Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Concrete House in the Good Old Days

Somewhere back around 1971, we lived for almost a year next to the Mississippi River levee, in Brusly, Louisiana. "We" in this case being a collection of folks, most of us related: Dianne and I and our two small children; Dianne's cousin, Uncle Jay and his bride, Aunt Cheryl. My sister-in-law, Judy, and a few others: Michael, Connie, Kid Ford. And whoever happened to be passing by and needed a place to crash.

There was another group of back-to-the-land hippies just up the road a piece: B.B. and Jan and Jim and Carolyn and a couple others, including Joe. Joe who, after explaining he had been a cowboy and bronco breaker, offered to gentle Judy's boneheaded stallion, Miso, and for his effort, was thrown and had his arm broken instead ...

You could, in the spring when the water was up, toss a rock from our front yard and hit the Mississippi River, albeit it was like a throw from the center field wall to home plate. Several acres of pasture behind the place, as I recall, twelve or seventeen, something like that. Where the horse and the goats hung out. The chickens didn't last a week.

This was the height of our hippie adventure: We had the Valhalla chickens, seven dogs, a duck (who terrified all the dogs and liked to chase my daughter around) a couple of goats, and that mean and stupid horse. We had a big organic garden, what the bugs didn't eat. Learned that you don't plant watermelon and gourds next to each other, because that can cross-pollinate, and you get watermelons that look and taste like wood pulp.

The other hippie farmers bought praying mantises to protect their truck garden. Mantises ate all the bugs, sure enough, then they ate each other, and everything above the ground was bug-infested. We had a lot of carrots and radishes with our brown rice. Apparently bugs don't much care for those, and after a while, neither did I.

We fit right in, the two houses full of hippies, being surrounded by decent country folks who all went to church on Sunday while we, ah, didn't. Eventually, the county Sheriff and BNDD (now the DEA) decided to bust us, but they picked B.B. and Jan's place first. We spotted them pretty quick -- no place to hide in the country -- and when the bust came, the house was clean, and the case was tossed out. But the writing was on the wall, and our number was in play, so we were scrupulous about Not Having Any Dope in the House. Before he found the Mahareshi, Cousin Jay sneaked some weed in, thinking obviously we had all lost our sense of smell. While he was out back working on his sailboat, I swiped it, took it into the patch of trees over the fence, and buried it and his hash pipe. I told him I did it, but he never did find the stuff. Probably some stoned squirrels somewhen later.

Our house was concrete; massive walls, and the story went, had been built by a Mr. Cooper, who, with one Negro helper and a couple of wheelbarrows, had mixed the cement himself, and slapped it onto steel poles and wire frame. There was a sun porch (called a Florida room), a big living room, three and a half bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom and a half. All in terrible shape when we moved in.

I regret that we didn't own a camera when we were there, so we don't have any pictures from that time.

Before the Corps of Engineers did major shoring on the levee, after the Great Flood of 1927, anybody who built a home within a couple-three miles of the river didn't put it on the ground, because it would get inundated come the next spring flood. The closer you were, the higher you perched your house, and six or eight feet up wasn't uncommon. (The one in the picture above is more than a mile away from the river.)

The Brusly house, built after the levee was useful, could be put on the ground, so Mr. Cooper's place, which had walls thick enough to turn siege engine missiles, was safe unless there was a break. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and mold liked to grow on the concrete. But we had gone up the country, and it was, more or less, a fine experience.

We only got to live there because we were willing to work on the place, and over the course of that summer, we hung sheetrock, paneled,, re-roofed it, built a carport, and slab, and sort of tricked out the bathrooms. Toilet and tub in one, shower only in the other. I say "sorta," because while the toilet fed a septic tank, the drains for the tub and shower didn't go anywhere. We solved this by running pipes to a nearby ditch, where the graywater foamed merrily along to the larger ditch ...

Third-world plumbing, but nobody seemed to notice.

Soon as we got the work mostly done, the owner kicked us out -- bunch long-hairs were a blight on the neighborhood -- disturbed the cows at the dairy farm next door, I guess. Just as well, the cops would have come for us eventually.

Mr. Cooper, allegedly an architect who had worked on the Empire State Building, came to a sad end. His wife ran off with a traveling salesman while Mr. Cooper was away. He came home, and apparently became depressed. To the point where he hanged himself on the grape trellis out back.

Late at night, we could hear him thumping and bumping, Mr. Cooper, but none of us ever saw him.

The house is gone. Goggle Earth shows an empty lot where it used to be, and the encroaching subdivision is likely the reason why -- plenty of room to build nice houses there.

Ah, the good old days.

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