Ann in KISMET, Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre, 1982

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The beginning of June always reminds me of the birthdays of three of my mother’s siblings: my Uncle Robert, my Aunt Anne, and my Aunt Dolly. As a child, I was fascinated that a brother and two sisters could have birthdays so close to each other, June 2, 4, and 5.  As an adult, I didn’t want to know what happened nine months before each of their births!

This posting is about my Aunt Doll, or Hattie Roberta Leigh, which was her legal name. She was the fourth child born to Enos and Emily Leigh [the third, Enos Wilkes Leigh, died in infancy.] I was told that, right from birth, Doll had some physical abnormalities. On the back of a picture of her as a precious little baby, my grandmother had written, “Look at her fingers.” Doll’s ten fingers were all bent slightly at the knuckles. As she grew to adulthood, her fingers were long and slender and the angle of the fingers took on a more pronounced look. My mother also told me that as a child, Doll was “diagnosed” by doctors as being “pigeon-breasted” or as having pectus carinatum, but she never seemed to develop the problems connected to this abnormality.

Doll didn’t finish regular high school. At first, she was put in classes that were much too hard and advanced for her IQ level. She struggled to keep up, but was unable to do the work. Later, she transferred to a vocational type high school where she did much better. But she didn’t need a vocation, as she never had a job and always lived with her mother and father, and later her sisters. After my grandfather died, and as the others got  older, they all lived together – my grandmother and three aunts. I can remember my bed-ridden grandmother reading or writing a post card in bed or even taking a nap and Doll calling out, “Mama?  Mama?  Are you alright, Mama?” I’ll bet Doll asked my grandmother that same question twenty-five times a day, a.m. and p.m. for more than forty years.

Perhaps in another family, Doll’s short-comings in intelligence would not have been so evident, but she was a member of a family of children who were all very intelligent and who all became university/college educated. In fact, with the exception of Doll, all attended Tulane University and all graduated from what is now the University of Southern Mississippi. [There were five out of six children who obtained six degrees from USM. My mother and father met at Southern. My two brothers and I also earned undergraduate degrees from USM.] Growing up, I didn’t realize that not everybody’s parents and relatives did not go to college. Often, I was in groups of friends who were the first in their families to attend college. It was part of our heritage that we would leave the 12th grade and go straight to college. And we did.

Yet, as kids, our best friend and playmate was our Aunt Doll. Even with her finger abnormality, she was the best jacks player I had ever seen. She could swoop up ten jacks before that ball hit. She was also very good at pick-up-sticks. She loved the game of “Old Maid,” and got a kick out of getting the “Old Maid” card. She was very good at embroidery, and did a great deal of it. She was also very good at coloring in color books.

Doll called me her “prayer baby.” She said that when my mother “was expecting me,” everyone thought I was going to be a boy. Doll said she prayed for a girl with brown eyes and red hair. [Doll was the only member of my mother’s family with brown eyes. All had blue or green eyes.] Well, I was born: a girl with brown eyes and red hair. Her prayers were answered. She also loved the fact that she and I were the only members of the family who were born in Louisiana. I was born in New Orleans, and she was born in Varnado, Louisiana.

As an adult, Doll became an adolescent diabetic. She was unable to give herself her insulin shots, so my Aunt Mary did that. She must have been in her 30’s when she became diabetic, and she lived to be in her seventies. However, she “hollered” every morning when she received her shot. Obviously, she never got used to that part of her malady in over forty years. But whenever the family went on a car trip, across town or across state, Doll was ready. She always carried several bananas, something to embroider, her hoop, needles, and thread. She had her white handkerchief and always a hat. She was prepared for a long journey even if it was just a short trip to the cemetery.

The Leigh Family loved music and passed that love on to their children, nieces/nephews, and grandchildren.  One of Doll's favorite songs was "Hello, Dolly."  I even had that song played at her funeral as her casket was rolled into the small chapel.  Everyone present smiled and lost some of their  grief.  Additionally, all of my grandmother and grandfather's  children could play the  piano, and Doll was no exception. Her specialty was “The Lord’s Prayer.” I was always so amazed that she, and all of her siblings, could play with two hands. I am pretty much a one-finger player, and that’s with two+ years of lessons.

It was hard to grow up and leave Doll as our playmate. However, I am sure it was harder on her. She was a very faithful correspondent when I was in college. She would write a post card or letter almost every day. Her cards and notes almost always covered the same information every time, as her life didn’t change much. She would write about what she had eaten for lunch. She would tell me about seeing her “stories.” [SEARCH FOR TOMORROW was her favorite.] If my Aunt Mary took her for a ride, she would tell me about that. But the rides were usually to the cemetery or some other place where she would not have to get out and be around crowds. Lots of people made her nervous. She played “The Lord’s Prayer” on the piano every day, and she would tell me about it. And she always signed her cards and letters “Miss Hattie R. ‘Dolly’ Leigh.”

Doll tried to work around the house a little. There were some things she was not allowed to do like cooking, washing knives, and handling strong cleansers. But she could make beds and fold clothes. There was a “gentle” story about Doll that was often told when you went to spend night at my grandmother's house.  The story was that if you got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, by the time you got back to bed, Doll would have made up your bed!

Doll was so sweet and much loved by her nieces and nephews. As kids, we were never bored when we were with her. As adults, we tried to make her life happy and full. I gave her many beautiful stuffed animals. She loved them as she had loved us. She would talk to them and have them watch her stories with her. After she died, my Aunt Mary and I packed up her stuffed animals to give away to organizations that share items like that with children in need. However, there were some animals we could not give away because there was dried food on some of the mouths. Doll had tried to feed them. I still weep when I think about my Aunt Doll trying to feed her stuffed animals.

I miss Doll. I can’t wait to see and be with her in Heaven, but I hope she’ll have time for me now that she is perfect and whole. Often I’ll hear or see something that reminds me of Doll, and it takes me back immediately to my youth. I am fortunate to have some of her embroidery work, and I feel very special and very loved when I sleep on the white pillow case she embroidered in red with H.R.L. for Hattie Roberta Leigh. When I sleep on that case, it’s as if Doll is asking me, Are you alright, Ann? Are you alright, My Prayer Baby?

Happy Birthday, June 2nd, Annie.

Happy Birthday, June 4th, Robert.

Happy Birthday, June 5th, Dolly.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why Wheeler Bryant Had A Black Ring Around His Little Finger

This story was told to me (Wheeler Bryant's granddaughter) by the child of one of his half-sisters. My great grandfather, Duncan L. Bryant, had two families: several children by his first wife, Mary Hammond, and three children by his second wife, my great grandmother Frances Wheeler. He built two houses across the road from each other. The older children of the deceased Mary in one; he, Frances, and children (including Wheeler) in the other, with a great deal of traveling back and forth.

It seems that when my Grandfather Wheeler Bryant was a youngster, one day he was outside playing with a little hachet, and he accidentally chopped off the first digit of his little finger, left I believe. He and his playmates were closer to his half-siblings' home so they ran there with digit in tow. One of his half sisters administered to him. She applied soot from the fireplace, placed the digit back in its original place, and wrapped the whole thing with spider webs. It stayed that way until the webs fell off and, by then, the digit was re-attached. However, from that day until his death (in 1965), he had a thin black ring around his finger between the first and second digit of that finger, the site of the re-attachment. However, Granddaddy always wore a signet ring on that finger, so I never noticed the "black  ring" around his finger. Just Remember: I don't make these things up; I just report them!

Friday, May 6, 2011


     For most of my life, I have heard the stories that through the Bryant Line of my heritage, I had a great, great, great grandmother who was "an Indian Princess."  Notice I write "Indian Princess" and not "Indian Squaw" or "Average Indian Tribal Citizen."  If there is one thing I have learned through doing genealogical research, it is that hardly anybody is ever related to anybody "average."  We all seem to have been descended from lords and ladies and even kings and queens.  And this is most certainly the case in the Leigh Line of my heritage . . . is the King of Scotland of 1005 royal enough?  Well, back to  the Bryants. For most of my life, I would point to my high cheekbones and say with confidence, " It seems that my great great great Bryant grandfather married an Indian Princess."  In retrospect, I think I got a good deal of social mileage out of that information, if not the financial opportunity to the largesse of legalized gambling!

     Well,  as I really got into the research of this side of my family, I learned the truth.  My cheekbones must have looked high due to my fluctuating weight. . . So far, NO Native Americans  in my Bryant background.  As the newscaster Paul Harvey used to say, "And here is the rest of the story."

     In 1830, the U.S. entered into a treaty with the Choctaw Nation, trading 11 million acres (in now Mississippi) for 15 million acres of Indian lands (in what is now Oklahoma).  This treaty, which became known as The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, opened up the Territory of Mississippi to hundreds of white settlers, many from Virginia and the Carolinas.  Both sides of my family came to Mississippi prior to and as a result of the Treaty from "The Delta" to south Mississippi and some on to Alabama and then back to Mississippi.

     My ancestor, Lewis Bryant, emigrated from England to America in 1773 at the age of 22.  He arrived  in Virginia and eventually ended up in South Carolina.  He married and had a son, John Lewis Bryant.  I am still trying to find  John Lewis' birthdate, but I do know he married Cynthia Peacock in Charleston,  South Carolina, in 1810.  He and Cynthia had several children, the youngest of whom was born in 1822.

