Ann in KISMET, Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre, 1982

Monday, August 10, 2015


As a former English teacher and as an always lover of words, I've spent my adulthood learning and trying to know the etymology or origin of as many words as I could.  I can remember one of the earliest words that fascinated me was assassin.  During the Crusades, there was a sect of Shia Muslims who were sent out on suicidal missions to kill important enemies, especially Crusaders.  The Arabic word for these killers was ḥashshāshīn, which means a hashish user.  The assassins (Latin derivative) would get their courage from smoking hashīsh, thus the name.  Its first known use was about 1520. Interesting, huh?
Now, please don't think that I'm going to wrack my brain to think of every origin of every word I know.  I'm not.  There are just a few that I would like to call to your attention, because they  are very interesting, and they might come up the next time you play JEOPARDY!
In 1776, the Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan wrote his first play, The Rivals.  In it he created a character by the name of Mrs. Malaprop. This character used words that did not have the meaning she intended but the meaning of a similar-sounding word. For instance, at one point Mrs. Malaprop says, "illiterate him from your memory!"  [She means obliterate.] There are numerous examples, but you get the point.   In 1598, in Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare has a character do the same thing, but the character's name is Dogberry and his incorrect use of words was known as Dogberryisms. They also appear in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.  However, the word malapropism itself seems to have not been used until Lord Byron used it in 1814.

When I was in high school, my best friend and I, having learned about malapropisms, started using them as part of our high-school-code language.  Instead of saying we'd meet at a certain time and we, therefore, needed to synchronize our watches, we'd say, "Let's scrutinize our watches."  Now that I think about it, we weren't imitating Mrs. Malaprop, but the many characters played by the comedian Stan Laurel and the more contemporary Leo Gorcey as Slip Mahoney in The Bowery Boys. One of my favorite malapropisms that I still use today is I resemble that remark! instead of I resent that remark! However, my very favorite is in the Broadway musical, The Music Man.  Mayor Shinn looks at his wife and says, "Not one poop out of you, Madam!" Mrs. Shinn looks at the audience and says, "I think he means peep!"
A neologist is one who makes up or coins new words and uses them as part of his or her speech or writing.  Some of our U.S. presidents have been considered neologists.  George Washington was first to use the word administration.  John Adams is credited with using caucus and lengthy for the first time.  Theodore Roosevelt used muckraker and lunatic fringe for the first time.  President Harding was the first to use bloviation and normalcy.  Presidents George W. Bush and Thomas Jefferson are the leaders by sheer numbers in creating words.  President Bush coined words like misunderestimate and embitterment. But Jefferson is the leader in the number of first-used words and phrases like belittle and separation of church and state.  He is credited with creating more than one hundred words and phrases, which we still use today. Incidentally, my husband was the first I knew to use the expression moron fringe, referring to some of his students at Tulane University.

There have been many books written on the subject of the etymology of words and the countless  neologists who have first introduced certain words into our vocabulary.  Sadly, however, my name is not mentioned in even one volume!

I have been making up words all of my life.  When I was in high school, in addition to using malapropisms as I mentioned above, I made up a word which was to eventually become very famous and well known in the popular culture of the 60's.  Long before Hollywood came up with a certain word, I had a bad habit of calling my friends, brothers, and others who did things that I thought were sort of goofy, idgits for idiots. I knew my mother would not let me refer to anyone as an idiot, so I tried to hide the word in a nonsensical one.  It didn't work. After my mother severely criticized me for using a word that sounded too much like idiot,  I sought a new word to use that, to me and the recipients, meant the same thing.  I started with the consonants:  bidget, cridget, diget, figit, gidget. . .I liked the sound of gidget.  It could also mean a girl idgit which I had used a good deal. So, gidgit it was, and it became a very important part of my speech during my high school years in Bay St. Louis, MS, long before Sandra Dee became the personification of a small girl. And my classmates (the ones who are still speaking to me) and my relatives can attest to the fact that I used the word FIRST!

