The Four-Sided Pentagon


Pentagon Barracks in Baton Rouge, LA –  Image by Spatms (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the first questions asked by any visitor to the Pentagon Barracks in Baton Rouge, Louisiana is, “Where is the fifth building?” There is a space for it, but there are only four, hefty-columned brick buildings in a pentagon arrangement with the fifth side open to the river.

This architectural anomaly, originally designed in 1818-1819 by Capt. James Gadsden for U.S. Army fortifications and barracks, called for four of the sides of the pentagon to be barracks that would house one thousand soldiers and the fifth building would actually be two buildings constructed end to end to make the fifth side. The southern of the two fifth-side buildings would be a commissary-quartermaster warehouse and the northern building would be an ordnance warehouse. These buildings were located nearest the river so that supplies could be loaded into them more easily. (See image below.)

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Design plan by U S Army Captain James Gadsden 1819  (Source: Map Collection, Louisiana State Library, Baton Rouge)

But designs, materials, and environments do not often mesh well together.

In the case of the ordnance warehouse, poor workmanship and sub-standard building materials, caused it to be condemned and demolished shortly after its construction.

In the case of the design of the fortification barracks, the oppressive heat and humidity of south Louisiana were not taken into adequate consideration.

An inspection of the progress of the barracks’ construction was made in May 1820 by the U.S. Inspector General’s office of the Baton Rouge Barracks and a portion of the final report follows:

The building is intended both for Barracks and Fortification: the lower story is
pierced in the rear with loop holes: these apertures are not sufficiently large to admit such a passage of air as to render it comfortable as lodgings, it is even now
scarcely habitable and in mid summer, must be abandoned. This work is calculated 
to use at musketry, it would appear then better that there should be larger openings in the rear, so as to render it more fit for Quarters, which in case of attack might be closed with shutters musket proof.

The Arsenal or Storehouse now building under the direction of the Ordnance Department and which forms a part of this work will be found every way inadequate to contain a moiety of the stores & which this defense will require,
the whole of the lower story of the Barracks is not more than will be wanted
for that purpose.

That part of the work which has been superintended by the Quartermaster appears
to be executed in an artist like manner. The Arsenal or Storehouse built under the direction of the Ordnance Dept. is wretchedly executed. The brick of the basement of the first story are laid in what resembled Mississippi mud more than mortar, this substitute for cement will never become hard, and may now he removed from between the Bricks by the finger alone; the wall towards the river is five or 6 inches out of plumb. It is impossible that this building will stand if charged with the weight of one half the stores it is designed to put in it.

[Records of Inspector General’s Office, 18 H-1824, National Archives, Record Group 1591.]

As the buildings stand today, windows with heavy shutters replaced the musket loop holes in the barracks.

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In addition to the design and building problems disease among the soldiers and workers constructing the buildings plagued the work.

Diseases common to living in encampments as well as mosquito-borne illnesses like yellow fever, dogged the soldiers and the other workers who had been brought in from other states to assist in the construction. In 1819, 30 workers and 20 soldiers died of yellow fever.  In 1821, 91 soldiers died.

My 3x great-grandfather, U. S. Army Lt. Jasper Strong, was stationed at the building site during the barracks’ construction, but he was only on-site a portion of the time. Unfortunately in June of 1821 he was listed as “present sick” at the barracks site. It is probable that he was sick due to the oppressive heat, being that he was a native of Vermont, but the hot and humid conditions so common in south Louisiana were no surprise to him since this was his second assignment in the South. He had already spent the previous year building a new fort near New Orleans at the Rigolets (RIG-uh-leez) Pass, the strait connecting Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico.  He could have suffered from one of the many maladies associated with camp life, but if he had been sick with yellow fever, it is not likely that he would have survived.


President Zachary Taylor (1848) – By Joseph Henry Bush (1794-1865) (The White House Historical Association) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly when Jasper Strong was present for duty at the Baton Rouge barracks from December 1822 through January of 1823, his Commander was future U.S. President Zachary Taylor who was 38 years old at the time.

