my junior high school years, my father worked with a construction company installing
oil and gas transmission pipelines throughout Louisiana and southern Mississippi.
Because of work schedules, he was only able to be home a couple of times during
the year. When time and money allowed, my mother and I would board a Continental
Trailways Bus for a long weekend visit.
the pipeline extended across the landscape, crews would relocate often from town
to town along the route. In the early 1950’s, “Rooming Houses” were common establishments
for men to find places to stay; and, the local cafes were places to eat.
Some of the towns that I recall visiting in Louisiana were Abbeville, Baton Rouge,
Eunice; Lafayette, Shreveport/Bossier City, and Jonesboro. In the mornings, it
was a usual common courtesy for ladies operating the rooming houses to bring my
mother and me a demitasse of coffee at breakfast to “help us get our day started”.
While dad was at work, mom and I would sight-see and frequent the small shops.
One eye-opening event for me as a young lad was dining one evening at the City
Café in Eunice where three men sitting at a table adjacent to ours ordered a platter
of crayfish. There were at least a dozen of the huge critters stacked on top of
each other. The men would crack the shell, eat the meat from the tail, and then
suck the heads! This last part is what I had never seen done before! A swig of
beer from a mug would “wash it down”.
During his first few days of being
a transient worker in this land of the Creoles, Frank was “introduced” to a variety
of cultural changes. One morning as he was ordering his breakfast with coffee,
the waitress behind the counter asked: “light” or “dark”. Dad never drank coffee
with milk or cream and concluded “light” must be “with cream”; so, his obvious
choice was “dark.” Not until taking a sip did he realize that the terms related
to the roast of the coffee, not its coloration. He joked that a spoon could stand
erect in the cup of “black” coffee.
It seemed that with every menu entrée,
the side dishes were beans and rice with a rue gravy. “Beans and rice, beans and
rice; sometimes, rice and beans!” After returning home from that vocational experience,
it was quite a while before he would again eat “beans and rice”.
at first, required some translation: “pass over the bridge” meant to “cross over”;
“come see” was to “come here”. Being an avid fisherman, dad was intrigued by the
pirogue boats used to navigate the bayous.
Dad was a dozer operator on
the right-of-way crew, clearing trees and brush, removing rock obstacles, and
leveling the ground for the excavators. On occasion, when permission was being
sought to cross a land owner’s property, the farmer/rancher would make a comment
that “you know, it sure would be nice if I had a pond”. The foreman would take
the hint and dad would proceed to dig a pond or stock tank for “community relations”.
There were times, too, when dad worked a night shift as guard to protect equipment
from vandalism or theft. One night, he heard a sound that he couldn’t readily
recognize. He quietly slid out of the cab of his pickup truck and made his way
toward the disturbance. As he rounded one of the pieces of equipment, he was face-to-face
with a wild boar. The boar made a lunge toward dad and his refuge was to jump
on the piece of equipment. The boar kept dad at bay the entire night, until other
workers began to show up for their shift of work and the boar fled.
making one bayou crossing, dad worked on the dredging barge. Being his nature,
he took the opportunity to throw out a fishing line. He took his cleaned catch
to the cook at the local café, where everyone knew each other by face and name,
and the fish was cooked for dad’s evening meal.
one summer week in Shreveport, there was a chap my same age and we became pals,
going to the park. throwing peanuts to feed the squirrels; and, going by the bread
company to smell the fresh aromas. Ray Young and I wrote letters for a while;
but, then lost contact as his dad migrated to other jobs.
State Capital in Baton Rouge, crossing the mile-wide Mississippi River by ferry,
and other sights are etched in memory. I often said that, had I lived in their
era, I would have loved to be a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Team,
exploring the unknown venues along the waterways to the Pacific Ocean. Travel
is my passion; probably a reason our children refer to me as “having wheels for
feet”; being mobile in work assignments and adventurous in travels.
Shoe Horses, Don't They?
July 21, 2013 Guest column
People | Columns