Monday, November 16, 2015


Sis and I never knew what Mother kept inside her hope chest.  When she opened it to add  or view its content, we asked no questions. This was her special box.

As Mother grew older and her mind weaker, she opened the chest often. She’d thumb through the contents, then lock the peeling faux-mahogany box with a brass key as old as she. She once told us her mother gave her the chest to collect items for her future marriage.  I imagine she carried it to Greenwood, where she attended business school. On to Jackson to sit in her rented room at the YWCA . In a few months hence she moved the chest to her new apartment when she married our daddy.

By the time she was in her eighties she and her chest had moved into my home.  She struggled to remember from one opening to the next where she had laid the key to the aging lock. Often Mother would wail, ”Help me find the key,” as though it were made of a precious metal. Daddy,  Sis and I pretended we were on a  hunting expedition to humor her. After too many hunts, Daddy removed the lock from the chest, leaving a small round hole large enough to spoil some of her precious belongings.

A short time after her death in 2002, we opened the chest. What seemed, at first invasive, became a tour of our Mother’s youth.  We reveled in the1900s postcards written by her mother, photos of her high school days, tissue-wrapped carnival glass, embroidered dish towels and pillow cases, a baby ring,  her high school boyfriend gazing at us from a filigree frame, a 1920s diary written in pencil.

The real prize  sat hugging the bottom of the chest. A stack of telegrams Daddy, a telegrapher, sent Mother from his first sighting of her  in 1930 on the city streets, to twenty years after their marriage. Despite their age, the messages were legible. The words were humorous and poetic.They revealed to us daughters what a love-struck young man our daddy had been.

Friday, August 28, 2015


I was five years old in 1936 when Mother bought me a Mickey Mouse watch.  She was a clerk at Woolworth’s and bought the watch at a discount from its $3.25 marked price. The Ingersoll Company sold these wind-up watches as early as 1933.

On the face of the watch Mickey pointed out the hours and minutes with his  yellow gloved hands as he stood on skinny legs in his oversize red shoes. I felt grown up when I learned to buckle the black band onto my arm.  I knew no one else my age with a watch as fine as this. Like Mother’s watch, Mickey had a real crystal cover protecting him. That crystal was my downfall.

On numerous occasions when we visited my grandparents’ home in South Mississippi, I found an adventure I often repeated. Having no playmate in the large house, I played “pretend” under beds.  I looked for lost treasure, hid from robbers, discovered how to escape from bad men while squiggling on my stomach in the low space. Mickey stayed close and helped me escape from danger.  On one tense exploration I heard a  Crack!  Mick took a bullet. Even with the broken crystal he stayed with me.  I crawled out from the depths of the cave to civilization with bits of glass clinging to my wrist.

In the kitchen Mother and her family talked softly. I walked past those uncles and aunts all the time worrying I’d never see Mick again. Mother  examined the damage and calmly said, “Don’t worry, we can get Mr. Bourgeois to put on a new crystal.” Mick  stayed in the “hospital” for nearly a week. My left arm felt as bare as my dad’s bald head. Mother suggested I tighten the strap, thinking that was my problem. She didn’t know how the crystal broke.

Until I had Mick back with me, my adventures weren’t as interesting. No one could read the map or open locks or use his big eyes to tell me where to go in the darkness.  When Mick returned, I took special care of him. I wiped his face and wound him every night before I went to bed. He slept in his box on the bedside table. I never failed to say “Goodnight, Mickey.” He replied “G’night, Viv.”

Did I learn my lesson after that first break? No. I broke the crystal three times more before Mother caught on to my underworld adventures. She put Mickey away in her secret place. I didn’t see him again until I was six when I was too big to slip under beds.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Miss Velsor’s Dance Studio sat on the second floor of a commercial building on South Lamar Street in Jackson, Mississippi. Mother and I trudged up the narrow stairway squeezed between a restaurant and a plumbing supply business. While she enrolled me for ballet and tap lessons, I looked around the vast room. A mirror the size of our school auditorium faced the entrance. Bars ran the length of the two walls. A flutter played an imaginary piano inside my stomach. I was about to begin dance lessons in this very room.

