Ron's Story
Crowley, the Early Years


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Growing Up in Crowley, 1949-1964



     Crowley is in Southwest Louisiana, a flat land of slow-moving, winding bayous, bordered with cypress swamps that lead to grass-covered prairies.  Rice farms now cover the prairies and scattered everywhere are oil wells from which gas flares once burned 24/7.  The people are mostly of French and German stock, descendants of the Acadians, and often still speak French at home.  Some live in towns like Crowley but they are mostly farmers, good people of the brown earth who live in tune with nature.  Rice is planted in the spring, the fields flooded from irrigation wells in the summer to kill the weeds, and then harvested in the fall, filling the Crowley rice mills with great mounds of white, shelled rice.

     Sights, smells, and tastes fill my mind from my childhood.  Those rice fields in the late summer are the greenish green that can be imagined.  After harvesting in the fall, the green fields are drained and turn brown.  Birds come to the fields to eat the harvested residue and we often hunted mourning doves in them.  The doves would circle within a field, confined by shooting from hunters at intervals around the field edges.  And in late fall, came noisy, honking flocks of specs and snow geese, flying south to the Gulf marshes for the winter, literally a thousand birds in a flock.  The flocks would wheel and turn in a great tornado of wings, funneling down to spend the afternoon and night in the fields, feeding on the rice left behind from the harvest, and then leaving with the rising sun.  The smells are of Cajun cooking, the rich smell of gumbo, etouffee, and Andouille sausage at social meetings.  While the tastes are of shucked raw oysters, boiled crawfish and shrimp, fried fish and fried chicken at weekend cookouts.  I love those memories.

     I have receipts showing the family was living in New Orleans at 1236 Arabella Street in 1941 and at 4204 Vincennes Place in 1944, and we moved to Crowley in 1949.  But I have no memories of living in the Big Easy.  My earliest remembrances are of sitting on a saddle on a saw horse and climbing a big French mulberry tree in the backyard of our rented house in South Crowley.  The berries were black and the juice stained my fingers blood red.  I was 4 or 5 when we moved to North Crowley, living in a rented house on North Parkerson Avenue that was supposedly haunted because someone committed suicide in it.  That lowered the rent and didn't bother us.  The house was across the street from my father's Studebaker dealership and a block from North Crowley Elementary School.  There were big fig trees and an enormous back yard of woods to play in.  This was a great place to grow up and sadly is now paved over with a strip mall.  At age 5, I got my first dog Freckles, a black and white cocker spaniel puppy from Marjorie and Tracy Wilmouth in Lafayette.  I loved Freckles.  My Dad used an axe to bob his tail, and at age 69, I can still feel his horrible pain.  Never again could I let anyone hurt a dog.  And we kept chickens for eggs.  Once my dad chopped off the head of a chicken for the kitchen pot.  That headless chicken ran laps for minutes around the yard.  This was the last backyard chicken we ate.

     Marilyn and I went to North Crowley Elementary School while Lloyd went to North Crowley Junior High and High School which was about 10 blocks away.  At age 5, my Mother tried to enroll me in first grade even though my 6th birthday was after the cutoff date.  I guess she mislead the school officials about my age?  I clearly remember sitting in the classroom and a distraught mother coming in to remove her daughter whose birthday was also after the cutoff date.  The woman looked around the class, saw me, and blurted out "What's that Stoessell kid doing here.  He's not old enough to be in first grade."  So I was thrown out of first grade.  Was this to be a quick end to a promising academic career?  But my mother still held a Louisiana teaching certificate, and she taught me first grade at home.  I missed out on all the repetitive printing and letter writing done in school which explains my poor penmanship today, but school only lasted a couple of hours in the morning each day.

