Kenneth Ladner

Kenny Ladner

“The kids today are stuck in this era, and a lot of the parents are, also… The kids don’t get out and do the activities that we did…”

Kenneth (Kenny) Ladner was born December 19, 1947 in Bay St. Louis, MS.  He’s lived in Mississippi for most of his life, except a seven year time in Texas.  He grew up on a farm, with what today might seem very little.  Everything that they had to eat was from off that farm – vegetables, meat, even syrup.  While it may seem to an outsider that he didn’t have a childhood due to the need of tending the gardens and livestock, he notes that it was a good childhood.  They accepted their duties, and certainly made games from it, including pecan nut wars (hurling the nuts at each other).

Kenny loved to fish, but not with a pole and line like many kids learn today.  When he was little, his grandfather made him a cast net, and that is how Ken learned to fish.  It was his favorite thing to do.  As he looks at today’s youth, he sees them so taken with technology that they are missing the physical and outdoor activities that Ken and his peers experienced.  This to the degree that he worked alongside a Native American of the Coushatta tribe aged about 28 in Texas.  They hunted and fished together, and one day Ken asked him about a tree he didn’t recognize, and the young man didn’t know.  Here is the full story:

Kenny now works as a site manager for Habitat for Humanity in the Mississippi Gulf Area.  Following Hurricane Katrina, many young volunteers visited the Gulf from all over the United States (and world) in order to show support and aid the recovery.  Working with so many young people, Kenny began noticing a change in work ethic between the generations.  To Kenny, when you’re handed a task, you get it done, then return for more until your work day is done.  He’s not seeing that as regularly with the youth he’s in contact with:

Kenny worries about the general population and their ability to care for their own homes, or to get tasks done with their own hands.  Many of the tasks he takes care of at Habitat are easily accomplished without hiring a specialist.  Things like painting a wall, using a screw driver to correct a loose nob, or caulk a crack between the window and wall are all very simple items that don’t need to hired out for $100 / hour.  But many people do hire such simple tasks out because they’ve become so removed from using their hands.

Taking it a step further, Kenny sees many young people that don’t know how to plant a seed, let alone grow something.  One can grow enough food to feed an entire home in a few square feet, but they don’t realize it.  Kenny has helped vegetable gardens in his community, and is happy to do it.

“My youngest daughter would rather text me than had pick up the phone and talk to me for five minutes.”  Kenny can feel a gap in communication, both in his family and in the public due to technology.  But he also recognizes that technology bolsters our abilities greatly.  He used the example of the CB Radio, that the network of civilians and police men are able to catch a criminal on the loose much faster than just police would have.

I always give my interviewees the chance to say final words on any subject of their choosing.  Kenny chose to speak to drugs and prejudice.  He worries that alcohol and drugs will be responsible for bringing America to its knees, just in the same way it did to the Native Americans. With regards to prejudice, he says it best:

Thomas Booker Lawson III

Tom Lawson

Thomas Lawson passed away on April 2, 2017.

“I grew up a racist.  I grew up in racist culture.  [But] when I went to Vietnam, I got to see a different culture … how they lived and how little they had, and I was in the service with Black guys.  Some of them slept in a bunk right next to me, and that did not bother me.  I accepted them as my fellow service men … and friends… Slowly, over the years, I’ve lost my racism.”

Thomas Booker Lawson III was born in 1943 in Houma, LA.  Back then, Houma was a small town of the sleepy variety.  In the 1960’s, oil interests took hold in the town, and now Houma is well known around Louisiana as a bustling city.

As a baby, Tom had pneumonia and whooping cough.  These are health problems that were common at the time, and nearly killed Tom at that age.  Today, our medicine and vaccination capabilities have all but wiped out whooping cough, and turned pneumonia into an illness that is, for the most part, dangerous only to the very young or very old.

At age four, Tom’s parents separated, unusual for the time.  He lived for a time with his mother in Houma, and attended several schools as the area didn’t have enough children to support all the grades.  At age 15, his dad, who lived near New Orleans, persuaded Tom to move to a private military school in New Orleans.  Though it broke his mother’s heart for him to leave, Tom knew that if he stayed in Houma he knew he wouldn’t amount to much.  Having grown up during the Korean war, and helping to collect toiletries like soap and toothbrushes to send to the soldiers, it became his goal to attend this military school and enlist in the Air Force as a pilot.

He was in the Air Force ROTC at University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) for two years before choosing to transfer to Louisiana State University to be near a girl.  He continued in their ROTC program and graduated from LSU with a degree in agricultural and biological engineering in 1967.  It was then that fate took hold – Tom couldn’t receive a commission to be an Air Force pilot due to bad sinuses.  He says it ruined his life.

