Parker Hayden Media
December 2017 (12-11-17)
Amazon ASIN: B0786XCGHX
BN ID: 294-0158807442

| Amazon Kindle | B&N Nook | Kobo | iBooks |


Present Day

Sentimental Journey…

Louise Rivard, best known up and down the bayou as Tante Lulu, was celebrating her ninetieth birthday. For the second year in a row.

Or was it the third?

Maybe the fourth.

Whatever! she thought. Age is just a number, like I always say. Some fools are old fogies at fifty, like rusted-out jalopies, bless their hearts, creepin’ along the highway of life. Me, on the other hand, I still have a bucket-load of va-voom under my hood, and miles to go before I bite the dust.

Bucket-load, bucket list, get it?

Ha, ha, ha! There’s a hole in my bucket, there’s a hole in my bucket…

Talking to herself was nothing new for Louise. Answering herself was another matter, especially when she answered in song. And, no, it had nothing to do with her age or that alls-hammer some seniors got. It was just that sometimes she was more fun than the people around her; so, she had to amuse herself.

Anyways, like she told her niece Charmaine last week, “Ninety is the new seventy.”

“If that’s true, then forty is the new twenty. Hal-le-lu-jah! Heck, I’ll settle fer thirty.” Charmaine, ever conscious of her age and appearance, had done a little boogie dance around Louise’s kitchen to celebrate. “Maybe I’ll have T-shirts made up fer mah beauty spas with that message. ‘Forty Is the New Thirty’ on the front, and on the back, ‘And We Can Help. Cut & Die Hair Salon, Houma, Louisiana.’”

Charmaine owned a string of hair salons and beauty spas in Southern Louisiana. A self-proclaimed bimbo with a brain, she was always looking out for the main chance.

Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, in my opinion.

Actually, Louise’s birthday had already passed, and been celebrated in grand style with a pool party at her nephew Luc’s house. Even so, today her LeDeux great-nephews and nieces, along with a few great-greats, were treating her to a belated gift, some kind of secret destination road trip. There were so many of the family tagging along that they were a highway caravan. Pick-up trucks, expensive sedans like Luc’s BMW, even Louise’s vintage, lavender Chevy Impala convertible, named Lillian, being driven by her great-great-niece Mary Lou, who was constantly pleading for first dibs on the vehicle in Louise’s will.

To which, Louise always answered, “I ain’t dead yet, girl. Mebbe I’ll get buried in it, ’stead of some boring wood casket. Wouldn’t that shock St. Peter if I came roarin’ through the Pearly Gates? Not to worry. St. Jude would be out front, wavin’ me in.”

St. Jude was Louise’s favorite go-to saint, the patron of hopeless cases. And, whoo-boy, had she run into a passel of hopeless folks in her time! Herself included, especially after…well, a long time ago.

Louise was riding shotgun in the first vehicle, an SUV driven by her youngest LeDeux nephew, Tee-John, “tee-” being a Cajun prefix for small or little. Not so young anymore, Tee-John, a cop from up Lafayette way, was what modern people called thirty-something. And he was far from little anymore, either.

Tee-John’s wife Celine sat in the back seat with their son, Etienne, who was thirteen going on twenty, a rascal just like his daddy had been…and probably still was. Lately, Etienne insisted that his friends call him by the English version of his name, Steven. If Louise heard, “Call me Steve,” one more time when she talked to him, she was going to pitch a hissy fit.

“Ay-T-en is a perfectly good Cajun name, and you’re Cajun ta the bone, boy,” she often told him.

The rascal usually winked at her and said with an exaggerated drawl, “Ah know, auntie. Cantcha tell, ah got mah Cajun on all the time, guar-an-teed!”

As a contrast to their older brother, six- and five-year-old Annie and Rob were in the way-back seat, deaf to their surroundings with headsets connected to games on their cell phones. Etienne was expertly thumbing his way on his own phone, too, even as he talked. A multitasker!

What was the world coming to when children needed their own phones? Knowing Etienne, he was probably looking at nekkid pictures, or sending ones of himself. Lordy, Lordy, the boy was a trial. Girls up and down the bayou best beware when this boy got old enough to really get his Cajun on.

“Do you wanna know what yer surprise birthday gift is, auntie?” Tee-John asked her, once they were on the road.

“No, I wanna sit on my hiney playin’ twenty questions,” she griped. A trip to Baton Rouge was not her idea of fun, even if they went to some fancy pancy restaurant, or visited some historic site, or something else her family had in mind, like they usually did. She’d rather be working in her garden (she had two bushels of okra ready to be picked), or practicing her belly dancing (there was a competition coming up soon that she was thinking about entering), or playing bingo at Our Lady of the Bayou Church hall (where the jackpot this week was a Crock-Pot big enough to hold a small pig).

Ooh, ooh, ooh, an idea suddenly came to her. “Is Richard Simmons in town? Am I finally gonna meet my crush?” Since the exercise guru had disappeared from the public eye in recent years, she’d been worried about him.

Tee-John rolled his eyes, and she heard snickering from Celine. “Who’s Richard Simmons?” Call-me-Steve asked.

She shook her head with disgust. No one understood her longtime fascination with the exercise celebrity. She knew Richard hadn’t been handsome in the traditional sense, even when he was younger, but he had a positive attitude about life that she loved. And he had va-voom if anyone did! His jumping jacks still gave her tingles.

“No, you’re not gonna meet the famous Richard,” Tee-John said. “Your gift is a visit to a reenactment type event in Baton Rouge called, ‘The War Years: A Celebration’.”

“Big whoop! Another Civil War re-enactment! When are Southerners gonna realize they lost that war? And why would ya imagine I’d be interested? You’d think I lived back then, the way some folks keep bringin’ it up. ‘Didja ever meet Jefferson Davis, Tante Lulu? Ha, ha, ha!’ I ain’t that old!”

Etienne muttered something that sounded like “Wanna bet?”

She turned and threatened to swat “Call me Steve” with her St. Jude fan, then told Tee-John, “Besides, ya keep tellin’ me it’s politically incorrect ta refer ta Northerners as Damn Yankees anymore. So, why we gonna celebrate that war again? We, fer certain, cain’t be wavin’ no Confederate flags, ’less we wanna be called big-hots.”

Tee-John was laughing so hard he’d probably be peeing his pants. “You mean bigot, auntie. Not big-hot.”

“I know what a bigot is, fool.”

“Why do you bother correcting her?” Celine asked her husband, as if Louise wasn’t even there.

Actually, Celine, and all the other LeDeux women for that matter, Sylvie, Rachel, Val, and Charmaine, were kind of mad at Louise, claiming that she put a curse on them to make them all pregnant at this late stage in their lives. All Louise had done was make a chance remark to St. Jude, in their hearing, that it would be nice to have more babies around.

Last summer they were sure they were all breeding, then next month they weren’t, then they were, now no one was sure. Samantha was the only one not complaining, but the she and Daniel were just getting started.

How they could they blame her for their wonky cycles was beyond Louise? It was all up to God…and St. Jude, of course. And, besides, everyone knew children were a blessing, not a curse.

In any case, Louise ignored Celine’s snarkiness and continued, “As fer grown men playin’ war games with antique guns? Pffft! And I ain’t gonna sit around watchin’ grown men whistle ‘Dixie,’ either, like we did at the Shrimp Festival last year.”

Celine kept trying to interrupt her, and finally got a few words in. “Not that war, Tante Lulu.”

“And, FYI, I don’t think there were many Johnny Rebs who took the time to whistle during the Civil War,” Tee-John added, before she shut them both up.

“Do ya think I’m a total idjit? I’d like ta f. y. i. ya with my f. a. n.”

Tee-John grinned.