Miss Gladys Velsor danced  and floated instead of walking. She twirled and posed to show us how a dancer uses her body. She exuded mystery dressed gypsy style in long, colorful skirts and full-sleeved blouses. When she waved her arms, the sleeves widened like petals of a sunflower. She pinned her dark hair off her face. She smiled, only appearing serious when she wielded her companion, a long pointer, at a leg or foot out of place.  We fifth grade girls listened to her every word.

One afternoon during ballet class she read a letter sent by a Hollywood movie company to dancing teachers everywhere.  A search was on for an experienced dancer at least eighteen years old. “Now, students, this shows you how persistence and hard work may one day give you the chance to enter a contest like this.” I rode the bus home imagining my winning such a prize. Near the end of the year Miss Velsor announced the contest winner as Peggy Middleton of Canada. At that time we had no idea how she would enter our adult lives.

My dream of a dancing career faded as I entered ninth grade. Like girls of the mid 1940s, I wrote fan letters and read magazines like Movie Star and Photoplay. In one issue I found an article on Peggy Middleton who by then had a “Hollywood name.” I copied the movie company’s address and wrote her a fan letter on my best notebook paper.  Within a month she responded with five black and white glossies of her dressed in her costume for her first movie, “Scherherazade.” She was beautiful with curly hair falling to her waist. On one photo she wrote,” To Vivian” and signed her name. That cemented our connection. I was her fan forever.

  Ten years later on the night before my wedding, I pulled out my collection of fan photos and tore them, saying goodbye to my youth, goodbye to Gene, Roy, Sons of the Pioneers, Bing Crosby, and others I’ve forgotten.  I gazed a long time debating whether to keep or destroy those from Peggy. 

One evening in 1965 as my children watched ”The Addams Family,” I interjected during the advertising. I thought it a good time to tell the story of the set of particular fan photos. They gushed, “Oh Mom, how could you?” when I told  them five of the photos I destroyed were from the actress they were watching play the role of the popular Morticia: Yvonne de Carlo.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


We had the greatest idea. Our imaginations ran wild. We’d have tee shirts, buttons, flags with our logo. Logo. What could we use as an identifying reminder of our idea?

The above ideas began after a birthday dinner in which the family sat in an upscale restaurant (for our area it was “upscale”.). The members turned to me and said, “Did you hear our conversations?” I replied “No, but I got the gist of it.”

Son 2 said he knew then how difficult it was for me to hear (a) between walls (b ) in a crowded place (c) around corners (d) and everywhere in which no one was facing me. So began the process of helping me enjoy family get-togethers in the future with ideas flying left and right.

After figuring out what the logo would be, Son 2 went online, “Just to be sure there’s not one already.” There was - - not just one but variations of the standard logo for impaired hearing. We were disappointed but happy. Disappointed we didn’t think of printing tees, buttons and signs, and whatever forty years ago when my hearing problem was in its infancy; disappointed that we hadn’t learned the symbol wasn’t used more often in public; disappointed that I had lost so much enjoyment in the myriad of table conversations.
We found a company that printed anything you want on tees and buttons. I ordered several buttons with nifty statements. From the logo alone to a few words. Each button makes clear the message I need to convey when the cashier babbles incoherently (I think) “Thatistwentythirtytwo.”  Maybe she’ll read on my lapel “Speak a little louder and more clearly,” instead of apologizing when I ask for a repeat – twice – she’ll understand.

I wear a different one every time I leave the house. You know what? No one sees or comments on the button. I have to announce in a group why I'm wearing it. Do you think voices increase in volume because I'm there? Absolutely not!

When you know of someone with hearing difficulties, touch him/her on the arm and speak while you look directly into the eyes. Then see a smile develop.


Daughter Janie was in the second grade in 1970. With February 14 soon to arrive, I asked if she were going to give valentines to her class. No. Was her answer. I asked again a few days later. No, came the second time. Then the night before at 9 p.m. J said she had to go to the store. Why, I asked?  "To buy some valentines for my class." What made her change her mind? She failed to give me a reason. Just insisted she buy some.

With package in hand she sat in her room and vigorously wrote a few words on the back on each valentine, shoved it into its envelope, wrote a name outside. This she did for 25 students and the teacher.

