A look back at the Reserve that was

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 30, 2011

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.

Part 2 of 4

St. Peter Church is not merely a River Road landmark but is felt by many to be the “heart” of Reserve. The giant stained-glass rosette above the church entrance reflects the setting sun, lending beauty to the white-faced Gothic building and its projecting bell tower. The bells are silent now until 6 p.m., their

last peal of today. Tomorrow, at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m., they will repeat their daily call to Catholics to pray the Angelus. This routine is altered on Sundays when a joyous ringing summons parishioners to mass. However, on Good Friday and Holy Saturday their tones are solemn, even more so on funeral days when a slow, mournful knell signals that someone has departed this life.

Crossing St. Peter’s parking lot, I make the Sign of the Cross when in line with the center of the church. I look up to see Monsignor Jean Eyraud in a ritual walk up and down the church sidewalk. He is reading what I presume are Vespers, the evening prayers and psalms prescribed by the Church. His odd-shaped hat, a biretta, featuring a fuschia pom-pom, tops off his black cassock, a long robe also trimmed in fuschia, it being the offical color tor the honorific title, Monsignor. When our paths meet at the sidewalk intersection, I say, “Good evening. Father,” and the diminutive Frenchman pleasantly smiles and nods his head, then turns to continue his walk, still intent upon his reading.

Donaldson’s Drugstore and St. John Bank are just ahead, likewise Leon Godchaux Grammar School, my next stop. Directing traffic at the roadway to the school entrance is Shorty, a sheriff’s employee of uncertain capacity who directs traffic with a pistol hanging ominously at his side. School buses have stopped in the school’s circular drive, and noisy children are getting off. The huge date palm tree within the circle of the drive was trimmed recently; cut fronds lay in a pile at its base.

A strong, familiar scent of furniture polish excites my nostrils as I enter the school. The odor is more intense than usual, suggesting the dark wood floors were probably oiled last night in the hall before her office, standing watch is the principal. Miss Edna Boutiton, arms folded across her chest, ready to cast a disapproving glare upon any child who dares misbehave. Miss Yvonne Brady arrives, surrounded by a group of children. She is the only teacher who rides the bus to school. Despite a distinct limp, and using a cane today, she is able to keep up with the energetic kids. Female teachers, whether married or not, are always addressed as “miss” by the students. I suppose this is in keeping with the manners of the Old South, where children call their elders either “mister” or “miss” and the word “missus” is practically alien to their tips.

Exiting the school’s west door, I gaze north of the cafeteria where a picturesque sight gives me pause. A wispy fog drifting through the schoolyard can’t obscure the persimmon trees, bright with large, yellow-orange fruit dangling heavily from their branches. The persimmons usually fall to the ground and decay because kids are not allowed to pick them, and it seems no one else does, either. But this is ok for hardly anyone likes the tart fruit anyway. Kids are leery of biting into an unripe persimmon, fearing it will cause their mouths to pucker.

Turning right, on the side of the school another pastoral scene appears. A few cows are grazing in the pasture that abuts the school grounds. Under a huge hackberry tree, two boys are sitting on low steps built over the fence into the pasture. Kids who live near the sugar refinery use these steps when they walk to school, taking a shortcut through the pasture.

An unmistakable odor of pine oil drifts through the fog and leads me around the corner to the school’s bathroom annex. The west side of the bathroom is for boys the east side for girls. I take a quick look in the boys’ side and see several boys using the trough-like urinals. As usual, a few older bovs are picking on the younger ones. Such teasing gradually decreases during the school year when the novelty wears off for the older boys, and the younger ones shed their timidity and retaliate. But, presently, the younger boys are quite embarrassed, almost as embarrassed as when they were first graders and had to hold up one or two fingers to ask permission to go to the bathroom.

So many great memories of Godchaux Grammar — I reluctantly leave school grounds and head west. Before I do, a last glance shows it must be recess. Kids are now playing in the schoolyard. The rule is, boys on the west side of the entrance road, and girls on the east – and never the twain shall meet. Disregarding the rule would surely result in a tete-a-tete with Miss Edna, who is never shy about corporal punishment.

Next to Godchaux Grammar school a small Protestant church, a beige stucco building with amber-colored window panes, piques my curiousity. I don’t know its name or exact denomination, but judging by the number of cars parked there during services, the congregation can’t be very large. As I walk by I wonder, as on many occasions before, “Why is a church built inside the fence on the Community Club grounds?”

Known as “Sam” to folks in Reserve, Salvador DeMarco is a retired Mechanical Engineer now living in Bartlesville, Okla.

Part 3 will be published on May 7.