Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Down by Gulf, oil my blues

"A man's true homeland is his childhood" Rainer Maria Rilke
"Oil-covered birds on fire. Another name for dinner."  Rush Limbaugh
David Seaton's News Links
The Gulf of Mexico is in the news again and just like in Katrina days I feel all messed up by what I'm hearing and seeing.

A while back I wrote here about Biloxi Mississippi, down near where all the oil is spilling. Feeling lazy, I'll just plagiarize myself and fill it out a bit.

Although I come from the Middle West, in a very special way the Gulf of Mexico is the only place I ever felt at home

When I was just learning to talk my parent's marriage was breaking up. This was in the days before "no fault" divorce, so to get a divorce my mom had to "abandon" the home. She took me with her and we lived for a couple of years in the old Tivoli hotel in Biloxi Mississippi, long since closed, whose ruins are still some sort of "historical" landmark down there.

This all happened at the end of the 1940s and Biloxi Mississippi at that time was a charming place, in its final days as the "American Riviera" and not the tacky nightmare it has long since become. All of that schlock was blown away by Katrina, I understand, but I'm sure it will be even worse when reconstructed.

Anyway, neighboring Keesler air force base was a tiny thing then and there were no casinos and all that goes with them either, just warm breezes off the Gulf of Mexico, Forrest Gumpy shrimp and oyster boats and soft-voiced people, young and old, white and black, who loved small children and sweetly and patiently took endless pains with them... nothing like Chicago.

My late mother in those days was  a young divorcee and a drop-dead redhead, so I didn't see much of her  either by day or by night and I spent most of my time in the ample laps of the African-American ladies who actually ran the hotel. They made a huge fuss over me, in a way that nobody up north, even my own family, ever would again, and I still remember the warm sound of their laughter and the high pitched, slow cadence of their speech and the smooth, warm touch of their skin. Looking back, I have often thought that those were by far the happiest days of my childhood.

Unlike Chicago, older children in Mississippi, like the adults, were also kind and patient with small children and let them tag along. I had one friend, who must have been eight or nine years old, a veritable ancient for a toddler like me, whose daddy owned a couple of oyster boats and  we had the run of the boats when they were tied up at the wharf. On discovering that I liked oysters, he would sit me down next to a barrel full of them  freshly caught and with a special knife, skillfully shuck oysters for me and feed them to me on the half shell. I could easily eat what today would be about a hundred euros worth at a sitting and to this day I have found it hard to ever pay for them.

I'm sure that, if my friend is still alive, he has been retired for several years by now and I wonder if he has sons who are oyster men too and is wondering how they are going to feed their families with the oil spill having shut all the fishing down.  DS

1 comment:

Harry Haller said...

I have a similar relationshp with Hendaye, right next to the Basque border with Spain.

Some of the oil from the Prestige reached the beach and I was worried back then... and of course it was nothing compared to Louisiana.

Animo Dave!