(Humory = Hugh + Memory)
Basketball Season, 1975
We're probably riding in the Oldsmobile, or maybe we're in the silver Mercedes that, unbeknownst to me, my dad will end up driving for the next 20 years. I'm sure we have WJBO on the radio. Or perhaps the radio is off, and we're singing "Frere Jacques" and "Alouette." My dad is teaching me French at the nearly the same time I'm learning English.
We're on our way to visit the home of a woman who is apparently a close friend of my dad's, Ms. Ella Shoe. I've never met her, though, even at my young age, I'm very impressed by her generosity. This woman has a huge house, and she's always inviting hundreds of people to visit and watch her kids play basketball. My dad and I have made it a sort of ritual to go to Ella Shoe's house; even in 1975, when I am barely five years old, it's a familiar event for me.
After a stop at IHOP, or at Coffee Call for beignets and café au lait, Daddy and I head over to the grand home of Ella Shoe herself. She has THE COOLEST house, let me tell you. It's perfectly round and had curved concrete ramps like great welcoming arms, and these "arms" lead to the doors. So many doors! I figure that Ella must be very rich, and she clearly loves visitors. Daddy holds my hand as we walk "uphill" in the winter darkness. We hand our tickets to "the man," then enter the house.
What a place! It smells like popcorn, roasted peanuts, and chewed-up gum, and it's so bright and colorful! Everyone is dressed in purple and gold, and all things purple and gold are for sale. I see other little girls my age dressed like cheerleaders, complete with purple-and-gold pom-poms. From a young age, I learn to love purple and gold. Even Daddy is wearing a gold jacket. I feel a little overwhelmed by all the people, but safe with my Daddy, who is taller than everyone. Like most five-year-olds, I guess, I imagine that my dad is the tallest man in the world. He buys a program, then we enter Portal M to find our seats--section M19, row L--and then the fun really begins.
It is here at Ella Shoe's that I first learn to nurture what will become a lifelong fascination with observing people. Forget the basketball court, which seems miles away to my five-year-old mind; our seats are at the end of the row, and my favorite activity is to watch the endless stream of people walking up and down the steps of the aisle. OK, so maybe I'm a bit too easily amused.
But it is all so exciting! I'm endlessly fascinated by the bright colors and the wonderful smells! Not only is everyone dressed brightly, but the seats themselves are purple and gold! It's like a circus! And colorful flags line the stadium! And the energy of the place rises feverishly when Ella Shoe's children burst out onto the court far below. Everyone stands and cheers! At the age of five, I don't think it strange that Ella's children are a mix of black and white; the only colors I see are the purple, gold, and white of the uniforms. Ella's kids wear those colors, and they are the ones we cheer for. The ones wearing the other colors? They don't matter. They are, as Daddy tells me, "the Visitor." He may as well have called them "the martians." They are not our team. We do not cheer for them.
And I haven't even mentioned the music, which is the best part of all! From the National Anthem to "Tiger Rag" to Ella Shoe's very own Fight Song, the music carries and energizes the charged spirit of the place. At five, I assume that the band members are also Ella Shoe's children. Thanks to them, and the early indoctrination of my devoted father, the Ella Shoe Fight Song today has a similar emotional effect on me as the National Anthem or "Amazing Grace."
After the game (we stay till the end), I'm tired, and Daddy picks me up and carries me down the sloping ramp that spits everyone back outside. I don't know if we won or lost; I didn't really watch the game. Daddy may have watched it, but we also watched the people, shared popcorn and a coke, looked at the flags and the huge electronic scoreboard, took turns looking for Aunt Joyce and Uncle Warren through binoculars borrowed from a neighbor, and flipped through the program. All and all I just enjoyed spending time with my Daddy at Ella Shoe's.
The visits to Ella Shoe's with my dad, from 1973 until the 1990s, make for some of my happiest memories. To this day, I love all things "Ella Shoe" ... I mean, all things LSU. And of course, I love my dad--for making those memories with me, and for being such a wonderful dad.
And so goes the story of Hugh Baxley's successful and complete indoctrination of his oldest daughter.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Hugh!
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