TRAVEL TRAILERS AND HUEY LONG
I had never seen nor really heard of such a strange house that could be moved on wheels to a different town, or even state, until my first glimpse of one in a magazine Mama had picked up. She and I thought they were cool and wanted to see one up close, inside and out, hoping we could one day. Daddy was now a politician, elected to the Louisiana state house of representatives and traveling back and forth to Baton Rouge. Our family was experiencing a new life style. Mama would often spend days with him at the Heidelberg hotel while we free ranged around the farm with Annabelle in charge. Annabelle lived in a shot gun, with her family, next to our barn. She was as much a part of our family as anybody and well trusted to take care of the four of us. We were as comfortable in her home as her children were in ours.
Occasionally, mama would allow one of us to travel with her while the rest stayed home. I remember, vividly, one occasion in 1953, when I was 10 years old. I got to see a whole parking lot full of these motor homes.
The history of travel trailers dates back to the beginning of cars and motorized travel on highways, but not until the early 1950's were they being marketed as an inexpensive form of housing. People were still recovering their lives after World War II and were reluctant to spend large sums of money so the trailers were described as an option to renting apartments; a cheaper form of housing. They were rectangular in shape and only eight feet wide. Not until around 1956 did they become 10 feet wide. They were an alternative to site-built homes the ads would say.
Mama and I had gone to Baton Rouge and settled in our second home, the Heidelberg hotel.
The hotel was built in 1927 and was a favorite haunt of Governor Huey Long who stayed there in the 30's when he was overseeing the construction of the state capital building, four blocks from the hotel. The hotel had an underground passageway that led to the hotel across the street where Huey would meet his flamboyant mistress. During the 50's this hotel was THE place for politicians to stay and so we did. While Mama attended sessions at the capital or luncheons with politicians' wives, I would roam around the hotel with legislator children spending time at the pool on the third story roof overlooking the Mississippi river, or roaming through the underground passageway to the hotel across the street, unaware of the history of this underground tunnel, but fascinated that I could come out in the lobby of the King hotel across the street. It was just a great way to play with friends. When we tired of this game we would play ball or hide and seek on the capital grounds or climb on the statue of Huey Long, gazing toward the capital, when guards weren't watching.
One day, while playing around the statue, my friend said his daddy was buying a house trailer and they would bring it to Baton Rouge, staying near the LSU campus, instead of at the Heidelberg, to save money. Not to be outdone, I told him that I already knew all about those trailers and how my mama and I had already seen one and were thinking of buying one, too, and keeping it near LSU. This was partly true. We had seen some at a dealership in Baton Rouge and Mama and I had planned to visit the lot on the way home.
One afternoon, Mama decided we should visit the trailer lot posing as millionaires and have fun with our little adventure. She had me dress up in my Sunday clothes, a suit and bow tie, while she dressed in a pink shirtwaist dress, pill box hat with a short veil, gloves and chinchilla stole. We had a Buick station wagon at the time and it probably didn't look like the fanciest car, but we didn't care. Off we went to the trailer dealership, laughing and practicing our story. Our adventure had began. Mama concocted a story of being a state representative's wife and a distant cousin of Huey Long and that we were interested in purchasing several trailers ourselves for our family to stay in for home games at LSU. The man practically fell over himself showing us the finest trailers on the lot. Mother inspected the insides with a fine tooth comb, swiping her gloves over surfaces, lifting mattresses, checking out all the cupboards, inspecting every inch of this new house on wheels while talking non stop in a snobby attitude of a voice. She carefully wrote down every detail concerning prices and handed me several brochures to chose the kind I wanted, explaining that we would be back the next week or two to purchase three trailers to be delivered to our land near the college campus. This salesman must have thought he had a great deal going with his new venture in trailer sales.
Suddenly mama straightened herself , abruptly thanked him for all the information and the tour while ushering me quickly toward the car. While driving back to the Heidelberg, Mama said with a wink, “Now wasn't that better than just going to look at those old trailers, like ordinary people?” Of course, I couldn't wait to tell my friends of my great adventure.
Ironically, years later when daddy became a state senator he did buy a house trailer and keep it near LSU. It was convenient to stay in after home games and not fight the crowd heading back to Alexandria.
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