Lake Charles was a strange place and culture. I didn’t know it. I didn’t care. I was happy cuz my folks were happy people. Lake Charles was on the water. There were so many different types of people there you couldn’t even know who was who; French, white folks, Indians, Cajuns, Negroes (descendants of slaves), Black folks from Haiti, Creole stuff, voodoo, and Redbones. Louisiana has always been known as an interesting place at best. People there just seemed to be … well … different.
Redbones were a mixture of about everything you could think of. They had French blood, pirate blood, Indian blood, Negro blood, slave blood and people from Haiti with their strange voodoo religion …; whatever it was, it was supposed to be bad. Nobody, I mean, nobody went into Redbone town. Not even the Negroes wanted to go into Redbone town. People thought they were the meanest of the mean.
There were no garbage trucks back then. A Negro man had a wagon pulled by two horses and he came around and dumped our garbage into the back. Mama said I could run along ‘side the wagon for two blocks, but I had to come home. I liked the Negro garbage man because I liked horses. No African-American people lived in “Luzeeanna” at that time … and no black people, either. Those names came along later. My daddy preached. People loved him. Mama played the piano, cleaned the house and cooked pinto beans. She also planted hydrangeas around the new parsonage Daddy bought for the church across from the old parsonage. For some reason this helped people like each other. Daddy seemed to be going to churches that needed help. At the beginning, the Lake Charles church was split – that’s what they called it. I guess it meant that the people were all mad at each other.
You know what? Not one time do I remember seeing my sister, NanthaLee, in Lake Charles. I wonder why? No one ever told me.
The only time I had seen my daddy cry outside church was when we went out to visit the church folks who operated a bridge somewhere over the water. Daddy looked over there and saw the ship that brought him back from World War I. He pulled the car over to the side and told Mama that the ship was the one he came back from France on. I cried ‘cause Daddy was crying. I caught some crabs that day – not THE crabs. The bridge man gave me a string with bacon on it and the crabs grabbed hold, I pulled ‘em up and put them in a bucket while the grownups visited.
The church district big shot came from time to time, preached and talked to Daddy. The DBS always wanted avocados. The DBS was really funny, but he always preached about women. Women were not supposed to wear jewelry or lipstick. And boyhowdy, if they cut their hair – mercy me! It was called “bobbed” hair. So all the women wore their long hair in a bun on the back of their head. If they had gray hair they sure didn’t make it turn blue. The DBS said things like, “The devil will put his feet in your dangling ear rings, tangle his fingers in your bobbed hair and ride your painted face to hell.” He loved Isaiah 3. I suppose he didn’t like girdles either.
“Moreover the Lord saith,
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty,
and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes,
walking and mincing as they go,
and making a tinkling with their feet:
Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab
the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion,
and the Lord will discover their secret parts.
In that day the Lord will take away
the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet,
and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon,
The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers,
The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs,
and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings,
The rings, and nose jewels,
The changeable suits of apparel,
and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins,
The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the veils.
And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink;
and instead of a girdle a rent;
and instead of well-set hair baldness;
and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth;
and burning instead of beauty. …
and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.”
He also liked First Timothy 2:9. As far as the DBS knew, it went something like women were in bad shape if they didn’t adorn (that meant dress-up right without lipstick) themselves modestly. And if they wore braided hair with gold and pearls and costly array they would sure-as-hell go to hell. The women were also to have shamed faces and look real mad, like old Sister Horn. Yep, he really, really liked to make women feel bad. Men were OK.
On our way out to see some church people who made bread and sold it out of their home (it smelled so good), Daddy stopped along the way and talked to some people who had a bunch of horses – Shetlands. They were all running wild and hadn’t been taken care of. Daddy picked one out. A “pinto.” His mane was so long it pulled his neck to the side. The next day Daddy went out and brought him home to the parsonage. Daddy washed him, cut his hair and named him Tony. The first horse of my very own, although I was kicked in the stomach when I was 6 months old by a horse in Cisco – that’s what they all told me and that’s why I had to wear a truss to hold my guts in til I was in the eighth grade. I was 5 years old by the time I got Tony so I was big enough to ride on my own. Daddy went down and bought me a red one-horse wagon perfect for Tony to pull. I went all through the neighborhood riding in the wagon while Tony pulled. I made sure I didn’t go into Redbone town or where the Negroes were even though they were always wonderful people to me. Back in those days mixing with different people wasn’t permitted, except Daddy had some Negro singers come to church. We loved them, but the DBS wasn’t very happy with that. DBS’s of long ago were like union bosses – you towed the line or you were out!
In fact, not too many sinners came to church either. I’m not sure, but I think they had to become Christians first then they could fit in with everybody else. No lipstick, for sure! Anyway, everyone came together before we left and everybody lived happily ever after.
Reverend Lum Jones sat at our kitchen table after church one night. He was a travelling evangelist. He had black, greasy hair and preached “hard” (scared me to death) and my Mom made a pot of pinto beans, cornbread and fresh onions to be eaten after church (mercy!). She had sweet milk too so we could crumble cornbread up and pour milk over it. Brother Jones ate about four bowls of beans, crunched on fresh onions and drank sweet milk. Oh my goodness! As a little kid, I heard him groaning late, late at night. My Mom and Dad ran into his room as he was groaning and said, “Brother Jones is there anything we can do to help you?” With his deep evangelist’s voice he said in spiritual tone, “Do you have any more of those beans?” It didn’t end well.
Another thing happened at night. Air conditioning didn’t exist so windows were left open because they had screens over them to keep the mosquitos out. Lots of mosquitos in Louisiana. I was sleeping in a room by myself when a man came through the window to my room. Daddy was a light sleeper and he ran in there and kicked the mean-man out.
I think this was about 1943 – before I turned six. The war was still raging. We couldn’t go very many places because we didn’t have enough stamps. See, the government issued stamps for gasoline, tires, sugar and other things. Even if you had the money, it made no difference. You had to have rationing stamps. The war was on – it took all we had to support the effort.
Fortunately, Daddy was able to finagle some stamps so we drove straight up north through Arkansas to see Arch. By that time he had moved to Cassville, Missouri. He was still selling life insurance. There were a lot of rainbow trout there and Daddy and Arch went fishing.
Arch had a friend who butchered cows in a big garage. One night we went there while he was cutting meat. A big 55 gallon drum was sitting over there with pure cow grease in it. The curious little guy that I was, I pulled myself up to look in. Oops! I fell in head first. Good thing they happened to turn around ‘cause only my feet were stickin’ out. They rushed over and pulled me out feet first. I’ve been greased up ever since. Actually, it was a near death experience!
A preacher named Brother Freeman Pearson asked Daddy to come preach somewhere in the “Luzianna” bayou. Brother Pearson was an insurance salesman, too. He was a pastor and his wife wore po’folks clothes made out of flower sacks. He told Daddy he would give him a pig if he would do it. This was how he was paid for preaching a “revival.” I’m not sure if anyone got revived but all his kids – 6 or 8 of them – and I had fun playing under their house. Their house was stickin’ high up on stilts. In the bayou that’s just the way it was. Everything was wet and we had mud all over us. They were poor people and had some pigs living under their house. They ate the pigs from time to time. They also had new twin goats. Little goats were called kids I think. All of us laughed at them because something was wrong with them – they were both boys and girls at the same time. Back then they called them “marfadites.” Now that I’m “edjicatid,” I found out that the proper name is hermaphrodite.
Time to move again. We had been in Louisiana about 10 months. I only had one little boy I played with maybe one or two times. His folks weren’t church folks so we had to be careful. Daddy got a one wheel trailer and put Tony in it, and had a cage on the front of the trailer for the pig Daddy got from Brother Pearson. All day long, Daddy drove us to South Texas in our ’40 model Dodge and on to Harlingen arriving late, late at night and just as we pulled up in front of the parsonage the wheel on the one-wheel trailer broke off with Tony and the pig in it. These were days of shifting sand.