Celine explained with a long sigh, as if Louise was the idjit in this car, and not them, “This is about the World War II era. There will be all kinds of venues related to the 1940s. Music, clothing, movies, dances, everything involving the home front.”

Tee-John backed his wife up by telling Louise, “You’re always tellin’ us stories about that time, when you were single. We thought you’d enjoy it.”

“Hmpfh! How’d ya hear about this?”

“A brochure came into the newspaper office, and I volunteered to cover the event.” Celine was a feature reporter for the Times Picayune in New Orleans. “It’s the first ever for Loo-zee-anna, but these kind of World War II celebrations are very popular all over the world, especially in Britain.”

“Isn’t there a World War II museum in Nawleans?” Louise asked.

“Yes, but this is different,” Celine said.

“People want to go back to a time when life was simpler and country pride was at a high,” Tee-John elaborated.

“Ya mean like Donald Trump wantin’ ta make America proud again?”

“Not even close,” Tee-John said with a laugh. “The 1940s were a time of austerity, as you well know. And people showed their pride and did their part by planting Victory Gardens, home canning, using ration books, buying war bonds.”

“I still have a garden, and I still can fruit and vegetables,” Louise said. “Big deal!”

Tee-John was the one sighing now. “We figured you were a young woman back then, and this event would bring back memories.”

He had no idea! The years from 1942 to 1944 were the happiest and most tragic of her life, leading to what she called her Big Grief. She would never forget. And she didn’t need any old war fair to jog her memories.

“It’ll be fun,” Celine said.

I’d rather stick needles in my eyes or watch a cypress tree grow.

“I hope they have tanks. I always wanted to climb into one of those tanks and shoot off a dozen rounds. Bam, bam, bam!” Steve/Etienne said.

“Don’t ya dare climb up on any machinery,” Tee-John warned. “You’re already grounded fer that tattoo incident.”

Tante Lulu chuckled. It was payback time for Tee-John, the wildest boy in the bayou. “Talk about bein’ grounded, I remember the time ya went ta that clothing-optional party, Tee-John, when ya were little more’n Etienne’s age.”

“Auntie!” Etienne protested. “Call me Steve.”

Tee-John groaned. “Did you hafta mention that party?”

Celine laughed.

“Whoa!” Etienne hooted. “Tell me more.”

“It wasn’t clothing-optional, it was underwear-optional,” Tee-John corrected.

“Oh, that’s better. Not!” Celine remarked.

“I’m not wearing any underwear,” Etienne informed them all.

Every person in the car looked at the boy, even his father through the rearview mirror, and the two “robots” in the way-back who pretended to be brain dead from cell phoneitis, but, apparently, heard everything. But no one said anything. What could you say to that?

“Doesn’t it hurt?” Rob asked finally. “One time I went ta school without my underwear ’cause my Superman tightie whities were dirty, and the zipper on my jeans chafed my tooter somethin’ awful.”

“Ya shoulda put some of my snake oil ointment on it,” Louise advised.

“Ouch!” Etienne said. “You’re supposed ta arrange yer goodies ta the side.”

“Goodies? Eew!” Annie observed.

“Oh,” was Rob’s reaction. “How do ya do that arrangin’ thing?”

“That’s enough on the subject,” Tee-John ordered.

“Talk about!” Louise remarked.

And Celine smacked her son on the shoulder.

“What did I do?” Etienne asked, but he was grinning like a pig in honey-coated slop.

When they parked in the State Fairgrounds lot, a huge banner did, indeed, announce, “The War Years: A Celebration,” and Louise thought of something. “Y’know, Tee-John, lots of pacifists would be offended at a celebration of that war. It wasn’t all swing music and pretty hairdos. There was some grim stuff goin’ on back then. Yessirree. Like the Holocaust and Hiroshima, not ta mention all the soldiers that got killed.” Including one near and dear to her own heart, she couldn’t help but think. “’Course, we dint know ’bout the concentration camps and big bombs and all that till the end.”

“I can answer that,” Celine said.

Surprise, surprise!

“The event promoters put out a disclaimer ahead of time, stating that the war itself wasn’t being celebrated, but the home front and the culture of the times,” Celine went on.

Doesn’t she always? Go on, and on, and on.

“In fact, they’re making every effort to show respect for those who died and the vets who survived with special activities, like an honor guard of remaining World War II veterans, a D-Day commemoration, and so on.”

“You’re right, though, auntie. We shouldn’t look at the war with rose-colored glasses,” Tee-John said, as he helped her out from the high seat. She was barely five feet tall in her bare feet. Auto makers were prejudiced against short people, if you asked her. She used to be five-foot-three…well, five-foot-two-and-a-half, but somehow the inches were disappearing, along with her boobs and butt.

Immediately, Annie took her one hand and Rob, the other. They really were sweet children. Maybe these two wouldn’t turn out as wild as Tee-John and Etienne. And Celine wasn’t so bad, either, Louise had to admit, especially if she could raise up three good children like these three. Or put up with Tee-John’s antics, truth to tell.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people were strolling about the grounds. They followed the crowds.

A map of the fairgrounds showed where particular booths were situated, like vintage clothing, hair styling, music, movies, kitchen gadgets, food, Victory Gardens, toys, penny arcades, ration books, tea rooms, and picture booths. There would be a parade of classic cars later in the day.

“Lillian is a classic. She could be in the parade,” Louise said.

“She isn’t old enough, auntie,” Tee-John said.

Louise didn’t hear that very often, about herself anyway.

Despite what Celine had said, there was a lot of military stuff going on, Louise noticed, studying the roster some more, like a war bonds poster booth, displays of service uniforms, guns and ammo, aircraft, WACs, USOs, and historical booths that included a number of authors and the books they’d written about the war. Like the vintage cars, there would be a convoy of military vehicles.

At the far end of the grounds there was a stage where various swing bands would be playing, with a Bob Hope impersonator running the show. In addition, making an appearance would be Radio Josette, the Voice of the South, who had been popular with local servicemen back in the 40s.

“I thought Josette Sonnier died twenty years ago. Josie was usin’ a walker at a fifty-year D-Day commemoration back in 1994. She mus’ be ancient by now.”

Etienne snickered behind her, as if her calling someone ancient was funny. She ignored him, for now, and explained, “Josie was a beauty, but mostly the fellows loved her ’cause she had this soft, sexy voice with a Southern accent. Made the homesick soldiers feel like there was allus someone waitin’ fer them ta come back after the war.”

To demonstrate, she lowered her voice and imitated Josie’s usual greeting to her radio fans. “Hel-lo, boys! This is Radio Jo-sette comin’ ta y’all from Loo-zee-anna. I’ve got somethin’ fer ya, fellas, y’hear?”

Etienne wasn’t snickering now. In fact, he was staring googly-eyed at her, while Tee-John was laughing like a drunk hyena.

But then, their attention was diverted to her niece Charmaine who’d joined them after emerging from a pick-up truck with the logo “Triple L Ranch,” along with her husband Raoul “Rusty” Lanier and their daughter Mary Lou. Rusty and Mary Lou wore typical cowboy/cowgirl attire…denim pants and shirts, well-worn boots and hats. But Charmaine…Lordy, Lordy!…was dressed like a 1940s pin-up. And, believe it or not, Louise knew a lot about 1940s pin-ups. It didn’t matter that Charmaine had hit the forty mark by now. As a former Miss Louisiana, she had an image to maintain. Face it, she was still hot as Cajun Lightning, or Tabasco sauce, the South’s contribution to the world of spice.

Charmaine must have inherited Louise’s genetic taste for outrageousness because she was wearing red, high-heeled, peep-toe pumps with seamed stockings. A white blouse with shoulder pads, unbuttoned to expose her famous cleavage, was tucked into a slim—very slim—black skirt that hugged her butt cheeks. A wide, red patent-leather belt cinched in her waist. Her long, black, wavy hair was tucked behind one ear and hung over the other eye, Veronica Lake style, topped by a pert little red pillbox hat with a half veil. Her make-up was expertly applied as usual to look natural, except for her favorite Crimson Fire lipstick. There wasn’t a woman alive who could do justice to shiny red lipstick like Charmaine.

Rusty, the handsomest Cajun man to walk on two feet (everyone said so), looked as if he’d like to eat her up, like he always did. Crazy in love with his wife the boy had been for twenty years now.

If Charmaine was preggers, she sure was hiding it.

And there came Remy and his family…some of them anyways. There were a whole passel of them, including Andy LeDeux, the baseball player, who immediately had fans surrounding him, asking for autographs. Remy would have been just as good looking as Rusty, except, as a pilot during Desert Storm, he’d suffered massive burns, but only on one side of his body, forehead to toes. A shame, that! But he’d survived, that was the most important thing. Besides, to her, and to his adoring wife Rachel, he was still good-looking. And a hero.

Despite all their children, mostly adopted, Louise knew that Remy and Rachel would welcome more. But then, Rachel wasn’t looking any fatter, either.

Her oldest nephew, Luc, and his wife Sylvie came, too, with their three daughters. Next to Tee-John, Luc was her favorite. As a young boy, he’d practically raised his brothers in a rusted-out trailer with no running water. Louise had rescued the boys from their abusive father, that devil Valcour LeDeux, and saved herself in the process.

Luc had a vasectomy a few years back. What a joke it would be on him if God…or St. Jude…stuck out their big toes and tripped him up! If God could raise the dead, he could surely undo a few of man’s snips.

Finally came René and his two kids, Jude and Louise. Louise had a particular affection for these two little ones…Louise because the little girl was her namesake, and Jude because he was named after her favorite saint.

René’s wife Val, a lawyer, was in court this morning, representing a woman accused of assaulting her low-life drunk of a husband. “Some men just need killing” was considered a legal defense in some parts of Louisiana. Or, “Some lowlifes jist need a good whompin’,” Louise often said.

Val was the one most upset with Louise over this whole I’m pregnant/I’m not pregnant issue. Val was the type of woman who thought she could control her life, without any help from Above, or even from down the bayou, meaning Louise.

René, an environmentalist and teacher, was also a musician—a member of the Swamp Rats, a popular bayou band. He headed immediately for the booth showcasing music of the World War II era. Old vinyl records and albums were being sold to a long line of customers, which was surprising since everyone today seemed to be getting their music from wires hanging from their ears. She wondered how anyone could play these records since stereos were obsolete. Heck, even eight-track tape players, cassettes, and CDs were outdated. Too bad! It’s a cryin’ shame that we live in a throwaway society now. Toss it out if it shows any age. In fact, they’d throw old people out, too, if they could.

But wait, the vendor was also selling antique record players, as well as modern reproductions, some of them inside actual furniture, like those old stereo cabinets, one of which she still had in her living room. Maybe the young’uns in her family would stop making fun of her after seeing this.

Another booth displayed collectible Bakelite radios. She had one of those, too—a Philco tabletop model that still played just fine.

The music was a wonderful backdrop for this event, but it caused the fine hairs to stand out all over her body, and she felt kind of lightheaded. She held onto Charmaine’s arm as they walked along. The old sappy favorites, like “Stardust,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and “Sentimental Journey,” and even the more upbeat ones, like “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” they all triggered memories almost too painful to bear. Louise realized that she’d unconsciously avoided those songs over the decades in favor of the traditional French Cajun music, or zydeco, of the bayou. Now she knew why.

Etienne…rather, Steve…went off with his Daddy to look at all the military stuff, including, yes, a few tanks. Tee-John probably accompanied him so he wouldn’t really climb into one of the things.

Next up was a booth about Victory Gardens and home canning. Hah! Cajuns, ever frugal, knew all about the benefits of raising their own food. There was even a booth about bayou animals, how to catch and cook them, including squirrels, raccoons, snakes…and gators, of course.

“There’s a trend toward austerity t’day,” Charmaine told her, using the same word Tee-John had, back in the car. “People wanna go back ta simpler lifestyles. Avoid processed foods and red meat. Live off the land, completely.”

“Whass wrong with a supermarket once in awhile?” Louise asked. “And ain’t nothin’ like a rare roast beef with sides of okra and dirty rice.”

“I cain’t argue with that, livin’ on a ranch and all. Right, Rusty?” Charmaine asked.

But Rusty and Mary Lou had already moved on to the next booth where an old-fashioned wringer-type washing machine was being demonstrated.

“I remember those. What a pain in the hiney they were! Took half a day jist ta do a little laundry. ’Course, Monday was allus wash day. And we allus had red beans an’ rice simmerin’ on the stove on Mondays ’cause it took no trouble.”

Rob and Annie were fascinated by a Pez booth with samples of hundreds of the candy dispensers. An old Woolworth sign advertised them for ten cents each. She could only imagine what those early ones were worth today.

Cigarette girls walked around the grounds with trays held by a neck strap. Camels, Lucky Strikes, Pall Malls, Raleighs. They were probably empty packs, considering their reputation as “coffin nails,” but there was no question they had been popular back in the day. She’d smoked a few herself, when she’d thought they made her look older and more sophisticated.

Separate booths dealt with ration books, Spam, Griswold cast-iron pans, and kitchen gadgets. Louise had to explain to Mary Lou the purpose of ice picks, hand-cranked meat grinders, and treadle sewing machines.

All the women and girls were fascinated by the vintage clothing on display. Both Sylvie and Rachel sat down to have their hair styled in “Victory Rolls” that ran from one ear, along the nape, to the other ear, with center parts, or cute bangs across their foreheads. Still others had their hair done into an “up-do.”

Meanwhile, among the crowds, Celine pointed out that there were educators here who wanted to impart information about the era (the event organizers, historical societies, professors, and authors), men who liked boy toys (the military paraphernalia, in particular), and the promenaders (military re-enactors and people who just loved the attire of that time period, like Charmaine). Occasional World War II vets also hobbled about. Actually, veterans of other wars, as well.

Louise was particularly touched when she noticed some fellows in the old white “crackerjack” uniforms of the sailors, complete with the “Dixie Cup” or “gob” hats that could be molded to a rakish angle. The memories they triggered caused her heart to constrict so tight she could barely breathe.

“Are you all right?” Tee-John asked, coming to stand beside her. Apparently he and Etienne were done ogling the war planes and tanks.

“I’m fine,” she replied, but looped her arm in his as they moved along.

“Holy shit!” Etienne said suddenly.

“Watch yer language.” His father smacked him on his shoulder.

“Sorry,” Etienne apologized, though he didn’t look sorry at all. Instead, he pointed to a tent that had a display of 40s pin-up posters and magazine covers, including some by the famous painter Alberto Vargas.

“Lookee there, Tante Lulu was a centerfold.”

“She was not!” Tee-John declared, giving his son another smack.

“Yes, I was,” Tante Lulu said.

“Told ya!” Etienne hooted. “That chick up there looks jist lak Tante Lulu in that graduation picture on her dresser…the one in a silver frame. Y’know the one I mean, Daddy. She’s wearin’ a red dress and high heels and holdin’ a diploma.”

“I’ll be damned!” Tee-John muttered.

Everyone in her family who’d gathered to see what the problem was turned as one to stare at her, up at the posters, then back at her.

“I was a pin-up, not a centerfold,” Louise amended.

Luc groaned.

Tee-John laughed.

“Lemme see,” Charmaine said, pushing her way forward. Then, examining the two posters in questions, she remarked, “Wow! You were a real beauty, auntie. Bet I could do one of these pin-up pictures. What do you think, Rusty?”

Rusty just made a gurgling sound.

“All of those pin-up artists made the women look like they had perfect figures, almost too perfect. There probably isn’t a female alive with breasts so perky and waists so small. It was almost misogynistic and sexist, really. Worse than Barbie dolls,” Celine informed them all.

Did I mention Celine is a know-it-all, bless her heart? “Bull-pucky!” Louise countered.

“Get out of there,” Celine hissed as Etienne moved farther inside the tent, getting an eyeful of what would certainly appeal to an adolescent boy. To men, too, truth to tell. “Women don’t really look like that,” she continued to instruct her son. “It’s just a male fantasy.”

“God bless fantasies,” Tee-John murmured as his eyes swept the array of posters.

Celine glared at him.

He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Hey, darlin’, if I buy you one of those garter belts being sold back there with a pair of seamed stockings, I could take your picture with my cell phone, and—”

“Grow up!” Celine said.

“Never!” Tee-John and Louise hooted at the same time.

Celine had to smile then, shaking her head at the two of them.

Then Tee-John put his arm around his wife’s shoulders and tugged her closer to his side, kissing the top of her head. She could hear him whisper, “You look better than any of these models, babe.”

What a charmer!

“What’s the difference,” Etienne asked Louise, “between a centerfold and a pin-up?”

“The difference is clothes,” Tante Lulu explained, following after Etienne. There was nothing but LeDeuxs in the big tent now. “Pin-ups wore clothes, centerfolds were buck nekkid. Mostly.” She was peering closely at the two posters in question. She remembered when she’d had them done. Originally, she’d just wanted a racy picture to give to her fiancé, Phillipe Prudhomme, before he went away, but the painter, an associate of Vargas, Emmanuel Delgado, had convinced her to do several others, which had been used in a series of pin-up calendars sold in military canteens around the world.

One of the posters showed Louise wearing a red silk robe that exposed one leg up to the thigh and a cleavage no real woman ever had; in it, she posed on a pink chaise lounge, with her back arched so that her long, dark hair, like Charmaine’s Veronica Lake ’do, hung back almost to the floor. Her hair hadn’t been that long, either. Another bit of artistic license. On the other poster, she wore a strapless white bathing suit and white high-heeled pumps, posed against a boat. Perched on her up-do hairstyle, ala Judy Garland or Joan Crawford, was a white sailor cap.

“I looked good, dint I?” she said to Tee-John.

“Damn good! You actually appear tall in that one. At least five-seven, or –eight.”

“Oh, that was a trick all the pin-up painters did at that time. They wanted tall women, of course, but they had ways ta make us shorter ladies have longer legs. Like that picture shopping they do t’day.”

“She means photoshopping,” Celine told Tee-John.

“I know what it means,” Louise snapped.

The owner of the tent, overhearing their conversation, came up to them and asked Louise, “Would you mind autographing a few of your posters?”

“Sure,” she said.

Actually, her family members bought most of them, wanting evidence, no doubt, that their outrageous Tante Lulu had been outrageous, even back then.

“What do you say to a little lunch?” Luc suggested. “There’s a food tent over there. Aunt Hattie’s Tea Room. Looks like fun. Scones with clotted cream and lemon curd. Crustless finger sandwiches. Yum.”

She didn’t know if Luc was serious or poking fun. Whatever. Louise wasn’t really hungry, but she’d been on her feet all morning, and she’d welcome a little break. They had to pass the USO tent before they got to the tea room.

Sylvie linked arms with her on one side and Luc on the other. “Did you ever go to one of these?” Sylvie asked her.

“Are ya kiddin’? I lived in those canteens durin’ the war. It’s where I first met Phillipe. Well, not really ‘met’ fer the first time. We knew each other from down the bayou when we were both young’uns, but Phillipe was six years older than me. It was in the Nawleans USO where we got t’gether—really got t’gether, if ya get my meanin’.”

“We got your meanin’, auntie. No explanation needed,” Luc said.

