“Singing River.”, I’ve told you the story before, haven’t I? If I remember correctly, I didn’t tell y’all the whole story. Every one remembers the Pat Boone song “Running Bear and Little White Dove?” About how White Dove, an Indian maiden who was also a princess of the Biloxi tribe. White Dove fell in love and eloped with “Running Bear”, a young warrior from a warring neighboring tribe, the Pascagoulas.
The Biloxi tribe far out numbered the much smaller and weaker tribe of the Pascagoulas, and surrounded them on the banks of the now named Singing River, demanding the return of White Dove, or face their complete annihilation. The larger tribe forced the other into the river at low tide and wouldn’t let them out until White Dove was returned. She refused to leave Running Bear and his tribe didn’t want to show dishonor, so they stayed in the water and as the tide returned they began chanting their songs and praying to their maker. After the ebb of the tide, there was not one of the Pascagoula tribe left alive.
To this day, the area between Gautier and Pascagoula is called, “Singing River.” It is said (and I have heard it many times) that when the wind blows at night, you can hear their chants and voices still, wailing in the wind especially when there are whitecaps.
. The song was about this area and this is the scene of my story…… Allen, a high school chum and I both worked for the city of Jacksonville. He worked for County Clerks Office and I worked for HUD. We both had dead end jobs and wanted to improve our standing and we would meet at lunchtime and go read the bulletin board about what new positions would be available and what qualifications you needed to have to get a job that paid more money. We both figured that a Court Clerk would be obtainable, if we studied up some first. We had been in Jr and Sr high school together for 6 years and knew each others mental aptitude, figuring that we could study together and hoping to get a promotion of over $250 a month. We met at Hemming Park to eat bag lunches and to study every day for about 2 months.
Allen had got us a copy of the Court Clerk’s manual and we read it out loud, made spelling words and used plenty of high lighter. Then I got hired by the Sheriff’s Office as a Corrections Officer first, no brainer for me, but Allen did take the test, passed it and was promoted. He and I then go our separate ways,
After 2 years, I left, I ended up working for Carolina Tool for several years. One day before I leave for Houston from Jax, I decided to call Allen’s Mom to see how he was doing. She gave me his number and told me that he had moved to Gautier, Mississippi, 101 De la Pointe. Before I go any further I need to clue y’all in a little something about French people. To us, they are cajuns and coon asses, but to them, they are French, superior to everyone else. They can speak English without an accent, but choose not to, and love to drop French words somewhere in every sentence, just to remind you, that they are “French.” and you are not.
Since Gautier had its own exit on newly finished I-10, I decided to surprise Allen with a “drive thru.” “Hurricane Allen,.” (no relation) had just blown through, devastating the countryside. Allen told me that he working as an Office Manager for a group of 7 prominent brothers and their families and their multiple businesses. The McVeys (full blooded Cajuns. They called them selves the “Black Irish.” (But they weren’t Irish). They were into everything. One was a county judge, one was a contractor, one was a realtor another owned a car dealership and so on.
Since Hurricane Allen had torn up the area, they were the heart and sole of restoration effort. They had a contract with the Federal Government and were paid to collect the debris from the wayside, then they sold it back to them as land fill. Since one brother’s dealership supplied had the trucks and equipment, they leased them to the Feds. They charged the Government by the pound to remove salvageable equipment and debris, then sold it as they saw fit. They owned the salvage yard. Even paper, cardboard, tin, trees etc. They would mulch up the trees and sell them back to the gov’t as landfill. Making money hand over fist. Just as soon as I stopped in for a visit, they gave me an apartment, told me they had lots of stuff for me to do, then put me to work. Allen told me not ask about money, it would be considered an insult. I wanted to run, escape. What have I gotten into? Allen looked like he could use some help and some of the sons had beautiful daughters.
The picture up above is the Singing River, I took from my deck, the first morning I was there. Darrel the car seller wanted me to build him an equipment barn, 35 X 60. My helper was Allen, who wasn’t much help. Everyone else was too busy hauling in debris and scrap. The McVeys kept stealing my helper, Allen was a gringo that spoke Spanish (like me), and they needed a translator for the guys at the salvage yard. I told them my Spanish was a lot better than his, let him finish this damn building and let me be the interpreter. We finally just built the “shell.”, good enough for what Darrel wanted, besides that he was already on to something “new” and needed our help.
Y’all have heard of “Bye La Batri.” (of Forrest Gump fame)? Bayou la Batrie. That wasn’t too far, just the other side of “Tillman’s Corner”, right before you get to St. Elmo. If I wanted to go fishing, all I had to do was show up at the dock and tell one of the Captains that it was his lucky day to take me fishing. The McVeys owned all of the docks and sold fuel to the vessels at the pier on credit.
Almost every single afternoon, no matter what the job was, it could be “hands on” labor, white collar,(running the office) selling cars, hauling debris no matter what, at the end of the day, one of the brothers would show up with about 10 lbs of boiled crawfish and a couple of cases of Jax beer, put them all on the hood of the truck (no cooler) like a giant buffet and that would last until another brother showed up with 10 more lbs of crawfish and more beer. I got to practice being a real coon ass, by learning to suck the fat off the top of the head and chase it down with luke warm beer.