     It seems that the John Lewis Bryants made the journey from South Carolina to Mississippi escourting family members as well as others to the newly-opened territory before the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.  In 1822, John Lewis (an Indian Agent) and his  family went to Covington County, MS where he obviously encountered some Indians he couldn't convince as to his peaceful nature, and he was attacked by the Indians who kicked him and "jumped on him" until he was rescued by other travelers.  However, it was too late; John Lewis died of his injuries, and he was buried on the the bank of the Tallahala Creek near what is now Runnelstown, MS.   Another traveler, Charles Phillips, lost his wife on the journey to S. Mississippi.  He and Cynthia eventually married each other and ended up in Covington County, MS with three additional daughters of their own.

     Family lore has it that Cynthia Peacock Bryant Phillips began tending to the sick and downtrodden Choctaw Indians in the Mississippi Territory.  She became so well loved and well known that the Choctaws gave her a Choctaw name.  Some family oral reports claim that she was even present at the signing of the Treaty of Rabbit Creek and is mentioned in the Treaty, which is part of the archives of the United States and Mississippi. 

     Thus is the basis of the story of our having an Indian Princess in our family. Our kinswoman, Cynthia, was made an honorary "Indian Princess."  Cynthia Peacock's father, Levi Peacock,  was born in the Rhine River Valley in Germany, and emigrated to South Carolina in America before American Independence.  His daughter, Cynthia Serisitta Peacock, was born in Orangeburg, S.C. in 1783.

     Cynthia Peacock Bryant Phillips died in 1876 and is buried in Sanford (Covington County), MS in  the Jesse Bryant Cemetery.  Her grave is marked.  Her second husband, Charles Phillips, is buried on the banks of Covington County's Bowie Creek in an unmarked grave "and is abandoned to civilization" as a kinsman wrote.  So, I guess we Bryants are not related to Native Americans. So much for Native American cheekbones.  Jetzt finde ich heraus!

     However, my mother used to  tell me that my paternal grandmother, as she was dying of cancer in 1944 (before my birth), had her hair in two long braids, and her face was thin with chiseled cheeks.  This grandmother was Nettie Belle Giles Bryant.  Mama said with her hair in the braids and her big brown eyes, my grandmother looked just like an "Indian Princess"!  Here I go again -- this time I have to look for my Native American roots in the Giles Family!!!

Saturday, April 30, 2011


In early November of 1943, my mother, Frances Marie Leigh, left New Orleans on the Southern Limited for California to meet her future husband and my father, Lt. Giles Wheeler Bryant, USMCR in San Diego to get married. From her accounts, the trip to the West Coast was like a scene from a delightful WWII movie with various travelers getting together to talk, joke, and become instant friends on the way west. My mother was a member of one such group, all of whom were going to California. They introduced themselves and each quickly had a new nickname: "Mississippi" from the serviceman from Mississippi; "Alabama" for the person from that state; Mama was "Louisiana." What each was going to had to do with what was going on in the world: one lady was going to see her husband stationed in California; several men and a couple of WACS were going to join their outfits in California; Mama was going to be married before my father was shipped out; one young man was going to his first chaplaincy assignment at one of the camps, bases in California. His name was Marvin Franklin, Jr. His father, Rev. Marvin Franklin, Sr., my Southern Baptist mother found out, was a Methodist Bishop.

When they arrived in California, Los Angeles I think, they all reluctantly said good-bye and went their separate ways. Mama boarded another train for San Diego where she hoped my future father would be  waiting for her. He was there.

Daddy told Mama they were to married in the Chapel at Camp Elliot the next day. A Lady Marine was going to play the organ (Shubert's Serenade, the music Mama was playing on the piano when Daddy came to pick her up for their first date. Note: Mama's children and grandchildren had the same music played at Mama's funeral.), so-and-so would be his bestman and that gentleman's wife would be my mother's only attendant. Oh, and the officer officiating at the wedding was a brand new Methodist chaplain and their wedding was to be his first! My mother turned to my father and asked innocently, "It's not Marvin Franklin, Jr., is it?" My father was stunned. He was marrying my mother right out of two years of nurses' training and always felt she was a bit "away from the world." He finally was able to speak and admitted that, yes, Chaplain Marvin Franklin, Jr. was to preside at the wedding. Mama just smiled, knowingly.