Continuing my career as an "accidental neologist," after I finished college and began teaching, I started again making up other words and expressions.  I knew, by this time, I couldn't use words that even rhymed with idiot, and now being educated and a little more sophisticated and living and teaching in South Louisiana, I came up with the best of my new words, a French-sounding word:  soie d'eau [pronounced swa do].  I used it to describe things, people, almost anything as the best, high class, top drawer, etc.  It became such a part of me that colleagues and students even started using it! If you were to translate the actual French, it would mean silk water.  That's not too bad.

Now, most of what I have written about myself here has been sort of tongue-in-cheek.  I would never get a lawyer and try to sue Hollywood for using my word gidget without my permission! And while everything I have said is the truth, I know where my humble self belongs, and it is not in the Journals of Etymology.

However, I close with my use of a perfectly good word that, as far as I know, I was the first to use in a particular situation!  In 1972-1973, I was in graduate school at Tulane University.  I had a part-time job at a public relations/advertising agency in downtown New Orleans.  My boss at the agency had just gotten a new client in Metairie. . .a bank.  This bank had something new: a drive-up window, the first in the Greater New Orleans Area.  We were sitting around trying to come up with a word or phrase that would differentiate between the hours of the drive-up teller and the inside teller. Everyone was throwing around words and terms.  All of a sudden, my mind went back to my sitting in movie theatres and hearing the song that, to me, was like the sirens that tempted Odysseus: Let's all go to the Lobby; Let's all go to the Lobby; Let's all go to the Lobby to get ourselves a treat!"  I suggested the word lobby, and that was it!  After that, I wrote reams of radio and TV copy, using "drive-up hours are such and such; lobby hours are so and so."  Every bank in the GNO that opened a drive-up window after that started using the word lobby to refer to the place where the inside tellers were.  And, as far as I know, everyone everywhere else followed suit.

Ah, my claim to fame!  However, my different use of the word lobby won't end up in a permanent record somewhere.  But, the next time you are sitting in the drive-up lane at the bank, look over toward the teller and see what the lobby hours are.  And remember me!  I know, and now YOU'LL  know and, to me, that's Soie D'Eau!


        Recently, I heard a news report that in New England some elementary schools have discontinued the game of dodge ball.  Those who support the ban feel that it is wrong to make children targets.  Even when a softer ball was suggested, this did not satisfy parents who did not want their children "in the line of fire" from the ball!  When I heard this, I was transported back many years to my elementary school days when I was THE main target in dodge ball.

       I guess I was an easy target because I was a plump child with bright red hair. And, as soon as I got hit, my face turned red as well. I have never had any athletic talent, and I was slow moving. The balls I threw never hit anyone; I was a terrible thrower. I've never jumped rope in my life, and the opposite actions in jumping jacks befuddle my brain as well as my coordination. In other words, I was the poster child for being picked on at recess and in physical education for my inability to be physical! And I never was chosen for teams during recess and, therefore, was always the last person chosen, if at all.  If my brothers were the leaders in choosing their sports teams, even they wouldn't choose Ann. And I don't blame them. In other words, I am what those parents in New England fear their children will become if they are the targets in dodge ball.  But what am I?

       I am a survivor!  As I have done in other facets of my life, I learned early on that I had to be in control of my own interaction with friends and foes.  I had to carve out a place for myself in the coordinated, physical fitness world in which I existed.  I couldn't change my prowess in games and sports, so I had to change something else -- my attitude.  I developed the attitude that not being chosen was preferable to me than being chosen.  I looked around and found the places where I could be valuable, such as score keeper, equipment manager, and even retainer-holder.  It's not cool to ignore or be mean to the girl who is holding your retainer in a Kleenex while you play softball!

       Over the years, I have worn my short-comings like a mantle and have gotten a good deal of mileage with them.  As team leaders looked my way when choosing their team, I'd give them the look and shake my head.  They'd move on to someone else, and I, being left over, assumed my role as retainer-holder, etc. Later as an adult, when people signed up to bring various foods to the pot luck luncheon or supper, I was always assigned the paper plates.  Ann didn't cook. Nobody wanted to eat anything I fixed! And I didn't blame them.