We all ate dinner together, about 8pm, almost every night at Granmi’mer’s house. Coat and tie was mandatory. We stood and held hands while we prayed, (them in latin), thankful for our blessings. Dinner was set on a large mahogany table, 12 fine silver rimmed china plates and always an empty chair and plate at the head of the table for Granpe’ire, who had already passed. Only family business was allowed to be spoken at the table. Granmi’mer took an interest in me, felt like I was being interrogated by her, but I soon found out why.
The judge’s daughter and the realtor’s daughter (he later became a State Senator) were graduating from a girl’s finishing school in New Orleans. I can’t remember the exact name of the school, but it was something with “Cross” in it (like Cross Pens). The school was having a gala event. Large banquet held at the Fountain Bleu Hotel, being sponsored by French designers and they wanted the girls to walk the “runway.” showcasing their new designs. All of this time, for the 3 months I’d been working, but never received any actual payola. I typed payroll checks for a lot of people, but none for myself. It was always “If you need anything, just take it.” Sign for petty cash, drive any car off of the lot you want, charge the gas, free rent, no light bill, eat with us, go to the beach with us (Biloxi Beach is nice but there is a better one in Ocean Springs), what ever was happening, they made sure I went along.
One day the two daughters were together and they wanted to buy some weed. They stopped a guy walking down the road and asked him where could they get some pot. He took their money and walked up some steps at an apt complex, but before he got out of the car, he grabbed Carla’s necklace out of the car console. Just about the time they started to holler at him about the necklace, he took off running. Knowing that they had been stupid but not wanting to tell Mom and Dad, they came to me and told me what had happened.
We jumped into my truck and started cruising up and down the beach front and all of a sudden they started shouting, “There he is, that’s him.” I drove right up in his face, he almost stuck out his thumb but realized too late that giving him a lift wasn’t what I had in mind. I pushed the door open and knocked him down, before he could get up, I was on him, one fist full of shirt and the other knocking out teeth. He screamed “It wasn’t me, you got the wrong guy”. I almost believed him, he sounded so sincere. I still had a good hold on him when I stood him up for the girls to get a better look. That’s when I decided to pull off his shoe and out flutter a wad of money. I asked the girls what did they give him and they both said “3 tens”, that’s exactly what he had. I let him taste some more knuckle sandwich and asked him what happened to the necklace? He said he didn’t get it, just about that time I grabbed his other shoe and guess what I found? Yep, your right, the necklace that Granmi’mer had given Carla for her sixteenth birthday.
So this is why, I think that Grandmi’mer was taking an interest in me. She asked me did I have I ever worn a tux? How tall was I? Do I know how to Waltz? I told her “yes M’am, 1 step forward and two steps back, Mom made sure that I knew how, long ago.”. Long story short, they wanted me to be Carla’s escort to the event. The judge handed me an envelope with $3,000 dollars in it and told me that he “would consider it an honor,” if I would escort his daughter to her school graduation. To me, the money was equal to about 3 months pay, which I had earned. I should have known that there was more to it than that. I told him sure “but only if I could wear my new Tony Llamas”, so they rented me a tux and had it tailored to fit down in the back (boot cut).
I’m pretty sure that they knew how crazy teenagers can get on graduation night and since they trusted me, and were around me everyday, wanted me to act as chaperone, which was cool, she was a lot younger than I and we were all family. The event was held in the ball room of the Fountain Bleau Hotel, an iconic landmark. We celebrated and danced on the ballroom floor. We suffered through all of the awards, then the girls went behind the curtain to change for a “fashion show.”
Our dining tables were placed around the “Runway.”, what they called the “frow.”
Mine was at the very end. I had been drinking champagne from a crystal wine glass all through dinner. When Carla walked out first, she was beautiful, one of the local Jewelers had offered necklaces and bracelets to compliment the designs; Darryl told me had bought $50,000 dollars worth himself. I guess I had a little buzz going on when I stepped on one chair and then unto the runway, held my hand out to Carla and paraded her up and down the runway about 3 or 4 times. When you have the spotlights on you and a spinning mirrored chandelier in your face, it’s easy to lose count. We got a standing ovation, it wasn’t for me, no it was for her, she was really beautiful. In front of her family and friends, this was her moment.
We all ended up on Bourbon St., Canal and Rampart, I got loaded (yeah, me the chaperone), we weren’t driving anywhere, our rooms were at the Fountain Bleu (about the 14th floor). I tried to recreate the moment at Pat O’Brien’s after about three “Hurricanes”, by walking prissy on the bar, trying to imitate the girls. I didn’t realize I was drawing attention from a crowd of gay guys, but the girls came to my rescue shooed the gay guys off and we walked through the French Quarter all night until the sun came up. It was early evening when we finally made it back to Gautier.
The clouds were gathering, in the wind blowing towards us, I thought that I could hear chanting and the crying voices reverberating over the cresting waves. I walked down the river bank to Grandmi’mers. I saw the kitchen light on and knocked on the door. When she answered, I said hello and I gave her the back the envelope (I knew where it came from all along). I asked her, “What do I need money for?”·