Duke and Haydée
(Duke's remembrances -- as written in March 2004)
Sometime in the summer of 1938, I was growing tired of the kind of existence I was living; goofy broads and drinking and raising hell in general. When school started again, I was attending Delgado Trades School. I wanted to meet some very nice and intelligent Spanish girl. José Contreras and I rode to school together , and I spoke more than once of my situation. Finally he said he'd think about it. One day he said," I think that I have just the person for you." For a couple of weeks he was trying to get permission from the young lady to give me her phone number. She finally agreed to give the phone number to Joe; mostly to stop him from being such a nuisance.
Joe was the graven stone image of the stereotype Aztec god in profile. The young lady was trying to be kind to Joe's persistence in refusing his requests to give her phone number to one of his friends. Finally, she relented and gave in. Now Joe warned me of the "protocol" of behavior expected by Latinos and Joe wanted assurance that he wasn't going to be made to suffer consequences because of my previous reputation. I swore up and down that he'd have nothing to worry about. Joe and his mother had been friends of the young lady's family since he was eight years old.
I could hardly contain myself. From the corner drugstore at State and Laurel streets, I made the call. For a good half-hour we chatted on the phone. There is just no way that I can put into words the mounting anticipation that was building inside of me. I asked if we could meet the coming Saturday for a date. (Which was the proper thing to do in 1938.) What a disappointment. She said,"I'm really occupied with a previous date.” It took several more phone talks before I was invited to her home for a family assessment and approval.
When she opened the front door— WHAM! I had never in my life seen such beauty in a smile and in her eyes, and her soft voice. Well, for the next hour or so we sat on the couch talking and laughing. There was a record player, a phonograph, (if you know what that is — the kind you wind up by hand with a crank to make the turntable go round), in the corner of the front room and some nice records. Carmen was there, so was Mamá. The music was playing some slow romantic melody so I asked if she would care to dance. I think "that" did it. Years later I was told that she was looking over my shoulder at Carmen and they exchanged winks of approval. Sneaky bit of intrigue was in the making. The young lady told me years later that she really needed a date for her sorority dances. Our first dates were mostly long walks. Who had money in 1938? My father died. I spent some months in the C.C.C.'s La. SP478. (CCC camps were provided during the Depression period to put locally unemployed people to work on community projects.) We built the beautiful Fountain State Park and the bath house on the lake front. On the second meeting with Haydée, I think it was then I said, "I'm going to marry you." That drew an immediate response with a, “You're crazy." So, naturally, my reply was: "you're right; you're going to have a crazy husband."
We never had a tumultuous relationship. Some people might say that it was insipid; the important thing was that our love and dating was always private. We enjoyed the various house parties and the fist-fights that ended some of them. One night at a party at the Culotta's basement party, I received some sneers and envious looks from a few Latinos. I thought nothing of it, but when I went out into the alley to relieve myself (too much beer will require some immediate
attention), four of these brave young men followed me, two from each side. Just as they approached me, greetings from either side of my would be attackers was heard. Mike, from one side and Jorge, from the other. We've had some laughs about that night. That ended the outward resentment of the foolish young Latinos held by them because I was dating Haydée. I couldn't blame them, really; Haydée was just too beautiful to not be challenged for by others.
I had spent a year at LSU and ran out of money. St Mary Dominican was in the process of building a gymnasium and I got a job there. I would always see her passing from one building to another. Each time, I would get a momentary racing heart; however, there was a Nun who picked up on my actions and she didn't fail to let me know that she was keeping an eye on me, but with a smile on her face.
I had been a member of the Louisiana State National Guard since 1936, and in 1941, President Roosevelt saw fit to mobilize all the Guard units nationwide. Mind you, we were mobilized January the 13, 1941 and Pearl Harbor had yet to take place on December 7th. Haydée had visited me at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, on several occasions. We talked about our future and about marriage. When we decided on a date we went to see our unit's chaplain who said, "I can't do this today, but how about Wednesday?" This started a frantic time for Haydée, during which Lilí, your beautiful Mother, took charge. They went in and out of stores in New Orleans getting the wedding dress and other things necessary. In the mean time, at Camp Shelby, I was subjected to the usual jokes and ribald remarks by my fellow battery members. Wednesday came and Haydée and Lilí with her insurance agent friend drove from New Orleans to Camp Shelby because Lilí was pregnant. There was also Mamá and Alice, who brought Haydée's bouquet and the cake — And, Carmen came with a friend (a Mr. George) who took us to dinner that night.