       When I was teaching at Slidell High School, my success as a non-accomplished person in some areas became very apparent to me.  Several of the women faculty members would get together and play Bridge.  I could play a little bit, but I never could remember what had been played because I was too busy talking to really pay attention.  When asked if I would join the group, I told them that nobody would want me to be their partner.  One of the ladies said, "Ann, you can be our entertainment and make us laugh.  Come on and join us." I realized then that I "had arrived." I was a terrible Bridge player, but I was still wanted!  And I was correct; nobody wanted me as a partner. . .that's not true.  There was one person who always wanted me as her partner.  Mary Ann Girod Collins was such a fabulous player; she could partner with a broom and win!  The only negative thing she ever said to me was, "We were underbid." Now, before you think that I am exaggerating my inability with the cards, we had table cloths with the symbols of the four suits all over them.  I was required to point to the symbol of the suit when I was bidding.  Now that's pitiful.  But, usually I was the dummy because Mary Ann usually got the bid.


       Now I know I am talented in several areas, and I really do not have any hang-up about some of my other abilities being sub-standard.  I'm comfortable with me and, like Popeye, I yam what I yam.   However, I really must share an experience I had when I was chosen for "a team." Because of my being involved as a faculty member in many of the extracurricular, after-school activities, I was able to get out of selling tickets at the football games and/or taking up tickets at the basketball games.  I was safe, until my behavior got me punished! 

       For several years, the faculty at Slidell High School chose sides on the Friday before the rival football game of Louisiana State University and the University of Mississippi.  I was on the Ole Miss side. . .not because I had any loyalty to that school (I had gone to the University of Southern Mississippi), but because I was from Mississippi.  While we did have Ole Miss and LSU graduates on the faculty, it really was a Louisiana vs. Mississippi thing. . . EXCEPT for our principal, L. V. McGinty.  Mr. Mac loved LSU.  He even had a recording of the Tiger Band playing their fight song.  He brought that out each year to play over our loud speaker system at the end of the school day on that Friday before the big game.  I was SO tired of hearing Go Fighting Tigers. . .  However, one Friday before the big game day, I walked through the main office.  It was empty, but there on a counter was THE record in the ready for the end of the day.  Of course, I had to do something, so I hid it under a stack of papers. 

       For the rest of the day, announcements were made asking anyone who might have accidentally taken a recording out of the office to please return it.  It got so bad that even my Mississippi buddies sent notes to my classroom to PLEASE RETURN MR. MAC’S RECORD! I caved and told somebody where it was, and I thought all was forgiven.  However, at the end of the school day, Mr. McGinty made all of the necessary announcements, including asking the football ticket seller team who would be on the gate that night at our high school game to meet in his office after school. Then, he read off the names (all of whom already knew they were on the team) and then he added, “And Miss Bryant!”  My goose was cooked.  I had an out-of-town trip planned to meet my family in Jackson, MS, and I had to leave that Friday night.  And then to add insult to injury, Mr. Mac, again, played that darn record as the last thing of the day!

       We all met in Mr. Mac’s office.  There weren’t enough chairs; I sat on the floor, in the corner, so nobody would see me.  The entire team was very organized with team leaders or captains assigned to various entrances to the stadium.  Mr. Mac started. . .”Captains, choose your teams!”  One of my Mississippi buddies, who was a captain and was one of the people for whom I had pinched the recording, looked around the room, tried to catch my eye, which I refused to let her do, and then she said those words I NEVER thought I would hear in my lifetime.  “I choose. . .Ann.” Not only was I chosen. . . I was the first one chosen!!!

       At the game that night, I complained so much about having to stand at the gate and wear that ugly carpenter’s apron with sections to put the collected tickets in, that I was moved to the ticket booth to actually sell the tickets.  I did fine until the Superintendent of Schools at St. Tammany Parish walked up to my booth to buy a ticket.  Somehow, I gave him the wrong amount of change!  Everyone, including the Superintendent, laughed, and I was promptly fired from the entire endeavor.  I left the game before it started and pulled out of Slidell that night, heading for Jackson.  And I was never again asked to have gate duty at any game.  And, I never stole Mr. Mac’s record again. . .only because I never could find it again!  But I DID learn an important lesson: being chosen isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be!!!



