Ann in KISMET, Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre, 1982

Saturday, April 6, 2013


After I left my teaching position at Slidell High School in August of 1978, I moved to New Orleans and began a full-time position at Tulane University’s Newcomb Department of Music as an arts administrator.  I had worked for the Department’s Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre for ten summers prior to my beginning my full-time position as Director of Music Programs.

That Fall of 1978, I took advantage of being in “the big city” of New Orleans and of not having to grade papers, not having to be at school at 8 a.m., and the like, and I enjoyed attending music, musical theatre, theatre,  and opera performances all over town.  One night, a friend took me to a revue at a small club in the French Quarter.  It was based on Black Vaudeville of the 1920’s and it was called One Mo’Time. I didn’t know any of the performers, but a couple of the professors in the music department had told me that I would enjoy it, so I went.  I didn’t just enjoy it; I fell in love with it.  I really didn’t have a clue as to what I was going to see, and I certainly didn’t know why it was called One Mo’Time. . .that is until the performance was over.  And there I was, standing on my chair seat so that I could see over the heads of the people in front of me who were standing and applauding and yelling, “One mo’time!” And I was applauding and yelling with everyone else. It was electric!

Creator, director, and performer Vernel Bagneris had first staged One Mo’Time as a one-night performance at the Toulouse Theatre in the Quarter.  It played longer than that, but soon had to move to another venue as the Toulouse was pre-booked for another show.  That new venue was where I saw Vernel’s show for the first time, and the second time, and the third time!  I never got tired of seeing the show. It was like nothing I had seen or been involved with in my so-called show business career.  I had seen a touring company do Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the performing arts theatre (now Mahalia Jackson Theatre) in New Orleans.  It was very good, but not near as electric as One Mo’Time. I knew most of the Eubie Blake songs in Misbehavin’ yet I knew just a few of the ones in this new musical revue.  That fact made me have to listen to every word that was sung, and the songs were wonderful and very funny with their double entendre lyrics.

The performers and musicians in Time were fabulous, and I couldn’t believe that I had never seen them work before, and they were from New Orleans! It didn’t take me long to realize that my world had just been expanded, and a new genre of music had been added to my list of favorites.  I’m not sure how many times I saw One Mo’Time in the Quarter, but I know I took somebody new with me to share in the experience each time I went to see it, and they all loved it too.

The show must have run in the Quarter on and off for about a year, and then we heard that they had gotten a nod from New York to perform the revue up there as an off-Broadway production.  All of us who had seen and enjoyed the revue were delighted at their opportunity for the big time.

About that time, one of the music professors in the department came to me and asked what I thought about the department’s presenting a sort of farewell production of the revue at our large Dixon Hall before the group left New Orleans for New York.  I thought it was a good idea, but we had to put it before our chairman.  And we did.  The chairman did not think that our established, musically-sophisticated audiences from Uptown New Orleans would appreciate One Mo’Time.  He had not seen it, but he knew of it. What he said was, “we’ll lose our shirts.” The professor and I, both great fans of the revue, kept trying to persuade the chairman to give his ok to the project.  Finally, he gave in and looked at me and said, “Ann, you will have to produce; I don’t want to have anything to do with the show.” And he repeated, “and when you lose money, I’m going to say ‘I told you so!’ ”

I won’t go into the details of signing the contracts, advertising the one-time performance, having the tickets printed, manning the box office, etc., etc., etc.   But, by the time of the performance, we had almost sold out the 1200-seat theatre. Yet, I was still worried.  I had never seen the show on a proscenium stage (such as the small Toulouse Theatre and now the big Dixon Hall Theatre).  When I had seen it, it was in a small club setting.  I had no idea how it would “play” in a large house and especially to the audience our productions usually attracted! And remember, the onus was on ME!  I sweated bullets that night.

The performance was great, and the audience responded appreciatively throughout. The audience laughed at the appropriate times and seemed to enjoy the performance, but I still didn’t know whether or not I would get letters criticizing my choice of programming. And then the exciting last number: A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight!  As soon as the first chorus was sung, the entire audience was on its feet, clapping in time to the music, and they stayed on their feet for the entire song. The ovation was deafening at the end of the song, and therefore, at the end of the show, when all of a sudden dozens of  the ladies and gentlemen were in the aisles, with the others still standing  and applauding. . .they all were cheering, applauding, and then they started yelling, “One mo’time! One mo’time!” And the cast and musicians did the last number again, one mo’time.  Our audience loved the show; they loved the fact that it was New Orleans; they loved the fact that it had been brought Uptown to them to see before the show left for New York.  It was a wonderful experience for us all and a wonderful send-off for the cast.

