Updated: May 10
A Monthly Series Series about Growing Up in New Orleans
My parents pursued their Post-WW2 ideals out in swamps of The East, where white folks took flight from the more melanined and rhythmic living in the heart of New Orleans, from those most responsible for the cool culture of the ancient city. The East was still within Orleans Parish but way out where alligators and snapping turtles and crawdads had to be pushed farther into the wetlands to make way for hundreds of new ranch houses. For fourteen-thousand dollars, they purchased their dream home: a miniscule beige one-story with a huge lot in which to grow their fig and grapefruit and Japanese plum trees. And their five children.
Five rowdy and freckled kids ran amuck from the epicenter at 11029 Vienna Street, playing hide-n-seek and tag and baseball and football. Perfect strangers identified we Parkers by the plethora of freckles dotting our fair skin like splattered paint. “You must be a Parker!” they would say to me, the youngest. The baby. La Princessa.
Like fire ants whose bed had been kicked, the five of us would spread out into the yard, into the street. And beyond. We often took flight into the woods just past our thick and shorn St. Augustine grass. Rattlesnakes and opossums and bobcats lurked in that wilderness. But so did our Chesterfield or Marlboro cigarettes and Diamond matches, buried beneath earth and rock, and smartly protected from the elements in travel soap containers. It was thrilling to dig up that contraband like gold and smell the sulfur and tobacco as we lit up.
The jungle and thicket and backwoods were later tamed into Joe Brown State Park but back then it was wild. Like us. Between the wooden fence demarcating the end of our blue-collar kingdom and the wild gurgled a stinky canal where biodegradation and decay and sometimes life occurred. We didn’t care to know the ingredients of the black fetid liquid bubbling up. With besties, Marilyn Seal and Susan Wilhite and Patricia Hyde and Amy Morrison, I would scootch across the pipe that flushed another unknown liquid somewhere. On our tiny butts we inched across, careful not to turn around for fear of falling into the inky mess. Once, though, Marilyn fell in, fell the ten feet down into the slime. We turned carefully and shifted back to our side of the canal, where we met our friend and secreted her at my house. She changed her clothes, and we pledged secrecy about the catastrophe, so that her strict daddy wouldn’t find out.
Vienna Street curved into Nighthart which ran all the way back up to Papania. Our house emitted like a rowdy beacon from the crux of Nighthart and Vienna, so people often confused our address as on Nighthart. As there were few girls my age on the street, I often played with my brother Reggie, along with Wayne and Charlie Bell. We could get up a pretty good game of baseball with the first and third base as either side of the street and second the drain cover. At the age of five, I was already consumed by the opposite sex and pinned down Waynie, as we called him, and made him promise to marry me. I am sad to report that Waynie broke that vow.
My father, J.W. or James or Jake, like antiques and occasionally would borrow an Old A-Model or T-Model or some such and park it in our driveway like a real car. The true family vehicle, however, was a Pontiac station wagon in which the five of us would be stuffed like sardines. Reggie, my youngest older brother, and I were relegated to the back seat which actually faced backwards. At first it was a novelty and we fought for it, but then got quickly tired of being shoved in the back. We made the most of it, however, using our distinct position to stick out our tongues and make googly eyes at other drivers.