THOSE of you who remember Pontchartrain Beach, probably remember the rides, the smells of the food, and, perhaps, some of the acts that we got to see on the raised stage there.  I vaguely remember a few beauty contests (in bathing suits) on that same stage.  Over the years, several beautiful young women started their national careers as beauty queens crowned at Pontchartrain Beach in New Orleans.  Two come to mind.      

FIRST is Dorothy Dell Goff, Miss New Orleans, 1930, at age 15. After winning the Miss USA contest, as well as becoming Miss Universe, also in 1930, Ms. Goff changed her name to Dorothy Dell.  She appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies in New York and went to Hollywood in 1933. Paramount began to consider her as a potential star. Her most important and substantial role was in the Shirley Temple film Little Miss Marker. Dorothy Dell was killed in an automobile accident in California in 1934.  She is buried in Metairie Cemetery.                 

NEXT, appearing in the 1930 Miss New Orleans Contest with Dorothy Dell Goff was her good friend and classmate at Sophie B. Wright H. S. in New Orleans, Dorothy Lamour, who won the title of Miss New Orleans the next year, in 1931. This Dorothy became a big band singer and later a movie actress, known for wearing a sarong, very well!  She repeated this wardrobe often as she played in the Road movies with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.                                                                                                                                                

I OFFER this information to you, Dear Reader, so that you will have a little background in these early beauty contests in New Orleans.  A secondary reason is to make you aware how daring these bathing suit competitions were in the early 1930’s, with short skirts (knee-length) only begun to be worn in 1925.  This is the world my proper, modest aunt, Anne Leigh, entered when she signed up to be in the Miss New Orleans Competition of 1931. 

ANNE knew Dorothy Dell Goff, Miss New Orleans 1930.  They had worked together at Maison Blanche.  I don’t know if Dorothy Dell Goff had encouraged my aunt to enter the next year, or, by just knowing the previous winner, my aunt decided to do so.  This was a courageous decision.  I’m sure no one in her family encouraged her, least of all my grandmother!  I don’t know where she got the bathing suit, but according to her, it was very skimpy, as most were in those days – no padding, no stays.

MY AUNT’S telling of her experience was always tinged with a little guilt in even being in the contest.  She told me that she looked out into the audience and saw her brother and  younger sisters (my mother was one), and was embarrassed to be seen by them on stage in a bathing suit, not to mention the hundreds of others who were gawking at all the contestants.  Anne also described the way they paraded around, each contestant holding a card with her number on it.

ANNE’S number was six, or was it nine?  She never could remember. Whatever it was (she was very nervous, as well as being mollified at the entire experience) she accidentally turned her number upside down. Therefore, if her number was six, it now became a nine; if it was a nine, it now became a six.  Get the picture?                                                                                          MY AUNT ANNIE was always a wonderful story teller.  I have already related her experience at having gone to the casting call in New Orleans for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND, and I am certainly not casting any doubt on her factual telling of these stories.  However, one wonders. . .  As you might have guessed, the winner of the Miss New Orleans Contest, 1931 was announced. . .NUMBER SIX, or was it NUMBER NINE?  Well, according to my aunt, Dorothy Lamour, another contestant, might have turned her number (six or nine) to reflect the number announced, nevertheless, Dorothy  was crowned Miss New Orleans, 1931, and we all know what happened to her! 

MY AUNT never went into another bathing beauty contest.  She became a first grade teacher and was the first teacher at St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, LA.  She never married but had an interesting, full life.  These near-misses for fame and fortune were so fascinating to us as kids.  As I got older, I came to realize that, while these things happened if Anne said they did, she also had the ability to look at any situation with a twinkle in her eye, a great sense of humor, and as a teachable moment!    

I CLOSE with one last example of this wonderful woman’s wit, wisdom, strength, and faith. Aunt Anne was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and had to leave teaching and was completely bedridden with her limbs, as she put it, frozen.  One day I was visiting her and related a new treatment I had read about that was having some success in Florida. I suggested that we go to check it out.  She looked at me kindly and said, “ Honey, do you remember in the Bible when the people tried to get the crippled man to Jesus, but the crowds were so great that they couldn’t get in the door?” I nodded.  Then she continued, “So, his four friends took his cot up to the roof, removed some stones, and lowered him down to Jesus who healed him.” Again, I nodded.  “Well,” Aunt Anne sighed, “I don’t have four friends who are able to take me to Jesus!”

