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: Grandma’s House

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Grandma’s House at 3538 Byron Street

We didn’t have to go over the river and through the woods to get to my Grandma’s house, because she lived right down the street from us.  That meant that I spent lots of time in that little red-brick house.

I spent much of my time in her kitchen “helping” her cook.  As a former home economics teacher, she knew how to manage a kitchen and prepare delicious meals.  As I watched her cook, she would teach as she went, sharing tips along the way. We made strawberry preserves from figs that grew on her tree in the back yard. It was a great climbing tree — a side benefit for us when we helped to pick them each summer. She also made luscious pear cobblers from her backyard pear tree. Her crawfish bisque, which took nearly all-day to make, is still the best bisque I’ve ever tasted.

On her kitchen counter a tin canister held a treat that was waiting for us every time we visited — home-made, old-family-recipe, tea cakes. These cookies were thick, fairly dense and chewy, short bread cookies that were flavored with a touch of nutmeg. Also on her counter was a large jar of sweet pickles that we would help her make. These pickles tasted as sweet as candy, which meant we were only allowed a few at a time. They were made from store-bought sour pickles whose juice was poured off and replaced with an entire bag of sugar, cloves, and garlic.  I know the ingredients may sound peculiar, but the pickles were so good that I still make them today.  Plus they remind me of her every time I open a jar.  “We” prepared so many scrumptious recipes in her kitchen!

Pa-Pa (W.T. Arnold) and Grandma (Marcia Broome Guice Arnold)

Pa-Pa (W.T. Arnold) and Grandma (Marcia Broome Guice Arnold)

The best time of day at her house was around dinner time (noon) which was her biggest meal of the day.  Roast, rice and gravy, “Mississippi-style” potatoes (boiled potatoes in a white sauce), string beans cooked down so much they wilted into a heap on your plate, corn, and pickled beets, were part of a typical meal that she would make for my Pa-Pa when he came home from his store for lunch.

I’d wait for him to come out of the back door of his store and walk across the yard to the house.  The kitchen’s screen door was on the side of the house that faced the back of his store, so he only had to walk across the side yard everyday to go back and forth to work.

My grandma married Pa-Pa after her first husband passed away. When they got married, he moved my grandma and her two daughters to live with him in the red-brick home that was built by him and his sons. A couple of years after they were married, they had another daughter together.  Her two daughters who were my mother and aunt were at the perfect age to enjoy a new addition to the family.

My mom (l), her sister and new baby sister having some summer fun!

My mom (l), her sister and new baby sister having some summer fun! (~ 1947)

The oldest girls shared a bedroom upstairs room that ran from one side of the house to the other.  It was hot for a bedroom, but there were windows at either end of the room that helped encourage a cross breeze to blow through in the summertime.

When it was really hot, the side yard was always a cool, shaded, lush retreat where one could sit in an Adirondack chair or glide in the bench swing while the cool breezes blew through the large willow tree. And of course there was always a cold watermelon or a tall glass of sweet tea to enjoy that helped ward off the heat.

The shady side yard where we ate watermelon

The shady side yard where we ate watermelon

Me planting seeds in Grandma's garden

Me planting seeds in Grandma’s garden (1967)

In the back part of the side yard, my grandmother made a garden every year. She had one of the greenest thumbs in Baton Rouge. Grandma could make a stick grow. She taught me how to turn the dirt in a garden and when to plant what. But there must be more that she didn’t tell me because my gardening abilities and hers don’t quite match up.

She would say, “Just take a cutting, make a slit in the ground with a shovel and stick it in.

It worked for her, but it hasn’t worked for me.

I often got the privilege of spending the night at Grandma’s house, but she didn’t have many toys for us to play with while we were there. She did, however, have three children’s jigsaw puzzles that she kept on a shelf in her den that I put together over and over again — trying to increase my speed from the last time I put them together.  She also usually had an adult-sized puzzle laid out on her coffee table that I remember helping her put together.  I still love to do jigsaw puzzles.

My mother and her sisters lived in that house until each of them got married.

After my mom married my dad, they lived in a garage apartment right behind my grandma’s house and later moved to a house only half-a-block away. The other two sisters eventually moved to New Orleans.

But no one in my family lives in that neighborhood anymore. I’ve always wanted to go back and see inside of the old house again and look around the place, but that neighborhood  has deteriorated in recent years to the point that it is unsafe to spend any significant time there.

Grandma's House today (2013)

Grandma’s House today (2013) – from Google maps

Today, Grandma’s house sits boarded up. My Pa-Pa’s store has been torn down. And the once shady side yard is now a parking lot. The garage, fig tree, and garden are gone as well.

I wish people who passed by it today could know what good times were had there and that it is not just an old abandoned house. It was a place of love and family, good food, and fellowship.  My heart breaks for the old neighborhood and Grandma’s house. One day things may change and the little red-brick house may have a chance to be lively again. I hope so.

© 2013 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.