“Are ya funnin’ me again?”

“Me?” He looked at her with mock innocence.

“Fool!” she said and glanced toward the USO tent as they passed.

Then stopped dead in her tracks and did a double take.

Disengaging herself from Luc and Sylvie, she moved hesitantly into the tent where many pictures of USOs from Louisiana were displayed. It was the black-and-white photo, enlarged to poster size, which showed her and Phillipe slow-dancing at the Fort Polk USO New Year’s Eve dance in 1943.

Phillipe hadn’t been overly tall. Only about five foot ten, but with her high-heeled pumps and dancing on her tippy toes, there had only been a few inches difference in their height. She, wearing her then-favorite tea-length gown of red chiffon, was gazing up at him with adoration. He, in his Navy dress uniform, Cajun to the core, was smiling down at her. A couple in love, no doubt about it.

Louise remembered that night as if it were yesterday. The band had been playing “Star Dust.” She could still smell his Aqua Velva, and her own musky Tabu. Still feel his nighttime stubble against her cheek. The press of his one hand against her lower back, the other hand holding her palm against his heart, thus displaying her new engagement ring, which had been a Christmas present. The whisper of his “I love you, chère” against her ear.

That’s when all the events of the day, the nostalgia, the jarred memories, good and so painful they still made her heart hurt in her chest, took their toll. There was only so much a lady could take.

Louise, for only the second time in her life, fell into a dead faint.



Begin the Beguine…

“Son of a gun!” Lt. Phillipe Prudhomme exclaimed the instant that he saw Louise Rivard in the white clingy dress and the strappy high heels, dancing her pretty little ass off at the USO in New Orleans. Sure as bayou mud stinks, he was a goner. Big trouble incoming!

He had dated Louise a few times the summer following his graduation as an ensign from the Naval Academy four years ago, prior to his entering medical school. But it had been nothing serious. His relationships with women never were. How could they be? In many ways, he was married to Uncle Sam, who owned his sorry ass for the next ten or more years.

A small price to pay for a free education, he supposed. Hell, it was the only way a poor bayou boy would have ever been able to afford college, especially during the Depression. And he had to be grateful for the rare exemption he’d been given to postpone his active duty commitment in order to complete medical school first.

In any case, Louise had only been sixteen at the time. A kid.

Now, thanks to Pearl Harbor, Phillipe had put his medical career plans on hold after only two years of med school, and gone active. And Louise Rivard was no longer a child. Mon Dieu, was that an understatement! There must be something in the bayou air to bring about this transformation. Or else, he’d been blind four years ago.

His pawpaw had warned him that this would happen one day. “Ya think yer immune, boy. Ya think plannin’ yer life out is cut and dry, like love will fit inta yer schedule. But wait and see. It happens ta all the Prudhomme men in our family. We call it the Prudhomme Whammy. You’ll be walkin’ along, free and easy, and wham bam! There’ll she be. The one! And yer free ’n easy days’ll be over. Guar-an-teed! It happened ta me when I was only seventeen. Dint happen ta yer Uncle James till he was forty-six. It comes when it comes. And it ain’t jist the pretty gals that do the trick, either. Mah second cousin, Louis, fell lak a rock when he first saw Mabel, and she’s homely as a mud hen, bless her heart.”

Phillipe had laughed at the time. What young man believed an old geezer like his grandfather had any wisdom about modern times, or about Phillipe in particular since he was different from everyone in his Cajun family? They told him so all the time.

Could the old man possibly be right? Phillipe was for damn sure standing in the middle of the crowded social club, gawking at the girl like a swabbie on his first ship, when, in fact, he was a twenty-six-year-old lieutenant junior grade officer whose Naval Academy nickname had been Prudie, and not just because of his surname. Phillipe had maintained an almost prudish attitude toward women in his single-minded quest to succeed, requiring focus, focus, focus.


Top of Page


Hosted and maintained by  

free hit counters