Whenever I left Aunt Anne, I would bend down to kiss her good-bye. She couldn’t put her arms around me to hug me good-bye. Instead, each time she would give me her same benediction:  “Pray for wisdom.”  Aunt Anne certainly had it (after her beauty pageant experience), and I have prayed for years to have it too.


Dorothy Dell             Dorothy Lamour       Anne Leigh


In addition to all of the political correctness we are subjected to daily, during these days we are also inundated with nutritional and environmental correctness!  While the former is getting too  much, I must admit that many of the scientific finds in our foods and environment seem to be for the greater good, and I am mostly glad to be made aware of them. 


However, I can’t help but remember how lackadaisical most Americans were when I was a kid.  While our mothers sterilized our bottles before they gave them to us and Lysoled the floors before we started crawling, there were some areas in which they fell short. . .only due to not being made aware. 


One of our favorite things to do as kids was to go to the drive-in movie.  We rummaged through pockets, sofa cushions, and looked everywhere for enough change to make up 35 cents. . .Mama’s cost to get in.  We kids were free.  We usually got to the drive-in before it was dark. With our help, Mama found a good parking spot.  Then, we’d start getting ready.  We put the speaker on the window.  Then, we would step outside for Mama to spray us with her pump sprayer containing. . .DDT, to keep away the mosquitoes.  I don’t remember eating or drinking at the drive-in, but I do remember being the one to go to the refreshment center to buy a mosquito coil.  We would put it on the dashboard and light it.  The smoke was supposed to permeate the car and drive away the mosquitoes. Many times one, two, or all three kids fell asleep during the movie, so the mosquitoes obviously didn’t keep us awake, or maybe by this time we were all drugged. 


Another memory which is vivid is the exciting sound of the mosquito truck in our neighborhood. We’d run outside in the dark, and run behind the truck, inhaling the mosquito spray. However, all three of us got bitten regularly and at some point the bites turned to Impetigo, which Mama treated with Gentian Violet.  It turned us all purple, but like the DDT, it didn’t kill us.  Neither did the mosquito spray, but I learned as an adult that the spray not only killed the mosquitoes, it also killed our lightening bugs.  The mosquitos came back; the lightening bugs did not! 


I remember also sitting in the car while the service station attendant pumped gasoline into our car.  We three inhaled that smell, which to us was pleasant. I don’t ever remember being chastised for doing these things.  These were innocent acts, not unlike my high school students who took pleasure in sniffing their handouts, tests, etc. that had just been mimeographed.  Remember? 


Although there wasn’t much fast food in those days, and I was an adult before I had a frozen dinner, I don’t remember hearing about dangerous foods, etc.  Except, every household had a big can of Crisco shortening.  And this was not added to cooking in teaspoonful amounts. . .how about a half cup or whole cups? 


I’m very happy to report that neither my brothers nor I developed any brain damage with all of those poisons we were exposed to.  And my brothers’ off-springs were perfect, beautiful babies who grew to be brilliant and talented adults. Do I need to emphasize how perfect the third generation is? They all, however, DO roll their eyes at me from time to time!?? 


After our father died, Mama went back to college full-time when we were 9, 8, and 5.  She had to go to class; she had to study.  While we lived in a controlled (sort of) college campus situation, we were on our own a good deal.  My aunt used to tell my mother that she (Mama) practiced HEALTHFUL NEGLECT.  Mama wasn’t insulted; she was sort of proud that she could trust us while she had to take time to get an education so that she could support us! One of her most memorable warnings was telling us to be home “by dark-thirty.” I never was sure if that meant thirty minutes before dark or after dark. But we usually got home at the time Mama wanted. I guess it’s like what the Bible says, Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6. 