The wedding was held the next day. Mama said the only two people she knew at the wedding were my father and the "preacher."  I believe Marvin Franklin, Jr., like his father, eventually became a Methodist Bishop, of Mississippi. My father died of a service-connected death in 1952. Mama never remarried, and she died several months after Hurricane Katrina in June, 2006. She and Daddy had three children, of whom I am the oldest. As we were very young when Daddy died, he never knew how we turned out. Mama raised us by herself. We became lawyers and a university professor/administrator. I think Daddy would have been very proud of us as adults. And, perhaps, Rev. Marvin Franklin, Jr. would have been proud that his "first wedding" turned out pretty well.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Because of his deafness, my maternal grandfather was not a one-on-one grandparent. I knew him to be a gentle, kind man, but we had little to say to each other because he could not hear me. However, according to my mother, his youngest child, Granddaddy Leigh was very much of a hands-on father when she was growing up. Even then he was gentle and kind. He had been a bookkeeper who lost his job, pre-depression, because of his hearing loss, so he took several jobs beneath his education and intelligence to support his family.
My mother told me that there were only two times that she ever saw her father weep, and they were both during World War II. One was when he was trying to listen to the old radio in the parlor the night that Paris fell to the Nazis. None of them could believe that beautiful Paris had fallen. Somber orchestral music played after the announcement, interspersed with the popular song, “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” which became like a dirge given the circumstances.

The other was when he and my mother went to the movies and he saw the newsreels from London, showing the children of that ravaged city being separated from their parents when they were being sent to the English countryside for safety. My grandfather had left his mother and family in Granada, Mississippi, to go to Bowling Green College in Kentucky when he was a very young man. While he was in school, his mother died, and he never returned home. It seems that J. Lane Leigh, my great grandfather, remarried very soon after my great grandmother, Antoinette Crowder Leigh, died. In fact, family lore has it that my great grandfather had several marriages before he himself died, or as it was actually said, “He made a habit of marrying the only daughter of doctors!”

My grandfather moved from the Mississippi Delta to south Mississippi, met my grandmother, married and fathered seven children. Thankfully, his kindness and sensitivity were passed on to his children, to his grandchildren, and, hopefully, to his other descendants.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Light In The Darkness

     As a child, when I visited my grandmother, Emily Roberta Wilkes Leigh, in S. Mississippi during the summers, it was usually too hot to get to sleep easily. With the rhythmic sound of the fan as it oscillated back and forth (or later the comforting "roar" of the attic fan), my Mamo would tell me wonderful stories about when she was a girl or something about her family that she had been told, and before I knew it, I was asleep. I heard these stories over and over and never grew tired of hearing them. Here follows one story that my grandmother told me. After doing a good deal of ancestor research, I have come to believe that it is about her uncle -- her mother's (Mary Humphrey Barnes) brother, Jacob Pope Barnes. I'll give my reasoning at the end of the story.

    It seems that the hero of our story was living and farming in Marion County, Mississippi. He was unmarried and had been "keeping company" with a young lady in the county. Jacob (assuming that this is about him) and his family had been living and working in Marion County, Mississippi ever since his ancestors had arrived there from North Carolina a generation or so before. He kept hearing interesting rumors about land ownership in the new state of Texas (joined the Union in 1845), so for whatever reason, he made up his mind he would go west to Texas. He asked his young lady to marry him and go with him, but she was not the adventurous type and didn't want to leave her parents to go to unknown territory.

     He put together his few clothes, Bible, gun, a few tools, and made his farewells. After saying good bye to his family, he rode his old mule to the home of his sweetheart to say good bye to her and her family. She had not changed her mind; she didn't want to go to Texas. They parted and her father, in the spirit of Christian friendship and concern for this young man, traded Jacob a younger, stronger mule for the old one he had been riding. With his heart broken, Jacob and the mule set off at dusk for Texas. They rode a good way through the wooded areas of S. Mississippi, headed toward Louisiana and on to Texas. Jacob dozed, perhaps dreaming of his sweetheart, and let the mule continue on.

     Jacob must have slept for a couple of hours as it was pitch black when he awoke. The mule was still plodding along when, all of a sudden he stopped. No prodding could get him to move on. Jacob did everything he knew to do to get him to start moving again. Finally, Jacob saw a pin-prick of a light ahead of him. He got off the mule and walked toward the light, maybe a camp fire. He couldn’t tell what kind of light it was. As he got closer, he was relieved that it was coming from a cabin which seemed to be occupied. Jacob thought that, maybe, he would find a kind family who would allow him to sleep in their barn for the rest of the night so that he (and the mule) could get a fresh start in the morning. He knocked on the cabin door. A man answered. Jacob started to introduce himself, when he realized that the man looked very familiar. Then he saw his sweetheart walk up behind the man. It was then that he recognized the cabin and the members of his sweetheart’s family. He was back at his sweetheart's home. It was a few minutes before he and the family realized what had happened. The mule had walked in a circle and had gone back to "his home." Jacob had slept through the entire circuitous journey. They were back where they started.

