I am no sports enthusiast. While everyone else watched the muddy players fight over the slippery ball, I was obsessed with the little black bear. For a long time after I discovered Poinsettia were poisonous, I wondered if he had died January 2, 1957.
We saw the mascot eating the plants as we sat on the fifty yard line while the Tennessee Volunteers and the Baylor Bears duked it out in the Sugar Bowl. Dad and I and the “boys” had traveled to New Orléans in Mr. E’s limousine earlier in the day. Edna had decided I was just too weird for a girl, and I had been taken over by her twelve-year old twin brothers Frankie and Little Joe.
The night before the Sugar Bowl, a group of us, sans Edna, had traveled in Mrs. E’s Cadillac from Opelousas to Port Barre to set off firecrackers in Mr. E’s lumber yard in celebration of the New Year. Mrs. E was “under the weather” so we weaved and bobbed all over the road, a tidbit of information the cook and maid were to pry out of me the next morning after breakfast. (To escape the twins, who adored me, I had taken refugee in the pantry with the divinity fudge.)
Heck, Mrs E had even sent me to school with Frankie and Little Joe, who dragged me all over the Catholic enclave like some captured Indian princess (I towered over them). They happily showed me off to the nuns and their rowdy school mates and I ate lunch with them in the school cafeteria. Truth be told, I had a better time with them than I had with Edna.
Our Gang blew up about 3,000 firecrackers in the lumber yard on New Year’s Eve, and I almost lost my thumb because I held a fire cracker for too long while I gazed at the yard foreman’s son. I knew it could never work because he too was a head shorter than me, but I could tell he liked me, an observation Frankie and Little Joe also made. In the early morning hours, we left my new interest and the papered lumber yard, and returned to Opelousas in the Cadillac under the influence of Mrs. E, me sitting in the back with Frankie and Little Joe, each holding an arm.
Later that morning, Dad and I and the boys set off for New Orléans and the Sugar Bowl in Mr E’s limousine driven by his very sober and capable chauffeur. Mr. E sat on the back seat with a big cigar in his mouth looking like ‘The Kingfish’ in All the King’s Men or ‘Big Daddy’ in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
“They call me Cash Joe” he said as lifted the cigar with his forefinger and thumb and blew out stale air. I sat on one of the side seats with Frankie and Joe, my mouth open saying nothing. Frankie and Joe held my hands and looked at me with adulation.
We stopped for our mid-day meal in another casino turned dinner club with murals on four walls, one copied from ‘The Cotton Exchange’ painted by Edgar De Gas during his stay with his Creole uncle in New Orléans. On the far wall was a mural showing a steamboat plying the Mississippi, on another the cotton wharfs with happy Negroes loading bales of cotton. As my Dad was present, I was not offered any liquor. Nor do I remember what I ate.
Do I remember the game? Not at all, such things were beyond me, while bears and hound dog mascots, and my twin admirers were not. I remember the fifty yard line and the Poinsettia on every line. And I remember the bear eating them.
Beignets from New Orléans
The next day, Dad and I left Opelousas for home, stopping in New Orléans on the way. To make up for my tortured time in the Elder household, Dad took me to Brennan’s for breakfast where we ate beignets and sat in beautiful wrought iron chairs on an open terrace in the sun, powdered sugar blowing all over us.
After walking through Pirates Alley and the Bourbon Street souvenir shops, Dad and I searched cemeteries all over New Orléans looking for the grave of the pirate Jean Laffite. I discovered some time later Lafitte was not buried in New Orléans, that his men had buried him in the Mississippi River. Before that, I learned how the people of New Orléans buried their dead in graves raised above the high water table. Heck I even found a human skull lying on the ground in one graveyard. I was not Edna’s kind of girl.