1950s Archive

Roughing It with Gramp

Part XV

continued (page 2 of 4)

Galatoire's swallowed us up. We sat at a clean table and an old waiter danced around us and Gramp waved off the menu. “Oysters Rockefeller for four.”

“Two.” said Mama.

“Four,” said Gramp, “and a gallon of shrimp gumbo.” To Mania he said, “Always do things by fours and eights. Live wildly, live fully, let the damn swine who will come after us worry about what they can afford.”

Mama said, “You may suggest a good wine. Gramp.”

Gramp rose and kissed her finger tips. “Damn it. Sari, 1 have high hopes of making an alcoholic our of yet another beautiful woman.”

Gramp ordered a brut champagne. The gumbo was more like a bisque d'écrevisses, Gramp wrote in his journal, built up with cognac, with small crayfish from the bayous lurking in its murky, smoking-hot bottom. The collie, as usual, was nor very good. Very little good coffee was served in those days, and even now it's just fair in most places.

After this lunch Gramp drove us slowly back along Canal Street arid to a small hotel near the Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street. The nuns were playing croquet on the lawn, and I remember one motherly old nun cheated and moved her ball with her foot. The hotel was dark, old. comfortable. Gramp called Count Arnaud on the old-fashioned phone. The Count is dead now, but his daughter still runs Arnaud's. I know because I had dinner with her and Lt. Commander Montez Tjaden just last year, and it's still called Arnaud's.

Mama was sitting on the bed, fanning herself. “We don't have to eat too soon, do we?”

Gramp said, “Not till seven. The Count is ordering our dinner. I'm picking the wines, hike New Orleans, Stevie. now that we are finally here?”

“Yes, Gramp. Is that where the high yalla Creoles come from that you talk about?”

Gramp said softly, “Who me?” and then louder, “A Creole, baby boy, is a French-descent snob, and if I referred to anything as high yellow, forget it.”

Mama sniffed. “Stop filling the boy's mind with your evil ideas. I'm not going to eat till eight. I need a bath. Stevie, come we'll wash your neck. And hands. And knees. I guess we better give you the works and make if a real bath.”

So there was nothing to it, but I had to take a bath and Gramp went out to buy cigars and Mama made me take a nap. It was dark when I woke up and Gramp was talking to Mama. They had small glasses of brandy in front of them, and Gramp was twirling his cane as he talked. I, in a half-awake doze, heard the old man talk. and I can still remember it. . . .

“And not only that, Sari, they've ruined this town. Cleaned it up, made it respectable. The houses arc all there, but supposed to be hidden away, and the girls—I tell you, this idea that women shouldn't have hips is all wrong, and somehow the past is dying and the present can't be born, and 1 feel old, so old, Sari. What's to become of you and the boy in the new world of steam heat and horsepower and the idea that sin isn't something to be a little guilty about? I don't know and I don't care. I'll be pushing daisies soon, but you and the boy. He's got promise, Sari. but they'll make him a popular cartoonist, or novelist. or fiddle player, and all the juice in the family line, well. we'll see it peter out in mere popular success and respect-ability. I take my hat off to respectability, there is so much of it. It makes a fine target for a pie in the face, but . . . .”

Mama stood up and held on, and Gramp stood up and held on, and they bowed to each other and Mama said. “We better get dressed for dinner. I am ready for anything cela se laisse manger.”

Gramp bowed with unsteady dignity and said. “You're a good sport, Sari.”

So I saw they were both feeling no paill … and the Mama was keeping Gramp sober by joining him in an afternoon brandy.

Mama looked wonderful in her evening dress and Gramp had had his evening tails pressed and he had hung a tiny row of medals across the lapel of his jacket. He had been awarded high honors in his time for building railroads in countries where they said it was hard to build railroads. But he didn't like to be asked what the medals were for. He used to chase half-wits who asked by saying “The big one. madam, is for swimming, the two small ones for corn-on-the-cob eating contests.”

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