Monday, January 9, 2012

LSU Memories

I attended Louisiana State University in the mid 60's, following in my dad's footsteps. He attended for a year just before World War II, but after he and his brother Leo worked on the construction of the Huey P. Long Bridge in New Orleans. While my dad was born in New Orleans, the first Peyronnin settled in Baton Rouge back in the early 1800's. Jacques (Jacob) Peyronnin had come over from Bordeaux, France.

Although I was raised in Chicago, I had visited New Orleans many times in my childhood. I applied to LSU at my father's suggestion and entered in 1965. Baton Rouge was a far different place than Chicago's northern suburbs.

The LSU campus is beautiful. The Olmsted Brothers Firm of Brookline, Massachusetts, created the original design for the campus in 1921. It is admired for the 1,200 live oak trees that shade the grounds of the university and are filled with Spanish moss. The grounds also include azaleas, crepe myrtles, ligustrum, and camellias. Fifty-seven buildings on the LSU campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I began working at the campus radio station in 1966 which was located in the student union. "WLSU, Baton Rouge, Louisiana!", I would announce frequently as a disc jockey while spinning those platters. Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown were all popular. I was hooked.

I lived on campus in the North Stadium dormitory. I had a room on the fourth floor of Tiger Stadium. The rooms were spartan but pleasant. It was an all-male dorm with shared shower and bathroom facilities. I could look west out my window and watch the barges and riverboats slowly passing by on the Mississippi River. There was no air conditioning, so it was hot and steamy much of the year.

Mike the tiger lived in a cage about 100 yards to the northwest of my room. The frequent northwest breezes meant that the pungent odor of tiger poop wafted into my room. Thankfully Mike was the quiet type, only occasionally roaring when he was hungry. Mike was brought into Tiger Stadium for home football games locked in a portable trailer cage. The fans loved him.

My favorite Mike story was the time James Carville, former Clinton aide and LSU alum, stole the trailer cage one night in a memorable prank. They drove through neighborhoods screaming, "You’ all seen Mike the tiger?!?" What a hoot.

My roommate was from New Iberia, Louisiana, deep in Cajun Country. He took me to his hometown several weekends. I remember stopping at bars and restaurants where mostly French was spoken, Cajun style. One year I attended Marti Gras in Lafayette, Louisiana, which, although smaller than New Orleans' celebration, was still colorful and passionate. I ate a lot of crabs, crawfish and seafood gumbo and drank plenty of Dixie and Jax beer!

I learned a few phrases unique to the area. "How's yer mom and dem?" "Where you at?" "Who dat?" And my favorite cheer is, ""Hot boudin, cold coush coush, come on Tigers, poosh, poosh, poosh!"

LSU had more than 20,000 students in those days, but only a few hundred were Black. LSU, like many other southern state schools, had only recently opened up enrollment up to minorities. I shared my dormitory with several of them, and I found out that most had come from throughout the state in hopes of bettering their lives. Many were athletes, and the best of them got to live in a top tier dorm.

The football team had a winning record under Coach Charlie "Cholly Mac" McClendon. Cholly Mac had succeeded "Pepsodent" Paul Deitzel, who won a national championship in 1958 with the help of his tough defensive squad known as the "Chinese bandits." But news was being made on the basketball court where "Pistol" Pete Maravich was setting college basketball scoring records. He was simply amazing and went on to be a great pro.

I can't say LSU was a great educational experience for me. In fact, I spent most of my time at WLSU radio instead of studying in the library. But LSU was a tremendous learning experience for me. The times were a'changing with the speed of a coal barge drifting slowly down the
mighty Mississippi River to New Orleans. There, decades later, the "Honey Badger" will take the field with the "Fighting Tigers" one win away from being the greatest college football team ever.

Thank you dad! And “Geaux Tigers!”

No comments: