Smalltown, La., was once place where neighbors were always near
By Frank Schneider
When Covington was a small town, it was paradise for youngsters. It offered an unrestrained playstyle that could not be duplicated in the city regardless of how many parks or swimming pools it offered.
Consider the drugstore, an important ingredient in the social mix of a small town. The "downtown" corner drugstore in Covington was Hebert's at New Hampshire and Boston, where once the major highway funneled traffic through the town.
Oliver Hebert moved his drugstore there in 1940 after six years at a location a few blocks away. It's still there, bearing his name, but under different ownership. When young people assembled there on Sunday mornings, "Mr. Hebert" would be in the rear of the store dispensing poison ivy lotion and recommending balm for sunburn.
But up front was the social section where the delicious ice cream sodas and malts were concocted. The nectar sodas, with specks of crushed ice and globs of whipped cream, were particularly irresistible even for a "chocoholic." I always had one before a chocolate soda. We sat at round porcelain tables and chairs they call "antique ice cream parlor chairs" in Magazine Street shops today.
Everybody knew everybody, said Mr. Hebert's widow, Celeste. She made notes on some of the druggist's experiences, and shares these with us:
August 1937 — Mr. S., a stranger from the city, came to town without a tie and was invited to dine out. Would Mr. Hebert please lend him the tie he was wearing? The druggist took the man to his home to select a tie from his wardrobe.
August 1937 — The D. family called from outside of Covington at 1 a.m. They needed special medicine for their dog who was about to deliver pups. Could Mr. Hebert come out with the medicine and assist in the delivery?
March 1938 — A customer had too much money to carry around and did not do business with the bank. Mr. Hebert took the money and issued them a check.
July 1938 — Customer wanted to "borrow" a deck of cards.
1939 — Customer brought a live chicken to the drugstore asking Mr. Hebert to keep it for her while she shopped. He carried the wriggling chicken to the yard behind the store, and when she returned in a taxi he couldn't find the chicken. But he told her he was too busy to retrieve it then; he'd deliver it to her house on his way home. He called his wife. "Do we have a chicken?" There were two chickens cooked for dinner, she said. Mr. Hebert delivered one to the customer.
1940 — A New Orleans family lost their dog while spending the summer in Covington. They called Hebert's drugstore. "Please put a sign in your window with a description of Vandy for us?" The druggist did, and a woman who found the dog said she was driving to New Orleans that day and would deliver Vandy to his owner.
1940 — A customer on the phone: "Mr. Hebert, please remind me to buy toilet paper when I'm in your store. I know I'll forget."
One customer instructed the "fresh eggs and vegetable man" to deliver her orders to the drugstore where she could pick them up at her leisure.
New Orleans department stores (whose customers did not reside on their routes) delivered packages to the drugstore. It was not unusual to see lawnmowers, garden hoses, wash tubs and 8-foot pecan trees awaiting pickup by department store customers.
A woman once borrowed one of the drug store's "soda chairs" so she could sit outside the movie theater to wait for her children.
An elderly man came in one day requesting "Americated cotton" (he meant medicated) and rattlesnake bones to string around a baby's neck to ease "the teething."
A customer who planned her child's birthday party at a movie theater across the street from the drugstore asked Mr. Hebert to purchase the tickets and hold them for her. And to charge them to her account.
Mrs. M. called one day to complain about all the charges on her bill for toilet tissue. "I live alone and know there are 1,000 sheets on a roll and I could not possibly have used as much as I am charged for." Mr. Hebert adjusted the bill to her liking.
Pat Rittiner recalls her childhood in Abita Springs, so small that there was no high school there. She attended high school in Covington, where there was also a grocery called Hebert's. "When we'd forget our lunch money we'd walk to the grocery and borrow money from Miss Teen, Mr. Hebert's sister. After school we visited the grocery until our mother came to pick us up."
That's how small towns were.
Oliver Hebert died in 1968
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Hebert's Drugs History