The year 1939 brought several changes in my life. First, when my brother "Jay" turned 21, he joined the Army. He passed all the tests, except the weight requirement. He was two pounds under. The recruiting officer told him to go home and eat as much as he could for a week, and then come back to be weighed again. So "Jay" went to the corner grocery store and bought a big bag of bananas. He ate his three regular meals every day, and between meals, stuffed himself on bananas. A week later, he had managed to gain those two pounds, but just barely. Mom said he must have a tapeworm!
A few weeks later, I graduated from Orange High School, and then my dad and mom and brother Jerry moved to Selma, Alabama. To prepare for the move, Mom sold or gave away all her furniture, and we packed only our clothes and personal items. My dad's car was a 1939 Ford business coupe, and there was room only for him, Mom and Jerry and our suitcases and boxes, so I made the trip by bus. That was some adventure!
Back then, not even Greyhound buses were air-conditioned, so when we rolled through Sulphur, Louisiana, we raised the windows to shut out the awful smell from the oil refineries. I changed bus in New Orleans and stopped over in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to spend the night. I remember that the next day was Sunday, because I walked around town that morning, looking for a Catholic church so I could go to Mass. Hattiesburg is a pretty town, but I was already getting lonesome for the flatlands, the marshes and the bayous of the Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coast.
I remember the gosh-awful stench when we went through Birmingham, Alabama, but I loved the gentle hills I saw as we neared Selma. My parents met me at the bus station, and took me to our new home, an apartment in a housing complex near the center of town. Mom and I both hated it!
Dad's new job was with Ohio Grease Company, as Sales and Service Representative, and he sold and serviced grease guns to saw mills in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. He loved BIG machinery, but always sought out an auto mechanic when something went wrong with his little Ford. I spent the months of June, July and August setting up a card file of his accounts, using the little portable typewriter I had received for a graduation gift.
In September, I enrolled for a course in Business Education at the Sacred Heart Academy. I was not surprised to learn that I was the only Catholic student there, because there were not many Catholics in Selma. I can't remember the name of the little church we attended, but it was very small, and very dark and dank, not at all what I'd been used to back home.
Sacred Heart convent was housed in an old two-story wood frame building, and our classrooms were on the second floor. The business course they offered was the best in the area, so classes were always large. Our instructor, Sister Mary du Chantal, was big and loud, and did not always smell very good. She was freshly transplanted from Ireland, and she managed her class of about 45 students with a stern hand. Her lovely Irish accent was her one redeeming feature, as far as I was concerned.
I found the speech of the other students strange at first, and often smiled when they came in and said, "Good mawnin', ever' body." By the time I had been there three months, I was talking just like that myself! I usually brought a brown bag lunch to school, but one day I decided I'd go to a little cafe around the corner from the school and have a chili dog. Know what? Those people didn't even know what a chili dog was! They offered me a hot dog, instead, and when they brought it to me, it was covered with sauerkraut. I never went back.
I had one classmate who lived in my neighborhood, with whom I often walked to school. One day, my dad had given me a letter to drop off at the postoffice on the way to school. I thought my friend would come into the postoffice with me, but she told me she would wait for me outside. I walked up to the door and a friendly man held the door open for me, so I thanked him and went on in and mailed my dad's letter. When I came out, my friend asked, "Weren't you scared? That was a "nigger" that held the door open for you!" It took a while for that to soak in, because I had never been taught that you are supposed to be afraid of people of another race. All I said was, "How silly can you get, girl!" I remembered that incident when I heard about the march in Selma several years later. That girl must have been cowering in some closet in her house.
It was while I was living in Selma that the movie "Gone with the Wind" came out. I had to stand in line two hours before I could get into the theater to see it. It was really a wonderful story, and I've seen it several times since then, even watched it on my VCR. One thing that stands out in my mind is the loud gasps that sounded from all over the theater when Rhett uttered those memorable words, "Frankly, my deah, Ah don't give a damn!" How daring!
Some years later, when I was reading THE SLEEPING PROPHET, the story about Edgar Cayce, I realized that I had passed many times in front of the building where he was later to set up his photographer's shop. Isn't it strange how one part of your life flows into another?
Soon after I finished school in Selma, Dad decided to move us back to Louisiana, because Mom was so lonely that she was getting sick. That is when we moved to Lafayette. And it wasn't just Mom who was happy about that!
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.)