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Ed Pratt

I often visit the place where I spent the first 10 years of my life. I went there recently.

The wooden, tin-roofed shotgun house is long gone. And so are the seven other identical structures that encompassed virtually the whole 900 block of Howard Street in what is now called Old South Baton Rouge.

Just standing there is a diversion from the mayhem that often dominates our daily lives. Almost everything that is recognizable from the mid-1950s to mid-1960s is gone. But there is a feeling, something tangible in the air there that touches my heart. It can’t be explained.

As we close out 2019 and get ready for 2020 and inch our way into a new decade, nostalgia has hit me like a sledgehammer.

New Year’s Eve celebration and the bringing in New Year’s Day was so simplistic back then when compared to dramatic things I’ve done throughout my adult life.

In my earliest years, my grandmother and everyone on the block would have already bought the cabbage, black-eyed peas and some kind of pork in preparation for the next day.

This mysterious combination was supposed to bring good luck that year. All I knew is that I didn’t like it that much. However, the cornbread that was usually added was a good thing because you put a lot of butter on it.

I found it interesting that everybody ate the same thing that day, hoping for better things to happen. But, no one’s plight in life changed. Everyone would live in the same old houses. The same clothes would be on the clotheslines. One year though we got toilets and bathtubs installed in our houses, so I guess that somehow proved that the food combination and prayer could make a difference.

One thing about that the night leading up the New Year: It was the only time I actually saw my grandmother drink alcohol. Now, that great lady was no saint, but she did not join in any public alcohol sipping except for that one night.

Her choice was Mogen David wine. She would give me a cup of it to celebrate. However, I was not a newcomer to alcohol. The old men who repaired cars two doors down had been giving me sips of Falstaff, Jax and Schlitz beer since I was 5 years old. They didn’t stop, even after she chastised them when I came home once a little woozy.

We would listen to New Orleans WWL radio as the night crawled closer to midnight. We had a little clock in the house that sort of helped out, too. My grandmother, who could not read, knew what midnight and noon looked like on the clock.

Having to listen to WWL radio was an issue for me. The usual pattern would be for my grandmother to fall asleep early and I would change the station the WXOK, the black radio station in Baton Rouge. But alas, she always remained awake on New Year’s Eve.

We didn’t have a television or telephone, so we would also pass the time with me reading to her whatever I could. My cousins had taught me to read before I entered elementary school so I could help my grandma with things at the grocery store.

For other entertainment for me, I would play with the dozens of toys from the Cracker Jack box and have battles with the little army men I had.

Then as the sounds of Vic Damone and Frank Sinatra wafted through the house, the clocked would inch closer to midnight.

Once it was close enough, according to the radio station, my grandmother would open, or let’s say reopen the Mogen David and pour me some into my cup and she would get some in a larger cup.

Then we would look at the clock. We wouldn’t need WWL then. And, when the hands on the clock were straight up on 12, my grandma would nod her head, signaling it was okay for us to drink. Just then, too, you could hear a couple gun shots going off outside.

Yep, we had passed one year and were heading into another. Minutes later, like clockwork, my grandmother and I would be lost in sleep.

Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly column, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.