myBLOG ☆ New Orleans Is More to Me Than Beignets and Mardi Gras

My New Orleans Jazz club souvenirs, circa 1964

My New Orleans Jazz club souvenirs, circa 1964

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When I was thirteen my family moved from Southern California to New Orleans, Louisiana. I was transformed from a Surfer Girl (described thusly by an old boyfriend I looked up decades later) to a Southern Belle. It was the most exhilarating time in my life—and such a tumultuous time in the nation’s history. It was the summer of 1963.

My father had been hired by The Boeing Company to work at the Michoud plant in New Orleans. With the intention of arriving New Orleans in time for my sister and I to start school in September, my parents sped from California to Louisiana over a six-day stretch in our 1961 Plymouth station wagon. I remember the ‘are we there yet?’ laments over how long it took to cross Texas, and my parents looking for a house to move their three children (and our dachshund ‘Winkie’) into when we arrived. But, I don’t remember the motels and diners along the way. When we arrived in Louisiana my parents decided to settle the family across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans—in Slidell.

My sister started school without me that academic year. I didn’t register for seventh grade until after my paternity was established. To the Registrar I looked like a Creole (non-white) and was registered with the school district as a mulatto.  You see, schools in The South remained segregated as that school year began (and in spite of the Civil Rights Act). In contrast my sister, a blue-eyed honey blonde, undoubtedly fathered by a white man, was whisked into the eighth grade.

Upper right, me in elementary school, lower right, attempting to enter junior high in Slidell; plus high school graduation photo.

Upper right, me in elementary school, lower right, attempting to enter junior high in Slidell; plus high school graduation photo.

In spite of my rocky start I finally was admitted to Slidell Junior High two months into the school year and was enthusiastically accepted by the most wild, fun-loving clique a thirteen year old could hope for. Did I say wild? My social circle included kids from Southern families, military brats, and kids like myself whose dad’s had been hired during Boeing’s expansion. (Our school was ‘integrated’ by one black student four months into the school year. He was escorted through from class to class surrounded by six Federal Marshalls.)

Our first few years in Slidell we lived on the edge of a swamp, off Magnolia Road. Alligators, armadillos, and snapping turtles made frequent crossings to the wetlands through our yard. We rented from a Cajun family who invited us over every Sunday afternoon for a crawdad feed and lots of beer. I was thirteen when I started drinking.

I was fourteen when hurricane Hilda, a Category 4 storm, crashed into New Orleans causing widespread flooding, devastation, and death. The element of Hilda that I remember most vividly was the ‘train-barrelling full speed into the house’ eardrum bursting noise. Wrapped in blankets, and huddling in the bathtub, my siblings and I could NOT hear one instructive thing my mother was yelling at us as my non-plussed father snored in the other room.

I was fifteen when I got my driver’s license and keys to my dad’s 1965 Mustang.  I made a barreling beeline across the Lake Pontchartrain bridge to the jazz clubs on Bourbon Street. The bouncer carded me and my girlfriends at Al Hirt’s Club, so it was off to Pete Fountain’s which wasn’t as particular about who they let in to their club. That was also the year I discovered the Tarot card parlors in the French Quarter and was convinced of the authenticity of fortune telling. You see, I had a crush on a tall blond kid whose dad owned the radio station in Slidell. My swain was Blakey Adams. During my first Tarot reading the fortune teller—a Caribbean woman dressed in glorious color, bangle jewelry, and a headwrap told me that I was in love with a boy whose initials were B. A. (I swear to you, dear blog reader, this is true.) I was bowled over and was, of course, sold on everything that New Orleans had to offer—the marques, the lights, the alcohol, the jazz clubs—and the fortune tellers.

That love for The Big Easy has lasted now for fifty years – 1963 to 2013 – so why NOT write a novel that features mon amore—New Orleans.

☆  Voodoo Vision: New Orleans House of Spirits ☆ is NOW available on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and iBooks.

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5 Comments

Filed under Books by Emily Hill, emily hill

5 responses to “myBLOG ☆ New Orleans Is More to Me Than Beignets and Mardi Gras

  1. chennicole2013

    You still have souvenirs from Pete Fountain’s club?

    Wow! I love hearing the story of your move to New Orleans. What a wild time you had in your teen years! I wonder how they established paternity in those days before DNA tests.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the finished version of your book, Voodoo Vision. From the previews I’ve seen it’s going to be a wild read.

  2. Hi Nicki!

    How fun to hop over to my page and see that you’ve stopped by! In the ‘olden days’ our race was on our birth certificates. My mother had packed only our ‘scroll-decorated’ birth certificates when we moved. Because I was the only brunette child in the family (I’ve since err…’become’ a blonde) my parents needed to submit three notarized statements that #1) DJM was my natural father and #2) that my parents had not been separated and that (!!) #3) my mother was of virtuous character!

    My alternative to all of this was to be enrolled at the school for mulatto children.

    • It’s hard to believe that all this craziness happened during out lifetimes. Until I heard your story, I didn’t realize that in the South they not only separated blacks from whites but also had a separate school for mixed race children.

  3. Hi Nicki,
    Just to further the dialogue thread – yes – there were three school systems throughout The South until full integration. Admittedly, I do look like a Native American in my early childhood photos; which is NOW ironic as in late-life I discovered my second cousin, Tom Doyle [same GREAT-grandfather]. Tom’s grandfather was half-Crow Indian; and Tom is now a Chief in the Crow Nation.

    Life, Families, History.

  4. Great post!
    What a rich and fascinating childhood.
    Kim 🙂

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