Saturday, January 29, 2011

Texas Street Bridge: A Free Story For Saturday Reading

I love Shreveport and Bossier City.  I'm a fan of the old original Lousiana Hayride.  Johnny Horton is one of my favorite singers of all time.  Ol' Hank makes the list too.   All these elements came together in this story originally published in The Dead Mule: School of Southern Literature a few years back.   At one time,  it was archived on their site but it isn't anymore.....enjoy....


By Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

Neon outlines the old framework of the Texas Street Bridge at night, transforming the bridge into something magical, a passage from the mundane ordinary into fantasy. Any bridge is magic, bringing land over water but that bridge has always been my escape from Bossier City into the city of Shreveport.

Bossier City is a tacky town that grew up around Barksdale Air Force Base. Most of it’s small homes are lined along neat little streets that now dead end at the Clyde Fant parkway or at the riverboat casinos. A lot of those little homes are worn with the years; their paint faded and flaked, roofs sagging like support hose. No one very important lives in Bossier City. It’s a town with a lot of bars, many nightclubs, and some tough natives. Black or white, Bossier City folks are rough and ready to rumble.

I should know. I was born there, not far off Airline in one of those ordinary little shacks close enough to the river that sometimes a water moccasin might come up in the yard. Now that the parkway separates residential from the river it doesn’t happen much. All we have to worry about now is desperate people who lost their money at the casinos who wander around weeping and wailing. Sometimes they try to jump off the Texas Street Bridge and the police cordon it off and you have to go the long way around. Although I love the Texas Street Bridge, I use the Jimmy Davis Bridge more often. It’s a silver bridge; one of those built when engineers built bridges decked with overhead spans that sparkle in the sun like a wedding cake. It is beautiful to me.

I can sweep across the bridge and then take a fast right through Dixie Gardens. From there I can get to the shopping district that has mushroomed out on Youree or I can travel past Broadmoor to pick up Hollywood Avenue. I can get to Murrell’s to eat biscuits and gravy and grits. I can go downtown although there’s not much there any more or I can get to Jewella and from there to the mall. I can hit 79 and be Texas bound or get on Interstate 20 if I’m in a rush.

Shreveport is the Magic Kingdom to us raised on the wrong side of the river. It’s the big city filled with lights and excitement. Many a farm boy from the cotton fields was led into perdition in the old Shreveport, back in the days when Texas Street was bumper to bumper. That was when the Woolworth’s was still a five and dime, not the Hayride Diner filled with photocopied pictures. The diner is seldom open, anyway, except late at night on weekends when a lot of old drunks get together to pretend they were part of the good old days.

The Hayride is important to me. The first time I ever entered the hallowed halls of the Municipal Auditorium I was struck dumb. I could not speak because it was the place of my dreams. Even as a small child I dreamed of events held there. I remember from that sleep state how bright the lights and how the smell of hot popcorn wafted tantalizing over the heads of the crowd. I know the rush of many voices mumbling before a show and I know the dressing room chatter.

I think that I not only dreamed it in this life but that I was there, lady to one of the singers who crooned their tunes into the big microphones before the painted barn backdrop. I can visualize myself in the wide skirts of the Fifties, a crinoline half-slip making the skirts bell out even fuller. I feel the thick bright red lipstick on my lips and hear my voice speaking words of love.

My high-heeled pumps tapped across the marble foyer and my skirts rustled as I took a seat to watch the show. I think I kidded with Hank Williams and exchanged glares with his wife, Billie Jean, his baby bride who later married Johnny Horton. She lost him, too, widowed twice in less than ten years. I always wondered if Johnny might have lived if he hadn’t been part of Billie Jean’s black widow curse. After two country singing star husbands died too young, no other star would look twice at Billie Jean.

I think that I sometimes sang, too, in an alto voice that was deep enough to make the men wonder how I might be between the sheets. I went to Murrell’s – not the same location that remains but on Market Street when there were five Murrell’s Restaurants in Shreveport – after the show and drank coffee. I ate red beans and rice off the thick china plates and laughed into the morning.

Sometimes I believe that I went with a group to Nanking and ate Chinese food. It’s strange but often it is the Shreveport that was that seems real to me, not the one in which I live. I’m twenty-five but I remember places that are gone, crushed beneath the multiple lanes of the interstate. I can see Market Street the way it was and I seem to recall the route of 71 highway when it wound through Bossier after traveling across the Jimmy Davis Bridge.

I can sing the old songs, the ones that are still played Saturday morning on old Tillman Franks radio show. He’s one of the few left from that era, the golden era of The Louisiana Hayride and he wasn’t even a star. He might have been a star maker, I don’t know, but he did manage more than one of the greats who graced the Hayride stage.

My mother thinks I’m crazy and wishes that I would get into punk rock. I believe that she would like it if I dyed my hair purple and put fishhooks into my ears. She might even go for Goth but then that again that might tax even her level of patience. She wasn’t even born in the Fifties so she can’t understand my fascination for the decade. She doesn’t see why I like to eat a burger at some old café instead of trying a buffet at Boomtown. She doesn’t get why I go to every show that comes to The Strand just so I can be in the old theater or why I like to dress like Marilyn Monroe. Better Norma Jean than Madonna, I think but she doesn’t agree.

Who was I? I may never know but I believe that I was. I think I remember a little too much and that I won’t stop trying to find out until I die. I’ll know then, anyway, but it’s now that I want to understand.

The past is there and part of it is mine. I feel it every time that I travel across the Texas Street Bridge. I know it in my heart when the silver latticework of the Jimmy Davis Bridge flies over my head as I drive across.

Someday I’ll cross the bridge, the magic Texas Street Bridge, and then I’ll know. Someday. Until then I’ll wear my dresses and pearls, I’ll dance in high heels and sing the old songs that I know by heart.

If the Texas Street Bridge can bring land over water, it can surely connect my past life to my present. The answer is there, in the neon reflections of the Texas Street Bridge, the Long-Allen Bridge when I last knew it.

If you see Billie Jean, tell her both Johnny and Hank send regards.

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