US Army SERVICE RECORD for Jasper Strong as 2nd Lieutenant:

  • 1819 – Graduated from West Point
  • 1819-1821 – Stationed at Fort Petite Cocquille at the Rigolets near New Orleans for the construction of Fort Pike
  • Jun 1821 – Baton Rouge Barracks – Present sick – Commander Richard Whartenby
  • Oct 1821 – Fort Belle Fontaine (St. Louis, MO) Absent on furlough – Commander Thomas Hamilton
  • January – November 1822 – Baton Rouge Barracks – Absent on furlough – Commander Talbot Chambers  (In October of 1822 Jasper Strong is listed as Justin Strong – was he gone so much that they forgot his name?)
  • December 1822 – January 1823 – Baton Rouge Barracks – Present for duty – Commander Zachary Taylor

As Lieutenant Jasper Strong:

  • Mar 1823 – Baton Rouge Barracks – Present for duty – Commander Talbot Chambers
  • May 1823 – Baton Rouge Barracks – Absent on Recruiting service at New Orleans – Commander Talbot Chambers

The US Army soldiers who were constructing the new barracks were housed in the old fortifications to the south of the construction site formerly known as Fuerte San Carlos (~ Fort St. Charles).

Baton Rouge map 1805

A Spanish map of Baton Rouge showing the earthen fortifications of Fuerte San Carolos in 1805.   Pintado, Vicente Sebastián. Florida Occidental, Distrito de Baton Rouge, año de 1805. 1805. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <;

This earthen fortification was built by the British after they gained control of the area in 1763 due to the Treaty of Paris. The fort was named Fort New Richmond and it remained in British hands until the Revolutionary War when Bernardo de Galvez, commandant of Spanish-controlled New Orleans,  happily sided with the colonial patriots in order to move the British out of the Mississippi River region.  The Spanish marched from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in September 1779 and were successful in their attack on the British in the only battle of the Revolutionary War fought in Louisiana.  The Spanish renamed the fortification, Fuerte San Carlos and it remained under Spanish control until 1810 when some disgruntled English citizens living in the Spanish controlled area were unhappy with Spanish rule. They seized the fort in September of 1810 and declared themselves the independent Republic of West Florida.  That independent country lasted three months until the United States annexed the fledgling Republic. To replace the rundown fortification, the US Army made plans to build a new arsenal and barracks in Baton Rouge.

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But Jasper Strong was not my only ancestor to walk the grounds of this plot of land on the Mississippi River.  Another of my third great-grandfather, Jacob Guice joined Col. Claiborne’s 1st Mississippi Militia and marched to Baton Rouge from Natchez in the Mississippi Territory during September 1812 to defend it against the British in the War of 1812.  Jacob was stationed at the fortification of Fuerte San Carlos until March of 1813.

Grave of Jacob Guice - Guice/Armstrong Cemetery - McNair, MS

Grave of Jacob Guice with star emblem denoting service in the War of 1812

More recently my grandfather, C.L. Guice, was a student cadet at the Pentagon Barracks in the 1920’s when the buildings were part of Louisiana State University.  He never knew his great-grandfather Jacob Guice had been stationed almost on the same grounds one hundred years before.

I was born in Baton Rouge in 1962 not far from the Barracks at the old Lady of the Lake Hospital that used to be across Capitol Lake from the State Capitol building. I have walked the grounds of the Pentagon Barracks many times through the years, never realizing how many of my forebears preceded me. Needless to say, these historic buildings are now an endearing connection to my past.


Faces Lost to Time…almost

As an historian and genealogist, one of the saddest things for me is to find a box of old photo in an antique store with no name written on the backs of the photographs to identify the person or persons pictured.  The photos were possibly left in a drawer or an album at a time when everyone in the household knew the identities of these people and no one felt a need to document who they were. Then overtime, everyone who knew who they were, dies or is too young to remember them.

If I find a box of old photos in an antique shop, and I usually do, I will flip through them and imagine who each person was, what they did, where they lived, and what life was like for them.  And if I’m lucky, I’ll find some with names on them. Sometimes the shop will have a $5-$10 price tag on each photo, but most of the time, they will let them go for no more than a dollar each. Just ask.

