THE GARY'S RENT HOUSE
During his lifetime, my father owned two boats, which he had built himself, and a dark blue 1939 Ford Business Coupe which he bought just before we moved to Selma, Alabama from Orange, Texas. But he never owned a house. Mom's dream to own her own house was never fulfilled. We always lived in rent houses, and Dad was fond of saying, somewhat boastfully, that the only real estate he owned was the dirt that he got under his fingernails from working to earn a living. (I think now, as I thought then, that this was a "cop-out.") Somehow, Mom was always able to make wherever we lived into a home.
The first place I remember living in was the house in Kaplan that Dad rented from Mr. Fils Gary. My family moved there from Mulvey when I was an infant, and my memory goes back to when I was about three years old. I loved that house! It was large and roomy and had four porches, two on the west side, one along the front and another off the kitchen on the east side. The tall brick blocks it sat on were built with an open lattice design, quite attractive.
Because the house was set so high off the ground, there was ample space for my brother and I and our friends in the neighborhood to play on a rainy day. We built our own little city under there with streets and canals, and the brick blocks became apartment houses that my girlfriends and me could furnish with furniture made of match boxes and cardboard for our families of paper dolls cut from the Spiegel catalog.
My brother and his friends also built a tree house in the tall oak tree on the west side of the house, and I was the only girl allowed to play in it. Mom was always afraid I'd fall, but I never did, although I did take a fall off one of the back porches once. I landed on a shovel that Grandpa has left leaning against the water cistern while he went in to get a cool drink from the kitchen. I still have an almond-shaped scar on my behind from that incident.
Nice, soft green grass grew in the ditch in front of the house, and Grandpa mowed the ditch whenever he mowed the lawn. I looked forward to rainy days, because when the ditch filled with water, I had a wonderful, clean place to wade. I also was allowed to go with my brother when he and his friends went to swim in the canal just a few blocks from our house. Not all the children were as lucky, though.
One of our neighbors, a widowed lady named Mrs. Touchet, was afraid to let her young son go swimming. He'd whine and plead and beg to go, and she always refused. One day, weary of his badgering, she exclaimed, "Oh, go ahead! But, little boy, if you come back home drowned, I'll whip you!" The whole neighborhood chuckled over that for a long time.
We had a machine in a tall varnished cabinet that held a turntable on which we could play records. My older sisters and their friends used to gather at our house on Saturday afternoons, and they let me keep the machine wound up and playing music while they danced.
Mom cooked our meals on a wood-burning stove. She made long delicious loaves (flutes) of French bread. The wonderful aroma of that bread as she took it from the oven just as I was rounding the corner on my way from school in the afternoon, made me hurry home.
I must have been a pretty good kid, because I remember getting spanked only twice in my life. The first time was before I started school in Kaplan. I asked Mom if I could go to see my daddy at his machine shop a few blocks away. She told me that I would have to wait until he came home. But little Miss Smarty took off and went to see her daddy anyhow. (Lord, I still remember the stinging sensation when Mom's hand came down on my little old butt!) I realize now that she spanked me because she was frightened that something bad had happened to me.
When I was about nine, we moved from Mr. Gary's house into Mr. Joe Castanza's rent house, just a block from Dad's shop, and I have good memories about that house, too, which I will share with you in another story.
Copyright © 2001 Aline T. Meaux, Abbeville, LA
this window to return to the "On the Bayou..." listings
(Left click on the "X" in upper right-hand corner of this window.)