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.

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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


Life on Byron Street: The Fruit Stand


Right across a gravel drive from my father’s hardware and garden store on Plank Road between Byron and Evangeline streets sat Tony’s Fruit Stand.  This was very convenient for a kid like me.  I used to walk over there and plop my dime down on their counter and ask for “10 cents worth of grapes.”  They weighed them out for me, put them in a plastic bag, and off I went on my way back to my dad’s store.  Some times I would get hot, boiled peanuts which they put in a foil-lined white paper bag to keep them hot for me. The big, soft, salty ones were the best!

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Tony’s Fruit Stand always had fresh fruits and vegetables, but they also had a “cold drink” machine right near the front.  It had fruit flavored “cokes” in it that I preferred over the Coca-Colas in my dad’s drink machine. So I’d go there often to get a Fanta strawberry, orange, or grape drink.  Their machine was the type that had a tall, slender glass door on the right side that held the bottles in individual compartments, each locked in place with a gate around the neck of the bottle.  When the coins were dropped in the slot, the gate would release so that the bottle could be pulled out.  I can still hear that clinking sound.


Tony Pizzolato

Mr. Tony Pizzolato had a cold-storage room where he kept some of his watermelons to market them as “ice-cold.”  And they were!  My dad and he had a friendly competition to see who could come closest to guessing the weight of a watermelon just by holding it in their arms.  I’m not sure if my dad ever got one for free if he guessed the correct weight, but he did win bragging rights!

In the fall of the year Tony’s Fruit Stand would get in a large load of pumpkins which would be stacked in a large pile out in front.  One October day in 1970, Art Kleiner, the photographer for the State Times and Morning Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge, was driving around town looking for a human interest photo for the Halloween edition’s front page.  He dropped by the fruit stand when he saw the big pile of pumpkins out front.  He inquired at the counter if they knew of a school-aged girl who could pose in her Halloween costume while sitting in the pumpkins.  They immediately recommended that he go next door and ask my parents about me.  I was eight years-old at the time.  My mom brought me back home quickly and we threw together a homemade witch outfit, grabbed our household broom, bought a witch’s hat at the Pak-a-Sak down the street and headed back to the fruit stand — all in about 20 minutes!  It was great fun!Byron Street Melinda Pumpkin

Not long after this, Tony’s began selling seafood — fresh and boiled.  When that branch of the business took off, he and his sons moved the seafood market into an old gas station up Plank Road to expand this side of the business.  Today his children own and operate Tony’s Seafood Market and Deli, one of the largest seafood markets in the state of Louisiana.  They also produce “Louisiana Fish Fry” brand products.  What started as humble beginnings has turned into a very successful operation.

The original stand is not on Plank Road anymore, but I’ll always remember the original Tony’s Fruit Stand with fond memories.

Life on Byron Street: A Tale of Two Stores

Me with my Pa-pa

Me with my Pa-pa in front of his toy store (1962)

Besides my house and yard, which were great places to play, I spent most of my time at the two stores of my father and my “Pa-pa.”  The close proximity of the stores to my house and the possibilities they afforded children with vivid imaginations made the two stores natural places to play.

My Pa-pa, W.T. Arnold, owned a toy store called “Arnold’s Toys.”  How many children get to grow up living down the street from a toy store that is owned by their grandfather?  I remember gazing at the beautiful Madame Alexander dolls that were protected behind the sliding glass doors of the display cases.  My brother and I test rode the bikes and Red Flyer wagons in the middle of the store and played with the sample “Mr. Potato Head,” “Operation,” and “Cooties” games. My sister and I played with the “Lite Brite” and “Easy-Bake Oven,” and the little toy piano like Schroeder plays in Charlie Brown.  “Mrs. Beasely” dolls sat high on a shelf over-looking our fun. One of my all-time favorite toys was the “Dancerina” doll which I begged to get one Christmas (and I did). I always remember feeling like I was the luckiest kid in the world to grow up playing in a toy store.

I often spent time visiting with one of my Pa-pa’s employee’s, Mrs. Mac (short for McBride).  She was always so nice and patient with me.  I loved helping her as she put price tags on the new toys.

One especially exciting place to play in Pa-pa’s store was in the wareroom at the rear of the store.  It was a dimly-lit three-tier shelved storage room where we would imagine ourselves being on a ship, in a cave, a haunted house, or a space ship.  Two, short, painted boards that were alongside each other on the otherwise unpainted floor in the wareroom always served as our trap door that would lower or lift us to a new adventure.

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Hinson’s Hardware Employees — (front row, l-r) Aunt Daisy Mae Valentine, Mrs. McBride, Aunt “Boots” Edna Addison, Mrs. Nell (back left) Dale Arnold, (back right) Ray Hinson, my father.

My father, Ray Hinson, owned an adjacent hardware and garden supply store named, oddly enough, “Hinson’s Hardware and Garden Supply.”  Each spring, when the wareroom had been cleared of the Christmas season’s toys, my dad would stock it full of used whiskey barrels that he would cut in half to sell as planters.  This was a great idea except for the fact that one could not walk through the wareroom without getting totally drunk from the fumes.  It was quite an unusual and powerful smell for our teetotalling family’s noses.

He opened his store on my first birthday in 1963 and he remained in business in that location for the next fifteen years.  His store smelled of grass seed, nails, rubber gaskets and fertilizer.  Have you ever run your hands through a barrel of Bermuda grass seed?  Or bulk sacks of mustard seed?  It’s the nicest feeling.  It’s hard for me to go into a hardware store today without being mentally thrust back into my childhood.

One job I had was to count the change in the old Coca-Cola machine in the back of his store.  I knew where the special key was hung. And how to unlock each compartment all the way to where the Cokes were held.  I had such responsibility!  And yes, sometimes I was allowed to get a Coke out of the machine, just for me.

Local gardeners would bring Daddy bushels of peas, sacks of tomatoes, and other vegetables from seeds or plants they had bought from him. He kept his bedding plants out in front of the store where he watered them every morning.  I still love the smell of moist soil.  At the end of everyday, he sprinkled a dark, green granular substance on the concrete floor before he swept it.  He said it was to keep the dust down.  Sometime I received the honor of sprinkling the “green stuff” on the floor.  It took me a while before I realized I was lured into a “Tom Sawyer/white-wash fence” situation.  My dad was a good, honest businessman.  Everyone always said good things about him.

W. T. Arnold (front) at Ray Hinson's garden store

W.T. Arnold (front) at Ray Hinson’s Hardware and Garden Supply

My Pa-pa was a good man, too, and I don’t say that just because he let us play in his toy store.  My grandmother married him as a young widow after he had been kind to her by making sure that she and her two small children had extra ration stamps for groceries during World War II. It didn’t matter to us that he wasn’t our real grandfather, because he always treated us like his own.

I don’t remember having many conversations with him, but I do remember sitting with him in their kitchen at the counter as he spread saltines with “deviled ham” for me and him.  In the summer he would buy an ice-cold watermelon from Tony’s Fruit Stand next door and cut it on a marble slab table in his yard behind his store, while we sat in Adirondack chairs waiting patiently for our slices.

He always looked old to me. He was many years my grandmother’s senior, but he never acted old.  He chewed cigars and he loved making coffee for his employees.  On cold days he and his employees took afternoon coffee breaks around the heater in the back of the store and drank the coffee that he had prepared in a French drip coffee pot on open burners in the back wareroom. Around Christmas he also boiled whole hams in a big pot on the same burners.  He boiled the hams with apples, bell peppers, onions, and celery.  The aroma would permeate the whole store! (I still boil my hams the same way.)

But my Pa-Pa’s store wasn’t always a toy store.  It was first a Plee-zing Food Store.  I still have the wooden meat carving table he used.  In addition to groceries he sold general store type items and “Esso” gasoline out front (Esso stood for S.O. – Standard Oil, which later became Exxon).

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My Pa-pa, W.T. Arnold, standing with an employee in his Plee-zng Food Store on Plank Road (Click the photo to zoom in and read the prices on the shelves.)

My mother with an employee of my Pa-pa's Plee-zing Food Store (1944)

My mother as a young girl with an employee in front of my Pa-pa’s Plee-zing Food Store (1944)

His old store is no longer there, but my memories of it alwayswill be.

Life on Byron Street


My house on Byron Street (1962)

Life was good on Byron Street.  My father could walk to work every morning from our house to his store located on the corner at Plank Road. My grandmother lived down the street behind my Pa-pa’s store, which was connected to my father’s store.  The local fruit stand was next to them.

I could walk to my elementary school which was located in the next block in the opposite direction. The local park was on the far side of my school and my church was a few blocks farther.  The Winn Dixie and Delmont Village Shopping Center where we traded were two blocks up Plank Road.

My street was teeming with kids to play with, and there were plenty of older residents around to keep an eye on us.  We would play until the street lights came on or until my mother called us home for supper with her police whistle.  I rode my bike with my sister to places many blocks away and did not think twice about my safety.  Nearly everything that was important to me was located in this small north Baton Rouge community of North Highlands. In the 1960’s and ’70’s it was a fun, safe, and pleasant place in which to grow up.

Today, many of the places I remember on Byron Street and in that community are gone or rundown.  It is sad, but I would like to create a montage of my best memories of that area in an upcoming series of posts that will give you a glimpse as to why I enjoyed living there so much. I will also share vignettes that my Mom shared with me from when she lived there in the ’40’s and ’50’s.  I know that one can never go back to the way it was, but I will do my best to capture those memories in future posts!  For a visual glimpse of the way it was, here is a video montage of my family on Byron Street in the early ’60’s.

“The Choo-Choo Train House” (1911-2005)

“The Choo-Choo Train House” (1980’s)

Box fans, window fan, ceiling fan, tuna-fish sandwiches, train horns, sand, donuts in the morning, the beach, seining, hot summer days, cold-water showers, afternoon naps, no TV, no telephone, sand, stacks of Reader’s Digest books, dart board, cards, sand, late-evening thunderstorms, crabbing, fishing, and oh, I almost forgot to mention…sand.   These wonderful memories all seem to bunch up together in my mind when the long days of summer come. They make me long for “The Coast,” “the camp” — or more endearingly dubbed by the kids as the “Choo-Choo Train House.”

My Mom (L) with friends in the kitchen of the camp (1950’s)

Newly purchased camp

The Choo-Choo Train House was located in Clermont Harbor, Mississippi and was originally a school house that sat five blocks inland from the beach, and a few houses from the railroad.  It had been a school from 1911, when it was built, until the 40’s when the town built a new school.  At that time it was put up for sale and my grandmother and my step-grandfather (Pa-pa) bought it when my mother was about thirteen years old.  They spent the entire summer every year down at the coast, while Pa-pa went go back to Baton Rouge on the weekdays to work in his store.  He would head back to the coast on Friday evenings to be with his family again.  When I was a child, we’d go down at least a few times each summer.

The old camp had one big room that was divided into three parts, with half-walls surrounding the kitchen area which was located in the middle. Across the middle hall were two bathrooms — one half-bath and one with only a tub. There were large windows on every wall. These allowed a nice cross-breeze to flow through the building when the weather was hot.  The old ceiling fan in the front room was a large heavy-duty, two-blade, “they don’t make them like that anymore” type of ceiling fan.  It made a slow, loud, repetitive grinding noise as it started spinning, but when it got going, could blow a part in your hair.  There were beds  in the front room and beds in the back room.  But there was one special twin bed right by the front screen door where my Pa-pa took a nap every afternoon.  It was difficult to keep a bunch of kids quiet for two hours and to keep the screen door from slamming while he slept!

A typical day for me started at 4 AM when I would get up to go fishing with my dad.  It would still be dark as I tried to get dressed quietly.

My dad would turn on a small lamp at the kitchen table and make French bread toast in the old Munsey toaster.  After scraping the blackened toast into the sink with a knife (quietly) because we usually left it too long in the toaster while we got other things ready for our fishing trip, we would finish eating and head to Bordage’s (pronounced Bo-dash’s) fishing marina. It was located inland on Bayou (Bye) Caddy.

After getting there, still dark outside, I put on my orange life-preserver and got into our skiff.  Daddy would load our rods and reels, bait, and gas tank and then start the outboard motor. It always seemed so much louder in the early morning!  We slowly pulled away from the dock and then made our way down the bayou toward the Gulf. I can still smell the salt water, mud and marsh grass. I remember occasionally seeing, shining in the water as the boat glided through, the phosphorescent organisms that glowed briefly in the darkness. After what seemed to be half an hour of winding through the watery passages, we would finally reach the mouth of the bayou just as it was getting light.  We’d fish for an hour or more and then head back to Bordage’s.  We  always ended our trip with a Barq’s rootbeer and a pack of peanut butter crackers.  I still love that food combination.

Me (L), my sister Karen and my cousin Steve

My children at the beach

We’d get back to the house just in time to put our bathing suits on and go to the beach with my brothers and sister –and whichever cousins happened to visiting at the same time.  If the tide was in, we played in the shallow surf. If the tide was out we played on the sandbars running and splashing through the tide pools. Around lunch when we were on the verge of getting sunburned and when it got too hot to stay out there, we’d head back to the camp..  Each of us got a turn at the hose out back to rinse the sand off of ourselves and then we’d do the complete job in the cold shower inside. It seemed extra cold when you were extra hot. And no matter how much you rinsed off, you still found sand somewhere on your body when you got out!


Lunch usually consisted of tuna sandwiches or other cold lunch meat sandwich, then the sleepy people would find a bed and flop on top of it for a nap under the strong breeze of the ceiling fan.  Those of us who never napped, read comic books or played a quiet board game, or card game.  I must have played a thousand games of rummy! Sometimes Mom would give us each a dime to walk down to Garcia’s (Gar-sha’s), the local general store to get an ice cream.  I believe she did that mostly to get us out of the camp during her nap time.

My dad helping grandkids push the seine

My mom and grandkids

Finally when the nappers awoke, we’d get our damp swimsuits back on and head back to the beach and play until the sun went down.  If the tide was out, we’d seine between the sandbars in the tide pools and see what little fish, shrimp or crabs we could catch.  The youngest children always enjoyed the flipping minnows jumping on the net as we pulled the seine up onto a sandbar.

When the sun went down we’d head back to the camp for a meal of hot dogs or boiled crabs if we had been crabbing at the train trestle that day. Of course we didn’t eat until we went through the “de-sanding” ritual again of the hose and cold shower.  By the way, one of the best feelings in the world is to be clean, and cool, and in fresh pajamas after being hot all day and in a damp,d sandy bathing suit.

After supper it was time to get on — not in — our beds until the house cooled off.  At 9:00 PM we always had our radio tuned to the AM station, WWL out of New Orleans, to hear CBS Mystery Theater.  We listened intently as the opening trademark  “creaking door” opened and E. G. Marshall introduced that evening’s suspenseful tale.

Melinda – 1962

Before we went to sleep, we dusted any sand out of the bed — and there always was some — and Pa-pa would tell us to cover our heads with our sheet while he sprayed the inside of the camp with the flit gun to kill the mosquitoes.  Going to sleep hot, but waking up cool in the morning, with the birds chirping in the trees outside the open windows, is one of my fondest memories of being at the Coast.

The Coast is where my parents met and courted.  It is where all of us put our feet in the water of the Gulf for the first time. It’s where we went each summer to relax.  It’s where we had family reunions every year around my parents’ anniversary.

Our last family reunion at the Coast

Our last family reunion at the Coast in June of 2005

Yes, it was hot.  Yes, it was sandy.  But it was a nice place to go to relax, to be with family, to bring friends, to enjoy the beach, and to eat and sleep as much as you wanted.

The Coast is where we used to enjoy all of these things, — but those days are gone now. Only memories remain.  Along with many other people’s precious possessions, the Choo-Choo Train House and Clermont Harbor were destroyed in August of 2005 by the unprecedented power of Hurricane Katrina. This stretch of the Mississippi Coast was one of the hardest hit areas of the hurricane.  The sadness I felt from the loss of our camp and Clermont Harbor was the same as if I had lost a member of my family. I mourned for many years — and I still do.

Dad and Mom surveying the damage after Hurricane Katrina. The roof of our camp is on the ground in the distance. The picnic table is all that survived.

Nothing can replace the old camp, or Garcia’s, or Bordages, but one story demonstrates the resiliency of the place and its people.

One hot day a few weeks after the storm while we were cleaning up debris on our property, my mom proceeded to pull out a checkered table cloth, spread it on the surviving picnic table and began to set out cold lunch meat and sandwich fixings. We all sat and enjoyed our lunch under the sparse shade of one of the remaining, bedraggled trees.  It was at that moment that I knew not everything had been destroyed.  The heart of the Coast was still there.

The Courtship of Ick and Jez

She called him Ick…short for Ichabod Crane because he was so skinny.  He called her Jez…short for Jezebel, the evil queen from the Bible, because, well — he would have to answer that.

Stamps, pen and paper, funny quips, warm fuzzies, and the occasional light jab all came together in over 400 letters written from 1948 to 1956 between Ray Hinson and Anna Claire Guice.

It was the summer of 1948 down at the old schoolhouse camp in Clermont Harbor, Mississippi when Ray saw Anna Claire and her sister Carol Lee for the first time.  (She said he was staring at her.)



Ray lived in Lakeshore, a community a few miles down the beach road.  Anna Claire’s mother and step-father had just purchased the old schoolhouse in Clermont Harbor to use as a summer beach house.  The girls and their mom would stay all summer while their step-father would come to the camp after work on the weekends from Baton Rouge.

…from Anna Claire’s high school photo album

At first Anna Claire didn’t pay Ray any mind. At least she didn’t show it.  She was almost 15 and he was 17. But as the summer progressed they became good friends.  When the summer was over, they went back to their regular lives of high school for her, and junior college for him.  They kept in touch by letter throughout the year and when summer came again, they picked up their relationship where they left off.  During each school year she dated other guys in Baton Rouge and he dated other girls at college in Poplarville, MS, all the while keeping in touch by letter throughout the year.

But one year while she attended Louisiana State University, she met and dated a fellow who asked for her hand in marriage .  He offered her a ring, but she said no, that God had other plans for her.

The next summer Ray and Anna Claire’s relationship warmed up considerably.  But Ray entered the army for three years and was stationed in Germany.  He and Anna Claire continued as they always had…keeping in touch by letter.  When Ray was given leave to go home one Christmas, he brought with him an engagement ring wrapped in tissue that was slipped onto his dog tag chain for safe-keeping.  When he proposed, she said yes. (Anna Claire said that with everyone else she dated, she always compared them to Ray.)

After he returned from his service in the Army he began LSU and she began planning a wedding.  They married on August 17, 1956 at North Highlands Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, LA.  This union brought forth four children — two daughters and two sons, who in turn gave them fourteen grand-children and five great-grandchildren. Nearly every member of their family spent many summer days on the beach in Clermont Harbor and more memories were made at the same old schoolhouse camp where Ray and Anna Claire met.  (The camp had been dubbed by their children as the “Choo-Choo Train House” because it was so near the railroad tracks).

The courtship and fifty-three year marriage of Ray and Anna Claire was unique and blessed.  And as always, until their last Christmas together in 2009, their gifts to each other were still signed “Ick” and “Jez.”

Ray and Anna Claire are my parents.

“Jackie” the Riveter

Jackie (l) and Sug (r) Hinson in Fort Worth

As the train approached the station and came to a stop, Jackie and Sug stepped out onto the depot ramp in the legendary “Cow Town” — Fort Worth, Texas!  They were excited about the adventure of being on their own in the big city, which was quite a change from the rural life they were used to back in the piney woods of southeast Louisiana.

It was the summer of 1942 and sisters Jackie and Sug (as in “Sugar”) had recently finished training in Rayne, LA to work in the newly built Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant outside Fort Worth.  They would be helping to build “bombers,” — the new B-24 “Liberator” bomber, as well as the C-87 Liberator Express Transport.

The B-24 was to become the most produced military aircraft in American History with over 18,000 being produced in several plants around the country during the course of the war.  This aircraft was a more modern design of the B-17. The Liberator’s design would give it a farther range than its predecessor.

Always an independent spirit 17-year-old, Jackie never had any qualms about moving that far away from home, even though she had not traveled much while growing up. She had recently lived in Abilene, TX for a while with her seminary student brother while she went to Parson’s Beauty School.  She went out there at age 15 after she graduated high school in 1940.

Jackie Hinson

Although she liked Texas, Jackie’s plan was to return home and become a beautician like one of her older sisters.  But after being home for only a few weeks, she heard that an aircraft company was building a plant back in Fort Worth. Within three months she and Sug were in training at Rayne, LA with other women from across the state to work in that plant. With America having been in the war for over six months and many men now overseas, the company would be training young women in the various jobs needed to build aircraft for the war effort.  This opportunity was more than Jackie could resist — a chance to be off on her own and at the same time help the boys in the war!

After being sent to Waco, TX, the two sisters were then sent to Fort Worth.  She and Sug began work at the plant along with hundreds of newly-trained women. There were three women to every man working at the plant. They were excited and nervous at the same time.  Women would be doing nearly every job that had recently been done only by men – hence the popularized nickname given to these women of “Rosie the Riveter.”  Women across the country built planes, tanks, produced ammunition, and other war supplies.

The plant was huge! The main hanger area was able to house almost 40 aircraft  in various stages of assembly. Jackie’s job was to check out tools at the Tool Shed where workers came to check out tools that were needed for particular tasks. She was responsible for keeping track of which tools went with whom and making sure she noted their return. A worker was charged for any missing tool.  She was also responsible for keeping up with the amount of money charged each worker.

Sug worked in the Tool and Dye section where templates for the parts of the aircraft were made. After 6 months of working at her new job, Sug decided that this kind of work was not for her.  She eventually made her way back home to Louisiana. But her time in Fort Worth had not been a loss.  She met an Army sergeant there who proposed to her not long after they met.  They married later and moved to Virginia near Washington, D.C. after the war.

But Jackie enjoyed her independence.  She continued working at her job at the plant until the war was over.  She also attended business school toward the end of the war while still working at the bomber plant.  When her job there was completed, she used her business education to work in a wholesale jeweler,  in a drug store doing bookkeeping and payroll, and in a beauty shop on the weekends.  She never moved back home to Louisiana. In fact, as of this writing, 87-year-old Jackie is still living in Fort Worth, TX in the same house she purchased back in 1962.

Jackie Hinson and Nina (Sug) Hinson are my great-aunts.

© 2011 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved