would often join the Saturday pickup games at The Courtyard. We loved it so much that we poured our own concrete basketball pad in the backyard, just behind the carport.
My Louisiana memories also include day trips to New Orleans, the Alexandria Zoo, (which was a very nice small zoo), and places like Hodges Gardens. A funny story about Hodges Gardens; like a lot of places in Louisiana, Hodges Garden was in the middle of nowhere. We had my parents in town visiting and had driven there in the morning and spent most of the day there. By the time it was time to leave we had all gained an appetite. Oh…and what???? It looks like this is closed down now too? What the hecks going on Louisiana??!
The only thing even remotely close by was a beaten down looking diner off of a dirt road we had passed on the way in. With trepidation we drove up to the front. Leaving everyone in the car, I got out to go inside to view the menu. The menu was written up on a huge chalkboard. When I came back to the car, my wife was asking me where the heck was the menu. I said, “it’s on the wall”.
What? It was a tad shady looking and she didn’t want to go inside but it was broad daylight after all, and there wasn’t another place to eat for miles. So we all decided to be brave. I ordered fried catfish and the boys ordered cheeseburgers. I don’t recall what everyone else ordered, but what I do remember is that the boys raved and raved about how their cheeseburgers were the best they ever had! We all raved and made friends with the owners. Too bad Google or Yelp wasn’t yet around as we would have made that place famous. More proof we shouldn’t be so quick to judge books by their covers.
Another fantastic tourist location is an old plantation home named Rosedown. Nestled up above the boot, northwest of Baton Rouge but east of the mighty Mississippi is a beautifully well preserved plantation home that boasts more than eighty percent original furniture inside. Since it was only 20 minutes away from our son’s new home, we made the short trek there for a day visit. He took his nice camera along for the tour and we had a great visit. It still looks great and if you are ever in the area, please put this one on your list. You won’t be disappointed.
Ah….Louisiana…..whether I’m being nostalgic about the pool parties or dressing up as Beetlejuice for Halloween, ‘2 more laps’ (link), the fantastic food or the wonderful experiences we made there with friends and family, the 5 years spent in Louisiana remain one of the best 5 of our marriage. After all, we left with a brand new beautiful boy, (oh and almost forgot – I also got my MBA at Tulane while living there).
Today I am left with the exquisite prose and stories written by James Lee Burke about detective Dave Robicheaux and his buddy Clete Purcel. I’m making my way through the series, nearing the end, with anxiety and hopefulness that all ends well. They put me back to a simpler time of gumbo, fried catfish and late nights walks with my wife in the thick humidity. I do recommend these….they will capture your attention and pull at your heartstrings.