Edward Pratt: Neighbors made mark upon childhood

A few weeks ago, I visited the location of the first place I knew as home, 908 Howard St., an area now called Old South Baton Rouge.

I had to locate my former residence by landmarks because the three-room, shotgun house is gone, along with the row of six identical houses. I knew it was torn down, but I returned because of a personal project I’m working on.

While looking at my old backyard, something came to mind about the 900 block that almost brought me to tears. This was a close-knit group of people who really took special interest in me — the only boy on the block.

You need to know them.

I don’t remember the correct spelling of their names, but know what we called them.

Miss Meeyuh lived next door. She would sit on her front porch in the morning drinking her coffee before getting into the backseat of a nice black car driven by a white lady. They would return in the late afternoon.

My grandmother explained that Miss Meeyuh was cooking at and cleaning the woman’s house. Miss Meeyuh would occasionally have me pick up trash in her yard and pay me 10 cents. She would occasionally warn me not to get my clothes dirty. (I never obeyed that.)

Miss Bertha lived two doors down. She was a disciplinarian. I was kind of scared of her.

She took me to church a couple times. I can’t remember the denomination, but it was located near the Lincoln Theater. It was the first time I had seen drums and guitars as part of a church service. My church used a piano and an organ.

The music was spirited, but other stuff scared my 6-year-old soul. During the sermon and the songs, people would run up and down the aisles flailing their arms. One woman just stretched out on the floor.

After a second visit, I begged my grandmother not to make me go with Miss Bertha again, and surprisingly, she granted my plea.

There was Miss Chaney Mae, who seemed to always have her eyes peeled on me, even when I didn’t see her. She would always question me: “What are you doing? Where are you going? What’s in your hands?”

On one occasion, when I was about 5 years old, she questioned why I was outside so early in the morning. She could not believe my grandmother had let me out so early.

I told her my grandmother was sleeping. That was odd to Miss Chaney Mae because my grandmother would usually be hanging her hand-washed clothes on the outside line around 7 in the morning. There was nothing on the line that day.

Miss Chaney May marched me back home, walked into the house and came upon my grandmother, who was not sleeping. She was in a coma. She was taken to the hospital and recovered.

Miss Ruth and her husband were the youngest adults on the block. She smiled a lot, and would ask me about school stuff. Every Halloween, she made me feel special.

While Miss Ruth would give the other trick-or-treaters pieces of candy, she would tell me to come inside, where she would have a cake or pecan candy prepared for me. She would tell me to leave out of the back door and take it home.

On some afternoons, she would get me to take her husband’s work shirts to the cleaners, which was only about a three-minute walk from her house. Amazingly, she would pay me 25 cents to drop them off and another quarter to pick them up. I know now that she only did that because she recognized my financial situation.

I moved away when I was 10 years old, and I didn’t get to see them much after that. Some of them moved away, too. All of them have passed away by now.

They cared so much for me. As I’ve gotten older, I feel bad that I never told them how much I love them. I just hope, in some small way, that I have made them proud.

Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is epratt1972@yahoo.com.