A look back at the Reserve that was

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 13, 2011

Editors’s Note: 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.

This morning the gateway to Leon Godchaux High School has fresh cigarette butts on the ground before the turnstile, evidence some older boys had again gathered there to smoke on the sly. I walk down the wide sidewalk in the center of the expansive lawn, admiring the live oak trees with their whitewashed trunks that flank the two driveways from the River Road to the school. Ahead is the imposing three-story building with Leon Godchaux High School written across the top of the projecting white colonnade. Looking up, I mentally picture how Reserve High School would look there instead. After all, that’s the name commonly used in newspapers, sporting event programs and by people in the surrounding area.

Past the flagpole and World War II commemorative monument, I enter the school just as the door of the teachers’ lounge opens, and cigarette smoke invades the entry hall. Ahead, the auditorium doors are open and a group of students around the piano are singing “On Top of Old Smoky.”

Stairs to my right lead to the second floor where Miss Hilda Theard is marching to her Algebra/

Geometry classroom. A former sergeant in World War II’s Women’s Army Corps, today she’s wearing a brown, trim-fitting suit that could have been tailored from one of her old uniforms. Needless to say, as soon as she enters her classroom, students come to immediate attention.

Sciences Professor William Frazee’s classroom is always interesting. A small man, Prof is standing at the windows, staring out into nothingness, oblivious to the room full of students behind him. Eventually, he turns and abruptly begins lecturing. He’s wearing his navy blue suit with the rust tie he wears almost daily. In warm weather he wears a seersucker suit with a blue striped tie given him by a recent graduating class, because “… he wears the same tie all the time.” I wonder if Prof. will leave school early today. Some students theorize that when he’s in such a meditative mood, he’s likely to leave at noon to go fishing. For now, Prof walks up an aisle and stops short, exclaiming, “That’s not right! Cant you hear?” He grabs the student’s pencil and furiously corrects her notes. Such an outburst is very rare from the normally quiet, mild-mannered man.

I move on, looking into each room. Josie Cambre is writing on the blackboard while her English grammar students stare drowsily ahead. Sealed with his feet propped on his desk, Felix Berthelot reads a newspaper while his students labor through their typing exercises. Chalk in one hand, eraser in the other, Perry Guedry is also in front of his class at the blackboard. Suddenly, using both wrists, he hitches up his pants at the waist to avoid soiling them with chalk.

Returning to the first floor, I pass the agriculture classroom of Albert Becnel just as he opens the door. He scowls at me. I resist the inclination to return his scowl and just nod and hasten out the building to the football stadium to watch the team practice. From the stadium I can see the adjacent sugar cane field; several boys emerge and sneak into the back door of the gym. No doubt their “cane break” was to get in a couple of smokes.

As I watch the football players go through drills, my mind slips back to the previous year when the team made it to the State Championship.

Its a biting cold, early December morning when students, teachers and fans board the special train for the trip to Bossier City. Despite the chilly day everyone is in a festive mood, almost certain our team will come home with the elusive trophy. After all, Reserve ran over most of the competition this season — and we have Leroy Labat, aka the Black Stallion (a tag given the swarthy, powerful running back by sportswriters).

When we disembark in Bossier City, the hoopla that prevailed on the train is dampened by the drizzly, cold, dismal weather that greets us. Later, as we sit in the stadium, huddled under umbrellas, newspapers or anything else offering protection from the rain, our spirits wane further. Our team is being out-run, out-blocked and out-manned. Prof Frazee, in a player’s hooded raincoat, trouser legs rolled up, is sloshing through mud on the sideline, following the line of scrimmage. Coach Joe Keller and his assistant, Ruffin Montz, desperately shuffle players in and out the game. On Reserve’s sideline, the faces of team members are marked with dejection. An unusual quiet pervades our section of the stadium. Instead of our boys’ names, we’re hearing only unfamiliar ones of Bossier City players over the loudspeaker.

I sense stirring around me; many disappointed Reserve fans are leaving the stands. Needless to say, the mood is somber as we board the train for the trip home, but it’s also thankful — thankful for the warmth and shelter the train provides.

The whistle of a different train jolts me from my Bossier City reverie, so I leave the high school and retrace my steps going down-the road from Club Cafe’ where I started. Passing Bienvenu’s Lumber Yard, I see that next door Mr. and Mrs. Cascio are sitting on the porch of their small grocery store. As I go by, we exchange friendly hellos. Just ahead is a Quonset hut, a half-cylinder shaped metal building housing Sonny and Don’s Pastry Shop, which they opened upon returning from World War II. Behind is Maurin’s Bakery. Early each morning, Sonny and Don’s father and uncle fill the surrounding air with the tempting aroma of freshly baked bread.

Doctor Searcy Parker’s house is next. It always seems deserted except in the summer when their kids are there. Next door is a shoe repair shop, which, until a few years ago, was the old post office building. The front door is open and the long-spindled cobbler’s machine with its multitude of grinding wheels and polishing brushes is whirring and whizzing away. Mister Harris, the African-American shoemaker, is working at his machine. He is busy, so I don’t stop to chat as I sometimes do but continue on to the new post office, corner of Old Cornland and River Road. Inside, the postmaster, Mr. Bootsie, is also very busy today. I get my mail, walk out onto the porch and see that daylight is fading. It’s time I head back home.

Yes, my town has changed since I left many years ago. Many of the old landmarks are gone, as well as many friends and neighbors — but through my “Snapshots From The Past” I can relive and cherish those carefree and happy years growing up in Reserve, my hometown.

Carpe Diem!

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