The family of mom, two sons and J went to the same school. I taught in high school at one end of the building; the kids at the other end in elementary school. At lunch Janie's teacher came up to me and asked: "Did you read your daughter's class valentines?"

"No, she wouldn't let me."

Her teacher revealed each student got this message: "Happy VD Day!"


Thursday, February 5, 2015


“I will not sit on a paint bucket. Period.”

 “It’s only for the summers, Hon,” I argued.

“Don’t care, no paint bucket.” Dick folded his arms, his chin thrust defiantly forward.

We had a newly-built cabin in the lower Catskills with a separate bath house containing an old tub large enough for a midget to sit. Missing was a toilet. We were living off the grid. No electricity, no water source.  After consulting several books on the subject, the paint bucket seemed our only choice -- unless husband Dick forked out big bucks for a compost toilet.

“Listen,” I began, “a paint bucket is the smaller version of a purchased toilet. We prepare it to accept a  layering of stuff inside. Never any odor. Once loaded, we cover it, set it aside to compost, and begin with a new bucket.”

“And what happens when we’re ready to come home and there’re forty buckets composting?

“Well, uh, let’s play it by ear the first year,” I replied weakly.

 Such a simple process to create your own toilet: You take a five-gallon plastic paint bucket and have ready in a small garbage can torn-up newspaper, leaves, sawdust, and food scraps. Begin with the first bucket layered with scraps, alternate waste and scraps until the bucket is full; snap on a lid and place it in the sun outdoors and proceed to use second container.  A bi-weekly walk in the woods to collect moist leaves lying near the ground keeps the scrap bucket ready in an emergency.  At the end of a period of time the covered waste disintegrates into a loam-like substance, clean and ready to nourish plants. Paint buckets cost a couple of dollars at the local hardware store. Who could improve on an instant bathroom?

Dick next complained about a permanent ring indention appearing on our backsides. I suggested, “We can use a toilet seat.”

“Negative,” he quickly countered.  I rolled my eyes. There’d be no friends visiting; we had been told how crazy we were at age 70 to tackle living without amenities. Who would spend the night if we had no television set?

I quickly replied, “Inside the bath house we’ll post a sign with directions ‘How to Use the Toilet.’ To ease the process, a decorative cardboard crown will hang next a sign stating ‘For Guest Use Only’. Directions will suggest the sitter put on the crown and pretend to be King or Queen of his/her throne.  Our friends will ignore the inconvenience and come out smiling.”

“The crown thing is stupid. Management doesn’t approve!” Dick declared

How could I win? I gave up fussing and let Dick have his way. He ordered a medium-sized composting toilet. We installed it into our new bath house by setting up a pipe that reached from toilet to the outside roof. The toilet was so high off the floor we had to put a step stool in front to hike ourselves up onto the seat.

I smiled all summer. His way cost time and energy. He soon discovered the New York summers failed to produce enough heat to compost the material. He spent time every eight days raking out the compost himself and disposing of it. 

Below is an at-the-door glance of bath house interior. Tub in rear, compost toilet on right. We gave up using  toilet and used Wag Bags.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


  Despite the low wages during the Depression, Mother bought me a beautiful maroon fabric coat edged around the collar in soft black and white fur. Dozens of buttons marched from neck to hem. What made me feel especially dressed up, I remember, was the matching fur-trimmed, wide brimmed
hat that tied under my chin.

One afternoon while Mother and I were downtown, she suggested that I have my picture made. I was seven years old and disliked having to pose, but Mother insisted the coat and hat deserved preserving on film.  At the local Woolworth’s Five and Dime Store she pushed me into the photo booth, ordered me to sit, and dropped a dime in the slot, all the while insisting that I turn my head this way and that while a “Click” sounded in the booth. I fidgeted, followed her instructions but refused to smile. When the session was complete, Mother grabbed the strip of six black and white pictures and my hand and rushed to the street corner to catch Bus No. 7 for home.

 Within a week a telephone call informed Mother that Grandmother was sick again. This had become a ritual. In 1938 we spent a lot of time in South Mississippi rushing to the country when Grandmother became ill. I saw with this visit an opportunity to show off my new coat and hat. We quickly packed a small bag and headed to the bus that would take us to the train station next door to the Old Capitol Building at the top of Capitol Street.

We traveled to the country by train or bus, an exciting adventure. The trip of only 100 miles was never boring. My cousin William and his parents lived on the Mitchell farm ten miles from town. Uncle Royce helped Gran’daddy with farming and running the general store across the street. Aunt Emma nursed my Grandmother when her weak heart put her to bed or into the hospital. 

My grandparents’ unpainted house always looked gray and forlorn because it had never been painted. An open porch along the front of the house looked gloomy in the wintertime, but was the coolest place on hot summer day. Inside wallpaper covered the exposed boards in the rooms with fireplaces. When we arrived I paraded in my coat and hat before my relatives who, unknown to me, had gathered expecting a death in the family.  Despite the warmth of the fires in each room, I refused to remove my new apparel.

 After receiving the compliments I desired, I was ready to play outdoors with William. I was excited to see my cousin, a year younger than I. He was my favorite playmate. We explored the yard and played endless games of Hide and Seek, flipped over the horizontal bar at the windmill like
gymnasts; made roads in the soft earth under the house. However, this time I realized playing under the house was too dirty and the buttons on my coat wouldn’t allow me to flip easily on the bar at the windmill, so I insisted we play Hide and Seek.  After the third round of the game William disappeared. As I thought of where to search first, I felt a rush of air. In a second my hat was snatched off my head as a blur of William  passed me. I let out a yell: “WILL I YAM." With fury smoking I continued with  “YOU‘RE. GOING. TO. BE. IN. A. LOT. OF. TROUBLE.” I searched behind  his usual hiding places, hoping to catch sight of my prized possession caught on a bush. After what seemed like a day I stopped to gulp huge breaths of air. Without a doubt I needed help from William‘s

 Outside Uncle Royce found his son hiding behind a large pillar on the front porch. He gave my cousin a facial expression that telegraphed William’s behavior as Trouble. William hesitated trying to decide how far along he could get with his joke in his dad’s presence. Uncle Royce commanded in a stern voice, ”Find. Her. HAT.” 

William turned 180 degrees, marched to the back of the house, around the chinaberry tree, through the back gate, and towards one of three wooden buildings. One was a garage for tractors, one the barn, and the smallest, the outhouse. William stopped, nervously hopping from one foot to the other, at the opened door of the outhouse. I was positive I’d find my hat here. I walked in without hesitation, glanced around the small space containing two holes for business. The hat was not hanging on nails stuck through from the outside. Not tossed on the floor.  Not caught between the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog used for toilet paper. Was William joking? With his daddy’s urging, William pointed at the left hole. Hope turned to fear. My coat suddenly was too warm for me. My brand-new-never-before-worn-anywhere-but-here couldn’t be . . . down THERE. I begged my uncle to reach in and get the hat. Instead, he said, “If you can see it, I can get it.” However, one look into that gloom told me I'd never wear my hat again.

 No one could console me as I cried the rest of that day and for many days afterwards. Time erased the disappointment, but  for years at family reunions I reminded William of his owing me a similar hat.

A year after my mother’s death  in 1999 I opened her carefully preserved photo album to discover she had pasted one of the black and white strip pictures showing me pouting because I hated my picture taken. But there is the jaunty hat and coat with matching fur, however difficult to see because of the age of the photo. Despite not having preserved the coat, I was excited to possess the reminder of the pretty outfit and of a joke gone bad. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Two events happened before my sister was past two years old. I still remember the incidents, although they happened over 75 years ago.

When Mother went to the hospital to have Sis, I was excited to think I’d get a brother. When Daddy called on our black telephone, I distinctly recall his telling me I had a little sister. Not having talked much about siblings, I wanted my parents to trade Sis in. For many years I think I resented Sis not being a brother; although she was a good baby.

I became her substitute mother. We lived on Minerva Street in 1938 when G was born. The apartment  was a four-plex, Each downstairs apartment had a wide front porch. I recall entering the door and seeing a staircase that led to the apartment upstairs where Mrs. Crawford and her daughter Floy lived. We had the bottom floor. A long hallway went from front to back, with lots of room we used for a dining room. On the right side of the hallway were two large rooms we used as bedrooms and a large  kitchen.  G and I had the middle room next to the kitchen.