During her last years, however, Mama did have some regrets as to things she did as far as we were concerned.  One thing she said was that if she could have a do-over, she would NEVER lift her hand in anger at us, and that meant switching. I think she was a grandmother when she told me that, and the thought of anyone spanking one of those darlings made her cringe. We didn’t get spanked much, but whatever we did to merit such treatment, we really deserved it!  Also, I think Mama had one other, big regret that she never voiced: using DDT, Gentian Violet on us, and letting us inhale Mosquito Coil smoke!!! 



OMG, Did you know that inhaling the smoke from one mosquito coil does the same damage to health and lungs as smoking 100 cigarettes?    http://www.hoaxorfact.com/Pure-Facts/one-mosquito-coil-equals-100-cigarettes.html 

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Most of you are already aware of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This original, unrevised legislation prevented states and municipalities from restricting voting rights of minority populations. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Act resulted in the mass enfranchisement of racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Act is considered to be the most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.

The following Southern states and jurisdictions were brought into coverage under the original formula contained within the unrevised Voting Rights Act: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia, and forty counties in North Carolina. Without the permission of the U. S. Department of Justice, none of the above could make any changes in voting dates, places or anything that would confuse voters. My late brother, Giles W. Bryant, who was an assistant attorney general of Mississippi, was the Mississippi official responsible for reporting to the Justice Department in the 1980’s and 1990’s on matters concerning the Voting Rights Act.

One summer in the 1990’s (I believe), Mississippi had a statewide election scheduled. Everything was ready when it was announced that there was a hurricane in the Gulf, and most of the experts were forecasting that it was headed for the eastern part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, i.e. Pascagoula, with storm conditions reaching as far west as New Orleans. The powers-that-be in Mississippi went into panic mode. Should they close all of the polls in Mississippi? Should they just close the ones on the Coast? How and when should the election be rescheduled? There was to be a meeting in the governor’s office with my brother assigned to make the call to the Justice Department. Before the meeting, my brother called our mother and me here in New Orleans. I gave him an up-to-date weather report. He told us about the election problem. All of a sudden, Nash Roberts came on TV. I turned the sound up so that we all, including my brother, could hear his forecast. Nash The Flash, with his marker, drew the trajectory of the storm, according to his calculations. It bypassed Mississippi and, according to Nash, was going to make landfall on the Gulf side of the panhandle of Florida.

A little later my brother attended the meeting in the governor’s office and reported to all in attendance that Nash Roberts had said that the storm would not affect Mississippi but was headed for Florida. All of the officials from the Coast nodded and looked relieved. Then they all had to convince the others in the room (not from the Coast) that if Nash said it, that was how it was going to be. Then, my brother called the Justice Department and told them that Mississippi was going ahead with her elections, and there would be no interruptions. The Justice Department didn’t seem to understand how Mississippi knew, but they were o.k. with it. Not one person in that room, who had lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and who had watched Nash Roberts during hurricane season, had any doubt. And the storm did exactly what Nash Roberts said it was going to do!


Tuesday, August 4, 2015



FOR MOST of my life, I thought everyone had interesting family members who from time to time were involved in some weird, familial situations. Everyone I knew seemed to have someone in their family who was a little off-center. And as I grew older and more educated, and as my world expanded, I learned that Southerners had certain reputations, thanks to authors like William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Pat Conway.   When I first started teaching English at Slidell High School, across the hall was the fabulous senior English teacher, Jean Davis. I can remember this Mississippi-Delta-Educated Southern Belle referring to the famous Faulkner as thatdamnbillfaulkner, as if it was one word.  Also, I can remember her saying,  "Thatdamnbillfaulkner. . .hanging our dirty linen out on the clothesline for everyone to see!"  You can understand where Mrs. Davis put the blame for the reputation that Southerners and, particularly, Mississippians had!

MY NEW-YORK-BORN husband used to love to quote to Southern-me what he heard was attributed to writer Pat Conway: "My mother, Southern to the bone, once told me, 'All Southern literature can be summed up in these words: On the night the hogs ate Willie, Mama died when she heard what Daddy did to sister.' "  Over the years, I sort of changed it to. . .Mama was never the same after she heard what Papa had done to Sister and the night the hogs ate Willie!  Conway's mother's quote left out an important part of Southern literature:  insanity.  I had to insert it!

