Ann in KISMET, Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre, 1982

Saturday, July 25, 2015


       All of my life, I have had the reputation of being tenacious. . .it is almost impossible for me "to give up." I'll keep on something until I've succeeded.  Now, I must also admit that I am most discerning in my tenacity.  Some things just don't interest me and, if after one attempt, I have not mastered or completed the task, I don't try again.  Case in point:  I tried doing the Rubik Cube once; I failed, so that was it!  However, I am still trying to catch a dollar bill that's been dropped straight down, doing so with my forefinger and thumb.  I haven't done it so far, but I keep trying.
      We are all familiar with Charlie Brown and his friend Lucy.  Poor Charlie tries every year to kick the football.  He keep inviting Lucy to hold it. . .every year.  She does.  Just as Charlie is approaching the ball, Lucy pulls it away and Charlie falls flat on his posterior. . .as he does every year!
       I read somewhere that the sure sign of insanity is trying to do something the same way time after time and expecting a different outcome! My mother used to tell the story about a lady who was given a test to see whether or not she was crazy.  They locked her in a room with nothing but a mop and a water spigot on the wall.  They turned the water on and left.  If the lady started mopping up the water, she was kept in the asylum.  If she turned off the water at the spigot, they let her go.  All of my life, when I did something a bit off-center, Mama would say, "Ann, you're mopping water"!
       Well, I may be mopping water on this tenacious activity, but for much of my adult life, I have been looking for a picture. . .a portrait. And here are the particulars!  My grandmother and grandfather married in Columbia, MS in 1906.  About that time, my very fashionable grandmother was photographed in a beautiful outfit, hat, and parasol. . .all of which she made.  I can only deduce that the portrait was taken in Columbia.  However, many years later, when my mother (my grandmother's youngest) was a teen-ager and living in New Orleans, Mama would go downtown "window shopping" on Canal Street with her sisters or her friends. 
       One day, she and her companions passed by the window of a photographer on the River end of Canal, and my mother saw a very large portrait of a lady in a beautiful old fashioned dress, hat, and parasol that was hand-colored pink and was in a large exquisite frame.  It was my grandmother!  Mama had seen the original smaller photo many times, and she recognized it immediately.  She and the others went into the shop and found out that it was named WHEN MOTHER WAS A GIRL and it was for sale.  I was never told the amount, but I know it was too much for my mother's family to buy. Therefore, ever since I heard that story, I have searched for that large portrait.
       As you can imagine, it has been almost impossible before the advent of the internet.  However, I've had no success on that search aid either.  I can't tell you how many antique shops I've visited. I have attended and have my look-outs at auctions.  I've even looked in some of the majestic homes in New Orleans, either as a guest or as a paying member of a tour.  No luck.  I do realize that it doesn't have to be in this city.  It could have been destroyed by fire or hurricane.  There are many scenarios that I can imagine happened to the picture, but I keep trying!
       I almost gave up looking several years ago, but I serendipitously found another object I had sort of been looking for.  My aunt had been teaching in Gulfport, MS.  One of her first grade students gave her a beautiful, Japanese tea cup.  It was egg-shell thin porcelain, beautifully decorated, and had a "magic picture" at the bottom of a Geisha girl. The process of creating a portrait in thin porcelain is known as lithophane.  Somehow, my aunt's teacup got a small crack in it, and my aunt was devastated.  As I looked for my grandmother's portrait, I looked also for another cup like the one Aunt Mary had.  One day, on Canal Street, in the window of a shop, I found NOT one cup like my aunt's, but an entire tea set of the same pattern, including lithophanes.  It included six cups, six saucers, a teapot, a sugar bowl, and a creamer.  I bought the entire set, and I was so proud to present it to my aunt.  A few years later, before she died, she gave it back to me. The set has started my passion of collecting lithophanes. I love it dearly, yet finding  it re-sparked and encouraged my search for my grandmother's portrait.
       I may never find the portrait and, perhaps, no one in my family will take on the search when I'm gone, but it has not all been in vain.  In addition to the teacup, I have found many interesting things along the way, tangible and intangible.  By the way, I just learned of a website online.  It is called google images and one can try to match by sight or description, images they are seeking.  I have spent hours, scrolling through these images.
       Yes, I may be the poster child for insanity. . .looking for the impossible needle in the proverbial haystack, but, perhaps, you can help me.  I've posted a photo of the original.  If in your travels, you come across it, please let me know or obtain it and let me know.  You'll be reimbursed by my family or me. . .unless, of course, it is more than a hundred dollars; then, you'll just have to tell me where it is so that I can VISIT it!!!


