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.