The Fireman’s Band

One of Pop’s favorite stories concerning his two years of training at the world-famous Charity Hospital in New Orleans in the mid 1930’s, concerned a bar in the French Quarters called The Fireman’s Band. This favorite hang-out for many of the doctors and nurses at “The Charity,” was partially owned by one of Pop’s friends, who was also an intern at the hospital.

At that time Pop and our mother, Mimi, had only one child, Berry Lee, who was 5 years old when they moved from Little Rock to New Orleans. They lived in a small apartment a few blocks off St. Charles Avenue near the downtown. Pop said the 2 years of their life in New Orleans were very happy years, because he had finally settled into a career in medicine. He had spent 8 years in failing business ventures prior to deciding to follow his father’s path into medicine. It wasn’t easy going back to finish college and then medical school at a later age and stage in life, but he had finally gotten his medical degree, and life was much better.

There wasn’t much time for recreation, but occasionally they would join several of their married friends for an evening of relaxation at The Fireman’s Band. This was not a typical boisterous and bawdy type of establishment often found in the French Quarters. Alcoholic beverages were served and there was always a Dixieland band playing, but the atmosphere was light, the customers were mostly married couples, and there was even a back room furnished with toys for their children to play. Pop said Berry Lee was always excited to get to go to The Fireman’s Band.

Shortly after moving to New Orleans, they began attending St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church and found a perfect church home for them to attend. Mimi had never been baptized by immersion, and it was decided that she should be properly baptized as part of their membership there. It was scheduled following an evening service. After the baptism at the conclusion of the service, the pastor had Mimi, Pop and Berry Lee standing at the front of the church, so the members could come by and congratulate her and welcome them into the church fellowship. One particular lady in the long line of members, leaned over to shake Berry Lee’s hand, and she asked him, “Young man, how are you going to celebrate your mother’s baptism tonight?” He stood up straight and proudly said, “We’re going to go to The Fireman’s Band!” Pop was speechless at Berry Lee’s answer, because there were no such plans for the evening. Pop said if he could have gotten under a pew, or hidden from the  view of several startled church members who had heard this exchange, he would have gladly done so. However; to make things worse, the lady continued, and asked Berry Lee, “Well, young man, just what do you plan to do at The Fireman’s Band?” Possibly thinking he might entice her to join them, he again proudly said, “We sing songs, we tell jokes and we drink Coke and Clear!” Pop said he doubted that the lady knew that “Clear” was a slang expression used during Prohibition for a type of gin. He was absolutely confident that Berry Lee had no idea of what he had just said. He had just heard someone at The Fireman’s Band use that term, and he added it to the Coke which he loved drinking while he was in the back room with the other children.

This story has been retold many times in our family whenever Berry Lee was present, and he would always smile and sometimes chuckle at something he said that he really couldn’t remember. The rest of the  story; however,and something that everyone in our family knew about him, is that not one time in his long life did Bubba ever taste “Clear,” or any other beverage alcohol for that matter. The one time he visited Cathy and me when we lived in New Orleans, he didn’t request that we go to the Fireman’s Band, or any other night spot in the French Quarters.

Dr. John

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2 thoughts on “The Fireman’s Band

  1. Dear John, I have loved reading the “Dr. John Remembers”, but especially today! I really had a laugh. I had never heard “the rest of the story” about “The Fireman’s Band”. I didn’t know about the church, the baptism of Mimi, or the lady’s question to Berry Lee. Of course, I knew the song and had heard Daddy sing it many times. Keep up the good work! I’m loving it! I’m forwarding this to all of our sons. Tell Cathy and all of your family hello for us. Love to all, Marilyn

    • Marilyn: It’s amazing that this story has slipped by without your hearing it. Bubba never acknowledged saying this, but he did say he “couldn’t remember the event, he was so young.” Pop said he wanted to get “under the pew, or even the carpet.” I’m sure Mimi was mortified. Thanks for reading all these accounts and for sending them to your sons. I’ve got lots more to write as the Lord brings them to mind. You are a big part of all of them.
      Much love to you and George:
      John

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