By the way, we made a profit of $1,700 on that one performance, and my chairman didn’t speak to me  for two weeks. He wasn’t often wrong, but that one time he misjudged the appeal of the show to our audience.  After all, they were New Orleanians! 

The cast went to New York and a few months later, I flew to Montreal, Canada as a guest of the Canadian government to check out the possibility of the Tulane Choir touring Canada later on.  On the way back from Montreal, I stopped in New York City to see some Broadway shows and, of course, One Mo’Time. I really don’t remember what I saw, except the New Orleans musical.  I arrived at the club-setting venue a little early so that I could see the performers before the show as I had gotten to know all of them when we did the show at Tulane.  They were so glad to see somebody “from home.”   A couple were so very homesick, they almost started weeping when they saw me.  Finally, I took my seat in the house and waited to see this wonderful show again, but in New York City!

The show was great.  They had made a few subtle changes, but nobody would have known if they hadn’t seen it so many times as I had.  The cast was full of energy and seemed to be performing just for me.  I say that because I was the only crazy audience member out there obviously enjoying the show.  The other audience members were “sitting on their hands.”  Most of the audience was made up of African-Americans who were some of the best dressed people I had ever seen.  And I remember how beautiful and rich looking the women were and how handsome and successful the men looked.  They were polite, but they did not react the way the former queens and kings of carnival and the scions of New Orleans society had at that Tulane performance.  At the end, I was the only one who was standing up and yelling, “One mo’time!”  Later, I asked the cast if it was always like that; they said no, but sometimes it was. This particular audience acted the way that my chairman had feared that the Tulane audience would react.  I thought it was a very interesting lesson for me to learn.  Our audience members here in New Orleans are secure in themselves and in what they like, and they embrace the varied cultures of New Orleans now and historically.  The NYC audience seemed to be afraid of liking a work that was classified as Black Vaudeville.

One Mo’Time takes place at the Lyric Theatre in New Orleans in the 1920’s.  The real Lyric Theater, at Iberville and Burgundy Streets at the edge of the Storyville red-light district in the French Quarter of New Orleans, burned down in the spring of 1927. The Lyric stage was a stop for many immortals of black vaudeville, including Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Wilbur Sweatman, Jelly Roll Morton, Bert Williams, Butterbeans and Suzy, and Ethel Waters, who performed there under the name of Sweet Mama Stringbean.


According to a review by Glenn Collins in 1990 in the New York Times,  “The plot [of One Mo’Time] is the tale of performers in the Lyric Theater in New Orleans, in the age when vaudeville was evolving into raunchier burlesque in an attempt to compete with motion pictures. The theater owner plans to set fire to the Lyric for the insurance money, but meanwhile the show must go on - and so it does, for 2 acts and 25 musical numbers.”

The show was so successful that Vernel organized several touring groups and One Mo’Time enjoyed fabulous success in Europe and a run in London and even had a command performance before Queen Elizabeth.  Eventually, it had a run on Broadway and now the real reason I have written about this wonderful musical revue.

On Thursday, May 2 at the Blues Tent, beginning at 5:40 p.m. at this year’s Jazz and Heritage Festival, Vernel Bagneris will present the 35th Anniversary Performance of One Mo’Time. I can’t believe that it has been thirty-five years since I first saw this exciting musical.  If I could be helicoptered in just to see that presentation, I might go, but I probably won’t because of the logistics, and why should I break my record of never having attended the Jazz and Heritage Festival?  But if you are there, please go see the performance for me and, certainly, for your own enjoyment!

If you can’t make it, check out a production in Germany several years ago via You Tube.  The titles are in German, but the songs, etc. are in Nawlins English.  There are three segments.  The entire three segments run about 45 minutes. If you don’t have the time to see them all, at least go to the last part of segment 3 for Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight.  After seeing it, you’ll probably find yourself yelling, One Mo’Time! [I wonder if Queen Elizabeth yelled One Mo' Time?]

Segment 1:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbyMEa2gRRg   (about 14 min.)

