On Blue Bayou
During a lunchtime conversation on the jobsite one day last week, some of the chatter reminded me of the several trips I made to a little town in the Louisiana Bayoux.
It started in Navy Engineman school in the Great Lakes training facility in Waukegan, Ill. I met another Engineman, Julius was his name, and we became fast friends. Eventually, when we finished the school, we received our orders and went on leave before going on to our ships.
When my leave was about half over, I rode my thumb down to New Orleans. I used to brag that I could consistently beat the Greyhounds by means of hitchhiking because, well.....I could. I checked it several times. Once, a New Jersey Trooper told me that if I was caught hitchhiking again in the state, he'd arrest me, so I took a bus. Several miles outside the New Jersey line, I got off the bus and stuck out my thumb. I got to Grand Forks a full six hours earlier than I would have by taking the bus all the way.
But, I digress. Julius picked me up at the truck stop from which I phoned, and we drove southwest into the bayou country. The first thing he did was drive around town showing me the high points. There was an ordinary-looking small-town downtown, generally kind of run-down looking because of the constant humidity and high rainfall. Colorful fast-food stores were absent, as the early few hadn't yet reached down into the bayou country. Residences varied from southern mansions to shanties as depicted in the beginning of the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.
There was a distinct and separate "colored" side of town, where the black people lived. Remember, this was 1962--prior to most of the equal rights marching, and etc. Blacks and whites mingled in the streets, blacks worked in stores and other jobs, but there was almost no interracial socializing and there were separate but not equal schools, parks and bathrooms and even separate public drinking fountains.
We went to Julius' folks house and met his parents. We had a delightful crayfish bisque for dinner--something very new for a North Dakota meat and potatoes kid. It started a lifelong love for Cajun-style cuisine I haven't ever gotten over.
The best was yet to come: Julius took me over to pick up his girlfriend, and then to another house at which he stopped and introduced me to the most delightful girl I'd yet met. Florette Pernicieri was her name. She was only fourteen (I was 18), but she was one of those girls you know would do well in a beauty pageant. In fact, she did, as she wrote me later on while I was at sea.
I still sort of melt from the sound of the voice of a Southern/Cajun accent coming from a beautiful woman.
One of the neighbors, as Flo showed me as we hung out together, lived near the edge of the swamp. He had an enclosure in his back yard, which contained a large number of alligators in a water-filled pit. He raised them commercially for their meat and skins.
We went to a diner where I was introduced to chicory coffee, and to a movie. Had a great time, even though Lutcher, Louisiana rolled up its sidewalks even earlier than did Grand Forks. Don't let anybody ever tell you that making out with a truly beautiful girl isn't great!
I had a few days before I had to be in Jacksonville, so Florette and I stuck together even closer than Julius and I, though the four of us spent evenings together.
When Julius and I left for our ships, I found that it was very easy to hitchhike from there to Jacksonville. I returned to Lutcher on many weekend liberties over the next several months. I finally let it go when I realized that her overwhelming motivation was to have me take her away from there. She didn't like the small town and wanted out.
I wasn't going to either marry her or otherwise set her up in Jacksonville, so I finally said goodbye. Not without some regrets, she was a delight in many ways and I missed her for a long time. I wonder if she ever made it.
Rambling off to memory lane.