SO, THIS is the background of my current post, Alphonse's Tomb.  Alphonse was my mother's first cousin, the oldest child of my Grandmother's youngest sibling, Jessie. My great Aunt Jessie was more than a little off-center, and she was a perplexing woman.  She was as unlike her sister, Emily, my grandmother, as anyone could be.  My grandmother loved her sister, but was aware of the realities of Jessie and her peculiar ways.

EMILY and Jessie were the two youngest of fourteen children.  After the death of their father, it was just the three of them at home:  great grandmother, Emily, and Jessie.  Jessie was a couple of years younger than Emily and realized in the early 1900's that if Emily married, Jessie would have to be the one to take care of their mother.  So, "she upped and married the first man to come along," before my grandmother could.  My grandmother married my grandfather in 1906 because, as my grandmother told me, "he was a gentleman, he had a diamond stick pin, and he promised to always take care of my mother." He did until her death in 1922.

ANYHOW, Jessie had three children in a hurry, with Alphonse being the oldest.  Aunt Jessie divorced him soon after the third child's birth.  Divorce in the early 1900's?  Shocking!

I SHALL NOT go into the many stories told about Aunt Jessie and her antics of trying to survive as a single mother in the early part of the 20th century.  Let's just say the scene in Victor/Victoria in the restaurant with a hungry Julie Andrews was already very familiar to me when I saw the movie for the first time!  And, not all landlords or managers of apartments are the ones to be afraid of.  A lone woman with children, living in a flat or apartment, but who is unable to pay back or current rent can be a scary thing. Nothing really happened, but the landlord brushed a little close to Aunt Jessie's skirt, and she screamed as if something terrible had happened!  Get it? She moved out immediately, paying nothing!

HOWEVER, finally Aunt Jessie married Uncle Will.  He helped her raise her children, and from our perspective, they had a good marriage for many, many years. Aunt Jessie loved to travel and they did, all over the US.  Life was perfect.  Or was it? More about her travels later.

DURING the Depression, everyone had a hard time.  My family had moved from Mississippi to a small Louisiana town near the state line for free text books for the younger children still in school.  Later, they moved to New Orleans for Granddaddy and the older kids to get jobs.  Everyone's pay went into the family coffers.  They made it, by the hardest, during the Depression.  Grandmother's nephew, Alphonse, came to New Orleans to see if he could get a job.  He stayed with his aunt's family.

ALPHONSE tried his hand at shining shoes.  My grandmother even cut up her flannel nightgown into shoe shining rags for him to use for his work.  He tried to sell papers.  He just couldn't make it.  He left New Orleans and went back to where his mother and step-father lived in Arkansas.

IT WAS there he asked his mother, Aunt Jessie, for some money.  That's all I was ever told.  She refused him, and he shot himself in her home.  Suicide!  That was worse than divorce!  Aunt Jessie was never the same. She spent the rest of her life trying to deal with the fact that Alphonse had killed himself because she wouldn't give him money.
THE FIRST thing Aunt Jessie did was to bring his body back to Marion County, Mississippi, for burial.  One thing that always stuck with Alphonse during his time in New Orleans was the above-ground burials.  He had told his mother that he did not want to be buried in the ground but in a tomb like in New Orleans.  So, Aunt Jessie moved heaven and earth to fulfill this request, and in Columbia, MS, that was not easy. 

FIRST, the City Fathers of Columbia refused to let Aunt Jessie build an above-ground tomb in the Columbia City Cemetery.  She kept after them.  They kept refusing.  She kept after them.  Finally, they admitted that they owned some farm land outside the city limits, just in case they needed to expand the City Cemetery.  They finally gave Aunt Jessie permission to build a tomb there. . .waaay outside of town. And she did.  However, it was soon obvious that the Mississippi workmen who built it had never been to New Orleans!  It had to be one of the ugliest structures ever built.  It was made out of concrete blocks, covered with white stucco.  It was absolutely square with a flat roof.  I'll try to find a picture to post here so that you, Dear Readers, can see how ugly it was.  But it got worse.

