Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ramblings About a New Orleans Girlhood

 I'm the youngest in my family: two older sisters and two older brothers.  Growing up in the 1990's, I was allowed to be a free-range kid within the bounds of the Lakeview neighborhood, zip code 70124.  Yeah, I was a bit of a tomboy but only one aunt worried about that.

When I was in high school, I dated a bit, starting when I was about 15-1/2.  I had a Midnight curfew on weekends; 10 P.M. on nights when I had school the next day.  Some of my friends thought, or at least expressed the opinion, that I was too controlled by my mother.  Actually, when I started at the University of New Orleans, Mama told me that, since I was now an adult university student (hee hee), I no longer had a curfew and could choose to come home when I wanted.  Funny thing, I never told anyone that I was curfewless.  This worked in giving me an excuse for getting me home from dates in was not wild about, plus sympathy points from guys.  Frank confession: my enjoyment quotient flags at around Midnight, anyway.  I'm an early riser.

Like most teens, I had an illicit drink on now and then.  I never drank and drove.  We did pranks, like putting detergent in fountains or hiding garden gnomes.

Dee-Doh (pet Acadian name) was the first boy I kissed deeply.  Okay, there was a little more . . . . We debated whether we should have brought it up in confession.  Our relationship is mostly Platonic, and we have a lot in common.  We helped each other through each others' relationships.  I think that both boys and girls benefit from having a sympathetic friend of the opposite sex.

Our family was officially in St. Dominic's Parish in Lakeview; but where we attended mass was strictly a matter of convenience.  Or amusement.  And especially to avoid priests who gave long sermons.  Fifteen minutes is enough, tops!  Daddy used to look at his watch subtly (he thought).   I used to love to go to St. Louis Basilica in the French Quarter because it was so campy and baroque.  My aunt used to do flying novenas there, and take me along.  Afterwards, we would get coffee and beignets.  She knew how to do religion!

I was asked to be an altar server, but did not attend sufficient classes to become official.  Tant pis!  I might have been a swell nun someday!

I got the sex talk when I was about thirteen.  It was matter-of-fact and non-judgmental.  When I turned sixteen and started to date, Mama took me to a doctor so he would prescribe me birth control pills just in case.  I took them for over three years before I actually had occasion for them!  I told Mama about how things went when I went out with guys, and she was very supportive.  Okay, I'm a Mama's girl!

I attended Catholic schools.  They were really not as awful as the internet folklore would have it.  As a matter of fact, the ones I attended were quite easy-going.

Not surprisingly, considering my temperament, I stuttered a bit.  Also, I have a hot temper and was actually on antianxiety medication for a while.  Any sweetness on my part was strictly due to Ativan and other antianxiety meds.

I still think of the Times-Picyaune as the apotheosis of newspapers, and WWL-TV as the one to watch, especially for the 10:00 news. 

Some French groups had communal dances, called fais do-dos.  Actually, to fais do-do means to go to sleep.  I occasionally slipped after leaving Louisiana, and said that I was going home to "make do-do."  It's hard to shake the hometown idiom.  And, yeah, I walk on banquettes and think of mixed breed dogs as cayoodles.  Words to not use in the Great Elsewhere.

I worked for a while as a barista.  All of us had part-time jobs and it gave we an additional reference group in addition to classmates.  It helped me be more outgoing and less shy.  And, darn it, I liked dispensing mildly addictive caffienated drugs to people!

I got my driver's license at 16.  Dad taught me to drive in City Park and on the streets of Lakeview.  I think he might have aged a bit in the process!

Oh yes, I wore what I call my faux purity ring.  The Baptist girls in the neighborhood flaunted theirs, so I had to wear a piece of junk jewelry to keep up and not be regarded as a Jezebel by them.

What to wear?  Mama helped me shop.  Once she encouraged me to wear brighter colors and more daring clothes than I was inclined.  She liked to make costumes, and was quite skilled and imaginative.

I was warned not to go down Bourbon Street unaccompanied.  This is something that the locals have to deal with: the French Quarter being both attractive and treacherous, especially for the young.  Retrospectively, I think that is good advice.  Stepping over vomituses or being pawed by intoxicated tourists is not too cool.  That's a reality that locals in New Orleans have to live with.  The French Quarter can be quite hazardous after dark if you're a lone female.  I think it's imperative that girls develop street smarts.

My eldest sister had her own room.  My two brothers shared their room, and I shared one with my older sister.  We learned not to get in each others' hair, and that at times we needed a little private time.  In a lot of ways, she and I were good roommates.

Sometimes Daddy, when he would take recreation, would occasionally play the ponies at the Fair Grounds, and he took me along sometimes.  He enjoyed taking us on special occasions for breakfast at Brennan's (brunch) to dine en famille.  At home, we were offered beer or wine when the parents would have it at dinner -- no age limit!  Same with mixed drinks.

My grades fell down during Mardi Gras season.  That's because Mama, Maw-Maw, my sibs, and I went to a parade each night.  I was a C student because of this.  I made A's and B's in Math and Chemistry, but sucked at English and History.

I was on the track team, and ran the half-mile and mile.  I used to go to Tad Gormley stadium and practice with the guys at the open sessions for track and field practice.  That was considered daring by some of the girls who were rather stiff in the fanny and thought my going was for other purposes than for running.  Cross my heart, you all!  I'm not telling a story.  Guys in sports were encouraging to girls who also went in for it; only old guys and nonathletic girls had issues with us.

I've been told that I speak with a New Orleans Yat accent.  So where ya'at?  In addition to English, I speak passable Acadian French (It would barely pass in Paris!) and Louisiana Creole.  I am reminded, however, of the words of François Villon: "There is no good speech except in Paris."  The French, and the old Creole families of New Orleans, are trés snobby about their French.  Cajuns are not. 

My grandmother was skeptical of the pretentions of the Creoles (families who descended from the days of the colonial settlement).  As she used to say, the Creoles are like the Japanese: they eat rice and worship their ancestors.  She had a keen view of things and an unihibited tongue.

My girlhood extended into adulthood; but effectively ended on August 29, 2005 with Katrina.  Enough said. 

Living in New Orleans allowed me to be less inhibited about things.  It's true, we tend to be tolerant of others' bad habits.  And even encourage a few.  After all, it's easier to live in a community where the bar of acceptable conduct is set fairly low and human fraility is not only accepted but encouraged.


MarkD60 said...

The picture says it all, "Everyone Loves a Cajun Girl!"

Anemone said...

It was nice to read about your childhood experiences, Angelique.

TexWisGirl said...

i enjoyed this a lot. a glimpse into who you are - or what made you who you are now.

Deena said...

This was a very insightful read into who you are, Angel.

Big Sky Heidi said...

Track is a great occasion to hang out with cute guys wearing shorts.


Bilbo said...

This was fascinating! I think it was probably a good deal more exciting growing up in New Orleans than in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ... at least, when I was growing up there. Thanks for sharing your story - it really personalizes your blog.

Mike said...

"...A's and B's in Math and Chemistry..."

That sounds a little geeky.

Brandi said...

Angel, this livens your blog and makes your world view more understandable. Take care!

Françoise said...

A very charming and enjoyable description.