That’s when the detective work begins.  If the handwritten name can be read and if the back of the photo has the photographer’s location, and many of them do, those two facts can be searched together online. For some of the people I can not find an adequate record, but for others, I am able to give these people their story.

My hope is that when ancestors search their name, they will be able to find them here.

Meet a few of the people whose stories I have recovered:

Nettie Adele Troop


IMG_3992This is Nettie Adele Troop (or Throop) from Pittsfield, NY.  She was born in early 1869 and she had one brother, Eugene, who was ten at the time.  Her father, George Troop was a carpenter and joiner and her mother, Martha, kept house. The large age difference between her and her brother was due to her father enlisting in the Union Army in 1864 during the Civil War.

By the time Nettie was eleven, her family had moved to New Berlin, NY where this photograph was taken.

Nettie later married William B. Lent around the age of 20 and they had one son, Walter Eugene Lent in 1890. They moved to Kings, NY where her husband worked with the railroad as a conductor.

Unfortunately on November 23, 1894, Nettie passed away at the age of 25. Her husband and young son moved in with his parents in Cortlandt, NY until at least 1905.

Sometime after that he married a young woman named May, before 1910. May must have passed away within the next several years because by 1918 he has married again, to Eva, and they have one daughter named Eva Lent who was born in 1919.

Nettie and William’s son Walter Eugene Lent married in 1915 when he was 25 and followed in his father’s footsteps and worked as an electrician for the railroad in New York City. He and his wife had two sons and they named one son George, for Walter’s grandfather, George Troop.


Alice Burrows

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Meet Miss Alice Burrows, the school teacher.  Born in 1871 in Sanford, Broome Co., New York, to William and Sarah Burrows, she was their third child. She graduated in 1889 from Binghamton Central High School and became a teacher. In fact, this photograph was taken the year she graduated.IMG_3994 (1)

At age 20 she taught at the Helen St. School and made $320 that year. She lived in a boarding house at 43 Seminary Av. with other women who had similar occupations.

Over the years she lived in many different dwellings, but always stayed within the local vicinity of Binghamton, New York as she moved to teach at different schools.

In 1899, she was a boarder at 42 Murray St.  In 1900, at age 29, she moved to another boarding house at 103 Oak Street across from the present high school in Binghamton .  It is not known if this school was there when she lived there or whether she taught there.

A couple of doors down the street lived a widower in another boarding house.  They evidently got to know each other well at that time because by the end of the next year they were to be married.

But before they married she moved to 16 1/2 Arthur Street and taught at the No. 15 school on St. John Street.

At the end of 1901 she and Mr. Herrick J. McCormick, a widower aged 52, were wed. Her teaching days and her moving days were over (as far as I can tell). He was an insurance adjuster in Binghamton and they moved to the house that became the last dwelling in which she would live, 180 West End Street.


Wayne Lawrence McCormick  (photo found on

In 1906, they had their first child, a son Wayne Lawrence.  Two years later their daughter Marian was born.

Lawrence became a clerk and a chauffeur in Binghamton.  He married and had a son who served in the Navy in WWII.

Alice and Herrick McCormick were married for over 40 years until Mr. McCormick passed away in 1942. He was almost 93.


Herrick McCormick (photo found on


Alice Burrows McCormick and grandson (photo found on


Samuel Seitz

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Reverse side of above photo.

I researched what I believe to be documents pertaining to Mr. Samuel Seitz, given his age and location, realizing that there are other Seitz families in Ohio and many are Amish or Mennonite and have many of the same biblical names.  But I believe the information I recovered proves to be his.

Mr. Samuel Seitz reaped the sorrow of his times. He was born Oct. 30, 1841 to Peter and Rebecca Seitz. He had at least eight brothers and sisters, five of which died before he turned twenty-one.

He registered for the Civil War draft relatively late, by June of 1863, but two of his young adult siblings had died since the Civil War had begun so I believe that is what caused a delay in his signing up for the draft.