Segment 2:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA6HnF1uJYc  (about 12 min.)

 Segment 3:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHYh17gxTBE  (about 16 min.)
                                [Note: for last song, go to 10:40 on time-line.]



Monday, March 11, 2013


With my reputation as a talker, I'm sure you, Dear Reader, are stymied at the title of this particular posting. You have every right to not associate me with being silent or being quiet. Case in point: several years ago I was a member of a weight-loss group that met to discuss problems of being overweight, dieting, stigma of being fat, etc. Now, each of us paid $35.00 (expensive in those days) per meeting to the psychiatric social worker who moderated the group meetings. Never having been accused of being reticent in speech, I still tried to keep my own counsel and to let others speak up. I'd sit in silence. . .I'd sit in silence. . .the other members of the group sat in silence. . .they sat in silence. . .the moderator sat in silence. . .the clock ticked off the minutes. . .and I silently did the math of how much the entire group (at $35 per person) was spending for 50 minutes of silence. I couldn't stand it. Usually, I ended up being the first person to speak up and throw out the conversational ball. Most of the time, a heated conversation would then begin about why I thought I had to speak every time! At least we weren't silent!!!

Now, on the other side of the coin: As a speaker and as a teacher of speakers, I have gotten a good deal of dramatic effect by use of the pregnant pause! As I used to tell my students: don't look as if you forgot what you are going to say. . .look as if you are about to unload a massive, verbal explosion! As most teachers do, I'd give them examples, and I'd tell them about the two times when I actually experienced deafening silence.

The first time was in 1968, after Hurricane Camille. I had driven home to Gulfport to assess the damage of my mother's and grandmother's houses, as well as the rest of The Coast. As I drove down Highway 90, the Beach Road where I had learned to drive, I had never seen such devastation, and I had never experienced such SILENCE as the dozens of cars were driven slowly and quietly by drivers who, like me, were speechless as to the ruin and destruction they were seeing. There were no tires squealing, no radios playing, no horns honking, no children were laughing as they used to when they played in the sand. There were no sounds of birds chirping from trees and/or street lights because there were no trees or street lights. It was like a soundless movie. . .except this soundlessness was deafening! 

The next incident was just a couple of years later, during the Summer of 1970, when I was taking my first and much anticipated trip to Europe. I was fortunate to spend over six weeks there, and I got to see more than just if it's Thursday, it must be Belgium. One place we visited was Dachau, the German Concentration Camp which was one of the few camps not destroyed by the Nazi's as they were being pushed deeper into Germany by the Allied Forces. Dachau now, as it was in 1970, is a museum, memorial, and reminder: NEVER AGAIN. Never Again is written in several languages on one of the walls in the parade grounds of the camp. Never again will man's inhumanity to man be allowed to happen. In 1784, the poet Robert Burns wrote Man's inhumanity to man Makes countless thousands mourn. Yet, between then and the Holocaust, some didn't learn much. We can only work and pray that it never again happens.

Inside of the museum were very large, blown-up black and white pictures of experiments performed on the prisoners at Dachau. There were also pictures of the prisoners as they looked when they were liberated by the Allies. They were emaciated with hollow, expressionless eyes. No one spoke inside the museum. Occasionally, one could hear the sound of almost-silent sobbing. Perhaps I heard it because I was the one making it.

Outside, the parade grounds and the path to the crematorium were covered with small gravel. The only sounds we heard there was the sound of shoes on the gravel and, again, some gentle sobbing. I looked past the outside walls with its now empty sentry boxes and barbed wire to the most beautiful pastoral scene I had ever seen in person. The tall, beautiful grass was gracefully, and soundlessly swaying in the gentle breeze. Did the prisoners see the same, serene beauty I was seeing? Did they even notice the beauty? Did they think that the world and God had forsaken them? I couldn't begin to wrap my brain around their thoughts and their despair. But, I'll never forget the SILENCE of the entire visit. It was overwhelming!