In the summer I stayed with G while Mother worked days and Daddy nights. Mrs. Crawford was always around and checked on us. One rainy day G at age 13 months, climbed upon the single bed, slipped open the screen latch and leaned out—a bit too far and fell quite a ways down into a valley of bricks.  She was on  her back crying as the rain dripped off the roof onto her face. I called Mother and then Mrs.  Crawford.  However, little G’s straight hair turned curly. A bald throughout the early years, Mother wound a pink ribbon around her head to make her appear girlish. Her curls showed us the fright she'd had.

Another time on Minerva  I served as the “mother of the house” while the parents were gone. At noon I prepared G a sandwich on the small shelf of a  enameled cabinet in the kitchen. Tall, it held funnels for flour and cornmeal, shelves for bought goods, and drawers below a ledge there for dishes. As I recall kitchens didn't have shelving as complete as today's kitchens. After spreading  peanut butter across the bread, I began to trim the crusts, as Mother did to make the sandwich pretty. The knife slipped and hit G in the right eye.  Her head had leaned against the shelf watching me, her right eye at the level of the  edge. While Sis held her eye, again I called Mother and Mrs. Crawford (a heavy-set woman who couldn’t manipulate the stairs very quickly}. Off to the doctor went Mother, who came home with Sis wearing an eye patch. The doctor said, “No harm done.” 

I learned my lesson about handling knives. Mother cut the ends off the bread before she left for work. I used a butter knife to spread mayonnaise. To this day I trim the bread for my sandwiches with the memory of that near-fatal day oh so long ago.


Thirty years ago if you had asked members of my family’s church their favorite place for dessert and coffee, overwhelmingly they would agree:  the Wadsworth home. Hot muffins just “happened” to pop out of the oven while coffee was perking about the time visitors opened their car doors and hit the front steps. Did you, Ann, they would say in feigned innocence, make these tiny cakes for us? However, when Mother invited a few members of her Sunday School class for a meeting, the ladies knew in place of muffins there’d be two or three chocolate pies cooling

Sis and I were amazed how quickly Mother could spin out her muffins as easily as turning around a corner. If she saw guests arriving she recognized by the car they were driving, she'd run into the kitchen, whip up the dough, grease the muffin pan, and have the pan in the oven when the guests arrived.  The aroma alone told the guests to "sit a spell."

I recall the parents making friends with antique dealers. Mainly because Daddy was the best "clock fixer" around. These dealers came as far away as Vicksburg and Hattiesburg.  Two who worked in Vicksburg would drop by after they'd been antique hunting. "Just to say hello," they'd remark. In reality, they hoped Mother would baked them muffins. She would.

 Like many of her time, Mother was reared in the country, the youngest of ten children. She lived in a wood frame house with three older brothers who worked in the fields with their farmer dad.  As soon as she was tall enough to use the stove, she was appointed second in command to prepare lunch, the largest meal of the day. This experience was the foundation for her excellent home cooking and baking upon marriage. Unfortunate for her two daughters. Mother was accustomed to multi-tasking from childhood she never thought she should require her daughters to learn to cook and sew.
 Sis and I grew up on Mother’s chocolate pies and banana pudding. We imagined each had been developed by dozens of aunts and grandmothers who came before her, a secret only the Mitchells of Walthall County, Mississippi, quietly taught their daughters the “show and tell” method. By the time Mother aged and was unable to bake, we discovered the pies were an old recipe repeated in early cookbooks. She boiled a custard made of milk and sugar.  Then she added Hershey’s Cocoa, or for a  change, coconut flakes, or lemon juice. When time came for home made ice cream, she included seasonal fruit to the custard and cooled it for Daddy to turn the crank of the old wood ice cream maker filled with ice and salt. My mouth waters at the thought of those desserts.
 Never, though, did I ever think I’d find anyone who could make pies like hers.  Only until I attended a neighborhood auction did I find a chocolate pie waiting for my bid. Surprised, I discovered the  cook lived next door.