     I loved my second grade teacher Mrs. Harmon but my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Evans took an instant dislike to me, calling me "Lightning" to make fun of me.  Years later, I was told that it was because she did not like the non-Cajun students.  I made the only D in my academic career in her class, in penmanship.  But she taught me the greatest lesson I ever learned in school that helped me throughout life.  Every Friday she assigned homework due on Monday.  One Friday afternoon, after school, I was riding a bike and Marilyn was chasing me with a broom.  She connected with the broom.  Down I fell, landing on my right arm on a tree stump, and was in incredible pain.  My mother was not one to send us needlessly for an expensive doctor's visit.  She said "You'll recover by tomorrow."  Well I didn't recover and on Saturday I was taken to the hospital where a fractured arm was diagnosed.  A white plaster of paris cast, perfect for writing notes on, was put on my right arm which was my writing arm.  On Monday, I didn't have my homework but so what, I had the perfect excuse.  On Monday morning, Mrs. Evans was collecting homework being sent up to the front of the class.  She noticed that I had not turned in my homework, turned and glided quickly, like a witch I thought on a broomstick, down the aisle towards my desk.  "Lighting, where's your homework."  I replied "Mrs. Evans, my writing arm is broken" and proudly held up my arm to show the white cast.  Mrs. Evans was taken back for a moment but recovered quickly.  She glared down at me and said "Lighting, Excuses don't count!  F on your homework!"  I never forgot that.  "Excuses don't count!"  I used to tell my college students at the beginning of each semester in freshman classes.

     In grammar school I became nearsighted. Even at an early age, it was obvious to me I was not a good athlete; although I had fast reflexes.  Once when being bullied, I remember being shoved and hitting back quickly without thinking of what I was doing.  I'm not sure who was more surprised, the bully or me.  I liked playing baseball at recess, particularly pitching, and once Marilyn had to take me home to recover after being hit in the head with a baseball.  And I loved to read and read all of my grandfather Ernest's books that Cellie had inherited.  The eyestrain from reading a book a day may have contributed to my being nearsighted, but those novels were a wonderful escape into fantasy for me, an escape that sadly disappeared as I later became an adult.  My social life was Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.  And Cellie was one of the Den Mothers of our Den and Lloyd was the Den Chief.  I was not popular and had one good friend Gene Wager whose dad Oliver, the Crowley pharmacist, had gone to Tulane with my Dad.  Gene's mother Maisy was the best!  She always had the greatest treats for us.  Gene and I could just look at each other and start laughing spontaneously.  Everything seemed so funny when we were together.  Years later at LSU, Gene, George (Butch) Bilbe and I were roommates at the Bon Vivant Apartments.  Gene had nicknamed himself "Raoul", not sure why but he liked it, and Butch (who was in prelaw) was "Judge", and for some reason, I was "King".  I did like my nickname.

     Cellie tried to instill in her children a love of art and the importance of education.  Each afternoon in the summer, Marilyn and I would join her in her bedroom, the only air conditioned room in the house, where we spent time drawing, writing stories, typing, and learning Spanish.  This was also the room where the suicide supposedly occured years earlier.  Cellie also played the piano and we were forced to take piano lessons from her.  Marilyn excelled on the piano but I disliked those lessons intensely.  And eventually Cellie gave up in that pursuit with me.

     Cellie was passionate about the plight of mistreated women in society, and she instilled in me the sense that the worse wrong I could commit was to treat a woman unfairly.  I learned from her to appreciate the inherent beauty in the sweetness and tenderness of a woman's compassion and to understand that it was a priceless gift for a man.  She herself was always an outsider in Crowley and did not fit in with the locals.  Possibly because of that, I too felt like an outsider who was living temporarily in Crowley until I could leave.  Cellie was like silk-covered steel, so sensitive and strong but tender and emotional.  She was a woman who would hold her ground for her convictions.

     Unlike Cellie, Al fit in everywhere.  He was a good athlete and had done well in football at Hammond High School and in college at Tulane.  Al could quickly multiply and divide in his head, a useful mathematical ability which I could not match.  He really liked people and loved helping families get a mortgage for homes when he later ran the Acadia Savings and Loan.  But he was not good at expressing feelings to his family.  His letters were all about the weather and nothing personal.  I sadly never had a deep discussion with him on his life.  We were closest out in the marsh hunting ducks together.  My last duck hunt covered the two days before he died on January 3rd, 1971.  This was an annual New Years hunt near Pecan Island that he had always before hosted.  When I returned, I went to his hospital room to tell him about the hunt.  We talked a little.  A few weeks earlier he had told me he knew he was dying, using that old poker expression, saying "Ron, I've shot my wad."  Our last conversation was that afternoon in his hospital room, and I never picked up a gun again to go hunting.