One of my favorite poems to teach was one by the American poet Edgar Lee Masters. Its title is Silence. Now, some of you who were in my English III classes remember it, because I taught it. If you never read it or if you have forgotten it, you must read it. You can find it at http://www.bartleby.com/104/43.html. However, I'll give you a short synopsis. Masters writes about the different types of silence that he has experienced or imagined, just as I have done here. Some of my favorite lines are: And the silence of a man and a maid, And the silence for which music alone finds the word, And the silence of the woods before the winds of spring begin, And the silence of the sick When their eyes roam about the room…. And the silence of Jeanne d’Arc, Saying amid the flames, “BlesÅ›ed Jesus”— Revealing in two words all sorrow, all hope.

But my very favorite lines in the Master’s poem are the ones about the conversation between the young boy and the old soldier with the youngster asking the soldier how he lost his leg.  And as the old man is silent; his mind goes back to Gettysburg and the horrible sounds of battle, and the screams and agony of having his leg removed, and the pain and months of recovery.  He remains silent because he can’t explain or verbalize it.  But if he could describe it all He would be an artist.  But if he were an artist, there would be deeper wounds Which he could not describe.

[From ABW: Keep silence and think about these lines.]

 Several years ago I attended a play that had an unusual opening. As I sat in the small theatre, waiting for the play to begin, there was the usual chatter, rustling of programs, and anticipation that I have seen and experienced hundreds of times. Finally, someone I supposed to be a performer, stepped out in front of the curtain, sat in the middle of the stage, crossed legged, put his elbows on his legs, his chin in his hands, and, saying nothing, stared at the audience. Well, we got quiet real fast and stared back at him. He continued to stare and we did too.  Nobody said anything. The auditorium was silent. . .until someone in the audience, probably out of self-consciousness or being uncomfortable in the silence, cleared his throat.  Then, the performer got up, walked behind the curtain, and the play began.

The play had absolutely nothing to do with the beginning incident, and we never saw that particular performer again. I cannot even remember what the play was about, but, as you can see, I’ve never forgotten that beginning.  For some reason, it was important to not begin the play until everyone was silent and then to continue not beginning the play until someone in the audience broke that silence!  I went back another night to see the beginning, and it was the same, except, as I remember, the second time someone laughed, and then the play began.  Very interesting concept. . .  Are you reading this, Playwright Don Redman?

Why is it that we are uncomfortable with silence?  Just as I was at my fat-meeting.  Well, I know why I was uncomfortable. . .it was the money and it hurt my wallet.  But why did someone ALWAYS break the silence in the auditorium before the play?  Is sound the rule and silence the exception? 

When I taught a night speech course at Tulane U., I always had many Tulane football players.  Most of them were being interviewed on TV at some point after practice or games, and it drove me crazy that as soon as the reporter asked them a question, they began answering with never a pause anywhere.   “Tell me, Football Player, how did you think Tulane performed tonight?”  Football Player:  “Uh, Well, uh, we, uh, had uh hard time in the, uh, first quarter, uh, because, uh, they are a, uh, strong, uh, team.”

I would tell them that if they took a couple of seconds to think what they were going to say and then say it, straight out, without uh’s, the reporter would cut any pauses or silence on the tape.  They can’t let an interview go out with gaps of silence. I told them, “You will then sound half-way intelligent. Don't look like a deer caught in the headlights; have a thoughtful look on your face before you speak. If, on the other hand, you fill the entire time with words and sounds without any pauses, they can’t edit that, and you will sound like a stereotypical dumb, football player!”  I continued, “You are letting the reporters be in charge of how you appear and sound on camera, and YOU should be in charge!”  One night, when I did not have a class, I received a phone call at home.  It began: “Is this Miss Bryant?” I replied yes.  “Is this Miss Bryant who teaches Speech at Tulane?”   Yes!  “Well, Miss Bryant, I just wanted you to know that I was interviewed on Channel 6 after practice tonight, and it’s gonna be on the 10 o’clock news, and I sounded half-way intelligent.”  I thanked him, watched it, and he did! But I can't teach them all.

Now, before you get your knickers in a twist about the silent-treatment that you give your spouse, or your spouse gives you, or the agony of being married to “the strong, silent type,” I’m not talking about silence as an alternative to healthy communication between and among people. I'm not talking about the white noise you need to get to sleep at night.  And I’m not talking about deep, psychological trauma as in The Silence of The Lambs, whichever number.  I’m talking about silence as a dramatic effect in speech and theatre, silence in situations too great, too unbelievable, too overwhelming to merit any sound, the pregnant pause of anticipation, the silence of thought before speaking. . . that kind of silence.
An old proverb tells us that speech is silver, but silence is golden. And, the Bible tells us that  there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Pray that God will give us the wisdom to know the difference.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


When I was in elementary and junior high school, I was fortunate to attend a college demonstration or laboratory school at Mississippi Southern College (now the University of Southern Mississippi).  In case you aren't familiar with this type of school (Are there any more laboratory schools?), these were regular schools, usually attached to a college or university with a large, strong education department, with age-appropriate classes (elemetary and secondary)  taught by master teachers who also served as critic or supervising teachers to the college students who  practiced being teachers before graduation. The students enrolled in the George Hurst Demonstration School also served as guinea pigs for innovations in education and educational methods.  As you might guess, we had the best of teachers, the best of student teachers, and the best of education.  I must admit here that by the time I attended a regular high school, I hardly ever opened a text book, except in Algebra and Spanish!
Yes, I learned a great deal  as a student there, and even learned how to treat and to encourage students, both of which lasted me during my entire teaching career.  However, the greatest lesson I learned did not seem positive at the time, but became life-changing in the long run.
When I was in the fifth grade, I was in Mrs. Ford's class.  She was a very scary lady who had the reputation of being a fabulous teacher.  I learned the next year, after I was promoted to the sixth grade, that she was a wonderful person as well. Eventually, not only did Mrs. Ford teach me, she also taught one of my brothers, and even became close to our mother as her critic teacher when Mother did her practice teaching.  Alas, I was the first of the Bryants to encounter Mrs. Ford.
I can remember that Mrs. Ford had two methods of disciplining her students.  One was she would walk to the door (leading to the hall) and flick the classroom light switch on and off until she got our attention.  And she got it!  The other method of discipline was borderline corporal punishment.  Our classroom was very crowded with desks.  Mrs. Ford could not maneuver through the congestion of desks to reach the students in the center of the room.   I sat on the outside perimeter of the desks so that I could have some mobility to the many wonderful books she had on the shelf for us to read.  However, it didn't take me long to realize that I had made a BIG mistake.  If someone in the room was talking or misbehaving, no matter where he or she was seated, Mrs. Ford would point at them with a finger on one hand, and rap the shoulder of the nearest student with a ruler with the other.  Guess who got the licks.  Yep, you guessed it:  those of us sitting on the outside perimeter of the desks.
Now, I can assure you that Mrs. Ford never had cause to discipline me personally as I was so terrified of her that I kept a very low profile so that she wouldn't even notice me. I never would have talked or misbehaved or called attention to myself.  Yet, I still got many licks. . .for someone else.

I went home crying, asking my mother what could I do. She suggested that I ask Mrs. Ford if I could move to the middle of the room. That possibility never occurred to me!  With fear and trembling, I asked Mrs. Ford and she allowed it (maybe she thought I couldn't see the board or something, thank goodness)! I can tell you that changed my life as a student, nay as a person! From that time on, I could see the big picture and could adjust to whatever idiosyncratic behavior teachers, as well as others, exhibited to impede my life and learning. I learned not to be a "whipping boy" for anyone, teachers, professors, bosses, anyone, and I began to stand up for myself and to never take another "lick" for someone else.

You are probably asking yourself what is the origin of "whipping boy." Well, let me enlighten you.
By the 15th and 16th centuries in England, it was already an established position in the Courts of the Tudors and the Stuarts to have a whipping boy for the purpose of punishing the crown prince for his misdeeds or lackluster schoolwork.  As the school masters and other attendants were commoners or, certainly, less noble than the prince, they could not lay a hand on him.  The "whipping boy" was often a good friend of the prince's who shared his classes and his free-time as well.  The theory was that it hurt the prince to see his friend whipped for something he himself did. Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper shows the relationship between the prince and his whipping boy/friend.

The definition today does not exactly have the literal meaning of actually being "whipped" or "licked," as I was in the fifth grade.  It can also mean being a scapegoat. . .being blamed for the misdeeds of others. Nobody really likes that, do they?  Well some don't mind as long as they get what they want in the long run.  If you are ok with taking the blame for others or being a whipping boy, as long as you are rewarded, that's fine.  After all, the princes' whipping boys lived in splendor, ate well, again, had a very important friend (the prince), and often were later given titles and lands by the king for services rendered.  However, I do not have that nature! 

I have spent a lifetime (since the fifth grade) not being anyone's whipping boy.  I'm perfectly capable of taking my own licks or punishment in stride, and believe me I've made some real mistakes. My mother taught me better! Remember the  old saying, "My mama didn't raise any stupid children"?  I have had enough of my own disappointments and problems without taking the blame for someone else.  And my mama and Mrs. Ford did teach me that! 

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Little White Smoke

Have any of you noticed that, recently, certain words have permeated either our consciousness or our vocabulary? I have found myself using these words in a variety of circumstances that have no reference to what is currently going on at the Vatican.  Instead of saying that a certain group I know is having a meeting, I use the word conclave.  And instead of clicking like or unlike on facebook, I find myself wanting to click white smoke or black smoke. 

I sit in my den and look out my French doors to my small backyard -- yet, instead of thinking of the beautiful red cardinals that fly into my yard from time to time, now I am thinking about the College of Cardinals who are making important decisions in Rome.  All this being said, I must remind you that I am not a Roman Catholic, and except for a general interest in history and tradition, I really don't have a horse in the race for pope.  However, I still find myself saying or thinking, "It doesn't take a College of Cardinals to decide for me to do X," and similar expressions. Or, "When I make my decision to do such and such, I'll send up the white smoke to let you know."  Why do I do that?  Why do we do that?

I never use words referring to specific terms used in our War on Terror and Terrorists, and I could not make an intelligent sentence using words like drone or sequester, unless it was about a dull noise or hiding something. Yet, these days, I punctuate my sentences with the jargon, usually reserved for the election of a pope.  

Perhaps, it is because during this particular go-round, there is no sadness over the death of a pope.  There is only anticipation of a new Holy Father.  And, this is good news, as opposed to war,  things dropping from the sky, and the country going broke.  Subconsciously, perhaps we all want to be at the Vatican to receive the good news or even to be in the Sistine Chapel to be a part of the decision.

When I was in graduate school, I remember a professor talking about ennui.  He was talking about the "shut down" of workers in the workplace and said that at some point, some members of the workforce develop ennui or boredom.  The word is, of course, French, and it comes from the Middle Ages.  It seems that it was first used to describe Catholic Clerics/priests who, when they  got to that point in their careers and realized that they would never be pope, they developed ennui and sort of shut down  their fervor and their energy when it came to their work.

I don't know what ennui has to do with my making references to these particular words and expressions, but it seemed like a good idea to mention it here. On-the-other-hand, maybe we have developed ennui as we know that our names will never be mentioned by the conclave of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel.  I guess it is like the difference between British children touring castles and palaces in England, knowing that they can never live there, and our American children touring the White House and knowing that it is possible that, someday, they can live there!  

If you are reading this, the chances are you'll never be pope.  I'll never be pope.  But consciously or subconsciously, perhaps I am reacting to this brick wall in my life, and that, somehow, causes me to use the jargon of the process of selecting the pope.  And, because neither you nor I shall ever be pope, we have developed ennui. And in my boredom, I write this blog. . .and in your boredom, you read it!

Thursday, March 7, 2013


I initially wrote this post on May 13, 2011.  I'm not sure if I published it or not at that time, but it deserves to be read, and all of the information is the same.  Anyhow, Hollywood does remakes of movies all of the time.  Why can't I do it as well? So, whether you have read this before, experienced the Bryant Trait exhibited by one of the characters mentioned,  or you have serendipitously clicked on this site, I welcome you.  Enjoy.

 Allen Benjamin Bryant was born in South Carolina in 1817, and was the son of John Lewis Bryant and Cynthia Peacock Bryant (later Phillips) who were both featured in an earlier post. Allen made the journey from South Carolina to Mississippi with his parents and eventually settled in Covington County (north of Hattiesburg), Mississippi. When the War Between the States broke out, Allen joined Quinn's Mississippi State Troops Infantry, Company D as a private. Company D was made up, mostly, of men from the Covington County area. There was some fighting at the beginning of his service, but nothing like what he and the other men would experience at the Siege of Vicksburg!
In 1863, General U.S. Grant's objective was to seize control of the Mississippi River, north of New Orleans. Vicksburg, MS, because of its placement on the River, was being called "The Gibraltar of the Confederacy," and Grant set about to capture the city. The seige began on May 18, 1863. I won’t go into detail about the siege, but it lasted for six weeks with the Confederate soldiers and the residents of Vicksburg being starved by the Union Army, and this was in addition to the maladies of scurvy, malaria, dysentery, and diarrhea. In my Mississippi History classes, we learned that the Rebel Soldiers and residents ate anything they could get their hands on, including rats and leather shoe soles. When Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863, Private Allen Benjamin Bryant, C.S.A. became a prisoner of the Union Forces and was sent to a "Yankee Prison."