He married Phebe Darringer on Valentines Day in 1864 and enlisted ten days later on February 24, 1864 with the 21st Ohio Infantry, Co. G.  By the time he joined them, they had already helped to take Vicksburg and then participated in the Battle of Chattanooga and the Chickamauga Campaign.  The 21st Ohio would later join Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in his “March to the Sea” burning everything and leaving a trail of destruction through Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah.

After he returned home, he and Phebe moved to Perrysburg south of Toledo where he worked in manufacturing. They had three daughters, Coradelle, Rebecca, and Ida.  But in July of 1879, Phebe died. In 1880 we find him widowed and living with eight year old Ida in Blanchard, east of Ottawa, Ohio. Coradelle and Rebecca were 14 and 12 in 1880, but I could not find where they were living.

He married again in August of 1880 to Elizabeth Crist and moved to Leipsic, Ohio. They lived there till at least 1900. But the 1910 census shows him renting as a boarder and divorced.  Elizabeth died in February 1910 in Homer, Michigan.

The last ten years of his life must have been full of sorrow and depression because we find him in January 1920 renting a house in Leipsic, OH living with a boarder.  By July, he had died of cirrhosis of the liver.  Alcohol is the most common cause of cirrhosis although it can be caused by hepatitis as well. Either way, he died a slow death.

Did he become an alcoholic? If so, did he drink in excess to cope with all of the loss in his life or to deal with post traumatic stress disorder from serving in the Civil War? Could alcoholism have contributed to his divorce? We may never know for sure, but his face in the photograph looks rather weary.


– Unknown – 

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Then there are individuals like this man who really are lost to time.  No name, no place. Just sitting in a box.  I picked up this photo and bought it only because he looked like he had an interesting story.

I wonder what it is?









“I am the only Primitive Naive Acadian Artist.”


Mrs. Mary Anne Pecot DeBoisblanc

“I am the only Primitive Naive Acadian Artist,” she would always tell me.  Mrs. Mary Anne Pecot De Boisblanc was indeed the only known Primitive Naive Acadian Artist designated as such. Her art is classified as “primitive” because of its simplistic ethnic content. It is noted as “naive” due to the style in which this simple ethnicity is painted.  Naive painting is childlike to the beholder, but is often a style used by very accomplished artists.  In this case the ethnic group portrayed in her paintings was her personal people group, the Acadians, or “Cajuns.”

But it is with great saddness that I share that she passed away in December of 2015 at the age of 90. What a wonderful, authentic individual she was!


I learned of Mrs. Mary Anne after I saw her paintings in a book at the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, LA several years ago.  I saw that her paintings depicted the lifestyle and customs of my Acadian ancestors, so I sought permission to post some of the paintings in a family story I was writing for this blog, “Bonfires on the Bayou .”

After I posted that article, I received a message from her granddaughter who encouraged me to contact Mrs. Mary Anne. Little did I know at the time, but she and I were distant cousins. We share the same great grandmother who was one of the original Acadians to settle in Louisiana.

I decided to call her and we had a delightful conversation, talking for most of an hour — all the while she was drawing a new pencil sketch.

It just so happened that I was planning to go to St. Martinville the next day for the annual Acadian Festival.  I thought I should ask Mrs. Mary Anne if she would like to go with me even though we had just met. Through our conversation, she seemed to know that she could trust me and told me that she could tell I was “good people.” So she decided to go. Having difficulty getting around, she made arrangements for her home care person to go with us.

I visited with her for a while the next morning at her home in Metairie. She showed me stacks of history books, drawings, paintings and a curious tall can of assortedphoto walking canes.  And much to my surprise, she gave me the pencil drawing that she had been drawing during our phone conversation the day before!  I was thrilled!

I drove and she talked.  It was mid-March in south Louisiana so azaleas were in full bloom everywhere and the weather was gorgeous! As we drove through swamps and lowlands and passed near Raceland, Houma, and Morgan City, she told me all about her childhood growing up in Labadieville and all of her Acadian ancestors. I then told her about my ancestors from the area.  At one point she began searching through papers in her lap and pulled out a printed story about her Acadian grandmother, the one that we discovered we shared. She said the story was very good, but she didn’t know who wrote it.  When she started reading it to me, I realized it was the “Bonfires on the Bayou” story I had written.  I told her that the author was me.  She looked so surprised and excited to find that out! From that point on, we were forging a beautiful friendship.

