Friday, April 17, 2020

Morris Ardoin's "Stone Motel"

Morris Ardoin earned a bachelor’s in journalism from Louisiana State University and a master’s in communication from the University of Louisiana. A public relations practitioner, his work has appeared in regional, national, and international media. He divides his time between New York City and Cornwallville, New York, where he does most of his writing.

Ardoin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Stone Motel: Memoirs of a Cajun Boy, and reported the following:
Sweet and Sour

I had a chuckle when I turned to page 99 to see what it would indicate for this test, fully expecting something random and not terribly indicative of what’s in the book. But in fact the page seems a pretty perfect way to get browsers right into the story – telling of a typical summer afternoon of my childhood in the 1970s growing up at a roadside motel in rural Louisiana, and neatly mentioning the four key characters of the book. While the page gives the flavor of the innocence and clumsiness of adolescence, it also reinforces the central theme of my memoir: memories can be sweet, but they can also be marred by things perfectly sour.

Here’s what’s on Page 99:
I mounted the big bike, crunching the grocery bag closed against the right side of the handlebar. Down the road twenty or so yards in the opposite direction of home stood the little yellow and white Catholic church, built in the footprint of a large cross. On Sundays, the white parishioners sat in the long nave; the black parishioners sat in the two little sections that straddled the altar and made up the crosspiece.

Parked in the grass near the church parking area was a beat-up green pickup truck. I recognized one of the parishioners, a middle-aged black man in baggy khakis, a white shirt, and a floppy straw hat. He was propping up a big hand-painted sign that read “Sugartown Watermelons 4 for $1.”

“Four for a dollar. Hmmm,” I said to myself, pedaling down the blacktop towards home. It was another hot July day, and I was lost in a daydream of all those watermelons chilled and sliced open to expose their beautiful, sweet red flesh. I pedaled onward, still clutching the paper bag against the handlebar, and building up a sweat in the heat that at once radiated from above and bounced back up to me from the blacktop. Just a little more than halfway home, totally unaware that the condensing half-gallon of milk was saturating the fibers of the paper bag, I stumbled in disbelief when the wet carton finally tore through the bag and fell, bursting onto the hot asphalt, sending milk all over the road, the bike, and my legs. The Evangeline Maid bread had been mashed on one side, but the unfazed loaf was already expanding itself back into recognizable form, and Mr. Bed-nah’s carefully wrapped baloney parcel was still immaculate.

“Dammit!” I screamed out to the universe. I gathered myself, hammocked the baloney and bread into my tee-shirt, then picked up the busted milk carton and what was left of the paper bag. The milk spreading over the road was already steaming as it seeped into the blistering asphalt. With all that going on—the sun beating down, the baloney and bread scooped up into my shirt held in place with one arm pressed against my belly, and the busted carton and obliterated grocery bag clutched in that same hand—I managed to right the bike.

Still in a state of disbelief, I walked the bike and myself the rest of the way home.

An hour later, after I had gotten home and rinsed myself and the bike off with the garden hose under the big pine tree in the front yard, I was on the bike again, but this time Glenda was pedaling and I was riding double on the handlebar. We were accompanied by Gilda and Dicky, doing the same on Gilda’s bike, all of us heading back down the road towards Mr. Bed-nah’s and the church to get ourselves four watermelons and another half-gallon of milk.
Page 99 is the last page of the chapter “I bet I know what y’all want,” which is the refrain that the proprietor, a Mr. Bernard (in Cajun, pronounced “Bed-nah”) greeted my siblings and me with each time we entered his little store, just down the road from our motel. The second half of that sentiment was always, “Y’all want some can-dih!” and we typically did indeed want some candy. This is one of my favorite chapters in the book because the sour (that bit about the busted milk carton) isn’t nearly as sour as a couple of the other examples I write about elsewhere - of truly sweet memories fully spoiled by unspeakable ugliness. I will leave it at that - so as not to "sour" the browser's interest!
Visit Morris Ardoin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue