Thursday, March 31, 2005

St Francisville

We were driving home from a family visit in Texas when Ellie, my wife and helpmeet for the past 47 years suggested we go by St. Francisville; bless her heart, she originates most of the good ideas in our family.

The place is a river town near the point at which the mighty Mississippi enters LA, having bordered it for the northern 200 miles; it was a patrician town, a sort of pocket Natchez, and like Natchez it's built at the top of a bluff separating the flood plain from the higher ground.

St. Francisville has special interest for our family, partly because at six I started to school there. We lived in the parsonage of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, pastored by Rev. Robert Lawrence Clayton, my father, whose name I also carried.

It was there I acquired my present name, Larry. At school Lawrence Clayton would not do because there was already a Lawrence Clayton in town. I had gone by the name of brother, but that would not do because there was already a Brother Clayton in town. Robert would not do because Grandmother Clayton had prohibited its use in the family (let's say he was not a very good Christian); Dad's uncle Robert was a wealthy planter at Clayton, LA, a few miles up the river, but on the other (wrong) side. (The original Robert's descendant is still a planter [not very wealthy] on the west side of the river.)

Well anyway, I started school in St. Francisville (the following year we lived in North Louisiana- a thousand miles away). We were driving in a leisurely manner from College Station, when Ellie suggested St. Francisville-- only a few miles out of our direct course. I had not been there in years.

But this year we hit the jackpot. My dim recollection (73 years ago) was living in a house right on the lip of a bluff; actually the back porch was in eminent danger of falling (100 feet) into the bluff at the next storm. I remember the naming episode, how I got to be Larry. I remember an old man that Margaret (3 years older) and I delighted to visit across the street.

Once Mother had some reason to be out of the house. She strictly enjoined us not to cross the street to see Mr. ??.
Margaret, the leader of our group, took me over there for a friendly visit, and we got our pants warmed when Mother came back (it hurt her much more than it did me).

That's about all I remembered about St. Francisville, but those memories came vividly alive on this belated return:

The house was still there (would you believe it?), renovated of course, and tons of dirt had built up the foundation, moving that part of the bluff several feet toward the river.
Across the street was a lovely old house on a high foundation, and I suddenly remembered climbing those steps to visit Mr. ??.

We learned that the church had been moved (maybe 50 yards up Royal Street) to get away from the bluff. We went into the church; it had the aura of history, of a museum, spick and span, but very much in use. On one wall was a list of the pastors of the past; sure enough there was Robert Lawrence Clayton listed for 1930.

Some distance behind the church (the flood plain had retreated a bit at that point) stood an old, rather small, two story school house. Yes, that's where I started to school. Now long out of use of course.

Besides the church was a large two story annex on a high foundation. Walking toward it we found a portly gentleman standing at the top of the steps. Rev. ??? indeed, his frame bearing the usual evidence of many chicken dinners. A very friendly and cordial man: he was glad to hear about my history. It turned out he had served another church 50 miles away in 1963, two years after Ellie and I left it. Lots to talk about.

But these memories were now completely renewed. Wonderful to acquire some more geographical roots for a life that was essentially rootless (geographically!). We got a shrimp po boy and went on our way, stopping for the night on the Gulf Coast in MS. Yesterday we came back here where I had the leisure to share this with you, dear friend, whoever you may be.


david said...

Kind of neat going back and reawakening memories isn't it? Mind you - I don't have quite as many of them as you do :)

I recall finding a slide wheel filled with color slides of a summer vacation when I was 10 and looking through them all with slide viewer and older eyes. All sorts of smiles bubbled up from lost places.

Liz Opp said...

I literally had started an email to you, asking if you were well and wondering why your blog had been so silent. For some reason, I decided to check your blog just one more time, and there was your new post.

I think we all need an Ellie-Helpmeet in our life from time to time. Glad you've got yours. Welcome home.


Larry said...

Kwak and Liz. Nice to hear from you. Liz, I'm sorry; I alerted our other blog ( of our impending absence, but forgot about this one.

I appreciate very much your friendship, and hope soon to get back into the comment business. Actually I had limited access in Texas, but for some reason couldn't get through many comments.

I guess it is a good idea to depart from blogging now and then, before it gets too obsessional.

Blessings to all.