I call that first meeting my DeBoisblanc Day.  We visited the Acadian Memorial, which included her being able to see some old friends, and then we went around the countryside seeing old ancestral homes of mine and some of hers.


Mrs. Mary Anne walking to the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, LA

Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, LA

Friends at the Acadian Memorial (Mrs. DeBoisblanc is seated second from right, I am standing in the back with the purple shirt.)

Walking through the courtyard of the Acadian Memorial and on to the Evangeline Oak.

When we visited Charenton, LA, she showed me where the old drug store used to be and the family’s old home place. We visited a couple of cemeteries and then we stopped by a friend of hers to visit for a little while.  As we walked through the home, paintings of hers could be seen hanging on the walls. She was obviously generous and wanted to share her work with those she considered friends.


Viewing one of my ancestor’s homes.  She told me that my branch of the family was the “rich cousins” and that she was from the side of the “poor cousins.”

After seeing many sights and visiting with treasured friends our day ended, but our friendship did not.

During our many conversations that day, she told me that many of her paintings and drawings were on display at the Louisiana State Archives in Baton Rouge. I told her that I would love to go see them, to which she replied, “Let’s make plans to do that soon!”  So we did.

The next week, we met in Baton Rouge and this time my daughter and my father who are also her cousins, came with me to meet this charming lady and to see her unique artwork.


Mrs. Mary Anne describing the scenes in her paintings for my father and me


Gallery at the Louisiana State Archives in Baton Rouge

Later, we went upstairs and visited with State Archivist and Director, Florent “Pon” Hardy, Jr.  He was instrumental in having her art displayed for the public at the Archives.


Visiting with State Archivist Florent Hardy, Jr.

Many times that I was down in the New Orleans area, I would go by for a visit and we would talk history and genealogy, share family stories, and look at more of her art work.

One time, soon after our Archives visit, she called me and told me I needed to come down when I could, that she had something for me. I made my way down there in the next day or so and when I got there, she handed me a painting very similar to the drawing she gave me.  But it was special because on this one she painted parts of it metallic gold — the umbrella, the road, and a group of eggs at the man’s feet.  To her the gold symbolized new life, family, and  happiness. The thought of her wanting to give me that painting is so precious to me, because she was accepting me as part of her family.

I have framed both of them and they hang together in my home along with one of her canes from her collection. She had told me to choose whichever cane I wanted.  Many were colorful and fancy, but I chose one that is simple, sleek, and to me looks like one she probably used many times.


Painting and Drawing by Mary Anne Pecot DeBoisblanc in the home of Melinda Holloway

She and her art are beloved by many.  At one time even a regional college was interested in possibly displaying her art in a permanent display. They traveled down to New Orleans just to visit with her and discuss this proposal.  In the end, it wasn’t to be, but they recognized the value of her art and the contribution it has made to the understanding of this iconic culture of Louisiana.

Mrs. Mary Anne DeBoisblanc conferring with officials from Louisiana College

Much love to you, Mrs. Mary Anne. You will be sorely missed. Your art and your memory will live on and bring joy to many!

Melinda Holloway and Mary Anne Pecot DeBoisblanc in New Orleans - Dec 2013

Melinda Holloway and Mary Anne Pecot DeBoisblanc in New Orleans – Dec 2013



The Bicentennial of the Battle of the “Dirty Shirts” and the “Red Coats”


American cannon at the Chalmette Battlefield near New Orleans, Louisiana where the Battle of New Orleans took place.


Down in south Louisiana, Andrew Jackson is a big deal. Nearly everything there is named after him — Jackson Square in the New Orleans French Quarter sports a large equestrian statue of its namesake, Fort Jackson once guarded the mouth of the Mississippi River, Jackson Barracks houses the headquarters of the Louisiana National Guard, and Jax Brewery (now defunct), and others — and rightly so.  It was because of his panache and leadership that New Orleans was spared during the War of 1812.

Considered one of the greatest upsets in military history, Jackson and his outnumbered ragtag troops defeated the greatest fighting force of that time.  He gathered troops from every corner of the city, surrounding swamp, neighboring towns and even other states to fortify his defenses against the approaching British.  His troops consisted of militias from states as far away as Kentucky, local citizens of assorted nationalities, free blacks, and even a few pirates. With numbers, weather and lack of training against them, these “dirty shirts” surmounted the odds that day and achieved victory over the “red coats” in the last major battle of the War of 1812.   Thursday, January 8, 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.

I have a vested interest in this battle since one of my ancestors fought in it, Jean Baptist Armant, a sugar planter, then 35 years old, a private in the 6th Regiment, Landry’s Militia, and another ancestor was in a support role in Mobile and Mississippi, Lt. Col. George Henry Nixon, who led the 13th Regiment Mississippi Militia.

© 2011 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved

Veteran Voices Project

The Veteran Voices Project is something that has been in my heart for many years now, but has finally come to fruition.  This project consists of interviewing veterans about their service and making a public space where these stories can be told.  So I have created a new blog called Veteran Voices. (  I hope you will check it out and see how it’s taking shape! Below is a copy of my introductory post: Veterans' Voices-002I have a deep respect for veterans. I’m not sure if my sense of respect and patriotism is inborn or taught by my parents, but I get choked up whenever I see our country’s flag displayed on a home, or when the “Stars and Stripes Forever” is played, or while attending a Memorial Day celebration honoring our fallen veterans. But seeing someone in military dress is what affects me most. It’s not so much the uniform as it is the ideal for which the uniform stands, and the commitment the person has made to that ideal.

This project was birthed because I believe each veteran has a story to tell — whether that person served in frontline combat or in a stateside desk job. The contribution of every veteran in every position and rank made an impact to the cause and it is my desire to help tell their stories. I intend to publish interviews on this new site from veterans from all conflicts, but interviews with World War II veterans will take priority. Even the youngest veterans of this war are in their late eighties and early nineties and will not be with us for many more years.

Each of these interviews needs to be published so that others may glean information, but also solidify their patriotism for our country.  Those who read these stories will realize the cost of the freedoms we enjoy, as well as gain more respect for veterans and the sacrifices that have been made in service to our country.

If you know a WWII veteran who would like to be interviewed, please respond to this post. If the veteran lives in the Louisiana/Mississippi region I would like to interview them personally.  If the veteran lives elsewhere I can send a questionnaire that can be filled out by the veteran or a friend of the veteran. Copies of current photos and service photos of the veteran submitted with the completed interview are greatly appreciated. Transcripts of their interviews will be submitted to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, LA to be archived for research by future historians.

Every veteran has a story, and every story should be told.

The Guice Box

SONY DSCI have been in possession of the Guice Box for several years now. It is a well-built, sturdy, varnished box emblazoned with the Guice family crest on top and trimmed out with brass handles and latch. I came to acquire it in a roundabout way.

In 2008 my mother and I traveled with other members of my family to attend our first Guice Family Reunion held yearly near McNair, Mississippi.

My mother was so excited to go.  She had never known any of her Guice relatives beyond her father, since he had died when she was seven.  And his mother and father died before my mother’s parents were married.  So to meet other Guice “faces” and to see the family resemblance was a dream come true for her.

Sitting in folding chairs in the shade of trees in the grassy yard of the family home of a Guice relative, family members caught up on news from the previous year.  After partaking of some scrumptious family reunion food — you know the kind — my mother was chosen by a drawing to receive a small treasure chest-like box that was part of a Guice Family Reunion tradition.  The recipient was to take it home for one year and bring it back to the next reunion.  During that year, the holder of the box was to contribute a family treasure — be it a photo, recipe, Guice family story, etc.

Since I am our immediate family’s historian, my mother gave me the box so that I could add a “family treasure” and be the holder of the box it until the next reunion.

