Late on Friday night we were in Jimmy’s blue Chevy convertible, parked on a ferry crawling across the Atchafalaya. Horseplay, loud songs and the smell of beer told anyone nearby that a carload of teenagers was in the area. Another couple of minutes and the ferry would drop us on a back road leading into St Francisville and the old churchyard cemetery we liked to creep through, sitting around on grave markers telling ghost stories under moss hung live oaks. Meanwhile Mark and J.D. were on the floor of the back seat grunting and snuffling, though no one but Nancy Kay paid them any mind. Slipping another Kent from her pack and lighting it with the big silver Ronson table lighter she carried, she told Kermon to slap the two fruits down on the floorboards. “Other people on this ferry are gonna get all over us if they see two men in the backseat moaning and giving each other the homo hug,” she predicted in her usual sarcastic tone, curls of smoke twisting around her blonde hair.
At the front end of the ferry Teetaw stood singing “Bali Hai” to the black waters of the river while one of the crew stood off to the side and stared at her through pale eyes set wide on a flat face. By all accounts we were lucky on those weekend rambles not to be stopped by police, caretakers or angry neighbors rattled out of bed by teenage shenanigans. Most of the time we were too drunk on fun and good times to ever pause long enough to consider the ruckus we kicked up and left behind in churchyards, drive-in movies and curb service hamburger joints. On some nights we coasted on the joy we got from hammering together stage sets and acting out parts in summer musicals at the theatre downtown, hair spattered with paint, voices hoarse from rehearsal. Freed by parents busy with bridge and I Love Lucy, we played out nighttime scenes from Tennessee Williams on City Park lawns and danced through routines under streetlights.
The next night six of us went to the drive-in to see a western. Previews the week before emblazoned the giant screen with words shouting that Burt Lancaster was a man chased by men with guns on their hips and women with love on their lips, preview enough to send us piling into Jimmy’s car for the picture show. Following a familiar routine, Jimmy stopped the car around the block from the drive-in and the other five of us climbed into the car’s trunk. With its tailpipe dragging on the ground the car pulled up to the ticket booth and Jimmy asked for a single ticket, complaining that his date had two-timed him with another man. Dulled by engine sounds and trunk lid, we heard a muffled, “Hun, that’s the saddest thing I heard all night. Maybe the picture will raise your spirits.” Half the time we hardly watched the movies at the drive-in, even one with Rhonda Fleming and her D cup boobs chasing Burt with love all over her lips.
One sweltering weekend in August at a camp on the river the usual bunch sat around the backyard playing records and eating boiled crabs. Jimmy had the boat out pulling Chandler up and down the river on water skis and Lillian dozed in the hammock, the Viceroy in her hand about to set her fingers on fire. Another of those golden afternoons until Kermon came busting out of the screened porch shouting, “Oh, my God, Marilyn Monroe is dead! Marilyn killed herself!” Nancy Kay ran out to the boat dock and shouted the news to Jimmy and Chandler. When words finally cut through the motor noise Chandler fell off those skis like he’d been shot. Jimmy swung the boat around and pulled him coughing out of the khaki green water. Hard news for a while, but youthful vigor had us back to the usual high jinks by suppertime.
Intoxicated by the exuberance of our salad days most of us never saw through the rainbow to a time when life isn’t always kind and forgiving and when understanding doesn’t come as easily as it once did with angry parents and neighbors. Two of the gang never did find that understanding and a few years later ended their time like the movie star in that August headline.