Long, long ago in a dead town far, far away, three brothers grew up in a good place in the sticks. That would be Mooringsport, LA, stuck up there in the extreme northwest corner of that poor state. Mom taught school. Dad ran construction crews that built neighborhood shopping centers, small office buildings, doing an occasional remodel of a school or parish courthouse.
We could have done much worse. Oil City, four miles to our north, was a bridge too far to commute to Shreveport, and they had so many oil wells and pump jacks that those inevitable overflow ponds bred mosquitoes so big the brown bats feared them. Rodessa and Ida, nearly 20 miles north were totally dependent on a refinery whose days were numbered in the very low four digits. Hosston and Belcher were plantation towns with a few very well-to-do families and many more cotton pickers. Vivian was the All-American small town, but you didn’t need bifocals to read the hand-writing on the walls of its economy: the future was bleak.
But back then most of us knew nothing of economics, growth trends, or land development patterns. We were young, dumb, not yet fat, but by and large happy. Sure, Hosston’s Sam Herring might bury a fastball in your ribs, or Punkin’ Thomas from Ida might strike you out in three consecutive plate appearances on nothing but curve balls, but by and large life was good. It was good, I tell you! I cracked a double off Punkin’ driving in the winning runs in one of my last organized baseball games. Never mind that my eyes were closed: life was good.
We grew up in an old house on the intersection of Mooringsport’s two highways, Louisiana 538 and 169. Across the street stood Scott’s Grocery, Tayloe’s Hardware and Croom’s Gulf Station. Were we urban before cities were cool? Umh, not so much. But ours was a fine lookout post for seeing anything (never much) and everything (get bored enough: there’s always something) that happened in the Little Port. Shreveport remains the Big Port.
There was Marion, the blind guy who walked faster then than I do now as he followed that tap-tap-tapping white stick with the red tip. There was an albino kid who hiked to the grocery with his black family. There were easy girls from New Jersey who visited grand-parents every summer, but at that time I had no idea of what ‘easy’ could mean. But across the street sat Croom’s Gulf, where Earl Holliman, Robert Mitchum, and Bill Holden once stopped to gas up and asked advice on where to eat. Surely they jest!
My brother, Ed, whose people skills surpass mine by mere light years, was in good with Croom Gulf’s main man, Percy. Percy was a black guy who probably earned the minimum wage back in 1959: $1.00 per hour, about $8.50 now. I think he had a family, but we never knew. And although Cokes were a nickel from Croom’s machine, Ol’ Perce bought Ed a Coke just about every day. All Ed had to do was flash that six year old’s grin, holler across the street “Perce! Buy me a Coke.” And there it was.
What became of Percy? I don’t know. We never kept track of colored folks back then, even though once upon a time we felt very close to them. I have lost track of my all-white high school class, but that’s my own fault. But the gas station’s Percy and Jack Gibson, Ed Mathews (from The City’s 42nd Street and Advanced Infantry at Fort Polk), and my buddy Lou Brown (from the Treme and Deloitte & Touche CPA’s, back in New Orleans)? They too are lost to me. It would have been but a tiny gesture in American race relations, no more than a cork on the ocean, and yet on some microscopic scale, if done more often, keeping in touch with old friends could begin to make a difference.
I may never be in a position to do better. But if you are, go for it. We are all people and our descendants must find a way to co-exist. Let’s work on it.
9 thoughts on “Hey Perce! Buy me a Coke!”
It may have seemed like a coke every day , but maybe once a week , more 2 -3 times a month ..or so ’cause Id get chastised from the folks. those cokes were paid for 100 x ‘s over later when ol Percy Carpenter would hit me up for 3 bucks worth of gas (which was like half a tank then) til Friday which has yet to come ,he needed that much gas to get to Dunn’s Nite Spot his waterin hole and the Acme brick yard where he worked til that recondite Friday , so his investment of maybe 1.50 paid off … I remembered that he used to get that coke for me , but he damn well remembered too .. and would use that after a few hem haws of the front money
Such is memory: it’s an Impressionist blend of fact, feelings, truths unknown, and things imagined. Some of it is true and some fiction.
Besides, I write fiction in a background of fact — what do you expect?
And life is still good.
Go get your blood pressure checked!
You haven’t lost track of everyone. We’re still around. Good times in small town America. Wouldn’t have had it any other way….
Nope, Mrs. Joe keeps us in touch. Thank you for that, Nanner Sharp.
I’ll always love ya,
Best compliment I’ve had in a long time…Love you, too, Jackson
Ahhhh… speaking of Mrs. Joe Sharp… no one could quite fish Caddo like that lady! Even my old fishing buddy, Carl Melton, and myself as a team couldn’t hold a candle to her. All the old dudes in town would manage to be hanging around the station about the time she would stop in on her way back from the lake to check out her day’s take. Oh, one small detail. The old metal bridge actually went up and down, for the steamers that came through from Shreveport on their way to Jefferson. The railroad trestle is the one that had the bridge span that turned in a turret style circle. Just thought I’d throw that out to you. Hope you all are okay. Nice article!
Actually, I should have said… “thinking of Mrs. Joe Sharp”
Mr. Mayor, you are of course correct. Just look at the superstructure towering over the road … don’t need that to turn, but it would be useful to lift. Of course, it last opened what, a hundred years ago?
I’d forgotten that Mrs. Joe was a fisherman. She put bait in the water near the Gulf barge docks, was it? Might land a few white perch and catfish there without a boat.
Yes, but she also owned and towed her own johnboat with a small outboard on back. Carl had a 2.2 hp or something like that. One day, we were “cruising” in the boating lanes and I looked and noticed that an alligator gar was swimming along side and keeping pace with us. Then I realized that the thing was actually longer than the johnboat we were in. I pointed it to Carl, and he gave it a long awkward gawk, then suddenly swerved away from it. I think Carl may have thought we had encountered the Moby Dick of Caddo Lake. He was a hoot to fish with. You may or may not remember the Caddo version of “Loch Ness Monster”. One further thing about the bridge, it was truly a one laner… but “Big” would drive on there with another car coming without giving it a second thought… and I will never forget how so many people would dive their vehicles for the shoulder or ditch when they saw her coming in their direction in her old Ford. Great memories.