New Orleans City Park: A Place of Personal Memoir Monday, Feb 25 2013 

One purpose of this blog is to archive personal and family experiences that will outlive these mortal bones.  So for family and posterity, here’s a memoir of New Orleans City Park, a chilling chronicle of mystery and intrigue heretofore untold, the life and times of yours truly.

New Orleans City Park, site of memories old and new.

New Orleans City Park, site of memories old and new.

As a junior high student growing up in North Shore Covington, I remember annual late-spring school field trips to New Orleans.  The typical field trip agenda included a cultural/historical experience in the French Quarter, like a visit to the Wax Museum, followed by a bag-lunch picnic at New Orleans City Park.

Ah, City Park!  Yes, how much these past two years I’ve enjoyed watching my daughter finish her races in the New Orleans Rock n’Roll Marathon.

But reaching back in time 47 or 48 years ago, a different memory reverberates.  My eighth grades buddies and I had finished the bagged picnic lunches furnished by the school cafeteria and were enjoying some free time on the water at City Park.  That day, two or three buddies with me rented one of the flat-bottomed skiffs at City Park and began plying the shallow waters of Bayou St. John (or some connected lagoon).  We rowed and splashed about madly, as 13 year olds are wont to do.

But when amidst our thrashing we came across a metallic, luminescent surface submerged a few feet in the shallows of the lagoon, we were astonished.  We probed the metallic surface with the blades of our oars and determined this was the top of an automobile!

I don’t remember exactly how, but I seem to recall how we couldn’t wait to row to shore to report our discovery to the park officials.  And how rewarding, later that night on the 10:00 news, we saw the news report with video of a police wrecker pulling that same vehicle out of the lagoon.  I don’t remember the details, except I do recall that the car was associated with some recent crime in the City, and its discovery was very newsworthy.

I was a crime buster!  My buddies and I had turned in a tip that made the 10:00 news!

I can’t recall whether the crime was solved or not, but I’d love to hear from someone who remembers the details of this cerca 1965 New Orleans incident in City Park.

Meanwhile, it’s nice to recall the life of times and places remembered, places like New Orleans City Park.

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Thursday, Feb 21 2013 

Interesting to see what was going on in our lives six years ago. We thank God for this little girl who’s now an all-grown-up research assistant in the Kinesiology Department at Louisiana State University.

Inventio!

on-deck.JPGAnn Pulling, Lady Bobcats outfielder On Deck at Eunice High School (Louisiana) in a scrimmage a few weeks ago vs. Holy Savior Menard High School from Alexandria, Louisiana.

Softball season is only a couple of weeks old, but it’s already assumed a dominant role in the family routine. Or may I should say a “dictatorial” role, because everything we consider doing these days begins with a check of the Lady Cats’ schedule. But I don’t really mind.

Even when it was 37 degrees last Friday night in Alexandria and we were still playing as my fingers turned shades of frost-bitten blue-green inside the double-layers of gloves that strove vainly to warm them.

Even when the cutting wind gusted to 30 miles an hour in the sunny, teeth-chattering cold Saturday afternoon in Alexandria.

Even when I have to take off early from work to leave for a game two or three times a…

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Humble Rewards of the Teaching Profession: Farewell to a Mentor, Mr. Freddie Alfred Saturday, Feb 16 2013 

If there are public address systems in glory, I’m confident right now that Mr. Freddie Alfred, my first principal supervisor and mentor in public education, is at the heavenly mike exhorting the angels to sing praise a little louder.  I’ll never forget the early years in my teaching career

My Freddie Alfred, my first supervisor in public education.

In honor of the memory of Mr. Freddie Alfred, my first supervisor in public education.

at Eunice Junior High when he’d come on the intercom for announcements.  What a consummate rhetorician and motivational speaker!  Mr. Alfred could make the pronouncement of the daily lunch menu sound like the cafeteria ladies were serving manna from heaven.  In 25+ years in education since, no boss or mentor I’ve known commanded spoken language with such flair and charisma.  He was uniquely and delightfully eloquent!

