Christmas in Downtown Bay St. Louis
Christmas was a really special time in old downtown. Remember that there was no other commercial area and the city, as well as all of the businesses, put out their finest Christmas decorations.
The more civic-minded men working for Mississippi Power Company and Coast Electric Power Association, as well as others, put in their time on weekends hanging the decorations on streetlights and power poles all over downtown.
I can still remember Mr. Jimmy Fillingame and Mr. Mike Necaise on the scaffolding hanging decorations. There were parades, contests, eggnog, cookies and Christmas caroling and best of all for us kids, stores selling toys.
Growing Up Downtown
When Santa arrived there would be a parade through town to Kern’s Five & Dime Store on Main Street. Ms. Kern would have Santa in the store for kids to sit on his lap and share their Christmas lists.
The American Legion’s toy giveaway was a true extravaganza and every child, black, white, brown, yellow, red, rich or poor got a free toy and got to sit on Santa’s lap. There would be four- or five-hundred kids lined up down Beach Boulevard waiting to see Santa Claus and receive their toy.
People would flock to my grandfather’s store, browse the toy showroom and buy for their children’s Christmas. My grandfather would even hire extra help to take care of the extra volume of customers. This was really unusual for him because he was a tight old Scotsman who didn’t part with money easily, but he had the cash rolling in during the Christmas season.
There were toy shows that the wholesalers like Mr. Harold Schiffman in New Orleans put on for toy dealers. When we were lucky enough to accompany my grandfather, we were able see and play with all the newest and most exclusive toys before any of the other kids saw them. We saw Hula Hoops before they were even advertising them! My grandfather used us as his test market. If we liked a new toy and were attracted to it, then he’d be selling it that Christmas in his showroom.
My grandfather even sprang to have a 16mm black and white movie commercial filmed featuring his three grandchildren. This advertisement was shown for several months before Christmas in the local movie theatres. How special do you think that made his grandkids feel to be local movie stars?
In the late 1950s, the new TG&Y store opened along with a Winn Dixie grocery on Blue Meadow Road and Highway 90 (now Zuppardo’s Shopping Center). No one would comprehend it at the time, but this was a sign of things to come. This store opening would also be the beginning of the demise of Kern’s Five & Dime as well as my grandfather’s toy business.
Ironically, my grandfather’s firm was the electrical contractor for the TG&Y store construction. This store was the first of the big national retailers in Bay St. Louis. Ultimately it was the beginning of the business exodus out of downtown and out to Highway 90. Of course, no one back then even dreamed of the commercial giants like Wal-mart and K-mart that are so commonplace today.
The Chief of Police With No Squad Car
Doc Wolfe On The Stanislaus Sidelines
In those days, Saint Stanislaus had its own self-contained infirmary with an onsite staff nurse, Mrs. Schmidt (my friend George Schmidt’s mom). Doc Wolfe was permanently on call. Another one of Doc’s school duties was the football team doctor. Later in life Doc started sporting this red plaid Scottish tam or beret. I have very distinct memories of Doc Wolfe with his bent stick walking cane and plaid cap dancing up and down the sidelines whenever Stanislaus would score a touchdown!
The St. Stanislaus Weather Flag Tower
Business Closes at Noon on Wednesday
The Siren Sounding Every Day at Noon
The Siren Fire Alarm by Wards
The Boy Scout Camporee and Mr. Jake Morreale’s Prosthetic Leg
When I was in the Boy Scouts, I was a member of Troop 208, which was sponsored by the local American Legion post. We used to have meetings downstairs in the legion home. There were store rooms on one side of the big room filled with all kinds of Boy Scout stuff. There were many jars with water moccasins with their fangs exposed in formaldehyde and lots of knot-tying display boards.
There was at least one other troop in existence. This other troop was number 217, which was sponsored by OLG Catholic Church. One of the scout leaders for Troop 217 was Mr. Jake Morreale. Mr. Jake was a very nice man and a veteran of World War II. He had lost one of his legs fighting in the war.
Several big bags of hard green pine cones had been collected and at a predetermined signal these giant sling shots started bombarding the 217 campsite like catapults. People began waking up and coming out of their tents and getting smacked with these very hard and pointy green pine cones and the screaming started. Mr. Jake woke up and went for his leg, but it wasn’t in the tent, so he hopped out of the tent on one leg and immediately got beaned by one of these hard green pine cones. You could hear him screaming and cursing all the way over in the other troop’s camping area.
By the time that they figured out what was happening, everyone was safely back in their tents “sleeping soundly.” Everybody got a stern talking to the next day, but the culprits were never discovered. Mr. Jake Morreale’s leg was located hoisted to the top of the campgrounds flagpole.
Football Games in John Genin’s Pecan Orchard
The State Street Soapbox Drag Races
When I was about 11 or 12, Donald was my main bud. I spent a lot of time hanging out at his house on DeMontluzin Street with him and his older brother Bobbie. Ronnie Genin, along with Billy Shumski and his brother Butch, and John Genin were all part of this crowd.
