In the south Louisiana town of Gueydan, are a couple of vacant buildings few seem to notice.
The, now closed, Pioneer Hotel catered mainly to hunters, coming in for ’duck season’. The towns only claim to fame is for being the ‘Duck capital of America.’ (Yes there is a sign, and yes, It has been desecrated on many occasions)
Originally the hotel’s eight rooms had color coated doors. An adjoining home office for the woman who ran it is off to the side, where a single trellis still passes for a garden.
I used to suggest the place when we planned our vacations, liking the colorful doors and being too young yet to realize the pointlessness of accommodations so far from the beach and not ten miles from home.
Though now that I think about it, the place may have been closed even back then. The lady who ran it lived out her life there, long after she stopped renting rooms, so it continued to look livable for quite awhile. It deteriorated after her death, so that now nearly all of the color has faded from the doors that sparked my interest.
I could go on forever about that hotel, but It was the much smaller building next to it that led to one of the most harrowing experiences in my otherwise uneventful life.
This second building is red, but for some reason I remember it being rainbow. Those I’ve questioned insist it has always been simply red.
It may have been a case of mistaken identity, as many such places had come and gone all over town, yet for much of my life it continued to be the old snow cone stand.
I would discuss it with friends at recess, who mostly had no idea what I was talking about, though it seemed some older kids had mentioned a place where small trinkets had come with snow cones in much the same spirit as Macdonald’s or Crackerjacks.
One evening, as I was falling asleep to my one-eyed Teddy Ruxpin’s rendition of “Come and discover the world with me.” I quietly concluded that it must have been the place, what with a building that cool, they had certainly gone all out.
I shot from my bed when it hit me. Surely some extra trinkets were left behind when they closed the joint. All those prizes could still be there, locked up in the stand, awaiting the child bold enough to brave the ghosts and claim the treasure. ( It was a proven fact that all old buildings had ghosts and treasure.)
I tossed and turned but couldn’t shake the thought that there was an endless pile of multicolored crap with my name on it. This thought followed me onto the porch where I found myself mounting my rickety, training-wheeled contraption and pedaling like mad across the wide open. Simply being alone at dusk was almost enough to make one die of fright but my eye was on the prize, and my brain was full of that awesome, idiotic reasoning one often encounters around bed time that makes even the dumbest ideas seem divinely inspired.
Soon those three black windows gaped at me out of the dark trees. I had second thoughts when there seemed to be blurry faces peering out of them. The faces never moved, and with all the courage and stupidity that could be mustered I snuck around to the back, where I discovered an even greater obstacle.
A rusty screen door was the only entrance. Those things were a pain to open. The handles would stick, and if you tried to force them, they would summon an army of angry adults. I attacked it anyway. The noise was deafening in the quiet.
Three dark figures eclipsed the light of the windows. They never moved so I turned on my light, and shrieked.
Someone had left some cardboard cutouts in front of the windows. Maybe the video rental place was using the building for storage? It didn’t matter. I was scared to death of cardboard cutouts; all those eerie, two-dimensional people with their staring eyes and obviously fake smiles. Oh, but what was that?
There were boxes of Mardi Gras beads and quarter-machine eggs littering the floor. I was in heaven. I propped the stubborn door open with a stick and was faced with enough beads and bracelets to make up a kiddy-king’s ransom. I thus filled my pockets with enough small rubber animals to make up a first class security force.
There was too much to carry, but I wasn’t worried. I only needed enough time to nab the pieces I wanted. Ooh a dinosaur! I reached for it just as the stick fell to the crabgrass and the door slowly started to close. I turned around to catch it, but the thing was tightly sealed. I tried the stuck handle again and again, then struggled against the screen, screaming for all the world to hear.
The wind moaned outside and one of the cut outs fell over. The pouting face of Julia Roberts wavered inches from my own. With superhuman strength borne of unholy terror, I burst through the screen. The next thing I remember was my butt hitting bike seat and my legs tearing out of there.
I awoke safely the next morning with three pink bracelets still safe on my arm. No one believed me when I showed them those bracelets. Father insisted I’d won them at a party the day before, and swore I’d never left my bed. Still It’s hard to believe I dreamed it, though I was never that impulsive in real life.
As for the old snow cone stand, knowing what I know now it is unlikely that it could have ever been used for that purpose. Mother always commented on how much it reminded her of a tug boat. It was only recently I questioned my uncle who insisted that it was indeed, part of a tug-boat. Namely, A disembodied wheelhouse left there by a man who used to fix them back in the fifties. He knew very little about the man and claimed my late grandfather had known him.
It was too bad I’d missed my chance, not that I never asked my grandfather about the past, but without specific questions there was never much to say. Perhaps if I’d known the right questions then, many of my favorite landmarks would have had even better stories.