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As a local, Glenda C. has lived in Norco her whole life. I’m not entirely sure why she hasn’t moved or relocated. She was born in 1936 and lived her early childhood during World War II. Glenda is my grandma, but we’re not allowed to call her that because she claims it makes her feel old. I personally know her by Mem (her replacement of mom). She’s currently living in Norco, the same place where she attended elementary school. In fact, the Good Hope School still stands off of River Road today. She’s still a southern grandma with a Cajun mating call. Glenda travels around the globe, but manages to stay dedicated to her hometown. She sat down with swinging bare feet to share old memories of our community.
Alyssa: I slightly remember you telling me how you had to change your name. Where were you and how did that exactly go?
It happened the day I was born April 18, in 1936 at a house in Reserve. Actually, the doctor who signed my birth certificate misspelled my middle name. He wrote Teresa, but it’s spelled Thersa. This created problems later when I signed up to get a passport. I had to go to the Office of Vital Records when I was 50 and change my middle name to what it was supposed to be. It was funny because I’d never of thought it would come up so late in my life. But I’ve always hated the way the doctor spelled my name; it was about time.
Alyssa: Thanks, now can you tell me a little about your family?
We can start with my parents. My father is Claude D., and my mother is Edna C. Both were extremely hard workers. My mother sewed all of my own clothes by herself; I bet your mother doesn’t do that. I can remember that she was very strict on honesty. One thing she didn’t want for children were dirty liars. And she also strongly believed in punishment. That definitely influenced my life. My dad hunted and worked for a construction company. He also welded and was a mechanic. He could fix anything. Actually, he welded tanks in New Orleans for the war and made Higgins boats. He also kept a victory garden to grow vegetables; it was encouraged during the war to keep gardens because food was scarce. My father eventually died of cancer. If you couldn’t tell, it runs in the family. I remember one aunt who didn’t have any children. We called her Aunt Eleanor, and she used to spoil us with so much attention. She was like that every time we visited her. Aunt Eleanor had a husband, and the two lived in the country together. We used to visit a few times every month since the country was so relaxing.
My godfather even gave me a nickname, Cookie. I have no clue where he came up with it or why, but it stuck for a few years. Before that, I used to be called Butch by my dad. He knew I always wanted to play with the boys. I was a tomboy. A lot of my relatives mocked me for that, but I came out as a young lady in the end. My grandparents spoke French and English, they would talk in French if they wanted private conversations. I never picked up on it. When my ancestors first came here, they settled in Wallace, Louisiana. They were all farmers who kept cattle, poultry, and grew vegetables and sugar. Peculiarly, my grandparents lived long lives. Both died in their mid-nineties. Who knows what they were growing on their farm. I should find out.
Alyssa: I had it coming. All of my ancestors were farmers. I noticed you talked a little about life during the war. Can you tell me about your life then?
War life was very different. We rationed everything back then; food, cars, aluminum, any metal objects were rare to find. I remember when my dad came home from work one day (when he was working in New Orleans building Higgins boats) with two used bicycles. You could tell they were old and rusted, but we didn’t care. We rode the hell out of those things. The entire country became patriotic. Life was all about the war, everything we did contributed to soldiers and supplies. When I attended the Good Hope School, we collected metal objects and used to lay them out by the flagpole before class. I used to clean nasty toothpaste tubes because they were made of aluminum back then. They used our old scraps to build tanks, guns, and ships. Automobile production had stopped, new cars were impossible to get.
We always used coupons. We had to. Gardens also saved a lot of money. I also recall the school giving us a little book. We would fill it up with stamps, and once it was filled, it was considered a U.S. savings bond. At night we would even have blackouts. Those were the scariest things. They were practice drills in case the enemy ever flew above us at night. I would have to pull down all the shades in the house. Somehow, we were supposed to look like an uninhabited city. Usually sirens went off for the whole drill. My dad, three sisters, and two brothers also served in the war. They all came home safe, none were injured or hurt. My sisters were nurses, and our boys were involved in the navy and army.
During the war years I would stay with one of my aunts most of the day. She had a young daughter and would chaperone at U.S.O. dances for the soldiers. I guess the government had to keep up the morale of soldiers, shipping them everywhere and whatnot. My aunt would always drag me along with her. It was so funny; girls around 17, 18, and 19 were picked up in army trucks and were driven to Harahan. There were two benches on both sides of the truck. Girls all dolled up would strap themselves on top. My aunt and I would sit up front with the driver, and she put me in the middle. I never told her how uncomfortable the seat was. Nine-years-old, too young for the men, of course, but they would all buy me Coke’s until my belly would burst. Many marriages came out of these dances later on. Since the labor force was empty, women took many of the men’s jobs at home. But, when the men came back, the women had to sacrifice their jobs because they rightfully belonged to the men.
Alyssa: So you were too young for boys then. I vaguely remember Pops (her husband), but how did the two of you ever meet each other?
I met Peter at my high school, the same one you attend, Destrehan High. His full name was Peter Pierre Clement, French, of course, and he was famous for football. I already knew who he was, but we officially met at a dance. He asked me to dance with him, and he was such a great dancer, very smooth. We started dating soon after that. I was still in high school when he went off to Tulane University for football. I would go to most of his games since he was quarterback, but after the games I would get antsy since I couldn’t see him much because he was always soaked in sweat and had lost all energy. He went into the service, and that’s when we broke it off. And guess what, when he got back from the army, he started to contact me again. Soon we were dating for the second round. We married, and I eventually stopped working. Together we had 6 kids, you know your uncles; but he passed away some years ago.
Alyssa: I would have never have guessed you two met at Destrehan High School. What else happened in high school?
Well, I mainly remember my girlfriends. We’re still in touch to this day. One of them had recently passed away. We were always together, and people called us the clique, because we never hung out with anyone else. They influenced me a bunch, peer pressure was around back then, too.
I remember every Sunday we would get all dressed up wear hats, gloves, dresses, and attend 10:30 mass together. After church, we would go to the ice cream parlor and head to the movie theatre. There were two theatres, one on River Road and one by the Refinery. After the first movie, there was possibly more ice cream and another movie. In high school I can only remember one teacher, Richard Keller. He taught chemistry, my worst subject. Even though I hated chemistry, he made the class interesting and told war stories.
So, I was finally allowed to ask Mem all the questions I never had the nerve to before. I’ve never known much about Mem, she just knows about me. Now, she finally feels like a person to me, not just the grandma who sits down and does puzzles with me. Glenda remains actively involved in the community and has grown attached over the years. I know she’ll never leave. She’s a typical human with a story. We all are.