As a genealogist and historian, I had fun going through the box’s contents. There were photos, family histories, articles, and obituaries.  It was like Christmas morning discovering more Guice family history!SONY DSC

In the months to come, I worked diligently to self-publish a book about our branch of the Guice family, then I added it to the box.  I was excited to show the other Guice family members our contribution at the next reunion, but the reunion in 2009 was cancelled. We would have to wait another year.  So I put the box safely away in my genealogy cabinet.

CCI02012013_0002But before the next reunion could be held in 2010, my mother passed away. I’m not even sure that it was held that year.  I’m so sad that she was never able to attend another reunion, but I am glad that she was able to attend at least one.

Because she was the contact person for the reunion, I have not seen another invitation to attend one. There is a contact name and address under the lid of the Guice box, but I was hesitant to send the box in the mail for fear it may be lost — it, nor its contents can be replaced.  I tried to contact another Guice family member that I remembered meeting that day, leaving my information with them to let me know of the next reunion, but I have not been notified.

I hope that by posting this page, someone from the Mississippi/Louisiana Guice family will see it and contact me about the next reunion so I can return the box and the tradition can continue.  I will write a letter to the address in the box in hopes that I will get a response about the reunion.  Until then if you are a member of the Guice Family, please contact me through this blog and know that the Guice box has been well taken care of. I will come to the next reunion bearing it in one hand and food in the other!

Life on Byron Street: Christmastime – 1960’s Style

Santa and me at D.H.Holmes in Delmont Village in 1967

Santa and me at D.H.Holmes in Delmont Village in 1967

Every Christmas season our little noses were pressed against the store windows of Delmont Village Shopping Center which was located just a couple of blocks from Byron Street.  We closely inspected every detail of the colorful, animated window displays. The mechanical elves slowly repeated their movements as they sawed, hammered, and painted the toys they were crafting. Next to them, a large Santa gently nodded as he inspected their work. In other windows there were more elves, Christmas trees, gingerbread houses, large sparkly candy canes and in some windows there were moving reindeer. Hanging throughout each scene were large glittery candies and, piled high along the bottom of all the displays were hills of light fluffy “snow” — something we rarely saw in Louisiana. It was all so magical!

Down the road from Delmont Village on Plank Road was Tony’s Christmas Tree lot. About two weeks before Christmas, we would ride down there to buy our tree. Mr. Tony Pizzolato, always the entrepreneur, rented the front lot of Shopper’s Fair to sell his Christmas trees after he had sold his last pumpkin for the fall season from his fruit stand. There were post holes dug in the ground for each tree and light bulbs hung above on wires throughout the lot for easier evening shopping.  We loved to run and hide from each other in the rows of trees — except for stepping in water-filled, “treeless” post holes. Then with wet socks, we would help our parents try to find just the right tree.  Our Christmas tree of choice was usually a Scotch Pine.  It was known for its crooked trunk, but it also had a wonderful pine fragrance. The smell of pine lingered on our clothes until we got ready for bed that night, and it will always linger in my memory as one of my favorite Christmas smells.

Our "tall" tree

Our beautiful “tall” tree (My great-grandmother “Sukey” is in the background.)

My parents always bought a 5-foot tree because the taller trees were more expensive than they wanted to pay, but we improvised to make it seem taller. We placed it on a low tree table that had brick-looking paper around it — to look like a chimney, I guess. When we added the pointed, glass tree-topper, it was almost as tall as our ceiling! We decorated our tree with strands of big, colorful light bulbs, colored glass balls, gold garland, and silver icicles — a Christmas tree can never have too many icicles.

Byron Street Christmas '66247

Our nativity set on our TV behind my brother — and his excitement

Our manger scene was often placed at the base of the tree with a yellow bulb put through a hole in the back of the stable to light up the inside. But sometimes we put it on the television set. I loved playing with the little figurines as I imagined telling the story of baby Jesus and how God sent him into the world to save us from our sins. My mom decorated dime-store ceramic figurines with real satin cloth to make them more life-like.  She even added glitter to the gifts of the wise men. I arranged the little figurines — then rearranged them — then rearranged them again — everyday until Christmas.

