“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.