     I’m sorry to report that Jacob’s departure and then re-appearance did not change his sweetheart’s mind about leaving her parents. I was told that the next morning, Jacob and the mule set out again for Texas, again alone. Each time I was told the story, I hoped for a different ending. But it was not to be. Man and mule finally got there. Jacob eventually married another, raised a family, and died at the age of 44 on February 1, 1877. And, as my Aunt Anne E. Leigh, my other story teller, used to tell me, "No one knows what happened to the mule"!
Note: I have attributed this story to Jacob Pope Barnes as he seems to have been the only member of my family who went to Texas from Mississippi before the middle of the 20th Century!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


     As the oldest grandchild of Enos and Emily Leigh, I suppose I have become the unofficial archivist of this branch of The Family.  The Leighs, like almost all Southern families, have always been story-tellers and as the oldest, I seemed to be the chosen recipient of many of these familial sagas.  Some of these stories have been told and retold and are well known family lore.  However, I suspect there are some incidents in the life of The Leigh Family that have never been heard by my generation, except by me.  Here follows such an account.
      This story was told to me by my Aunt Mary Leigh, the oldest child of the seven born to Enos and Emily.  This incident happened when the family consisted of just my grandparents, Mary, her sister Annie, and another sister, Hattie or Dolly.  It was a summer day in southern Mississippi. . .in fact, it was a summer Sunday.
     Early that day, The Leighs had dressed for church, hitched the horse to the two-seater wagon, and driven down the dusty, unpaved red clay road to the Baptist Church for services.  After a nice morning of singing, praying, hearing The Word, and spending some time with relatives and friends, Enos and Emily ushered The Family back to the wagon.  Enos had on his good suit, with cravat and stickpin.  Emily had on her Sunday finery with hat, as was de rigueur during that time period.  They sat on the front bench of the wagon.  Mary and Annie sat on the back bench.  Mary begged her mother that she be allowed to hold the baby, Dolly.  Emily gave in with all the cautions usually associated with the transfer of an infant to a child.
     They drove home in the heat of noon-day, probably with the chatter of the two older girls almost masking the sounds of the horse’s hoofs on the red clay road.  They were probably thinking about the fried chicken, corn bread, vegetables from the garden, and cold buttermilk they would have for Sunday Dinner. They came to the shallow stream that crossed the road, and Granddaddy slowed down as he had earlier that morning so that the water would not splash on their Sunday clothes.  The horse stepped into the water, probably happy to wet his hooves, and walked cautiously toward the road on the other side. 
     My Aunt Mary said that before anyone knew what was going on, my grandmother fell off the wagon seat into the water of the stream.  I report “fell,” but the actual words my aunt used were “flung herself off the wagon seat.”  Aunt Mary said she was never so afraid in her life.  However, she held on to Baby Dolly as she started screaming and crying that her mother was dead!
     My grandfather did not even get out of the wagon.  My grandmother stood up from the shallow water, probably squeezed out some of the water from her long dress, and I'm sure she didn't remove her hat as she never was outdoors without a hat.  She climbed back into the wagon, and my grandfather indicated for the horse to continue the journey.  Aunt Mary said as far as she remembered, no one said a word during the remainder of the trip home.  In fact, she said that she never asked her mother or father about the incident in the many years they were together as adults.  Of course, this seems inconceivable to me, but Mary was always the dutiful daughter who shared a birthday (December 6th) with her mother and never questioned her.  My grandmother lived to be ninety-six and her oldest child, Mary, lived to be ninety-five.
     Mary told me that from the day of the water incident with her mother, she was always terrified of water and, therefore, never learned to swim and never went boating.  She must not have been that afraid of water as she used to take my brothers and me crabbing in the Gulf of Mexico when we were kids.  But on the other hand, we did stand and work on the broken concrete jetty while we gathered our crabs. . .
