A look back at the Reserve that was

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 23, 2011

Part 1 of 4

The following is a remembrance of Reserve – the way it used to be – in the middle of the last century. A blending of memories, it has no chronology of time, day or season.

Having left Reserve over 50 years ago, memories of my home town are essentially snapshots frozen in time. Although I have been back numerous times, the pictures that come to mind are mostly of “how it was” and not “how it is.”

Many buildings there when I grew up gradually disappeared. New buildings replaced some; others were demolished and the land left bare. In reflection, I can’t recall or visualize what replaced some of these old landmarks. Perhaps my infrequent short visits over the years were insufficient for pictures of the present Reserve to firmly imprint themselves in my mind. Or perhaps, subconsciously, I refuse to accept the changes that make the town I grew up in almost foreign to me today.

On numerous occasions since I left Reserve, I have imagined myself walking through the main part of town. Without regard to time of day, day-to-week, month or season — during my imaginary walks certain snapshots consistently appear.

First up is the old Club Café. Teenage boys are on the porch, some jostling each other and laughing, while others are just hanging out because, like most small country towns, there’s not much else to do.

Maurin’s movie theater is behind Club Café. It’s Friday afternoon prior to the matinee. On the sidewalk excited kids in a long line are waiting to purchase tickets. In an animated discussion they are exchanging ideas on how Captain Marvel (hero of the current screen serial) will escape the life-threatening danger at the climax of last week’s episode. Adults will form the line in front of the ticket booth on Saturday evening. It is Bank Night, the night Mr. Louis Maurin, the owner, steps upon the stage, vigorously shakes a five-gallon lard can of tickets, and then has someone reach in and pick the lucky winner of a cash award.

Down from the theater, on the opposite side of the lane, looms the Sweat Box, a concrete, bunker-like building with a dreary yellow-beige exterior. As its name implies, it is not a pleasant place. Here, suspected felons are temporarily incarcerated until the Sheriff’s Office gets around to moving them to the parish jail across the river in Edgard. Most often it’s the place rambunctious drunks are put for the night to sleep it off … or sweat it out.

Ambling up-the-road, as opposed to down-the-road (terms presumably derived from the flow of the Mississippi River along which the town is built), I see the LeBrun sisters, Misses Mae and Maria, on the cinder driveway leading to their garage. The spinsters teach first and second grades, respectively, at Godchaux Grammar School. Shod in knee-high rubber boots, they are busily picking up pails and rags and rolling up the water hose. Undoubtedly with such tender-loving-care, their maroon post WWII Dodge (kept mostly in their garage) will maintain its pristine condition, like their previous car (which also seldom met the road). An amusing scene invariably comes to mind. I picture a used-car salesman standing next to their car. He tells a potential buyer, “Now here’s one that was owned by two little old school teachers …”

Haik’s Dry Goods Store is next to the LeBruns. Ever unchanging, it is owned and operated by brothers, Alex and Tewfik Haik. Next door, there’s a small white building tucked amid a mass of shrubbery at its sides and rear. Branches of a large sycamore tree overhang much of the roof, and I think, “Such an unimpressive building for so important a function.” Through the years the building has seen various uses, but presently it is the Selective Service System Office, better known by young men of military age as the dreaded …. Draft Board.

Moving on, there’s Charles Reine, former Godchaux Grammar teacher, now at the high school, hurrying home via the clamshell driveway by the Shell station. He’s dressed today in his tan tweed suit with trousers sharply creased. To ward off the morning chill, he wears a matching argyle sweater vest. Encountering a small water puddle in his path, he shakes his head in displeasure and gingerly steps over it to avoid soiling his highly polished crepe-soled shoes. His trouser cuffs are ankle high and, as usual, his socks are neatly rolled down, almost exposing the tops of his anklebones. With

his familiar gait of short, fast steps, he quickly disappears from view,

the scent of after-shave lotion

and talcum powder tracing his


A block or so away is Alltmont’s Department Store, commonly called “The Company Store.” Clad in trademark “Godchaux green” paint, the store seems unusually busy today. Quite conspicuous as I enter is the rectangular office attached to the back wall. Its upper walls on the remaining three sides consist of wood sash windows, to allow office workers a dear view of activities within the store. Judging from the queue at the cashier’s window and the many cars spotted outside, today is payday for workers at Godchaux Sugars, Reserve’s chief industry.

Office clerks, busily punching adding machines, pass slips of paper to Charles Alltmont, proprietor, who is cashing payroll checks. Routinely, he shows each worker a slip of paper with his current charge account balance. He asks, “How much do you want to pay today?” The worker, in an almost inaudibte whisper, tells him the amount. Interestingly, some workers stop at the candy counter before leaving the store. They show their payment vouchers and a clerk gives them lagniappe in a small brown paper bag.

Other workers also make a stop at the candy counter, but then head past the hardware section to the store’s bar. I’ve never been inside, so my memory only sees a dark, stained-wood door. But I’ve heard that behind that door, in the cool, dim interior, some workers will overstay their visit, knowing their lagniappe will appease the wife and tads when they finally do get home.

Leaving Alltmont’s store, I walk past Breaux’s Barbershop, the domain of Reserve’s whistle-while-you-work barber. Through the glass-paned door I see several men talking and laughing while waiting their turn in the chair. Their strong River Road patois, punctuated by Breaux’s tuneful notes, blend in a pleasing serenade that slowly fades as I keep on ambling up the road.

Known as “Sam” to folks in Reserve, Salvador DeMarco is a retired Mechanical Engineer now living in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Salutatorian of the Class of ‘52, Leon Godchaux High, he attended LSU, Baton Rouge, and received his engineering degree from University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette. During the Korean conflict, DeMarco served in the U.S. Army stationed in Germany.

His profesional career has taken him from Louisiana, to Texas, Oklahoma and for a long stretch, West Malaysia in Southeast Asia. DeMarco was married to the late Marilyn Bourg from Hahnville. Their six grown children each live in a different U.S. city. Now retired, DeMarco ‘s many hobbies, as well as membership in several professional organizations, keep him busy. He’s very active in the Knights of Columbus in Bartlesville and enjoys traveling to visit his widespread family. Most of all, DeMarco relishes his trips back to his hometown of Reserve.

Part 2 will be published on April 30.