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Simply Lou: The Beat Goes On

By Melanie Moffett
In Features
Feb 27th, 2017

article and illustration by Lou Davenport

As I was writing this, I hit some button and deleted half of it.  I have no idea what I did, but it led me to my monthly “cussing of the column.”  It occurred to me in my tirade that I sounded just like Dana Carvey when he would be “the grumpy old man” on SNL as in, “that’s the way it was, and that’s the way we liked it!”  When I was growing up, we didn’t have computers!  My kids taught me how to work one.

I’m still not “technologically literate” either.  Oh wait, where’s my “dumb” phone?   “Old dogs, new tricks.”  It ain’t easy!

I made my entrance into the world in 1952 at Garnier Clinic in Bastrop, Louisiana.  Bastrop is a small town in northeast Louisiana that is near the edge of what once was the Mississippi River.   Drive down Red Hill and you’ll find yourself in the Delta.  Years later, I would find myself living on the other side of that big stretch of Delta land.
You can reach Bastrop from Monroe two different ways.  You can get there quickly nowadays on 165 N.  There’s Hwy 139, the “scenic route” as well, but, it isn’t nearly as much fun as it used to be, because you will not get to experience crossing “Stink Creek.”  It’s all cleaned up now!  Back “in my day” that old creek was “a sight to behold and smell!”  (And yes, it smelled just like the word we weren’t supposed to say!)

In 1952, the world was entering into happier days. The Korean War was coming to an end.  The US tested the Hydrogen Bomb and Area 51 was, oh, yeah, it doesn’t exist!  Dwight D. Eisenhower would become President in 1953.
Gas was cheap at 20 cents a gallon and a pound of hamburger was only 53 cents.  Tony the Tiger first said, “They’re  Grrreat!” “I Love Lucy” was everyone’s favorite show.  Mr. Potato Head debuted that year. (Real potato not included!)

The beat goes on, and the beat goes on…

World events kept unfolding, as I grew from a child into a young lady.  I was having fun and making the best friends anyone could ask for in that little town.  Somehow I always felt safe and above all, loved.  I never dreamed of living anywhere else, because that’s the way it was!

Bastrop was a paper mill town back then.  Those mills were the town’s life blood and dominated the landscape.  They were huge and intimidating to a kid.  The mill whistles told us all what time it was, like a fine Swiss watch.  Every day, faithfully, they went off at 7 a.m., noon, and 4 p.m.  “Has the mill whistle blown  yet?” was commonly heard.

The mills ran 24 hours a day and people’s lives revolved around day, evening and graveyard shifts.  Paper mills are loud and “stinky,” especially when rain was coming.  We were accustomed to that smell.  People said our water tasted like the mill smelled.  I never noticed either one, but I noticed the large, billowy white smoke that came from the tall smokestacks, like cumulus clouds. Tiny white specks would fall from the sky sometimes and land on everything not covered.  I can’t remember what that stuff was, but, we just lived with it.   It all seemed normal to us. It was just part of life.

The beat goes on… drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain

There were 2 sets of train tracks that cut through the town.  For awhile there was only signs that said RR Crossing.  The crossing guard types came much later.  The trains didn’t barrel through but rather lumbered along at a kind of slow, hypnotic speed.  I saw real hobos on those trains and a wheel on fire one night!

I remember the Court House Square ,when it still had tall oak trees with benches underneath them.  Then, they were cut down and a parking lot was built.  I didn’t like it, but I understood.  There was only parallel parking, if you were to shop around the square.  If you didn’t find a parking spot, you had to circle the block until you found one.  So, goodbye big oaks and hello parking lot.

There were wonderful stores around the Square. Seligman’s wrapped all your packages in paper and tied them with string.   There was Snyder’s that had an attic that was opened up near Christmas stocked full of toys!  Barham’s Drug Store had a real soda fountain.  The Rose Theatre brought us movies, and the library loaned us books to read.
But best of all  was Morgan and Lindsay!  It was kid heaven!  Ahh, the wonderous things you could find there! Whenever I smell popcorn now, I think of that place.  Mama used it as her “secret weapon” to get me to behave.  She knew I would have climbed through a brier patch, buck naked to get a chance to go there.  I would be “actin’ a fool,” and she’d just mention that store.  In a split second, a little halo would glow above my head.

Bastrop had so many other wonderful places that I begged to go.  The City Park had swings that you could swing so high, if you had fallen out, you would have probably busted your head wide open! City Pool was there, too, and to this day I have never had a better snow cone.  Hands down, the World’s Best.  I always got a blue coconut, because it sounded so exotic!  And I got a blue tongue to go along with that luscious taste!  The amazing thing about this was that we could walk there!  My neighborhood was full of kids, and we all rode our bikes at least a thousand miles!

There was A & W Root Beer, which had not only those frosted mugs of root beer but car hops and trays that hung from the car windows!  There was Arlie’s Cafe and Pippen’s Eat-a-Bite. I still say Pippen’s had the best “real hamburger” I have ever had, and I still judge all others by it!  Arlie’s had Ms. Sis, a real waitress with uniform, big beehive and cat eye glasses.  I adored her, and I think everyone in town did as well.

The beat goes on… History has turned a page, uh huh

I went to West Side Elementary, because Mama worked there.  West Side became my “home away from home.”  I knew every inch of that place.  I still remember every teacher I had.  We watched astronauts being launched into space on someone’s borrowed TV.  I was in the sixth grade, when the news came that President Kennedy had been shot.  We got to watch his funeral in our classroom.  We ran and hollered on the playground and slid down the slide, even when it was “hotter than”…well, we couldn’t say that word, but we all knew it!

I later attended Central Junior High School in the building my Daddy had attended high school.  I went on to Bastrop High School, and according to my grades and memories, I had a great time!

The beat goes on…  Little girls still break their hearts, uh huh, and men keep marching off to war

During this time, we got to experience so much ground breaking music!   Music will never be as good as what we had.   And we blasted it loudly on transistor radios or on 8 track tapes!

There weren’t many places for teenagers to go in Bastrop. We made our own fun and that meant riding around. We chased boys, and they chased us.  Friends ganged up at parking lots, and the cops would run everyone away.  We had Johnny’s Drive In and ToTo’s hamburgers, and life was good.  We got our hearts broken sometimes, and I lost a friend to the Vietnam War.  We laughed, we cried and forged deep, long lasting friendships.

The beat goes on.. Boys keep chasin’ girls to get a kiss

I would meet my first real love, while I was getting some Mer Rouge ice cream.  Straight out of the Marines, he looked like a Greek God, although I didn’t really know what one looked like. I was struck by an unseen bolt of lightning.  I had no idea who he was but of course, I found out!  And the rest is history.  I’ll save that story for a later column.  But, after all these years, we are still friends.

The beat goes on… la de da de da… la de dah de diiiii

“Us Bastrop Kids” grew up without many things our kids and grandkids have now.  But, we got to experience life in a totally different way.  There’s no best time or place, just what we remember.  Bastrop bonds are strong even if we leave, and as Sam Elliott says in The Big Lebowski, “I find a lot of comfort in that!”

And the beat goes on….and on and on…

“The Beat Goes On,” 1967 by Sonny and Cher