There are some things that happen in your life that impress you so profoundly that the memory stays with you all of your life, even things you experience when you were very young. I can think of three such traumatic things in my life before I became a teen.
It was right after my twelfth birthday I think, when we were living in Perry, that something happened that has remained in my mind all these years. I was helping Grandpa in his garden, and a neighbor who had a radio, came running over to tell us that Governor Huey P. Long had died of gunshot wounds. I did not even know "The Kingfish" had been shot! I remember how my stomach seemed to turn over, and the roof of my mouth got all prickly. Later, I learned that he had been murdered in the Capitol House.
We were living in Mr. Castanza's rent house when I was about ten. His big house was on the corner and directly behind it, facing the other street, was another large house. I believe the family who lived there were the Eleazars. Our house was right next door to the Castanza's and behind us was the home of Mrs. Yolande Toups, who had been my first grade teacher. An alley ran the full length of the block, separating the two rows of houses. Living with Miz Yolande was a young relative of hers named Pershing Hebert, who had come from Pecan Island to live in Kaplan so he could go to school.
Mrs. Eleazar's mother was an elderly lady with many health problems, including depression, and her daughter was taking care of her. We knew nothing about such illnesses then, so people just said she was crazy. Early one morning, before her daughter was awake, the old mother somehow got out of the house, carrying a small can of kerosene and some matches. She locked herself in the outhouse next to the alley, and doused herself with the kerosene and stuck a match, setting herself on fire! Her screams brought everyone running. It was Pershing who got to her first. He leaned over the fence and unlocked the outhouse door, and she came rushing out, all aflame. She ran halfway across the yard toward her house before she fell. I got there just in time to see her draw one last awful gasping breath. The only word that will describe how I felt was horrified. I ran back to my house, went into the bathroom and lost the breakfast I'd just eaten. Mom let me stay home from school that day. I guess she knew I would not have been able to function. I cried all day. I have never been able to forget the horror of the moment when I saw that old lady draw her last breath.
When I was about six, just before I started school, we were living in Mr. Gary's rent house, and one of our neighbors was a Reaux family. They had a beautiful black Chow that everyone said was really mean, but they kept him confined so that he could not hurt anyone. I loved dogs and we always kept dogs ourselves, mostly Dad's hunting dogs, so I was not afraid of them. But one day, Mom sent me to Mr. Clavery's grocery store for a loaf of sliced bread. I was carrying that bread in a brown paper bag, skipping along and humming to myself, trying not to step on the cracks in the sidewalk because that would bring me bad luck, you know. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, Mr. Reaux's black Chow came rushing at me! I don't know how he had got loose, and I wasn't about to wait around to find out. I ran so fast that I outdistanced that big black dog. I remember the feel of the wind rushing by my little flying feet. I don't remember what happened to the loaf of bread I was carrying.
There have been other memorable events in my life, of course, but these early ones seemed to be engraved in my memory.
Copyright © 2001 Aline T. Meaux, Abbeville, LA
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