We were all very into cars and car racing, both formula and drag. We all were huge model car enthusiasts and all had collections of hundreds of model cars. We also used to build “dragsters” out of old lawnmower parts and fruit crates and anything else that might be around. Joey Zeigler, who lived next to the Sea Coast Echo, used to get us the old aluminum printing sheets when they were discarded. We would use this paper-thin aluminum to cover the exteriors of the cars.
We used to hold the Bay St. Louis Nationals back on State Street behind Donald’s house on DeMontluzin. State Street had very little automobile traffic at the time. The trick was to build the car with as little weight as possible, find the lightest, skinniest kid you could find to drive it, and get the biggest, strongest, and fastest kid to push the car.
This was a dangerous profession for the poor little kid driving the car because quite often the driver would lose control of the steering and run off into the deep ditch that ran along one side of State Street. We even built makeshift roll bars into the cars because several times kids ended up in the ditch upside down. I assure you that this was all very exciting to young boys!
Doing Our Part to Support R.J. Reynolds
My crew used to walk down to Sellier’s across the street from the Star Theatre and buy cigarettes. Woodford Sellier would sell the kids single cigarettes for 10 cents apiece. Things were somewhat looser concerning sale of cigarettes to minors in those days. This was in the days when a pack of cigarettes wasn’t but about 20 cents. Woodford just believed in capitalism. This was the supply and demand theory at its best, right?
I remember that as a senior attending Saint Stanislaus, you were allowed to smoke cigarettes at recess as long as you had a letter of parental permission on file in the office. I fell into that category and smoked at school but thankfully, I haven’t had a cigarette since quitting when I was 25 years old.
Funeral Home‘s Little League Team
Sometime in the late 1950s, Bay St. Louis started up a little league baseball program in the city. I played on the 7-Up team (Red Davis was my coach) and several of the guys who played on that team with me are still here in the Bay and are still my friends. Mr. Hardin Shattuck was the general manager of Coast Electric Power Association. Mr. Shattuck was a big baseball fan and had two sons. The Shattuck boys, Johnny and Harry, also loved baseball, so Coast Electric sponsored a team named the Coast Electri-kids. Not to be outdone, Fahey-Whitfield Funeral Home, run by Mr. Ken Whitfield, also sponsored a team. The funeral home’s team was named Ken’s Little Diggers.
Cruising Webre’s Inn By the Sea
Michael’s daddy started letting him drive this Volkswagon around town when he was only 14 years old. At the time you got a learner’s permit at 14 and could get a license at 15. Once Michael got his learner’s permit, he was allowed to use the car at night, which is when the trouble really started. We would cruise all over town for several hours on a couple of dollars of gas.
Usually this cruising included at least three or four passes through the circle around Webre’s Inn By The Sea, the local drive-in restaurant. This establishment was at the corner of North Beach Boulevard and the Highway 90 car bridge. It was one of those classic Americana teenage hangouts with a driveway and parking lot that circled all the way around it. You could cruise through, see who was hanging out and stop or just cruise right back out again.
Michael Plunkett was usually good for pulling some stunt that would get us in trouble and this drive-in was one of his favorite locations for mischief. One of his favorite pranks was to ride around, squeezing the catsup and mustard packets and squirting them all over other people’s cars. It was quiet and most people wouldn’t even notice until there was catsup and mustard all over their car.
One night Plunkett got the bright idea that if he held about six of these packets and squeezed them all at once then he would be shooting a large load all at once. Instead of it squirting out the window it backfired and squirted backwards all over him, me, and his dad’s car interior. Plunkett found other stunts after that episode.
Billy Shumski’s Tow Skateboarding Incident
One day not long after I got a drivers license, several of us were cruising with our skateboards in my dad’s 1963 Chevrolet station wagon. Our Lady of the Gulf Elementary School grounds had just been paved with a new surface of asphalt. We came up with the brilliant idea of towing Billy Shumski with a rope on the skateboard behind the car.
Well, I was driving towing Billy and he kept yelling for me to go faster and faster. I got him up to about 25 or 30 miles per hour. One second I was looking at him in the rear view mirror standing upright, hot-dogging on the skateboard and the next second I looked and he was flying like superman with his arms in front of him. The skateboard had hit a pebble and stopped dead and Billy was airborne. He skidded for about 15 feet once he hit the ground and ground about an inch of meat off the hip he was sliding on. Thank god he somehow didn’t fracture his skull.
We concocted some story for his mother as to how it happened but the days of tow skateboarding were over for my crowd. Another time my buddy, Ree Elliott, fell skateboarding down the sidewalk on a hill at St. Augustine Seminary and broke his arm. Surprisingly this is the only casualty that I can recall from all of our escapades at St. Augustine Seminary.
Skimboarding On The Shoreline
The Monti Family’s Big Hat Characters
Teen Times in the Sea Coast Echo