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!!!