      As in most families, there are stories that are told over and over and never challenged.  I must admit to hearing stories about my family and never questioning the authenticity, the facts, or the particulars until I was much older, but by then the ones who told me the stories were gone.  However, here follows a family story in which the two main characters are still with us so far. . .my youngest brother, Tommy, and yours truly!
      Four years after I was born, my mother (already the mother of two) gave birth to my youngest brother.  This great event took place in Jackson, MS, while I was in New Orleans with my maternal grandmother.  Mother called her mother (and me too) to tell us that she had had a little boy.  Family lore has it that I said, “Let’s call him Tommy.” And from then on, everyone agreed that I had named my baby brother. . . especially acknowledged by my baby brother, Tommy!
      Tommy’s full name is Thomas Leigh Bryant.  His wife calls him Tom,  and so do most of the people who have met him as an adult. However, family members and friends who knew him when, call him Tommy or TB.  As an attorney and a retired Lt. Col. in the US Army, I guess it would be unseemly for him to be known as “Tommy.” Nevertheless, even Tom, Tommy, and TB, all three have acknowledged that I named him.
      As I now seem to be the “matriarch” of the family, I have found myself making sure that other family members know what I know about the family.  I start many a conversation with Tommy and his daughters with “Did I ever tell you. . ?” Most of the time, I have; some of the time, I’ll tell them something they never heard. One such conversation took place a couple of years ago.
      As TB was only three when Daddy died, he doesn’t remember much except what he’s been told.  When Mama was relating stories about family members on both sides of the family, Tommy and our other brother, Giles, were out playing ball or doing anything but listening to stories. So, one day not too long ago, Tommy and I were talking about some of our father’s relatives. One story Mama always told me was about one of my father’s uncles and his wife.  Tom Giles and his wife, Grace, had been married for many years.  They had no children, and they lived in McHenry, MS.  Traveling from Hattiesburg to Gulfport, one had to go through McHenry, and my parents often stopped to see Uncle Tom and Aunt Grace.  I vaguely remember being at their house, but I don’t ever remember having lunch or dinner.  But Mama would tell about the meals they had in McHenry. 
      They all would be sitting around a big dining table, laden with all sorts of wonderful looking and smelling Southern food.  After the blessing, everyone sat in readiness for the meal.  All of a sudden, it was as if no one was at the table but my great uncle and his wife.  She called him Suge (as in Sugar), and he called her Suggie (as in a diminutive of Sugar), and Mama always referred to them (not to their faces) as Suge and Suggie (as well as any other couple she knew who were so involved in each other that the rest of the world didn't matter, but back to the original). And it would start:  “Suge, can I pass you the beans?” “Thank you Suggie. Would you like the potatoes?” “Suge, is your tea sweet enough?” “Yes, Suggie, thank you.” And this would go on with the two passing the food platters back and forth between themselves.  Finally, others would have to get up and get a bowl or a platter and pass it to the others. I always thought it as a very funny family story, not realizing that I was the last person in the family who knew it after Mama was gone.
      When I was relating this story to Brother Tommy a couple of years ago, I interjected an innocent remark.  I think I said something like, “I can’t believe that Mama named you after Uncle Tom Giles.  He wasn’t close to the family, as I remember.”  My brother was very quiet for a few seconds.  Then, he said, “I thought you named me.” I admitted I did, but then I added, “When Mama called from Jackson, she said I had a new little brother and his name would be Thomas, and I said let’s call him Tommy. Then my brother asked (sort of sarcastically), THAT'S it? That's IT? That’s a no-brainer. . .calling a Thomas, Tommy! For over 60 years, I thought you named me, and now I find out that you just came up with the nickname? I reminded him that I was only four and didn’t have a whole lot of names in my head.  He was still almost in disbelief when he asked, “Why in the world did Mama name me after someone she didn’t care too much about? I don’t ever remember seeing Uncle Tom.” This I was able to clear up for him:  Mama said that Uncle Tom Giles had a beautiful, gold pocket watch. As he and Aunt Grace didn’t have any children, Mama thought that maybe he would leave it to a namesake – Tommy! He didn't. TB was quiet again and then, not unlike a bad-tempered child, my 60-something-year-old brother exclaimed, Where’s MY watch???