Aug 25, 2013

You can’t (quite) go home again

On one of my days this summer in Louisiana with the Young Curmudgeon, I somehow thought it would be a pretty cool thing to show him where I spent part of my childhood – in a small town called Angie located right on the toe of the boot shape that forms the state. 

We started by ambling our way northward, crossing the 26-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and through the horse farm country near Folsom, where I first showed him where my aunt and uncle and cousins lived.  It was literally a drive-by.  I had no intentions of stopping, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about me and family relationships.

We then made our way through the twists and turns La. Route 60 through the pine forests and into Bogalusa, the largest city in Washington Parish, which also includes Angie.  Then, it was just a short ride on La. Route 21 through Varnado (a village not much larger than Angie, but it does have the nearest high school which I might have attended in an alternate life), past a lumber mill that has grown exponentially since my childhood and I grew up, and soon we were there.

Angie, Louisiana used to have a sign at its southern entry point boasting 316 people.  If Wikipedia is accurate, then they've actually somehow found a way to get smaller in population, if not size.  It does, however, have a motel now – the Great Southern Motel, which markets itself as “Louisiana’s First Stop for Southern Hospitality.”  It’s a good point, since a mile north of town is the state line with Mississippi.  I can’t imagine the motel gets that much business except for hunting season.  I hear Angie is becoming somewhat of a jumping off point for hunters and fishermen who frequent the bayous and woods along the Pearl River just east of town, which also serves as another boundary with Mississippi.   

Next to the motel is Stuart’s Café, which I believe is where Chick’s Drive-In used to be.  Or was it Boyd’s Drive-In?  I remember the owner was Chick Boyd, so I have a 50-50 shot at getting it right.  My grandmother used to work at the drive-in, cook some amazing fried chicken and “manage” a small staff of people who also became her best friends during the time she lived there.  In addition to spending many hours after school behind the counter with the cooks, I also have a vivid memory of opening the passenger side door of my grandfather’s pickup truck way too soon and tumbling out onto the gravel.  I was flung forward, and he slammed on the brakes as soon as I fell out.  He stopped with about two feet to spare.  It was the first time that my life – brief at the time – flashed before my eyes. 

It didn't take too long to find the old homestead.  For the most part, the charcoal grey paint we put on it 35 years ago has given way to charcoal grey siding.  Either way, it still stands out like a sore thumb.  Unlike the paint, the tin roof has also proven to be quite durable.  The wraparound porch remains (it looks like the foundation has been strengthened), and a new porch swing has replaced the old one and been redirected to swing out diagonally from the corner.  Here’s a side view …


And here’s a front view.  The sidewalk is new, and a lot of small bushes have been cleared away.  Clearly, someone had purchased a rundown piece of property and has been doing a lot to it.    

I took this picture of the yard and the side lot, primarily because I was shocked to see someone has removed three huge pecan trees that provided a great bounty every year and a lot of shade for a house that did not have air conditioning.  (Imagine those Louisiana summers … I didn't care; I was a happy kid.)  Similarly, a decent sized fig tree had been removed from the backyard.  Oh well, what was important to one person is another person’s irritant, I suppose.

After happily seeing the house was making a comeback, we drove west of town to see if my old grade school was still around.  I was surprised to see Wesley Ray Elementary not only alive and well but having expanded into several more buildings on the premises.  The old recess building remained, but a much newer playground has been installed at the back of the campus.  And, yes, the Firearm Free Zone remains in effect.  (I also noticed on the school website’s calendar that the state schools are still taking a couple of days off for Mardi Gras).   

Admittedly, the Young Curmudgeon was not too enthused to spend the majority of the day in the car in rural Louisiana, but when he wasn't sleeping or nursing a stomachache (he blamed it on an overabundance of fried food already on the trip), he was a overall a pretty good sport about it.  Although he didn't understand my excitement over finding a crawfish boudin at Bogalusa gas station to snack on before making our way back to New Orleans. 

Still, I suspect someday he will make a similar trip back to New Berlin, Ill., to show off similarly boring stuff and reminisce about the “good old days” at the beginning of the 21st Century. 

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