Carokashu: Tadpoles and Halos

I spent hours working on my unemployment application, time got away from me, so I’m cheating a bit here….Carokashu continues…

I had our parents to myself for a mere 2 and a half years, then my brother came along. Our mother would walk with us down Perkins Road to the country store not too far from our newly built subdivision, Village St George. She’d push him in his stroller, and I had to scamper to keep up. There was a gravel road we had to cross called Seigen Lane. The store looked like a farmer’s feed store, it was wooden, on piers with a big front porch. Inside there were wooden barrels and shelves filled with goods along with items behind thick wavy glass counters. It was like stepping back in time, even for the sixties. The ceiling was vaulted, and it smelled dusty and dry.

I loved my brother until I didn’t, heh. Like when he insisted that he give my favorite doll a ride in his little red wagon and it tipped over flinging her into a puddle of motor oil on the carport pavement. Her long honey-hued hair and red velvet dress irreparably stained. I did not like that or him one bit in that moment. We’d listen to records, storybook 45’s on a red and white portable player, on the cold dining room floor so soothing in the hot, humid Louisiana summers. We’d overturn some chairs and hide under them, pretending we were the little pigs, no big bad wolf could blow our house down! When we fought our mama would yell from the kitchen, “You better stop or you’re gonna get a spanking when your daddy gets home!”

All I wanted to do was play, play, play and do whatever I wanted. Simple and pure. I lived for adventure and immediate gratification and trusted because I was only 4.

Then after my brother was born, I remember my mother crying a lot, sitting on the toilet and crying. I guess I was concerned as much as a 4-year-old knows how, that’s why I followed her into the bathroom to try and help somehow, instead I got distracted by the giant poop.

I also remember the test tubes with rubber stoppers holding pills that my daddy had for my mama. It would later remind me of a mad scientist experiment, which I guess it was, kind of. Psychiatric medications were in their infancy at that stage in history. So much of the medications were new and it involved a lot of trial and error.

My early memories of my mother were ones of mutual unparalleled love and adoration. She was playful, honest, sharp-witted and spontaneous. But most of all she was kindly, soft-hearted and indulged us. I remember her doing the dishes and hollering at us from the kitchen over the running water and exhaust fan with pork chops, cabbage with rice cooking on the stove. We had an old upright piano in the living room, she taught us how to play chopsticks, Heart, and Soul and she’d play and sing Oh Danny Boy. She had a lovely voice and used to perform in school, we had an old picture of her singing as a teen which I loved. She said she was singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow when they took the photo.

I loved playing with Barbies, especially dressing them and one day she drove way out to Baker to buy some homemade barbie outfits a woman was selling. We’d shop at Godchaux’s on Main Street where one time there was this magnificent dress, I was so excited to get it, I changed into it on the way home in the backseat of the car. I stayed low to the floorboard so no one would see me. It was a long prairie dress with multicolored skirting.

During Christmas, we loved the Santa on the roof of Godchaux’s he sang, played the piano, was animatronic. We’d be creeped out and mesmerized simultaneously. We’d also sit on Santa’s lap for the requisite Christmas photo tradition. I still laugh when I see the one of me as a baby, I’m crying in terror. Who started that strange torture for children, lmao!

 We’d also shop at Sears where there were fun papier-mache figures of Winnie the Pooh characters everywhere. We’d have a blast running under and hiding in the clothing racks, so much so that one time we were threatened with a spanking when we got home. My brother and I thought we were particularly clever when we donned every pair of our panties and underwear under our shorts to cushion the blows. We were giggling conspiratorially waiting for the spanking which never came. We were disappointed because we couldn’t see if our experiment worked, yet also relieved.

Spankings were no fun but were so short-lived that they were more of a confusing nuisance than a deterrent. It was illogical to be spanked when we were taught that hitting was wrong. I never understood the logic and still don’t, maybe because it isn’t logical, that’s why. My dad would say, “This hurts me more than it hurts you, it’s for your own good,” before he spanked us. And, “I never hit you out of anger.” Hmmm…really?

People who spank always say, “I turned out okay, my parents spanked me, it must’ve worked.” Uhhhh…really?

Even as a small child, I knew this was total bullshit.

I remember a lot of doctor’s/dentist appointments and shopping with our mama. There was a place on Florida Blvd which in the future became the Flea Market. I think it was called Globe, a grocery store where there was a conveyor with multiple small metal wheels I was fascinated by. I was so little I rode in the grocery cart seat. Old ladies would stop my mother so they could pinch my cheeks. My mother later told me everyone would always ask if I was adopted. Interracial marriage was illegal back then.

We’d go out to eat at Piccadilly at Bon Marche Mall where there was a person playing a grand piano sometimes. My brother and I would always get too much food, we couldn’t resist the Jell-O and ended up playing with it, jiggling it with our fingers and giggling. Our parents would always comment, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomachs.”

We’d also go to Shakey’s pizza where there was also an upright player piano, plus there was a big movie screen showing The Little Rascals, Laurel and Hardy and such. To top it off we could stand on a platform so we could watch through a window as they prepared the pizzas.

Nearby there was a drive-in movie place, where we parked and rolled down the windows and hung the metal speakers on the doors. In Louisiana we had to use mosquito repellant, my parents burned coils in the car to repel them as well. I can’t recall the movies we saw there, all those old movies from childhood blend together. My favorites were the scary ones! I knew that I would regret it later, but I couldn’t help myself being a child, I didn’t have full control of my impulses yet (still struggle with this even at my age, lol!) All those old black and white monster movies like Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, The Fly, Godzilla, Invasion of the Body Snatchers…so much fun!