     During the early 1950s, in the summer we rented a whitewashed clapboard cottage on the shore for two weeks at Ft. Walton, Florida in the Panhandle.  The 10 ft sand dunes were hills to me, covered in golden sea oats, while the beaches were clean white quartz sand, and the Gulf water was a sparkling, clear green color.  This was paradise.  At night we scooped up blue crabs in the shallow waters using lights.  The crabs were kept on ice in Spanish moss overnight, and Cellie would cook them the next morning, dropping them into boiling water where they turned a bright red color.  And each morning, as the sun rose, we walked the beach, catching big fat sand fleas to use as fishing bait and collecting seashells washed up during the previous night.  We accumulated so many shells that we opened a seashell shop in our front yard, sort of like a lemonade stand with seashells.  I remember Lloyd being stung by a Portuguese Man of War in the water and getting stabbed by a saltwater catfish that someone tossed to him.  Some years later the sand dunes were bulldozed flat and the cottages demolished, replaced by modern-day condiminums, built of concrete and steel, without character or soul.  All that remains are the memories of the way it was.

     Cellie had been raised in Mandeville, a small picturesque, lakeside town in Southeast Louisiana.  In the last half of the 1950s, she inherited by family partitions: 7 Mandeville rental houses, 1,500 acres of land outside of Mandeville, and about 50 acres in various parcels within Mandeville itself.  The physical efforts to maintain and look after her properties were enormous.  We spent much of our available time in Mandeville in the summer, living in one of her houses on the lakefront, and working on her rent houses and other properties.  But it wasn't all work.  I got to ride the family horses in the woods and explore the land.  I remember once walking out of the woods near the family barn (Cellie called it the "Old Place") onto Highway 1088 with a shotgun and firing my shotgun into the air for fun.  I looked up and down the road and was amazed to see 3 hunters (actually poachers) to my left and 3 more to my right.  These bad boys had been in the woods waiting for deer to cross the road.  My shot had scared away any game and they left to poach elsewhere.

     The Mandeville lakefront itself was beautiful, and the New Orleans skyline was often visible across Lake Pontchartrain, 30 miles to the south.  We were there for the tropical storms and hurricanes that swept in from the Gulf in the late summer and early fall, e.g. Hurricane Betsy in 1965.  I discovered I could lean into a 100 mile an hour wind and not fall down, useful information if your goal in life is to be a wind gauge.  I remember old men gathering at night at Williams Pharmacy on Lakeshore to drink as hurricanes came through.  Uncle Clay was mayor and he signed a contract with the Army Corps for them to build a 10 ft high breakwater, 100 yards out in the lake, in front of the town.  His justificaton was to protect the town from hurricanes, but he was already putting in boatyards along the bayou.  We thought he wanted to build boatyards on the land side of the breakwater.  This would have destroyed the view of the lake for the town.  We woke up one morning to the sound of pilings being driven near the bayou harbor.  The breakwater eventually extended for two blocks before Cellie and others got it stopped.  Years later I would kid Clay that I was going to dynamite that damn breakwater.  But he looked at it as his monument and asked me to wait until after he died, a request that I have honored.  Over the years the lake has gradually filled up with sediment behind the breakwater.  But with sea level rising due to global warming, the process has reversed.  I think by 2100 the entire town will drown, thanks to our human doings.

     The lake waters were often clear (unusual for Louisiana) and we swam and sailed a small sailfish and sometimes rode a small wooden motorboat in the choppy waters, between the Bayou Castine harbor and Green Point at Fountainbleau State Park.  At sunrise, Marilyn and I would scoop up crabs in the shallow waters along the sandy shoreline, and Cellie would boil or fry them, depending if they were hardshells or softshells.  And when I occasionally caught speckled trout, fishing off the concrete groins extending out into the lake, Cellie would fry them for a meal.  This ended for me in 1964 when I left for LSU in Baton Rouge.  By then Cellie had sold three of the rental houses.  And after her death in 1991, I ended up with two of the remaining houses while Marilyn ended up with the other two.

