Smells Like Home…

Posted on March 21, 2013

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South Grand is one of my favorite streets. It winds along the sea wall and earthen levees fronting the Ouachita river, past some of the most expensive homes in the city and dilapidated crumbling houses – sitting right next to each other.

There’s the old cemetery right in a bend of the river, I imagine the first folks to bury their dead there would be upset if they could see it today, the levees protect us, but they sure did ruin some beautiful river views huh?

There’s Layton Castle, I wish they would landscape the wall and trees surrounding that grand old home, it’s too lovely to be hidden from view like it is now.

At the end of South Grand you’ll find the original EA Conway Hospital built in 1941, abandoned in 1987, looking haunted and alone. I’ll always feel a special connection to that building, my mother worked there for many years when I was a child. So sad to see that place from my childhood slowly sinking bank into the soil. In my mind’s eye it will always be alive and bustling with patients and staff, today it would be a perfect setting for a horror movie.

A few blocks from downtown Monroe the Cooley House sits right off South Grand. The home, designed by internationally acclaimed architect Walter Burley Griffin in 1908, and on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986, is one of the most unique homes in the nation. It’s been on the Top 10 Most Endangered Sites by the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation since 2006.

I grew up in the country but I’ve always loved South Grand, its in my blood, in my soul’s DNA. In the 1970’s my mother and two little brothers lived in a little duplex across the street from another South Grand landmark, the Cotton’s Holsum Bakery.

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The aroma of freshly baked bread greeted us every morning when we woke, it was such a great smell, to this day the smell of fresh bread brings memories of those long-ago days on South Grand street. My brothers and I would ride the sidewalks and streets of 1970’s southern Monroe and all day and all night that delicious smell would tickle our noses and tempt our taste-buds.

My son Lennon and I took a ride past the Holsum Bakery. I had to take a picture of him on the same sidewalk I played on as a child.

My son Lennon and I took a ride past the Holsum Bakery. I had to take a picture of him on the same sidewalk I played on as a child.

The first time I rode past the bakery after it closed, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach, almost like I’d lost an old friend. The bakery itself wasn’t the saddest sight though, instead my eyes kept coming back to the trucks, sitting in a parking lot waiting to begin their daily rounds. Their bright colors and logos are familiar to northeast Louisiana natives, the roads will seem emptier without them.

I've no idea how but these brightly painted panel trucks almost looked lonely to me, like an old dog abandoned at the pound, just sitting there waiting for an owner who wasn't coming back.

I’ve no idea how but these brightly painted panel trucks looked lonely to me, like an old dog abandoned at the pound, just sitting there waiting for an owner who wasn’t coming back.

When I walked over to the trucks enclosed by a tall, chain link fence topped with barbed wire, I saw something even sadder than the trucks themselves.

Parking spaces that once meant a paycheck, healthcare for a family, a mortgage payment, security. Now, just more cracked pavement in a dying neighborhood.

Parking spaces that once meant a paycheck, healthcare for a family, a mortgage payment, security. Now, just more cracked pavement in a dying neighborhood.

As I stood there with my four year old son, feeling wistful and sadly nostalgic – fate, or maybe it was even God Himself, sent me the sweetest gift.

“Something smells good”, Lennon volunteered suddenly.

“Huh? What do you smell son”?

“I don’t know but it smells good… it’s makin’ my tummy hungry”.

Here in this neighborhood, where I’d lived four decades before, standing on the same sidewalk where I’d ridden bikes and played a million games with my younger brothers, where the wonderful smell of baked bread constantly rode the air currents when I was a boy, my son had detected a phantom odor.

“Something smells good”, he said.

I know it was probably an open window or a passing car or something just as innocuous and coincidental but still…

I couldn’t smell a thing.

But Lennon could, ‘I want a Happy Meal, can we go”?

You could buy the bread right from the bakery when I was a kid, mom would send us over to buy a loaf and maybe a honey bun or a Twinkie or cupcake for each of us. My little brother, younger than Lennon today, always said the neighborhood smelled like 'Heben'.

You could buy the bread right from the bakery when I was a kid, mom would send us over to buy a loaf and maybe a honey bun or a Twinkie or cupcake for each of us. My baby brother, younger than Lennon today, always said the neighborhood smelled like ‘Heben’.

And that’s what we did.

We got back into the truck and headed home, leaving the newly abandoned Cotton’s Holsum Bread Bakery behind for the ghosts.

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