Bartering part of Mandarin Street magic _lowres


Mandarin Street in Metairie was unpaved in the 1950s. Vehicles driving along our short street produced clouds of white dust and crunchy sounds as tires crushed the white clamshells road. Both the sounds and the dust penetrated our screened windows and doors. During the day, after all the daddies had left for work, the sound usually heralded the arrival of a delivery or salesman.

Our family, like most of our neighbors, possessed one car. We were quite proud of our Bel Air. Daddy drove off to work each morning leaving mama and kids at home. Mama hadn’t learned to drive yet, anyway. Housewifery and mothering was her full-time job, and it kept her busy at home and in the neighborhood.

One of the highlights of our week was the Friday night family shopping trip to Schwegmann’s Giant Supermarket.

In between those trips to Schwegmann’s, we really didn’t have too much trouble procuring what we needed. There was a lot of borrowing with the neighbors, and there must have been some bartering, too. I can remember my mama doing quite a bit of sewing and hair curling for neighbor ladies.

If we needed to buy any groceries, we could walk or ride our bikes about a half mile to R&A (Ruth & Anna, I think) Corner Grocery. I do remember going a few times with mama to Canal Street in New Orleans to shop for holiday finery. It was the custom in those days to have a new dress, shoes, hat and gloves for Easter and Christmas. But those big expeditions out of the neighborhood were rare. At the end of our street, a lady kept chickens and sold us eggs. And once a week or so, the vegetable truck would come crunching slowly along on those clamshells. The farmer would announce his presence by chanting something about fresh vegetables and fruit, accompanied by a loud smacking against the side of the truck door. Housewives and children would spill from the houses to check out his harvest.

Thinking back, it seems that there were people delivering and selling stuff all the time on our street. Of course, there was the mailman from whom we often received personal letters. Then there was the newspaper that appeared every morning on our porch. The big Coca-Cola truck came by weekly, and the delivery man would walk around to our back door to pick up the wooden crate of empty glass bottles and leave a full crate. We also had milk delivered. Mr. Muller would walk right into our kitchen and chat with us while we ate our breakfast.

Those early days on Mandarin Street were good times. Our lives were slower and simpler then. By 1960, we had another car, and mama could drive it to supermarkets and shopping centers.

Our street was paved, and our house was air conditioned and closed up tight. Gone was the dust and the crunching sounds of vehicles coming to sell and deliver.

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