     We were Episcopalians in the Cajun Catholic Community of Crowley.  My Mother was raised Catholic but at some stage in her life, she, Aunt Marion, and Momsy visited the different churches and picked the Episcopal Church.  Uncle Clay and Uncle Preston and their families remained Catholic.  Al was raised an Episcopalian through his mother Margaret Kent.  His father was from Prussia and probably was a Presbyterian.  There might have been 40 or 50 Episcopalians in the entire town of Crowley.  I did not take religion very seriously except to appreciate the pretty girls at church socials.  But I was taken back when one of the Cart kids who lived next door, a Catholic girl, told me my future life would be in hell for not being Catholic  In the church, Cellie played the organ, Al took up the collection, Marilyn sang in the choir, and Lloyd was the acolyte.  My singing voice is unbelievably offkey so my participation was only later as an acolyte.  Our preacher was subsequently defrocked for crimes against nature or something like that.  No one would tell me exactly what he had done but it must have been really bad.  In 1955, as my grandmother Momsy (May) lay dying, slipping in an out of consciousness, her Catholic son Clay sent a Catholic priest into her hospital room to declare her a "lost sheep" safely back in the Catholic fold.  Later, Momsy revived enough to tell Cellie what had happened.  Cellie then brought in an Episcopal Minister to rescue the "lost sheep" back into the Episcopal religion.  As I look back, it seems hilarious but then I am an agnostic.

     What I remember most about the Crowley French girls was their their good looks, their gorgeous black hair, sometimes with striking "natural" silver streaks in it, and pale white skin.  A great example was my Crowley neighbor Jane Taylor.  I can honestly say (without too much exageration) that having traveled over much of the world, these were the prettiest women on earth.  Of course, I was too shy and nervous at that young age to tell them that.  But that was the story of my younger days.

     Cellie and Al shared many of the typical southern white views of African Americans.  The black section of Crowley was in a separate location and the schools were still segregated.  Although I grew up working amically with blacks in Mandeville on Cellie's properties, there was little interaction in Crowley which was dominated by Cajuns.  I remember the family getting the White Citizen's Council Newsletter and being influenced by stories of The Lost Cause, and of Southern chivalery and honor, race purity, etc.  Years later, as an undergraduate at LSU, I attended a meeting in which David Duke, one of the more infamous KKK leaders, gave a dorm-room talk.  After listening, I decided I was not going to spend my life worrying about racial purity.  People should be able to do what they wanted as long as they didn't hurt other people.  Disliking people because they were of a different race or held different beliefs would be a waste of my time.  My change in attitude was permanent.  As we say in the South, "I opened the screen door, walked out, and it never touched my backside as it slammed shut".  However, many of my fellow Crowley classmates today (2016) seem to have regressed in terms of their views of racial issues, compared to when we were growing up.  Growing old with fear of the unknown tends to bring out bitterness.

;      About 1958 we moved out of town.  Cellie and Al had bought an acre of an old rice farm off Forest Drive that was being being developed for homes.  This was about two miles north of Crowley, a block west of Hwy 13, two blocks north of I10, and a quarter mile east of Bayou Plaquemine.  They bought a house, moved it on site, and then added on with lumber from the Prieto family mill in Mandeville.  The carpenter complained about how "hard" the Mandeville wood was.  There were about 20 acres of woods adjacent to Bayou Plaquemine.  I never met the owner but I had a great time camping and roaming in those woods with my dog Freckles and the neighborhood kids.  It was at this time that my love for animals manifested itself.  Seeing a dead dog on nearby Hwy 13 would leave an image in mind that I could not escape.  At night I would leave the house, retrieve the body and bury it, feeling guilty at being tender-hearted.  Mike Rasmussen lived next door and we became good friends.  And just on the other side of Hwy 13 was a tangerine orchard which Mike and I and the Cart kids would raid nightly when they were in season.  I was eventually caught by the owner and he was not amused.  I remember what seemed to be a foot of snow fell one Christmas, and I can still visualize Freckles happily bouncing through the snow with only his stub tail and nose sticking out.  What a wonderful place to hang out.

