Pratt back yard.1

The trees that Ed Pratt recently revisited near his childhood Baton Rouge home

A couple weeks ago, I had to deal with a sad family event that occurred about a block from the first house I lived in with my grandmother. While joined in conversations with family members, I could feel the call of that old house.

I finally gave in. First, though, I had to stand on the exact spot on the street in front of the church where a car hit me and sent my little 6-year-old body flying, and then crashing and skidding on the street.

“You’re lucky to be here,” a family member said when I pointed out where the incident happened. “Yep!”

I walked up the dirt road near the corners of Education Street and Thomas H. Delpit Boulevard (formerly East Boulevard) in old South Baton Rouge, and looked over where a row of three-room wooded tin roof houses once occupied the 900 block of Howard Street. All of them, including mine, are gone and have been for years. I knew that.

The twin trees where I used to sit and nod off on summer afternoons are still there. I spoke to them as if they were old friends. I took a couple of cellphone photos, remembering the neighbors, life lessons learned and all those pecan trees.

Recently, as temperatures dipped around freezing, I was drinking coffee and gazing at the photos I had taken. And, yes, it brought back a few memories, a welcome respite from the loony and dangerous times we live in now.

On those cold days, there was a routine as automatic as sleeping under heavy handmade blankets. Invariably, my grandmother would see the cold weather as a chance for us to have toast. Yes, toast, with her dripped coffee and chicory.

We only had toast when it was cold because we didn’t have a toaster, but the floor heater was the answer. We could lay the slices of bread on the wire front about 3 inches from the flame. The toast would be followed with butter and sometimes thick cane syrup.

But, to get the bread, I would have to bundle up and walk about half a mile to the Tasty Bread shop where two loaves of old bread cost a quarter. Off I’d go.

Once back at home, I’d stand three slices at a time on heater rails. My job was to stay there and watch as my grandmother hung hand-washed clothes outside. After a couple minutes, I turned the slices. In just a few minutes we had perfect toast.

I would usually eat two to four slices. I’d get two with butter and two with syrup and wash them down with coffee or “sweet’n water,” water with a couple spoonsful of sugar in it.

We didn’t talk much over coffee. My grandmother basically urged me to eat fast and clean up the pile of roaches I had killed overnight (I was proud of the latter) before heading off to school.

My grandmother, so proud to be able to have toast, would invite some of the neighbor women to have toast with her. I think they came over just to make “Miss Annie” happy.

If the cold snap lasted more than two days, I would be off to the bread shop to start the toast cycle again because we were out.

My grandmother would never send me to the bread shop in the evening because that was time for me to play, to do chores, and especially to read to her from any of my school books or the Bible, as best I could. She could not read and took great joy in my reading.

As the seasons changed and winter went away, so did toast. I would be both sad and happy. Interestingly, one of the first things I bought when I moved out on my own was, you guessed it, a toaster.

Occasionally, I reflect on those mornings and, sometimes I start tearing up, just like I am right now. It's strange how toast and winter will do that to a person.