This is the first post of the theme “My Aquatic Childhood and my Father the Pirate”.
May 11, New York:
“We got no neck oilmen from Texas. Good old boys from Tennessee. College men from LSU, went in dumb come out dumb too. Hustling around Atlanta in their alligator shoes. Getting drunk every weekend at the barbecue.”
My parents were born and raised in southern Louisiana. Mostly New Orleans. They went to college in southern Louisiana and settled in a bayou exurb out in West St. Charles Parish split by a railroad track and bounded on one side by the Mississippi River. They were born of the fifties and children of the sixties, just a few years too late and a few hundred miles too south to be full-blown hippies. But they had their version: caught up in the Led Zeppelin-fueled post-Altamont Southern hippie wave. They were high school sweethearts who came from good families, they went and got professional degrees and good jobs, but they also snuck off to some rock shows and drank their fair share.
Southern Louisiana is a funny place. It’s sure as hell the south. But it’s also Catholic, which means it’s the one place in the south where you stand no danger of running into a blue county that won’t sell you a drink. No, in New Orleans, they fought the raising of the legal drinking age to 21 and they still let you cavort through the streets of the French Quarter with an open container. Hell, they don’t even call them counties anyway, they’re parishes. My father took this with him when he left; he was proud to have been a product of Southern Louisiana and was never afraid to argue with a bar bouncer about the logic of open container laws and the philosophy of the “Go Cup”.
I grew up listening to Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys from an age at which I was far too young to appreciate its irony. It would play on in the background in our various homes, and I think for my father, it reminded him of the South that raised him. “Rednecks” especially, which I remember fondly singing along too. Daniel J. Fitzgerald, DVM reveled in being a redneck. All the way until his death at 43 he kept a certificate on the bathroom wall proclaiming him a “Registered Coonass” (a cajun, bayou redneck). “We drink too much down here and we laugh too loud.” My father was a damn good veterinarian, but he also always wanted to be a good old boy and he never missed an opportunity to say “I went to LSU… went in dumb, came out dumb too”. My dad loved that song— not necessarily as an anthem, but somehow in our house it seemed to play like one. And I was so wildly unaware of the words I was singing along to, that I remember being disciplined in school for loudly declaring “WE’RE REDNECKS, WE’RE REDNECKS, WE DON’T KNOW OUR ASS FROM A HOLE IN THE GROUND.” Hopefully they didn’t let me finish the verse.
As an adult, “Good Old Boys” is everything I love about the South. It’s beautiful and it’s conflicted. It’s earnest and it’s irreverent. It’s terribly blunt and it’s beautifully subtle. My heart soars for “Kingfish” and how Huey P. Long “looks out for shit-kickers like you”. My eyes still tear up at “six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline” which played in my house on repeat during the weeks of Katrina. And “Rednecks” always makes me think of my Dad, his “coon-ass” certificate, and his LSU degrees. I wonder how he felt about Lester Maddox, truly. “Well he may be a fool, but he’s our fool.”