I have not yet learned which prison Allen was sent to, nor do I know how long he was a prisoner. But, according to my Great Aunt Florence Bryant Rouse and my Uncle Vann Bryant, he made the most of his time there. He was given a Bible. During his time in prison, Great, Great Grandfather Bryant read the Bible so much that he ended up memorizing the entire book, chapter and verse!

At the end of the war, Allen went back to Covington County, Mississippi. Aunt Florence said that before he left to join the Confederate Forces, he had buried most of his money. (I've heard this buried and/or hidden money story in tales from almost every branch of my family.) When he got back home, he dug it up. It was there! He used it to buy more land in his community of Lux, Mississippi. He and his family lived fairly well and were respected in the community. Allen died in 1906 at the age of 89.

Aunt Florence told of a very interesting and probably very “telling” incident in the life of Allen Benjamin Bryant. It seems that after he got back to Mississippi and life took on some semblance of normalcy, he and his family attended church services at the local Baptist Church one beautiful Lord's Day. The congregation was excited about the presence of a new pastor that Sunday, and everyone waited to hear his first sermon, including Allen. Perhaps it was nervousness, a mistake, or he just didn't know, but the young minister misquoted the Bible in his sermon. Alas, Allen Bryant stood up right then and there and corrected the preacher and then sat down. Remember, he was supposed to know the Bible by heart after memorizing it in prison, according to Aunt Florence. Anyway, after church, someone asked him why he didn't wait and talk to the preacher in private about the scripture mistake. According to Aunt Florence, Allen Bryant explained himself with confidence. There are too many people in the church who can't read the Bible for themselves. They need their preacher to tell them the scriptures and to tell them right. I had to set the preacher straight!

When I heard of this Bryant Incident, I knew immediately how much like my Great, Great Grandfather Allen Bryant my Grandfather Bryant was. E. Wheeler Bryant, the grandson of Allen, might not have stood up in the middle of the sermon and corrected the preacher, but he would have corrected him right after church! As Granddaddy himself said about himself, "I'll tell you how to hold your mouth when you stir the oatmeal!" And he did. Then, I thought about his youngest son, my Uncle Vann. Now Vann would probably do just what Allen did. . .correct the preacher then and there!

My father, the oldest son, would not have corrected the preacher in mid-sermon, I think, but he was as determined and self-confident as his father and brother. There is a story told of my father about when he was a kid he was called to the front of the room or church sanctuary to give a poem or quote a scripture. Anyhow, he was running down the aisle to “perform” when he tripped and fell on his face. Family lore tells us that he picked himself up and continued running to his destination, saying “I’m gonna say it anyway; I’m gonna say it anyway!”

My brother Giles and my nephew, Giles III, would probably not have corrected the preacher in mid-sermon, but eventually they would have let it be known that they were aware of the error. And then there is my youngest brother, Tommy. A younger version of Tommy would have corrected the preacher in the middle of the sermon. To support this  contention, there’s a family incident, involving Tommy at a Vacation Bible School Graduation and the singing of “Deep and Wide” with the motions. Let’s cut to the chase and just say that Tommy took it upon himself to correct his fellow performers as to which way was deep and which way was wide! As he has gotten older, however, Tommy or Tom would show much more finesse and wait or, even better, he would make sure it was a real error and not just nervousness or a bad mistake. After all, he is a lawyer and he must see or hear the evidence!

Every one of these men whom I have known and loved could be described as being self-confident and tenacious when it came to correcting errors in life. It must be a Bryant trait. At some point, they all seem to have subscribed to the Davy Crockett motto: Know you're right and go ahead! While they might not all tell you how to hold your mouth while you stir the oatmeal, they have not been reticent in letting others know what they think is right or correct.