Just before our ceremony was to begin, we heard the dull sound of marching men's footsteps. What a surprise! The entire battery marched into my side of the chapel accompanied by the Battalion Staff led by Col. Henry B. Curtis, the commander of the 141st Field Artillery Regiment, my regiment. (Henry Curtis later became a City Councilman for many years and was known as “Uncle Boots” by his family.)
After three days of Marital Consummation, Haydée left for Florida to meet with Alice for their new assignment at the Censorship Department under the administration of Col. Dean; the same Col. Dean who had supervised them in New Orleans. He had promised to return them to the New Orleans office as soon as they had completed their required time at the Miami office and true to his word he did so.
While all this was going on, my outfit moved to a place called Camp Sutton in North Carolina. While there as a Mess Sergeant, I heard about the formation of an antitank platoon. As a Mess Sgt., I made frequent trips to the Quartermaster's depot which was close to the Ordinance Supply Depot. Since I had wanted out of the mess hall, I stopped in Ordinance on one trip and picked up a Field Manual and Specs on the 37 mm Antitank Gun. I studied the manual day and night. Finally, when the guns arrived, a meeting was held and no one knew anything about them. I spoke up and said, " I know all there is to know about the guns." So, I started giving a litany of capabilities and specifications and the strategic deployment of the weapon. Captain Gills immediately put me in charge after a grilling on the Operation and Maintenance and Field Deployment of the piece. He even let me select the crews to be assigned to the gun station.
In the mean time, my marriage was a "see you when I can" type of thing — with quick visits and short furloughs. Our separations were tougher on Haydée than on me because of my assignments.
Finally a break came. The unit moved from N.C. to Camp Blanding Florida and while there I was sent to the wrong Officers Candidate school. I had applied for Ordinance and was sent to Fort Sill Artillery School. After several requests to be dismissed and returned to my unit or to the Ordinance School, I was returned to my unit in Blanding.
Let me get back on track, because this is supposed to be about what I remembered of my early association with the Rodríguez family. We, Haydée and I, actually saw one another only for sporadic dates during the first year we met. I went off to L.S.U. for a year and ran out of money. She finished at Dominican College and went off to L.S.U. for a year and earned her Masters Degree. When she returned to New Orleans, we were dating for a year until the National Guards were called up and I was off to Camp Shelby in Mississippi.
On one family get together, Haydée was feeling down and weepy, some members of the family began kidding her and Papá jumped all over them for their insensitivity. All the time I was away in service, Haydée worked. When I came home the whole family met me at the train station. We all proceeded to our home on Oaklawn Drive and celebrated. After a while we were properly left alone. My father-in-law held me in high esteem, as I've been told many times by other members of the family. He offered me a chance to go into business with him; so did my brother-in-law Chris Lindenberg. I had this deep sense of responsibility to a commitment I had made to my Mother and my wife: that I would finish my university education. On January 2nd, (19–) I enrolled at Tulane and 2 1/2 years later I graduated. All this time Haydée was working and supporting us augmented with my G.I. Bill allotments. Being of the "male supporter" generation – and being supported by my wife stuck in my craw! She encouraged me to go for my Masters Degree. Following a visit to U.S C., I graduated from there in 1951. During the time that we lived on Oaklawn Drive, I worked on the week ends at the seafood stand that Mike operated. There were more than a few times that he'd call me at home to come out to the stand because there were some disgruntled and belligerent customers.
In every bout, we won. It wasn't always easy, but we won. I recalled the night that Mike ran his car off the Bucktown Bridge. The dog, Peewee was trapped in the car and drowned.
In summation, I was taken into the Rodríguez family as a son and a brother with the show of love and emotion that I never really experienced in my own family. I don't mean to imply that my own family didn't love me. The atmosphere in a Latino family is so much more intense and demonstrative. I really don't know of another way to express all the love and affection that I have felt. I recall on the death of my Mother when my sisters were going to hire paid-for Pall Bearers. Augie quickly spoke up, "No strangers are going to carry my uncle's mother to her final resting place!" Three of the Werner boys and three Gutíerrez (all with Rodríguez blood in their veins) carried my Mother's casket. That act weighs heavily in my heart and always will.
We had moved to California the day of the devastating earthquake in Bakersfield.
Lilí, your Mother, began her loving admonition about our move there. My response was that there would be openings in the teaching field. Kathy was born in Bakersfield; our only child, — but believe me, it wasn't for the lack of trying, — we really wanted seven or eight. It wasn't meant to be, so we live with it and love our Kathy dearly.
Left, Haydee and Duke with Mama and Vidalia --- At right, Duke with Mama and Papa