Saturday morning cartoons were what we lived for…and Fun Fair Park, Thunderbird Beach, Six Flags and breakfast cereal with a toy surprise! I liked corn pops, kaboom, captain crunch, and sugar smacks. I remember that I was always so grouchy and sleepy eating my breakfast cereal before school, probably because I didn’t get enough sleep, too afraid of monsters and vampires. I’ve never been a morning person.

Riding the bus to Mayfair Elementary was always a chance to daydream. There was this one old house we’d drive by that had the classic Cajun architecture, the sloping roof, full front porch, built on piers, the wood was unpainted and aged, probably cypress. The old water barrel cistern was still there and there were stairs that led up to the attic on the porch. The spooky old house was flanked by oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. I’d always wonder how it looked inside and how exciting and scary it would be to be able to sneak inside.

There was another house that had white cloth wrapped around some exposed pipes in the ground and I’d picture mummies escaping from their tombs in the dirt.

There were big fields Kleinpeter farms along the ride to school and I’d imagine we were traveling in the plains and prairies like the western settlers. I loved Little House on the Prairie, My Side of the Mountain and Island of the Dolphins. I always wanted to play surviving in the wild. I’d gather sticks to make a pretend fire and would use banana leaves torn into strips to weave plates for the imaginary food.

I was an avid reader, carried a book to read with me everywhere. I loved our school library and was a member of the gifted and talented reading group the librarian led.

I’ll never forget the short film she’d show us yearly, The Red Balloon. It felt good to be a part of a special group where we participated in what we enjoyed and were good at.

We went on family vacations to Pensacola Florida and Six Flags Over Texas. I’ve always loved the ocean, everything about it. Some people don’t like the sand, or are afraid of sea creatures, not me! I always have enjoyed the ocean experience with wild abandonment. I remember the ocean being super calm, seeing clear to the bottom and also super ferocious, I almost drowned one time being tousled, somersaulted and slammed. They didn’t have all the warning flags and lifeguards back then. Sometimes I’d almost lose my swimsuit the sea was so rough.

We did lots of things back then that would be frowned upon today, lol.

I’m certain y’all’ve seen all the memes on social media about how things used to be. No seat belts and your mom throwing her arm out to protect you if she had to slam on the brakes too hard as if her arm could save you. Riding bikes, skateboard, skating with no helmets. Running around all over in our neighborhoods with no supervision, when the streetlights came on it was time to go home, you’d hear mothers calling children’s names if they weren’t home on time.

I felt so free when I was outside. I could explore all day, my imagination fully engaged, nothing to do but play, find my friends, play games, pretend so many active things to enjoy back then. We didn’t have other choices, except for TV, radio, and books. We’d play Monopoly with my relatives in Gonzales. I had aunts and uncles close in age to me, I was even older than one of my aunts. One of my uncles would always cheat and the game would end in conflict, “You cheated, I quit!”

That uncle was impish and mischievous. He was a bit impulsive, he and his sister, the aunt that was younger than me would argue as siblings do and they would play fight, tussle. One time this uncle had a b b gun and was shooting our legs with it as we hid in the bushes. We were scared and it stung, but we were still laughing, it was weird that we weren’t more upset by it. Of course, there were no adults around to witness but were in proximity and we sure ran and tattled.

How do I capture everything from what feels like lifetimes ago? And to think that each of us also has a lifetime of memories and experiences. It’s amazing to think about, so much growth and activity, all of the layers, intricacies, emotions, kindnesses, tragedies, beauty…how devastatingly magnificent it all is.

Everything is a flurry of fleeting memories, sights, smells, sounds, seasons, swirling, living in me, encapsulated in my soul. I can conjure up a memory and am transported instantly back in time, I can feel the air, my breathing, the way I felt, people’s eyes shining back at me. How I felt, expectant, present, attentive, curious…I wanted to enjoy while being embraced and welcomed. That’s how I felt as a child.

I still feel that as an adult but have lowered my expectations because I’ve learned through experience the ways of the world. My adult self feels like it knows everything pretty much. There is not the marvel, novelty, and curiosity that burned so brightly in my youth.

It feels like I’m watching a movie in my mind when I stir up distant memories, it’s like I’m watching a nostalgic movie like the Wizard of Oz and I’m playing a character in a dream.

I can feel the hot sidewalk pressing up into my bare feet as I squat down to examine a doodlebug, the sun straight above, me squinting, the air thick in my nostrils. I hear cicadas whirring mechanically, my hair hot to the touch as I smooth back my bangs, a waft of freshly mowed grass with a hint of blacktop mixes with the steamy sauna I share with the anoles, earthworms, toads, crickets, katydids among the clovers.

Making clover flower halos was a favorite. Wild passionflowers called maypops overflowed in a jungle tangle along the dirt trail I zoomed through on my banana seat bike. I loved riding my bike. I determinedly learned to ride a two-wheeler when I was 4. I kept falling but wouldn’t stop until I got it, I was impatient (and still am when it comes to learning new things).

Curiosity got the best of me and I loved catching creatures, looking at them up close and then releasing them. I caught anoles, toads, crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas, tadpoles, doodlebugs, etc. One time I was riding on the same bike with my neighbor, she was pedaling, and I perched behind her. It was at dusk and I saw a toad, impulsively dove to catch it, splatted face first and chipped my teeth. It was like a mini tunnel shape at the bottom of my 2 front teeth.

There was always music in the house and car. A reel to reel tape player and albums. Then later cassettes. My parents loved musicals, especially my mother. She loved The King and I, South Pacific, Showboat, Porgy and Bess, and The Wizard of Oz, those are the ones that stand out. She also loved Mario Lanza.

Another excerpt from Carokashu ? Thought it would be a nice distraction. Love and hugs ???

Michelle Miyagi
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