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November 14, 2014

From a Fair Distance

Roy Meachum

As frequently as memory is quick, I think of my childhood. My recollections turn around New Orleans. I’m Louisiana-born-and-bred. Not brown-eyed, but blue-eyed; I came out of the non-Cajun area of the state.


Monroe, which sits in the North, was home to my ancestors who were Scotch-Irish. It irritates me when the clan as described as “Scots”-Irish. There is possessive in what we call ourselves; same as the whiskey, which is called “Scotch.” I’ve never worn a kilt – even for Mardi Gras.


Speaking of the festive day, which precedes Lent, frequently I went as a pirate. Costumes were very expensive for growing boys at a single festival. I can remember being frigid in the French Quarter, shaking beneath the rayon. On the other hand, I was warm depending on the weather: Lent comes early or late.


Otherwise I gamboled around the city streets. I remember going to see “Gone with the Wind,” or the latest Errol Flynn movie. New Orleans was valued as a major market, maybe because of the name. We learned at McDonough #10 school that there was nothing comparable to our city. Miami had yet to gain the flood of Cubans or most families moved south because of the mild temperatures.


Gangsters operated in the weather. One day I realized that Alvin Karpis, the Depression era gangster, lived across Jackson Avenue, in a similar boarding house. We noticed because of the many cops that came to my neighborhood – after Mr. Karpis skedaddled. There were others.


Furthermore, like most kids reared in the Great Depression, I was very polite; conscious of the adult who promised to “lick the tar out of me” – or some colorful expression. That was the time when speech was very “colorful. Actually, mouthing the words from the “flappers” era – without the original meaning. We did know some: “a mess,” created by Amos ‘n Andy or anything of a pipe played by Bob Burns. There are “dictums” that whiz still over my balding head.


Uncle Pat came up with things about movies; he was a stage hand, kept employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Monday nights are cheaper than any other evening. “If you wear the hat backwards, I’m sure you can get in” – or some such. He taught me what a “picayune” is and other things that the man wouldn’t practice in life. Other bits, we could joist about.


Unless you’re brought up in the Great Depression, they wouldn’t make such sense to me.


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