Author: Mike Frailey
I’ve told you the story before, haven’t I? If I remember correctly, I don’t think l told y’all the whole story.
Every one remembers the old Pat Boone song, “Running Bear and Little White Dove?” This song was about White Dove, an Indian maiden who was also a princess of the Biloxi tribe. White Dove fell in love and eloped with Running Bear. He was 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. They surrounded them on the banks of the now named Singing River. They demanded the return of White Dove or face complete annihilation.
The larger Biloxi war party forced the families of the Pascagoula tribe into the river at low tide. They said they wouldn’t let them out until White Dove was returned. White Dove refused to leave Running Bear. His tribe didn’t want to show dishonor, they stayed in the water. When the tide turned they began chanting their death songs and praying to their maker. After the ebb of the tide there was not one member of the Pascagoula tribe left alive.
To this day, the area between Gautier and Pascagoula is called, “The 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, 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. We would meet at lunchtime to go read the bulletin board at City Hall to scope out what new positions would be available and what qualifications were needed. We both figured that a Court Clerk would be obtainable but we figured that we needed to study up some first.
We had been classmates in Jr. and Sr. high school for 6 years. We knew each others mental aptitude, figuring that we could study together and help each other get a promotion of over $250 a month. We met at Hemming Park ate bag lunches and studied almost every day for about 2 months.
Allen got us a copy of the Court Clerk’s manual. We read it out loud over and over. We made spelling words and used plenty of high lighter. Then before the exam, I was hired by the Sheriff’s Office as a Corrections Officer first. It was a no brainer for me. Allen did take the test though. He passed it and was promoted. He and I then go our separate ways.
After less than a year, I left the Sheriff’s Office. I got fired. I ended up working for Carolina Tool as a sales rep for many 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. She said he had moved to Gautier, Mississippi. 101 De la Pointe to be exact.
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 yes, but to them they are French. Superior to everyone else. Sure they can speak English without an accent but choose not to. They love to drop French words somewhere in every sentence, just to remind you that they are French and you are not.
Since Gautier now had its own exit on newly finished I-10, I decided to surprise Allen with a “drive thru,”on my way to Houston.
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, their families and their multiple businesses. The McBeys were full blooded Cajuns. They called them selves, the “Black Irish.” (But no, 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, their family was the heart and sole of restoration effort. They had a contract with the Federal Government. They were paid to collect the debris from the wayside, then they sold it back to them as land fill. One of the brothers had a car dealership. He supplied trucks and equipment, they leased them to the Feds. They charged the Government by the pound to remove salvageable storm damaged equipment and debris, then they sold it as they saw fit. They owned the salvage yard. Paper, cardboard, tin, trees etc. They would mulch up wind damaged trees and sell them back to the gov’t as landfill. They were making money hand over fist.
I stopped in to pay Allen a visit. To my surprise 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. My first thoughts were I wanted to run or hide maybe escape. What have I gotten into? Allen looked like he could use some help though, some of the sons had beautiful teenage daughters.
The picture up above is the Singing River, I snapped this shot from my deck, the first morning I was there. Darrel the car dealer 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 McBeys kept stealing my helper. Allen was a gringo that spoke Spanish (like me). 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. Let me be the interpreter. We finally just built a “shell.” To me it looked like Noah’s Ark. It was good enough for what Darrel wanted, besides that he was already on to something “new” and needed our help.
I know y’all have heard of “Bye La Batri,” of Forrest Gump fame? Bayou la Batrie. That wasn’t too far away. It is 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. Yeah, the McBeys 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 craw fish and a couple of cases of Jax beer. Using the hood of the truck like a giant buffet. That would last until another brother showed up with 10 more lbs of craw fish 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 chasing it down with lukewarm 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. Yes, we were thankful for our many blessings. Dinner was set on a large mahogany table. There were 12 fine gold rimmed china plates and always an empty chair and plate at the head of the table for Granpe’ire, who had already passed. Only personal family business was allowed to be spoken at the table. Granmi’mer showed an interest in me. For some reason I felt like I was being interrogated by her. I soon found out why.
Julius the judge’s and Jim the realtor(who later became a State Senator) daughters were graduating from a girl’s finishing school in New Orleans. I can’t remember the exact name of the school. It had something with the name “Cross,” in it (like Cross Pens). The school was having a gala event. A large banquet was being held at the Fountain Bleu Hotel. It being sponsored by French designers, they wanted the girls to walk the “runway,” showcasing their new designs.
All of this time for the 3 months I’d been working, I 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. Let me tell you, 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 and disappeared. 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. 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 realizing too late that giving him a lift wasn’t what I had in mind. I shoved the door open knocking him down. Before he could get up, I was on him. One fist was full of shirt, the other knocking out teeth. I told him, “I want the money, I want the money now.” 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, I stood him up for the girls to get a better look. That’s when I decided to pull off his shoe. Out fluttered a wad of money.
I asked the girls what did they give him. They both said, “3 tens.” That’s exactly what I picked up off the ground. 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, 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 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. Julius, the judge handed me an envelope in private with $3,000 dollars in it. He 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 can I wear my Tony Llamas?” They rented me a tux tailored to fit down in the back (boot cut).
I’m pretty sure that they knew how crazy teenagers can get on graduation night. They trusted me, they were around me everyday and wanted me to act as chaperone. To me, I thought it was cool. Even though she was very pretty, she was a lot younger than I. Besides 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 to a live orhestra. 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.”
My table 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 extremely beautiful. A couple of the local jewelers had offered necklaces and bracelets to be worn, to compliment the designs. Darryl told me later that he bought $50,000 dollars worth jewelry himself.
I guess I had a little buzz going on when I stepped on one chair and then unto the runway. I reached out my hand out to Carla. I 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, nothing like that, 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 later at Pat O’Brien’s after about three “Hurricanes.” Walking prissy on top of the bar, trying to imitate the girls. I didn’t realize I was drawing unwanted attention from a crowd of what look like the “Village People.” They thought that I was making fun of them. The girls came to my rescue shooed the gay guys off. We walked through the French Quarter all night until the sun came up. We slept all day. The sun had set for the evening when we finally made it back to Gautier.
The clouds were gathering, the wind blowing towards us. I thought for a moment that I could hear chanting and crying voices reverberating over the cresting waves. I walked in the sand down the river bank towards Grandmi’mer’s. I noticed that her kitchen light was on. On a whim, I knocked on the door. When she answered, I said hello and gave her a hug. I handed her the envelope with the money that Julius had given me. I knew all along where the money had come from. I asked her, “What do I need money for?”