We didn’t decorate the outside of our house very much, but we sometimes decorated our front door with big, colored lights that had silver reflectors around each bulb. My mother liked putting a decorative covering on our door that looked like Santa was opening the front door to let you inside. But sometimes she made cardboard cut-outs of choir children, or wise men, and stood them up on our front porch with a Penetray color wheel light shining on them. My bedroom which had a window that faced the front porch glowed green…blue…red…and orange…then repeated the color sequence again and again.

My family loved riding through different neighborhoods in Baton Rouge to see all the lights.  Houses back in the ’60’s were often decorated with all blue lights, or green lights, or red, with an aluminum Christmas tree placed in the front picture window.  The tree usually had corresponding colored balls and glowed with the light from a spinning color wheel light.  Ah, the memories!

The neighborhood kids caroling at my Grandma's house

The neighborhood kids caroling with our Sunbeam Bakery song sheets at my Grandma’s house on Byron Street

In our own neighborhood, my mom and dad took the kids on our street and went house to house singing Christmas carols.  Sunbeam Bakery used to give out tabloid-size, newsprint caroling sheets that had the lyrics printed in green. We carried these papers with us as we sang at each house and, if we were lucky, we were given cookies or hot chocolate as a thank you.  But we always got a smile for our efforts! When we got back home, especially if it was cold, we had a cup of our homemade spiced tea made with fresh orange, lemon, and pineapple juices that were laced with a touch of cinnamon and cloves. This spiced tea recipe is still a treasured holiday treat in my family.

CCI09072013_0003On one Christmas some of the caroling kids from our block, decided to do a Christmas play in our backyard and invite the neighborhood.  We worked very hard on our set and costumes — even getting Burger King crowns for the wise men.  We had one attendee besides our parents. Our elderly neighbor from a few doors down, graciously came to see our play.  I’ve never forgotten that. Mr. Boden was a sweet man.

When I was very young the Christmas parade in downtown Baton Rouge was a must see.  I remember the large crowds that gathered on Third Street waiting for the parade to come by.  It seemed like we waited forever!  To pass the time, I remember watching the neon Coca-Cola sign atop one of the buildings repeat different patterns of red and white lights. I became mezmorized by that sign. To help my sister and me see the parade, my dad brought a 6-foot ladder for us to stand on.  That way we were able to see the marching bands, glittering floats, beautiful ladies riding on shiny cars, and of course the biggest float of all that carried Santa Claus!

Christmas Eve evening was a very special time for our family.  Traditions that were started back then are still celebrated in my own family. We all gathered together in our living room with only the lights of the Christmas tree illuminating the room.  One child got to light a tall pillar candle and another one of us got to read the Christmas story by candlelight from the big old family Bible we had. We took turns each year. I still enjoy hearing that Bible story from Luke 2 read in King James English — just like Linus recites it for Charlie Brown in the well-known Christmas TV special. And like most children, we rarely slept on Christmas Eve.  We were just too excited — especially if we heard a “bump, bump.”  Maybe it was Santa’s reindeer on our roof!

CCI09072013_0004When Christmas morning finally came, we had to go get Mom and Dad before we could go into the living room to see what Santa brought everyone.  Then the room was filled with more squeals of joy and excitement than there were presents. Our stockings were also extra-special. Mom would attach a small cut out of an eventful happening in each of our lives that year. Over the years, the toe of the stocking got more and more crowded, but it also held for us more and more memories. After the room was full of torn wrapping paper and lengths of colored ribbon, we would go down to my Grandma’s house or sometimes she and my Pa-Pa would walk down the street to watch us open their presents to us, which were — more often than not — socks or underwear. My Grandma was a terribly practical lady.  We now affectionately call any overly practical present a “Grandma Gift.”

Christmas was a very, very special time with many, many fond memories.  I hope you have as many wonderful childhood Christmas memories as I have, but if not, you are welcome to borrow some of mine!

© 2011 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved