by, 05-01-2012 at 04:45 PM (2455 Views)
by David N. Smith
I was born November 22, 1935 in Opelousas, Louisiana. My father was descended from French and German families who migrated to Louisiana in the nineteenth century. My mother's family was English, both sides of whom came from England in the seventeenth century. So even though I was brought up in the Acadiana part of Louisiana, I was not fortunate enough to be "cajun". Many of my friends as a child spoke or at least understood French and because I did not I was frequently the butt of jokes which did nothing to improve my self esteem or my sense of humor. My earliest memories are like flashes, the briefest of glimpses without any real understanding of the context of my life. I can remember living on Liberty Street, across town from where we spent most of my young life. The house was at street level in the front, but because the lot fell off rapidly to the gulley, the rear of the house was high enough to play under and provided outside pleasure even during some of the lighter rains that came up on summer afternoons. I remember ducks, or at least one duck, though my mother insists that it was a rooster. This bird, whatever it was, used to attack us when we least expected it. I was thoroughly intimidated even though I was much larger that it was. Down the street from us lived a lady by the name of Guinn (I'm not sure the spelling is correct). Mrs. Guinn made the best tea cookies and would treat my brother Allen Key and me whenever she saw us. While we were living on Liberty Street, I remember going to what was to become the house my mother still lives in as I write this. I can remember standing where the drive way was to be made and watching the workmen laying bricks to make the pillars that the house was built on. Not long after moving into the new house my sister Anita was born. What stands out, was that Papa's parents, Memere and Papaw were there. They seldom came to visit us from New Roads. We usually visited them. That was because neither drove until Papaw learned years later, but that's another story. At about the same time Hershel and Lily Bell McLeod came into the picture. They built a house next door to us shortly after we built ours. Hershel gave Allen Key and me a lot of attention and was always our friend. One time he showed us how to make airplanes from slats that were left over from Papa's seed bed. He covered the seedbed with slats spaced far enough apart to let in adequate sun, but with enough cover to protect from high winds and cold weather. Hershel showed us how to notch the slats such that all the parts fit into place. That really impressed me because the little planes looked so much better when the tail wasn't just tacked on to one side or another. Hershel and Lily Bell were special people. They were the first to get FM radio. Hershel took the time to show me why FM sounded so much better, not the least of which there was no static like AM produced. I think this may have been one of the early sparks that ignited my love for electronics. Hershel also raised roses, and took pictures. The first time I saw a color photograph was one Hershel took of my sister next to one of his blooming rose bushes. When I was about five or six I bit my fingernails down to the quick. Hershel offered me a dollar if I would quit. It took a month or two but I did, and I got my dollar! When I was four I went to kindergarten. My teacher's name was Anna. I don't remember her last name. Even so I really loved her. We went to school at the civic center, which was located in the park. This was about two blocks if one walked out the back of our lot and cut across the park, but by street it was a long three blocks. This seemed like a long way to walk to a four year old so I usually cut across the park. We called the teacher Miss Anna "Banana", behind her back of course. Miss Anna lived about three blocks down Bertheaud Avenue, the same street we lived on. One time I rode Allen Key's big tricycle down to her house. I don't remember her being home but I do remember her geese. There were several and they decided I didn't belong there and chased me out of the yard. Boy, I don't believe anything could be as terrifying to a four or five year old than a flock of geese hissing and honking after him. Miss Caldwell was my first grade teacher. She lived a couple of doors down from Sonny Durio. Sonny was my best friend most of my life and I played with him on many occasions on the way home from school. It was not unusual for me to stop later and do chores for Miss Caldwell. It was much more fun doing chores for her than at home. We did many things by ritual, especially as it related to eating and food. For example, if there was one more piece of cake and Allen Key and I were to share it, we had a certain way that we would do it. One of us would cut and the other would choose. We almost went to extremes when it was our turn to cut, measuring carefully so as not to give the chooser even a grain more than the cutter. Also, when we had French toast, Mama would fix it and we would compete to see who had first choice so as to get the one we perceived to have even the tiniest bit more sugar on it. When one ate French toast there was a certain way to cut it and order in which we ate the pieces. Each piece of toast was cut twice across one way and twice across the other creating nine bite size pieces. First one would eat the four corner pieces. They had the least sugar and the most crust! Then we ate the four side pieces. They had the next least amount of sugar and next most crust. Finally we would savor the last piece; the one with the most sugar and with no crust at all. We moved to Vine Grove, Kentucky in 1942 while Papa was stationed at Fort Knox for training and then as a tank gunnery instructor during the early part of World War II. Allen Key, Louis Miller and I roamed all over the countryside. On one such trip during the winter we came upon a big barn. It was cold with the wind blowing so we went inside to warm up. While walking around in the hay loft I fell through the hay and a hole in the floor. I fell into the feeding bin. This was nothing but boards nailed at an angle from the side wall to the ceiling with enough space between the boards for a cow to put her head between the boards to eat the hay that was forked through the hole in the floor of the loft. The boards were so close together I couldn't squeeze through and there was so much hay in the bin that I couldn't crawl sideways. Finally Allen Key and Louis pulled one of the boards loose so I could get out. That was a big relief. At the end of the street we lived on was a field with a thin strip of woods, behind which was a small pond. There was an old fence running across the pond. Some one built a platform with a short diving board onto one of the fence posts. On one occasion I dove off and hit the fence cutting my head on a barb. Unfortunately I didn't have permission to go swimming but it was impossible to hide the cut so I was caught. Soon after I came home with some red mud residue in my hair and Mama really got mad because she thought I had been swimming in the pond again. Actually I had been swimming in the basement of the new high school which was under construction and had flooded during some real bad storms. Behind the house was a small pond that belonged to Mr. French. We caught a lot of small cat fish in that pond. That summer Allen Key and I planted several tomato plants in the back yard. Those plants got bigger and made larger tomatoes than any I had ever seen. They were so big Papa checked and found that we had planted them over the septic tank. For some reason that I didn't understand at the time we were not allowed to eat our tomatoes. One nice thing about northern Kentucky was snow. We seldom had snow in South Louisiana so we really had fun. We could start at the top of the hill near our house and by going north then east we could go almost a mile ending up on the street behind the stores on the main street of town. The problem was pulling the sled all the way back home. That's where Boots came in. She was our collie dog. She would let us sit on the sled and hold on to her tail while pulling the sled all the way home. While we were in Kentucky I had appendicitis. I caught the measles while in the hospital and had to stay in quarantine for about an extra week. I got a Mickey Mouse watch and a bow and arrow set while in the hospital. Mama set up a pillow for a backdrop for me to shoot. The watch didn't last long, I got it wet and it stopped. When I finally got out I was supposed to take it easy while my stitches healed. I didn't and while playing follow the leader jumped off a seven foot porch scaring Mama. She was afraid I had torn open the sutures so she rushed me to the Doctor who ripped of the bandage, and all my stomach skin, only to find that everything was okay. One day while eating lunch at school I dropped the tray on the floor. I was so embarrassed I ran home from school. While we were living in Vine Grove, I found a whole 37MM anti-aircraft round. I thought it was just a dummy since the firing cap was missing. While trying to remove the projectile (with a vise and hammer) Papa came down the stairs to the basement where I was working. He flipped! He took the shell away from me, wrapped it in a pillow and towels, and took it to Fort Knox where he worked as a gunnery instructor for Armor Officers. The Explosive Ordinance Detachment disarmed the round and inserted a dummy projectile and Papa brought it back to me. The original was still live and would have taken out part of the house had it exploded while I was hammering on it.