     Aunt Mary told me that she didn’t have an idea why my grandmother would “fling herself into the water” that day.  As a youngster I imagined that she and my grandfather were “having words,” and Mamo just ended the discussion by going into the brink.  Later, as I became a moody teen-ager, I thought maybe she had “a tantrum,” and just fell off.  However, as an adult I came to the conclusion that (A) she was playing a trick on those in the wagon [not funny, Mamo] or most probably (B) she was hot and needed to cool off.  I now vote for both reasons as I remember other things I was told over the years.
     My grandmother had a saying that used to convulse my brothers and me:  “Don’t go near the water ‘til you learn how to swim.”  Of course, this begs the question:  how can we learn to swim if we don’t go near the water?  She would laugh but repeated her mantra often.
     There were additional stunts I was told about by my mother and aunts, and I even witnessed one such incident myself.  For many years my grandparents and aunts lived in Gulfport, Mississippi, near the Gulf of Mexico.  My brothers and I used to visit them and later we too moved to Bay St. Louis and then Gulfport, Mississippi.  Often, we would go to the beach to play in the sand and the water. . .I guess that’s when we would hear the “Don’t go near the water. . .” from our grandmother.  However, sometimes she would take off her shoes and stockings and she would walk in the sand and sometimes to the water’s edge and wade in the Gulf water, no higher than her ankles.  She seemed to enjoy it, and once I saw her plop right down on the soft, mushy sand, right in the shallow water.  We all ran to her and she smiled with a twinkle in her eyes, exclaiming, “Oh, my goodness; look what I did! Well, since I’m already wet, I might as well stay here in the water.”  I couldn’t believe it.  My grandmother couldn’t swim, but she was “in the water.”  She never owned a bathing costume; she never wore slacks.  She was always in dresses and whenever she went outside, she always had on a hat of some kind.  [Now that I picture her in the water, I remember she was wearing a hat then too.]
     That’s why I have come to the conclusion of why my grandmother flung herself off the wagon.  She was hot and wanted to cool off, and I suspect she had done the same thing often as a girl in south Mississippi – too proper to actually own a swimming costume and too modest to swim in anything less.  And, she had a reputation as  a jokester as well.  Now, before you think that my grandmother’s theatrics permanently marked my Aunt Mary’s life as one who was relegated to live on terra firma, I need to relate one more conversation I had with Aunt Mary.
     Mary never did go swimming or boating in her entire life.  She never flew on an airplane.  Most of her siblings, as well as her nieces and nephews had been to Europe several times.  The farthest away she’d been was to Canada – on the train.  She always seemed to take the road “most traveled.”  For most of my life, I would have characterized her as one who didn’t take risks or who didn’t care whether she had an adventure or not.  So, you can imagine my shock of learning something about my aunt when, in 1984, New Orleans hosted a World’s Fair.  One of the featured attractions was a cable strung from one side of the Mississippi River to the other side where the main exhibits of the fair were.  And on this cable hung a gondola that was to carry passengers hundreds of feet above the Mississippi from one bank to the other.
     Now, I have ridden ski lifts, Funiculars, cable trams to the top of the Austrian and Swiss Alps, but I would not have ridden that Mississippi River Gondola for a million dollars a minute.  In fact, few people ended up doing so compared to the other attractions.  However, before the fair opened and while everyone was just reading about the different attractions, my Aunt Mary told me that she would like to volunteer to be the “first person to ride on the Gondola.”  WHAT?  I couldn’t believe it.  “Do you really mean that?”  My aunt answered, “I really mean it; I would love to be the first person to ride across the  river on that cable car.”  And she meant it.
     That admission showed me that I didn’t really know this mild-mannered, selfless, retired first grade teacher.  She had a streak of adventure and daring that even I didn’t have.  I wish that I could report that we made her dream come true, but she wouldn’t leave her home in Mississippi with her responsibilities of taking care of her loved ones.  But, as she pointed out, whenever she saw the Gondola going across the  Mississippi on television, she could imagine herself being up there and looking down on the water of the Great Mississippi River!  Water?  Now this was a statement from one who had had a so-called traumatic childhood event which kept her out of the water spots of the world for seven decades.  Perhaps, she had more of her mother (my grandmother) in her than we, The Family, had reckoned!!!

Friday, April 8, 2011


     I post this particular blog in honor of the 150 anniversary of the start of America's War Between the States, i.e. The Civil War.  As a child growing up in the south, my memories seemingly were confused when I learned that we lost the war!  Also, with GONE WITH THE WIND being a movie most southerners grew up on, I thought it was about my family: my maternal grandmother was, after all, a Wilkes, and I had a cousin named Melanie!  My brother’s favorite song was “My Own True Love,” the theme from GWTW, and I did carve a reputation out of my many book reports I made on GWTW.  I’m now ashamed to admit that not all were turned in under my name!
     My mother’s maiden name was Leigh (pronounced Lee).  She said that as she grew up and went to college and nurses training, she had to put up with it being pronounced “Lay” because it looked as if it should rhyme with “sleigh.”  Today, there are many girl and boy children who have Leigh as a first or middle name, for no particular reason except that their mother liked the name.  My brother has the middle name, as that was a tradition in the family:  name one son after the mother’s maiden name.
     Mother had four sisters, but this story is about the next to oldest, Anne Leigh.  My Aunt Anne was a petite, strawberry blonde with green “Bette Davis” eyes.  She had a flare for the dramatic and did readings at church socials and neighborhood parties.  She had a great deal of spunk and a strong sense of responsibility to help her parents with finances to help the younger children in the family, of which my mother was the youngest, ten years younger than Anne.
     After graduation from Bogalusa, LA High School, Anne came to New Orleans at the beginning of the Depression to look for a job.  She was only 15 years old.  She read in the paper that a family was looking for a governess to tend to a couple of young children.  She piled her hair on top of her head, marched up to the front door of the mansion home of the advertiser, rang the bell, and told the butler, “I’m here for the job.”  She celebrated her 16th birthday on the ship Ile de France on her way with the New Orleans family to Le Havre, France and later on to Hamburg, Germany. 
    She taught high school in those early years, and even directed senior plays (sound familiar?) with her magnum opus being "Aaron Slick From Pumpkin' Crick."  Her only advice to me on the subject, was  to always end the show with the waving of the American Flag; she said one was then guaranteed of a standing ovation!  Of course, it was hard to interpolate the flag into the end of "Camelot," "Brigadoon," or "Kiss Me, Kate"!  However, "Little Mary Sunshine" is perfect with the stars and stripes at the end.  Perhaps that's why the British play "God Save The Queen" at the end of their theatrical productions. Everyone stands up and sings.  They listened to Aunt Anne. 
     Anne was a great story-teller, and she kept my brothers, cousins, and me enthralled relating some of her adventures in Europe and in the US during her life.  One incident happened on the ship on her first trip to Europe as a governess.  One day she woke up to the news that was all over the ship; a young American was trying to fly from the U.S. to France.  Everyone seemed to be searching the skies just in case he flew over their ship.  All of this excitement was recorded in her diary. . .”They say a young American is trying to fly one of the aeroplanes to Paris.  I think they said his name is Lindburger.”  So much for a cheesy start in transatlantic aviation!  Unfortunately, the diary, which was in my bank box, got wet from Hurricane Katrina, and I have yet to find someone to restore it.
     My Aunt Anne never learned to drive, therefore, it was unusual that during World War II she had the job of going to cities and small towns throughout Mississippi to give stenography tests to young women for the purpose of sending workers to Washington D.C.   She was driven in a U.S. Navy automobile with a sailor as her driver.  I have come across a few older women who told me they had taken those tests and worked in D.C. for the duration. One of my fellow faculty members at Slidell High School was one of these patriots.
      Another of her war effort projects was to put together state (Mississippi and Louisiana) USO shows for the service people on various bases, posts.  Again, her dramatic or comedic readings were heard, this time by youngsters waiting to be sent overseas.
     Anne never married.  She was a remarkable first grade teacher in New Orleans and Gulfport, MS.  She was the first teacher of St. Martin Episcopal School in Metairie, LA and started other kindergartens through the city.  She always wanted to write the great American novel; she never did.  But she did teach thousands of children in Louisiana and Mississippi to read.  She died of Parkinson's in her late 70’s.  However, I want to relate one more Aunt Anne experience.
     It was after she came to New Orleans.  She was in her 20's by this time.   Selznick Studios of Hollywood, CA had decided to search America for the perfect young woman to play the role of Scarlett O’Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND.  I’ve read that casting calls were set up in many cities throughout the country, and New Orleans was no different.  Here, they set up their casting call at the Roosevelt Hotel in downtown New Orleans.  The announcements were put in the newspapers and hundreds of young hopefuls showed up to parade in front of studio personnel assigned to New Orleans.  My Aunt Anne was one of the young hopefuls.  She said they lined up, walked through a door into the suite, crossed in front of the table with the Hollywood people and their clipboards, and continued walking until they got to the door leading to the hall in the connecting room.  I’m sure there was someone at this exit door, saying “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.”  They never called Anne Leigh.
     We children loved this story.  We couldn’t wait to tell friends that our Aunt Anne had been considered (whatever that meant) for Scarlett O’Hara.  Anne wasn’t sad that she had not been chosen and that fate hadn’t dealt her a winning hand for fame and fortune.  However, after she heard that Vivian Leigh had earned the part, she always DID end her telling of this story with “It’s o.k.  They just got the wrong Leigh girl!”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Why I'm Extraneous