     Meanwhile Dad had given up on the Moore-Stoessell Studabaker Dealership by 1954 and moved over to becoming the Secretary-Manager of the Greater Crowley Chamber of Commerce.  Uncle Jimmy stayed with the dealership until its final burial about 1960?  In June, 1957, I remember our family being in Dad's Chamber of Commerce office when Hurricane Audrey passed through the town.  And in 1957, Judge Edmund Reggie, Dr. Jack Frank, and others put up money to start the Acadia Savings and Loan and asked Dad to manage it.  The Thrift opened on the Courthouse Circle in November, 1957, in a building that also served as Judge Reggie's law office.  Al later helped negotiate the sale of the Episcopal Church site on the Courthouse Circle corner with North Parkerson Ave and a new Thrift building was built and opened in 1969.  Managing the Savings and Loan was his dream job, providing home mortgages for families, a job he held until his death in 1971.  Unfortunately, once he died, there was no check on the board making unsecured, dubious loans.  This nation-wide problem affected both savings and loan thrifts and banks, due to deregulation allowing commercial loans and insuring the first $100,000 of individual deposits with taxpayer money.  Subsequently, the Acadia Savings and Loan failed in 1987 as did the Louisiana Bank and Trust, another local financial institution that Al helped form.  Judge Edmund Reggie was convicted in 1992 of misapplication of federal funds from both institutions.  If Dad had lived, I think he would have prevented that from happening.  He loved that Thrift and the good it did in the community.

     Al also loved football.  He played football (tackle and end) for Tulane in 1925, 1926 and 1927.  In 1925, Tulane's team was 9-0-1, and they were invited to play for the National Championship in the Rose Bowl.  Tulane officials turned the invitation down.  Alabama took their place and won its first National Championship.  Al's football teams beat LSU twice and lost once.  But the late 1950s and early 1960s were all about LSU football, and we regularly went to the Saturday LSU games in Baton Rouge, along with many other Crowley families.  Afterwards, we would drive to Mandeville for the weekend.  LSU was national champion in 1958 and the games in the late 50s and early 60s with Ol Miss were like "national championship" contests.  It as in 1959 on Haloween night that Billy Cannon made his famous 89 yard touchdone return against Ol Miss.  Tiger Stadium would roll as people stamped their feet, chanting "Go to Hell Ol Miss, Go to Hell."  This was actually more politically correct than the stomping and chants that occurred when LSU played Rice in Tiger Stadium: "What Comes Out of a Chinaman's Ass! Rice! Rice! Rice!." In 1958, Dad watched LSU beat Tulane 62 to 0 in the old Tulane stadium, sadly disappointing him, but he was still proud of LSU.

     I entered Crowley Junior High in 1958 on the Crowley High School campus.  Marilyn was a grade ahead of me.  Lloyd had graduated from Crowley High in 1958 and had been student body president that year.  I remember attending his high school graduation.  He was Class Salutatorian and Principal Lucas gave out 6 or 7 awards for various academic achievements.  As I recall, Lloyd received all but one of the awards, probably missed out on the Home Economics award (lol).  At first I was very proud of him but as the evening wore on, it was just too much and became embarrassing.  That fall Lloyd began undergraduate school at LSU, triple majoring in physics, chemistry, and math.  After graduation, in 1962, He went to Cornell for graduate work in physics on a National Science Foundation Fellowship, receiving his M.S. in physics in 1964.  Lloyd was and is, I think, one of America's best.  He married Carolyn J Bergen, a fellow graduate student at Cornell who received her M.S. in home economics that year.  Carolyn was of Norwegian background and was from Coos Bay on the Oregon coast.  I thought her younger sister Jeannie was the "cat's meow."  She was studying to be a marine biologist - not sure if she ever became one.  Unfortunately, Lloyd's marriage with Carolyn only lasted a few years.

     Our two week vacation trips to Ft. Walton in Florida had ended in the mid-1950s.  Cellie decided we should try camping as a family in the mountains.  Every summer, beginning around 1958(?), we would head out for 2 or 3 weeks, with an enormous two room Sears tent on the roof rack.  This was a safari, carrying the cooking gear, sleeping bags, etc.  The first night of the very first trip, we camped at Roaring River in southern Missouri.  I loved it, the comradery of our fellow campers, the warmth and smell of the campfire, and being in the outdoors.  From there, in one day we crossed the hot plains of Kansas, reaching the Front Range of the Rockies at Colorado Springs and camped at Green Mountain Falls.  That first year we explored all of Colorado, camping at the different mountain passes.  Being in the Rockies was an incredible experience for me.  I couldn't get enough of the mountains, the streams, and the rocks.  I knew then I wanted to be a geologist.  In subsequent trips, we would leave at midnight to try to cross Texas the first day and camp at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle, before heading north the next day into northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.  Besides the Colorado Rockies, we explored the Snowy Range in southern Wyoming, the Wind River Range, the Tetons and Yellowstone in western Wyoming, followed by Glacier National Park in Montana and Lake Louise and Jasper in Canada.  On our last big camping trip in 1964, we went to Coos Bay Oregon for Lloyd's wedding to Carolyn Bergen.  Along the way we camped at Mt Rainer, Crater Lake, and Mt Hood before following the Pacific coast south to the redwoods and then west to Sequoia and Yosemite in the high Sierras.  The trip back to Louisiana was always a bummer, passing through the deserts of the South West and the "never ending" drive across West Texas.  We only did one camping trip in the East, following the Blue Ridge and going up to Maine.  The scenes from the Smokies and the Blue Ridge Parkway drive were pretty and the Maine seacoast was spectacular.  However, the outdoor experience was just too civilized for me, compared to being in the Rockies and the Sierra.

     In general we were the model law-abiding visitors to national parks, monuments, and forests.  However, a major exception occurred when we visited Petrified Forest National Monument in Arizona.  We loved petrified wood!  There must have been an entire petrified tree in our vehicle.  I blame it entirely on Lloyd  The weight made the car sink to the roadbed, becoming a low-rider.   When we exited the place, the ranger asked if we had picked up any petrified wood.  If there is hell for lying to a ranger, I think we have no hope of redemption.

     These vacation drives were not always harmonious.  Cellie used to say that if she said the sky was blue, I would argue for hours that it was closer to green or violet or whatever.  Once when Cellie was driving, I was sitting in the rear behind the front passanger seat, and we were having an argument.  I don't remember the topic but it was a lengthy argument which I felt I had just won by superior logic.  A minute of silence then followed from Cellie.  Abruptly, the car pulled off the road and slid to a stop.  Cellie opened the driver's door, jumped out, yells "I'm going to kill the little bastard."  Apparently she was not a good loser.  I vacated the car as fast as I could and took off running down the road with her following and yelling.  I don't remember how it ended but I did make it back to Crowley.  And I realized then that I had this talent to drive people crazy.

     My high school years were terrible I thought.  I had gone out for football and basketball and played junior varsity for one year.  However, it was obvious to me that I wasn't good and this was a waste of my time.  I wasn't bullied because I had learned that if you were willing to fight, bullies generally left you alone.  But I wasn't a "happy camper", didn't have a girl friend, and those were years that I was just trying to get through.  The only elective office I held was president of the French Club.  I did participate in five district and state rallies in social sciences (2 in world geography, 1 in general history, and 2 in American history) and took first in all of them, and I gave the Commencement Address at graduation.  I was just a nerd.  But as I think back, I realize how fortunate I was to grow up in a Mayberry-kind of town like Crowley.  We were protected from our misdeeds.  I remember once in high school shooting a policeman with a water pistol as he directed traffic.  Marilyn was driving and the cop actually tracked us down later and confiscated the water gun (lol).  But he wasn't even angry.  It was and remains a great place to live.