Near to graduation time, he discovered he was number one on the draft board for the Vietnam War.  Rather than be drafted, he enlisted in the Navy Reserves.  He served 18 months on active duty in Vietnam.  He married shortly after returning, and moved to the University of Maryland to attend a program in aquaculture engineering.  He returned to Louisiana after to take what had become his ‘dream job’ at LSU.  His first marriage was on the rocks by then, and they divorced.

Tom met Charlotte in the 1980’s.  They chose to move to Florida, right before Hurricane Ivan made history.  They built what was then their dream house, and lived in it 5 months before the hurricane.  20 feet of water inundated their new home, which ruined it for them, so they chose to move to Hammond, LA, after refurbishing.  Tom speaks with great love for Charlotte and her family, and the support they provide him.  He has Leukemia and Lymphoma, but is on a new trial drug that leaves him feeling next to normal.  He marvels at the technology medicine uses to develop new drugs, and how lucky he is to live in such a time.  But he’s also reserved with regards to personal computers.  In his words:

Dagmar Larieu Booth

Dagmar Booth

“When Atari came out… we used to stay up, especially on a Friday night.  It got to the point where I had tupperware, and I’d put the cereal in the tupperware containers … so [the kids] could get up … and fix their own little breakfast, ’cause we were up playing Atari… We never grew up.”

Dagmar is the wife of John Booth, whose interview was posted a week ago.  If John has the gumption of a horse, Dagmar has the gumption to race him.  They were adorable to talk with together.  Dagmar is completely caring of her husband, while still getting his goat when she could.  I’m sure you can see it pictured in her eyes, though in person the twinkle is much brighter.

Dagmar Larieu Booth was born October 10, 1945 in New Orleans, LA and has lived in the area her entire life.  She recalls her childhood was great fun.  She grew up next door to her grandmother in a double shotgun house.  There were 10 children (cousins and siblings) in the family that would all congregate on Saturday evenings when the adults would gather to play cards.  The children would play up and down the street, getting reacquainted and inventing new games, eventually crashing on the floor around their parents in the evening.  She laughed remembering the lack of air conditioning, wondering how in the world they lived without it.  New Orleans is famous for its heat and humidity in the summers.

Dagmar loved to roller skate when she was younger.  She told me of the games that she and the kids would make up and play.  They weren’t allowed to be in the streets, but a broken section of sidewalk forced her and her friends to circumvent it into the street for a moment.  Dagmar describes how the neighbors would watch and care for the children, including calling a child’s parents when they saw wrongdoing.  In this clip, Dagmar concludes that our society is in need of the discipline that came so readily in those days.

A standard question I ask is what has changed since childhood, especially in relation to technology.  Dagmar took us in a wonderful direction.  She started to tell us about when the television came to her neighborhood, and what it was like to get one in her family.  She told of the chores that the kids were expected to care for in the morning, that they couldn’t just roll out of bed and watch their favorite shows.  From there she told us what she thinks about children’s use of technology and how it’s changing our social structure.  Finally, she speaks to the telephone.  She recalls what the Party Line was like, what it was like to get a private line, then how the cordless phone changed ones ability to do household chores.  This leads to household appliances and how they have changed and affected daily life.  (The audio cuts in a funny place as we boiled down into chit chat about lawn mowing for a moment.)

One of my favorite portions of this interview was talking about the advent of the microwave oven.  It’s something I’ve largely taken for granted, even though I don’t use one myself, anymore.  I don’t have a family of my own, so I’ve never considered the impact it can make on a group of people under one roof.  Dagmar describes how great it was to get that microwave so she didn’t have to make John’s meals when he would get home after second shift.

Dagmar also describes the changes she saw in baby care.  Her three girls were born during a major time of change in the field.  She talks about the impact of the dishwasher, as well as cloth versus paper diapers, and formula.  She is still in awe of the things that came about that made life easier.

Many of my interviewees discuss the loss of cursive writing.  There have been jokes about how one might sign their cheques or give an autograph.  But Dagmar really brings the impact on our history home by describing an experience she had with her teen grandson at a museum.

Dagmar speaks to the changes in our society.  She states that we don’t get together with each other anymore.  She then tells a story that really cements the notion that we should be gathering with our friends more often, because you never know what will happen.

Dagmar’s interview eventually boiled down into chatting about life and growing up.  To end the interview, she tells us about when video games entered hers and John’s lives.  Dagmar bought Atari for John when it came out, and they stayed up all night playing it.  John then gets a jibe in about how long they’ve been married, ending the interview in laughter.