   I don't know when it started.  My mother said as a little girl, I would be sitting in the movie theatre with her.  On the screen, the butler would bring a long white box with a large bow into the room to give to the lovely lady of the house.  The lady would (to me) slowly remove the bow, take the cover off the box,  open the green tissue (unless it was a b/w movie), exclaim delightfully, and remove the beautiful red roses from the box.  The next scene would show the roses in a vase and the lady on the phone, probably thanking the sender.  Mama said I'd ask in a loud stage whisper, "Mama, what happened to the box and ribbon?"  As a toddler, I am told, I would unwrap a gift, put the present aside and play with the paper and ribbon. See!  Even in those early years,  I was fascinated with extraneous stuff.  I guess it was a natural segue to extraneous, trivial information.
   My brothers and I have always been trivia buffs. Hence, anything that one of us learned, we passed it on to the other two.  As a reader, I seem to remember those tidbits of info that pique my curiosity.  I can remember sitting in Advanced Grammar and Rhetoric as an undergraduate English major in college.  In spite of having to diagram Wm. Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis and trying to learn all of that English grammar I'd be teaching to my own students one day, I still remember learning that (in 1965) the two areas in which English is the official language are aviation and baseball.  It may have changed since then, but I can still hear the interview of a famous Hispanic baseball great, Basaball's been berry, berry good to me!
   Obviously, the greatest boon to my trivia-gathering has been my teaching public speaking.  I've had my very own "reporters" to tell me interesting things.  I've had my very own READERS' DIGEST in the form of my speech students. And have I learned hundreds of bits of knowledge  since 1969 when I first began teaching speech!
   My philosopher-professor husband was the smartest person I ever knew.  When he died, I received a great deal of correspondence from former students, colleagues, and university administrators.  Many of the kind notes indicated that he was "the most brilliant person at Tulane University."  Yet, this brilliant man is the one who crowned me, THE QUEEN OF EXTRANEOUS INFORMATION.  He said I knew more unimportant, worthless information than anyone he knew!  He was right.  I am a walking encyclopedia of the English Monarchs from Henry VII to date.  I know the names, order, and the fate of the wives of Henry VIII [divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived].  The swans in England all belong to the Queen (or William when his time comes).  Before Hurricane Katrina, I could tell you the number of bars in Orleans Parish, as well as the number of churches in the same area (more bars than churches).  I know that although the result of a lie detector test is NOT admissible in court, the tracking of a Bloodhound dog IS admissible!  I know that a portmanteau is a satchel/suitcase, usually found in Victorian literature, but it is also the blending of two independent nouns to make a third noun, i.e. motor and hotel to make motel, breakfast and lunch to make brunch, etc. 
   Did you know that the beautiful, talented Rita Hayward did not sing for herself in any of her movies?  Did you know that Dana Andrews who did not sing for himself in the early version of the movie STATE FAIR, was an opera singer in college?  Did you know that Marge Champion (of Marge and Gower Champion dancing duo) was the model for Disney's Snow White?   Did you know that Francis Bacon died after getting sick by being out in the snow in England as he was stuffing a chicken with snow and ice as an experiment in preservation of meat/fowl?  Did you know that George Washington died after catching cold after he got back from a winter horse-trip to inspect his mulch pits?  Perhaps you do know that Pop Warner of Pop Warner Football League and Cheer leading Association for kids was the football coach and mentor of the great American athlete and Olympian Jim Thorpe.
   My mother used to say that she was sure I knew something about every subject on Earth.  Well, she loved me.  However, her sister (who was a wonderful first grade teacher ) was convinced that the Russians introduced "new math" to confuse the minds of American students as a ploy during the Cold War.  Therefore, my knowledge of "new math" has been to smile knowingly and say, "Ah, yes. . . Like the Opium Wars when England dirtied her hands by encouraging China to accept importation of Opium to solve trade deficits."  See how cleverly I get away from knowing how to actually navigate the binary system?
   Now that you, Dear Reader, understand fully where my title of QUEEN OF EXTRANEOUS INFORMATION comes from, future blogs can concentrate on other, perhaps more meaningful, information. . .or maybe not.  As I get older and begin to have "senior moments," perhaps the only things I can remember are extraneous! For some reason, I can see myself as a very old woman, going around like the Ancient Mariner, muttering divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why I'm A Queen. . .

   My birth was long anticipated, even before my parents met.  My mother was the youngest of seven children; my father was an only child.  None of my mother's sisters nor her brother married and, therefore, none produced longed-for grandchildren before my mother and father cooperated.  Then, to add to one of the greatest anticipated births in history, World War II was raging, and both families gave collective sighs of relief that there might be an heir in a worst case scenario!
   My father survived the South Pacific, my mother survived the birth of her firstborn, and although I wasn't the male child they had anticipated, they kept me. I could do no wrong as far as my maternal grandmother and aunts were concerned.  My father's family didn't fawn as much, especially after the birth of my two brothers 14 months and 4 years after my birth.  Oh, well. . . I DID have two menials to do my bidding until they learned to talk and say, "No" and until they grew big enough to beat me up if I got too bossy.
   However, it has taken a lifetime to overcome those first months of being THE SPECIAL ONE.  In later years I found out that my brothers had the same feelings.  In fact, Mother used to say that she didn't know what she did but somehow she ended up with "three only children."
   I have always been bossy. (Is it the oldest child birth order?)  Add to my birth placement the fact that I became a high school teacher and university professor.  Then, add my years of being a musical theatre director, and you've got a boss with a capital B.  Now, we've all got to admit that Queen sounds better than Boss, so over the years I have earned the name of "Queen" to my face, but perhaps behind my back I have earned being called bossy or other names that start with a "B."