     I should explain why I delivered the Commencement Address because I was certainly not the valedictorian.  My GPA was probably a 3.5.  The year before, Marilyn had been in a tie with two other girls for valedictorian.  They had identical GPA averages and (I think) identical number of credits.  But Marilyn had taken the hard courses, the math and science core versus taking the home economics core.  The school broke the tie by giving more credits to one of the other girls based on piano lessons she had taken during the summers, disregarding that Marilyn had also taken piano for years from Cellie who actually held a Louisiana Teaching Certificate.  To many in Crowley, the winner was picked on politics.  She was the niece of Edwin Edwards, a member of the Louisiana State Senate, later a US Congressman, and then a four term Governor of Louisiana before going to prison, a traditional ending in Louisiana politics.  Al worked closely with Edwin and his brothers, Nolan and Marion because their law firm handled the loans for the Acadia Savings and Loan.  He was friends with the Edwards, but Cellie was furious.  She was, after all, a Prieto by blood.  On graduation night in 1963, I walked into the Crowley High School Auditorium as the graduates lined up and told Principal Lucas that Marilyn wouldn't be coming to deliver the Salutatorian Address.  This incident resulted in the school decision to have the Commencement Address given by the winner of a speech contest from honor students judged by Mrs Finley, the debate teacher.  I had never taken debate but I could write an inspired speech which (as I recall) began "Tonight, as I stand before you, I am impatient!  I am eager for tomorrow and all the tomorrows after tomorrow...."  And I won the contest.   Unfortunately, much of the speech was drowned out by a faulty microphone at graduation, but that's life.

     One Christmas Eve during high school, my father was sitting in a chair watching TV in the dining room.  I was in an adjacent room behind him, in Cellie's sewing room (breakfast room), messing around with a rifle, Popsy's old 32-20 Marlin saddle gun.  I committed the cardinal sin of cocking it and pushing a cartridge into the chamber.  As I sought to disengage the trigger by gently lowering the hammer, my fingers slipped, and the hammer hit the firing pin.  There was a flash of light as the gun fired.  The bullet went through the wall into the dining room, passing through my Dad's chair as he sat in it and burying itself in the opposite wall.  To say that this unfortunate episode destroyed Christmas for me is an understatement.  That night I prayed wholeheartly, promising to do only good things for the rest of my life, if when I woke up, the whole event would be just a bad dream that never happened.  Well, on Christmas morning, I woke up and there was still a bullet hole in both walls and in the chair.  Obviously, God had not delivered!  But I couldn't blame him, given my previous overall lack of faith.  However, he wasted a golden opportunity to turn me into a Saint.

     Speaking of guns, my father Al and I hunted together and hunting was important to him.  Gene Wager would often hunt with us on Mr. Atterbury's rice farm and down in the marsh near the coast.  I used Cellie's old 20 gauge pump shotgun that she had used in Mandeville as a girl and I still have. My dad had a 12 gauge pump that Lloyd now has.  In September and October, we hunted doves in the harvested rice fields and in November and December, ducks and geese at a hunting lease Al shared with our close friends Jim and Beth Barnett.  Those two were the best hunters and fishermen I've ever known.  The lease was in the marsh near Money Island, close to Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge.  I didn't like to kill birds but I rationalized the killing because we cleaned and ate everything we shot.  Doves were easy to pluck and clean but ducks and geese required a paraffin bath.  Cellie would pour boiling water with dissolved paraffin into a large metal can that we would dip a duck or goose in.  The feathers were pulled off in large "smelly" swaths, stuck together by the paraffin.  And Cellie was a good cook of wild game.  But even with a shotgun, hitting a dove zipping about at 45 miles an hour isn't easy.  The effective range of a shotgun is only a 100 feet or so, and you have to lead the birds which took practice. With ducks it was easier because they were bigger but the shot was heavier, so fewer, making the spread smaller.  But with geese, all I seemed to have to do was point upward in the general direction at a flock in range, shoot, and one would fall out of the sky.  Unfortunately, the goose usually only had a broken wing so I would first stun it by hitting its head against the gun stock and then quickly wring its neck.  It took more than one wring before the goose's neck was broken and the eyes would pop out, an awful sight, the memory of which still hurts me to the core.

     There is one hunt that stands out in my mind.  During the Christmas holidays of my senior year in 1963, I had some moles removed from my head and the operation left me with most of my hair shaved off.  I was uncomfortable and wanted to get away from everyone.  My father Al said "I'll take you hunting at Holly Beach."  Holly Beach is not Louisiana's equivalent of South Beach in Miami.  The west Louisiana coast is muddy due to longshore drift bringing fine sediment westward from the Mississippi delta and the Gulf waters are brown.  At that time Holly Beach consisted of a group of old hunting camps amid gangs of wild pigs roaming the beach.  The weather was rainy and bitter cold that holiday.  To get to my blind, I had to break thick ice walking through the marsh but the hunt was successful.  In the evening, we ate duck gumbo in a pot on the stove that was always cooking.  A Cajun guide was present who was guiding an out-of-state married couple.  The second night, the whiskey flowed and the married guy got drunk while his wife and the guide flirted and snuggled up.  One thing led to another after her husband passed out.  I knew he got drunk on purpose to not face what was happening.  I realized then that people will do what they can to avoid facing their problems.

     I want to mention the Scouts again.  I started out as a Cub Scout, then a Boy Scout (Troop 7), and finally as an Explorer with the same group of guys, so we were all good friends.  Paul Puissegur was our scoutmaster.  We often went on camping trips with the usual midnight raids of other troops camping in the same woods.  It was just fun.  I can still taste roasted armadillo, caught and cleaned (messy job scraping it out of the shell) on those camping trips.  Roasted armadillo tastes like roasted chicken, just like all those tasty Cajun treats that could be scavanged, e.g., water moccasins and young gators.  During the summers, following my Junior and Senior High School years, I was a Boy Scout Camp Counselor at Camp Thistlethwaite on the banks of Bayou Courtableau near Washington, Louisiana.  Gene Wager and I roomed together in one of the camp tents.  Malcolm Gott, and other Crowley classmates were also there as counselors, as was Tim LaTour from Ville Platte who later was a geology major with me at LSU.  Malcolm was the fastest white guy I ever knew, regularly running 9.7 seconds in the 100 yard dash in high school.  At Camp he raced a quarter horse and the horse won, but not by much.  Sandy Pinkard was there also, a troubadour on the guitar, who later went to Hollywood as a country singer and song writer.  In the backyards of my mind, I can see and hear Sandy struming his guitar and singing Greenback Dollar: "And I don't give a damn about a greenback dollar, spend it fast as I can..."

     Camp Thistlewaite was a dream job for me.  We lived in tents with wooden floors on the banks of a bayou in a location that had once been an Opelousa Indian Village.  We picked up arrowheads after every rain on the bayou banks.  The food was great, the pay was terrible ($5 or $10 a week), but who cared.  The young scouts would come to take classes to earn merit badges.  Their older sisters would come with the families to visit on Thursdays and these were often very pretty girls.  I generally taught courses related to the nature merit badge.  I use to catch nonpoisonous snakes as teaching aides, and I kept them in a ventilated box with see-through sides and an opening in the top.  Now you may not know what a yellow-bellied water snake is, but trust me, this is one mean snake.  One afternoon, the young scouts were gathered around me, soaking up my every word about snake identification and reptile biology.  I ended by opening the top of the box, saying "Even nonpoisonous snakes can bite so be careful handling them and pointed my finger through the top hole into the box."  I withdrew my finger, and the scouts gasped in horror.  My finger was covered in blood.  That damn water snake bit me, not once but several times, and so quickly I didn't feel it.  But it was a very effective class demonstration of what not to do (lol), good practice for me for later years as a professor.

     The summer following high school graduation while I was working at Camp Thistlethwaite, Cellie and Al put Freckles down.  He had started getting reoccuring "red mange" every summer which had gotten worse over the years and he was now about 13 years old which is old for a dog.  I had told him goodby before I left because I was worried that he would be put down when I went off to college.  Freckles was a good dog and he deserved better.  Now 50 years later, I do rescue work with dogs (see Lost Dogs Run) and I still sadly think about him.  Red mange is demadex mange, caused from mites carried by all dogs, which only breaks out with a reduced immune system.  Now we can cure it with ivermectin, an insecticide given orally that was discovered in 1975.  I so wish we had had it in 1964 for Freckles.  As long as I live, he will always be gentle on my mind.
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© 2016 Ron Stoessell