And the Bryant women are not exceptions. E. Wheeler's sister, Aunt Pearl Bryant McKinnon, was as strong as her brother and didn’t hesitate to tell it like it was! Tom Bryant's daughters also have the Bryant traits, with his youngest, Anna-Kathryn, being more subtle and his oldest, Rebecca, being in control with a great sense of setting the record straight and playing by the rules. My other niece, Christina, is so very sweet, but she has a fire in her when needed, which is typical Bryant!
I understand all of these Bryants as I am of their mettle and therefore just like them (and some are like me)! Yet, it is, somewhat, comforting to know that I was born a confident, know-it-all, control-freak and didn’t just morph into what I am. While I probably wouldn’t correct someone in mid-sermon or speech, I am the worst kind of know-it-all. Unfortunately, I was given license to correct as an English and Speech Teacher, as well as a theatre director. I might not tell you how to hold your mouth while you stir the oatmeal, but I will and have told people how to hold the spoon! And, in my life, I might have fallen on my face from time to time, but, characteristically, I have gotten up and continued on my journey, yelling, I’m gonna say it anyway; I’m gonna say it anyway!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Many years ago, I took my mother on her first trip to England.  We did all of the touristy things in and outside of London.  I rented a car and drove cautiously on the “wrong” side of the roads in the beautiful English countryside.  Mother enjoyed everything except, perhaps, my driving, which always caused her angst, no matter which side of the road/highway I drove.  We had a good time.  However, there was one thing that really did put us at logger-heads: a self-guided tour we took of the interior of Warwick Castle.  After we completed our sightseeing and were driving away from this very famous castle, my mother commented on the stuffed bear in the great hall.  “What stuffed bear?” Mother described a huge, stuffed bear, standing on its back legs with giant teeth at-the-ready.  Well, I thought my mother had finally lost it.  This was not my first trip to Warwick, and I had never seen anything like a stuffed bear! Needless to say, we spent much of the rest of the trip, “discussing” that dumb bear.  It wasn’t until we got back to New Orleans and had our film developed (I told you it was many years ago.) that the argument was settled.  There in one picture (that I had taken) of the Great Hall was a huge, stuffed bear, standing on its back legs with giant teeth at-the-ready!  Once again, Mother was correct! And so much for my powers of observation . . .
Most of us are aware of the English idiom an elephant in the room. It has come to mean that the elephant is an important and obvious topic or problem, which everyone present is aware of, but which isn't discussed, as such discussion is considered to be uncomfortable. Some experts think that its coinage was in the mid 1950’s, but it could have been earlier than that. However, as I have never seen an elephant in a room, except for museums of natural history and an occasional painting or drawing (please, no snide remarks about large Republicans), and I can now admit I’ve seen, ignored, seen, ignored, seen, ignored, and finally had to admit to a bear in the room, I choose to use the bear idiom rather than the elephant one. However. . .

In September 2006, the British artist Banksy set the phrase in visual form with an exhibit of a painted elephant in a room in the Barely Legal exhibition in Los Angeles. The theme of the exhibition was global poverty. By painting the elephant in the same bold pattern as the room's wallpaper, Banksy emphasized the phrase's meaning, by both making the elephant even more obvious and by giving those who chose to ignore it (like the woman on the couch) an opportunity to pretend that it had blended into the wallpaper background.

Whether it’s a bear or an elephant, denying the fact of its presence is never a good idea.  Right now, I’m sure each of you can think of a group of people (politicians, parents, teachers, etc.?) who deny some problems from time to time. Except for my lapse of good observations during my visits to Warwick Castle, I would like to think that I’m aware of bears in the room, even if I can’t or won’t address them fully. I can’t think that I would ever put blinders on and ignore a situation completely. Not me!!!

Here’s a photo of Warwick Castle, showing the huge bear standing in the back left of the Great Hall that my mother noticed but I did not.  You could have missed that couldn’t you?  But, what’s that?  There in the foreground!  Oh, no. . . I never noticed until now that there are two additional bears in the room. . .on the floor as bearskin rugs! OK.  Forget all of the stuff above about my never putting on blinders and never ignoring situations. Now that I remember, my family has often called me an Ostrich, hiding my head in the sand.  I just like to think that I pick and choose my battles.  Aw, heck, who am I trying to kid? I guess I wouldn’t be aware of a bear or an elephant in the room unless I were an egg and an elephant, like Horton, was sitting on me!