Bones and Family

Bones Rhodes & Family

I was referred to Bones because he has lived a lifestyle compared to his surroundings, and is very opinionated.  I didn’t expect, however, that I would end up meeting three generations of the family that night in Pass Christian, MS.  Though it’s not the intended format of the project, I decided to interview them all, in tandem.  With some special instructions to allow for full answers, we accomplished the goal over some iced tea (and I managed to be the one that walked away with several souvenir mosquito bites).

The participants are as follows:

  • Charles William “Bones” Rhodes – born July 30, 1947 in Hattiesburg, MS
  • Honey Rhodes LeBlanc (daughter) – April 25, 1972 in Hattiesburg, MS
  • Rodney LeBlanc (Honey’s husband) – born Sept. 2, 1975 in Houma, LA
  • Mark Rhodes (grandson) – born April 1, 1997 in Gulfport, MS

Bones grew up in a family that was considered ‘rich’ for the time period.  He stated, however, that his father didn’t tend to spend the money in a way that was extravagant.  They didn’t take vacations, wear fancy clothes, or live in a particularly large home.  Bones didn’t realize they were wealthy until he got his first job during high school at a local grocery store.  He then saw true diversity and began to understand that the things he had taken for granted, though not earmarked as particularly fortunate, were very different from the folks he served at the store.  It was this experience that drove him to live a liberal life rather unique to Mississippi.

Bones raised his own family on what they called “The Compound”, a series of homes on a single property that he received from his father.  Honey recalled growing up around many families, and riding motorcycles (which Bones loves) beginning at a very young age.  Bones was careful to make the distinction that these are not big hog motorcycles – that they’re not “1%-er motorcyclists”.

Alternatively, Rodney grew up a “coon-ass”, hunting, fishing, and playing sports with the other kids in his area.  Mark, Rodney and Honey’s son, recalls fighting with his siblings in his youth.  He laughed as he said it – “I’m just being honest.”

What really struck me during our conversation was in speaking about school.  Honey, a history and algebra teacher, is worried about our youth as they come up surrounded by all the tech.  Many of my interviewees have highlighted that young ones have their noses constantly down at a screen, but Honey provided insight to how it’s affecting their very ability to think.  The description of her student’s ability to process was haunting.

The family had a really interesting perspective of how technology is affecting us, and where it is coming from.  They discuss the laziness and apathy that technology is creating.  Bones wonders at who is inventing the tech, and who has access to it based on wealth.  Honey refers to the unlimited knowledge we have, but instead we sit and “crush candies”.  Rodney talks about watching the men he works with offshore, and how tech has affected their work and social lives.  Mark shares a perspective on apathy and global friendships.  I think this conversation is a good summary of their thoughts on the matter.

Constantine “Gus” Katsoris

Edited

He is pictured by the antique 1928 sewing machine that has been a cornerstone of the business since it opened.

Gus is a mainstay of Eastown Grand Rapids.  He owns one of the oldest shops in the area, started by his father after emigrating to the United States from Greece after World War Two.  He loves to talk, and gets to know each of his customers well.

Gus was born a first generation Greek-American on July 13, 1947.  His mother and father met in Greece during World War II, when the Nazi’s asked his father (George) to take a census.  His mother was single, but George knew that if she was listed as such she’d become a bar maid for the Nazis.  So George listed her as his fiancée.  Here’s the story in full:

Gus’ mother came the United States while pregnant with him as a part of a Truman program to emigrate women out of the war zone.  Gus said she threw up the entire voyage; Gus jokes it was he that was sea sick.  His father emigrated some time after, for he had been captured by the Nazis as a POW (over a mistaken car ownership).

Gus was drafted to the US Army during the Vietnam era.  He said he was proud to go – that it made his parents proud.  He was listed for combat, and his father worried Gus would be killed, so he declared his son as the last of his name, or Sole Surviving Son.  That should have removed Gus from direct combat, but Gus declined.

He trained in Louisiana for a Vietnam mission, but that’s not where he ended up.  Right before they were shipped, North Korea shot down a U2 plane and threatened to declare war.  Gus’ regiment was instead directed to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) between North and South Korea from 1969 to 1970.  Unfortunately, Gus was stationed directly when and where Agent Orange was dispensed.  As with many soldiers from that era, the chemical has had a lasting affect.

Gus returned to Grand Rapids and transitioned into the National Guard.  In the late 1980’s, Gus began helping his father at his shoe repair shop, located in Eastown Grand Rapids.  Here he speaks about being conned into helping his dad and learning the trade.

Today Gus is known as a mainstay of Eastown, running one its oldest businesses.  He is planning to retire soon, due to the cancer that resulted from exposure to Agent Orange.  Still, his spirits are high.  Neighbors can expect to see him cruising around in one of his two Mustangs for some time to come.