Yes, Mr. Alfred hired me off the street in 1987 to teach junior high English.  At the time, I was inexperienced, uncertified, and without a steady job.  He called me into his office a couple of days before school started that August and offered me one of two openings: English or biology.  I chose English.  To borrow an old cliche that sums up the subsequent completion of certification, a masters in the field, and rising to teach at the collegiate level, “the rest is history.”  But that history owes mightily to Mr. Alfred, who not only gave an unknown, unemployed oil field refugee a job in 1987, but to a supervisor who lent effusive encouragement and counsel during the five years I worked under his oversight: nurture and counsel that not only got me through those five years, but gave me a foundation for success in all the places and at all the levels of education I’ve worked since.
Thus, I was broken hearted last week to learn of his passing.  I thank God that I had run into him recently, just last December at a restaurant in town.  His smile toward me that evening glowed more warmly than ever, and I embraced him, the first and only time we greeted with such affection.  Perhaps God prompted us to react with more affection than usual because this would the last time for us to meet on earth.

Regrets?  Naturally, I regret that I didn’t share with him  the thoughts I have written here.  Henry Brooks Adams’ classic saying “a teacher never knows where his influence stops” certainly applies to Mr. Alfred’s influence on me.  But hopefully, this  post will encourage and cheer his family in the midst of their grief and lonesomeness, as Mr. Alfred no doubt looks on lovingly from on high where he’s exhorting those angels to sing praise louder.

Best of all, our faith gives solace and hope for the future, knowing that today’s parting is just for now: We anticipate a happy reunion with him in the glorious, magnificent installment of eternity that follows the present.

All that said, I end simply asking that God bless the memory of Mr. Freddie Alfred,  my boss, my mentor, my friend.

The Reign of Terror for Mardi Gras Chickens Monday, Feb 11 2013 

Mardi Gras Courir

Chickens are not fond of Mardi Gras in Cajun country.

No Mardi Gras celebration anywhere where folks celebrate carnival is more exotic than the Prairie Cajuns of South Louisiana.  The rag-tag crew of horseback riders, clad in splendorous costumes rooted in Medieval times, strike out Mardi Gras morning on a pre-determined route around the countryside, stopping at appointed places to perform the ritual “chase of the chicken.”

Animal rights activists have lately weighed in on the activity as cruel.  They have a case–any chicken confronted with the ordinary horror of being slaughtered would be terrified enough, sure, but the poor Mardi Gras chickens are subjected to a significant extra measure of terror as they’re chased by this noisy, drunken mob (Yes, the Mardi Gras riders’ spirits are customarily elevated by inebriating drink, typically consumed in immoderate proportions).

Not only are the chickens chased, but once caught, they’re tossed high in the air to prolong the thrill (or insanity) of the chase (for the chasers, of course, not the chasees).  The chicken’s destiny, of course, is a seething cauldron of gumbo, so there’s hardly any reprieve once the immediate exasperation of the chase is over.

Alas, poor chicken.

Why struggle to describe the fate of the Mardi Gras chicken in mere words?  Film-making Cajun ethnographer Pat Mire made a video a few years back, Dance for a Chicken, that portrays the multi-sensory pageantry much finer than words of mine.  Here’s an excerpt of that video available on YouTube.

In Search of “Padio” Heaters Saturday, Feb 2 2013 

Shopping for groceries this morning at a local supermarket, we came across the display indicated by the sign shown here, “padio heaters” for $129.  It’s not like some store clerk wrote this notice with a marker on a piece of card board–This was a professionally printed display!

What’s a “padio?”  Some variation of heating pad? an Italian

Padio heaters aren't cheap!

Padio heaters aren’t cheap!

or Hispanic derivation?  foot warmers for dogs?

Aha!  From the picture of the heater on the boxes, obviously, these are patio heaters.

How embarrassing, nonetheless, for the retailer and the employees thereof.  Surely, some employee in the store knew better?

Then again, maybe the misspelling was deliberate to call attention to the display?  Yes, a marketing ploy!   Maybe Winn Dixie management deserves credit for cunning word play that evades the outmoded orthographic sensibilities of  prior-generation linguists such as myself.  Maybe I’ve reached that age where calling attention to such gaffs makes me sound old and crotchety?

Heaven forbid!