Smiley: Wartime Christmas

Dear Smiley: Memories of past Christmases in your column brought to mind the one I will always remember.

It was December 1941; my elder brother and first cousin had been mobilized in the Louisiana National Guard, my cousin being sent to Australia and my brother to the Philippines.

(Neither survived the war.)

My parents were so worried and upset that they did not want to put up a Christmas tree.

On Christmas Eve, another cousin stopped by our house and persuaded them to go ahead and put up a tree, because of my two younger sisters and me.

There was no time to go looking for a nice tree, so he and another older brother found one of the Southern pines described in your column and broke out four large limbs.

They tied the four limbs together and put them into a bucket of dirt to form a very saggy Christmas tree.

I do not recall the decorations, but I can still see that gallon syrup bucket and the four big green pine boughs.

Whether or not I received a present that year, I do not recall.

But the sadness and solemnness on that Christmas Eve is forever etched in my memory.


Santa Maria, Calif.

Nostalgia pie

Dear Smiley: More years ago than I like to think about, I used to visit the Toddle House at Third and Main after midnight on weekends after I had signed WJBO AM and FM off the air for the night (yep, in those days radio stations actually signed off when their audiences went to sleep).

The memory of that fantastic banana icebox (banana cream?) pie still lingers.

The only thing that comes close is the fabulous banana icebox pie you can still get at the Camellia Grill in New Orleans.

I also used to get their big double cheeseburger, but I couldn’t get those too often because they were among the more expensive items on the menu … 55 cents!

Straight ahead!


Baton Rouge

Local delicacies

Dear Smiley: I received the fabulous cookbook “Cooking Up A Storm: Recipes Lost and Found From The Times-Picayune Of New Orleans,” edited by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker, from my friend Kim for Christmas.

I was leafing through it the morning before Mr. Russell T. Hebert sent you the question about the right name being “satsuma” or “mandarin.”

In the glossary titled “Words to Eat By,” they define satsuma as a “cold-hardy mandarin orange, widely planted in the lower Gulf South from 1908-1911. Does not ship well, so almost all are consumed in state. Grown in Plaquemines Parish and backyards.”

As kids growing up in Gramercy, my friend Lori and I would eat them from a tree in her backyard — but for some reason we would pronounce them “mandarines.”


Baton Rouge

Tunnel vision

Dear Smiley: I was watching my grandchild with his abundance of toys from Christmas and seeing him getting bored already.

This brought back memories of when I was young and my family was living in Baton Rouge in the early ’40s.

My mother wanted to keep us entertained, but we didn’t have much money, so she would take us downtown to a hotel that had a tunnel that connected to another hotel across the street.

My brother and I would run back and forth through that tunnel from hotel to hotel.

No money, no toys … just entertaining ourselves!

Can any of your readers remember the names of these hotels?



Dear Wayne: That tunnel under Lafayette Street connected the Heidelberg Hotel (later the Capitol House, now the Hilton) with the King Hotel (now Hotel Indigo). I know this because as an LSU student I had a job delivering for the Swift meat company to the Capitol House basement kitchen through that tunnel, to avoid going through the lobby. I understand the tunnel is now closed.

Growth spurt

Dear Smiley: I learned a small lesson when cutting a Christmas tree in a Tennessee forest nearly 45 years ago.

Small trees seem to grow bigger on your way home on top of a car.


Columbia, Tenn.

Cheerful giver

Dear Smiley: I saw the cutest thing Christmas Eve.

It was a small neighborhood dog in his new Santa suit — bright red coat with a wide black belt.

He even left a present on my front lawn.


Greenwell Springs

Write Smiley at He can also be reached by fax at (225) 388-0351 or mail at P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821.