REALISING how ugly it was, Aunt Jessie, found two huge, white kneeling angels.  I don't know where she found them, but she did, and she had them placed on the flat roof.  They overwhelmed the structure.  There was one door in the front of the box. It had a door knob, lock, and one small square window. It was a glaring white box in the middle of acres of a green Mississippi field, and it remained that way for years. There were no other graves there.  My aunt Jessie had bought several plots (about twenty) when she bought the land for Alphonse's tomb.  My grandmother bought another twenty. Later, some of their other nephews bought some plots nearby.  But, thankfully, they were not used for another ten or fifteen years or so.  And here is where I entered the picture.

AUNT JESSIE and Uncle Will would go to Columbia once a year from Arkansas for Aunt Jessie to sweep out the tomb and dust Alphonse's casket.  My grandmother would meet her in Columbia from her homes in New Orleans or Gulfport, MS.  They would all take rooms at a local boarding house in one of those beautiful Victorian homes. My Aunt Mary would drive her.  Sometimes, they would take me.  I must have been about four or five for my first trip, because I remember it all very well.

SOMEWHERE, there is a picture of me, sitting in a field making clover necklaces with Alphonse's Tomb in the background. . .as far away as I could get from it.  I can still see my grandmother, my aunt, and my great aunt with their heads covered with cloths to protect their hair from the dust and dirt.  My aunt Jessie had the key to the tomb. She'd open the door, and they'd walk in and start cleaning.  I kept moving away to another clover patch.  I promise you, I never went inside that tomb.  I've never even looked through the window of the door.
WHEN she wasn't coming to Mississippi to clean Alphonse's Tomb, Aunt Jessie was dragging Uncle Will with her all over the US to attend séances to try to communicate with Alphonse.  They attended mass séances in a place called Chesterfield, Indiana.  She dabbled in rose rubbing. . .not painting roses, but rubbing rose petals on a blotter to see what image from beyond would be produced.  This woman had grown up in a very religious, Christian family, but her pain was so great that she sought relief from the weirdest elements.  Most of what I learned I got from overhearing whispered remarks by my aunts and grandmother.  But even at my young age, I felt very sorry for Aunt Jessie and what she must have been through. Today, I can't even begin to put myself in her place and who knows what I would have done if given her trials and in a time when there wasn't much for women except marriage and motherhood.
TIMES CHANGE. I never thought I'd miss the white stucco, but I do.  Before she died, Aunt Jessie had the tomb covered in ugly, yellowish brick. Today, it is beyond ugly! (See picture below)  If I ever win the lottery, I might have it repainted white, and maybe add a roof to it to give it some presence.  But, since I never play the lottery, it’s not going to happen.
OVER the years, more family members died.  Aunt Jessie, Uncle Will, and Alphonse's two siblings and their mates are all inside of Alphonse's Tomb.  The once empty field is now a beautiful cemetery with hundreds of in-ground graves.  There are still no above-ground tombs in Columbia or Marion County except for Alphonse's Tomb.

MY GRANDFATHER, grandmother, aunts, uncle, my mother, and my husband are all buried in the ground within steps of Alphonse's Tomb.  Someday, I'll be buried there, between my husband and my mother. (At least it will be easy to find my grave should you want to visit; just ask anybody where the above-ground tomb is.) No one shows up now to open the tomb or to sweep it out and dust the caskets.  When my aunts were still alive, there was talk about making Alphonse's Tomb into a small chapel (and naming it Leigh Chapel but Aunt Jessie wasn't a Leigh) and interring all of the caskets in some of the twenty plots Aunt Jessie owned.  Nothing ever came of that.  There are still many plots there that my family owns.  I once asked my grandmother why she bought so many plots.  Her answer?  I love a crowd!

MY FRIEND and colleague, who was another of the fabulous English teachers at Slidell High, has always suggested that I write a play or some other work of Southern literature and entitle it Alphonse's Tomb. She has a southern, gothic novel in mind.  Perhaps, this is my first step in doing so.


    Alphonse’s Tomb in Woodlawn Cemetery; Columbia, MS.