Chapter 95: Goodbye, Mr. Mullican

Good bye, Bob Mullican. This is one of the hardest sentences I’ve ever typed….

I met Robert James Mullican of Montgomery Alabama in the fall of 1977. He was the first friend I made at Washington and Lee University.

We met at the Natural Bridge Hotel when W&L used to rent it out for Freshman orientation to get us way from the Frat parties for our indoctrination. But they had kegs brought in to make the transition as painless as possible.

I met Bob at the Freshman Keg Party our first night at Washington and Lee. I was entering a world that was foreign to me. For the first time in my life, I was on my own. Away from my family and away from a group of friends who were my defacto family. I didn’t know if I could do it.

But then, I met Bob. We were both starting over. He was from Montgomery, Alabama and I was from Danville, Virginia. We were both entering the world we were raised to enter, but both doing it alone, and not totally sure it was the right thing. We were brash, young and appeared more confident than we were.

We stood around the keg and Bob told me how he was going to be a Doctor as long as socialized medicine didn’t come to be.  We talked and drank and went on to the indoctrination the was Freshmen Camp. I told him, in passing, of some issues I was having with my transition and my family’s adjustment to my going to W&L with my room-mate situation.

A couple of days later, back on campus, Bob came up to me and told me there was a room available on his hall in the Graham Lees dorm, two doors down from him. Someone was cut from the football team and decided to leave the University.  Since we didn’t really have a Football team, this was kind of amazing.

Thanks to Bob, I moved into a single room 2 doors down from him at Washington and Lee. I went from a dorm counselor who looked like a blond Hitler Youth to, George, who was more a forgiving, frumpy laissez-faire presence than an authoritarian one. This was the first time Bob saved me….

Back then, W&L was an all male school. I had friends at Randolph Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg and they set us up for dates. We drove over the mountain together and somehow survived driving home to W&L after more cocktails than either of us could recall. We wore Black Tie well and had a hell of a good time. We drank and danced and crawled back home to the disapproving judgement of George, our Dorm Councilor.

Bob pledged Lambda Chi, the fraternity all my friends told me to rush. I didn’t get a bid. But Bob made sure I was invited to all the parties and that I met his friends, like Ralph. He told me about the Christmas Grain party and told me to stay up and be sure he made it home to the dorm. He took a brief nap on a traffic island, but just when I was heading out to look for him, he, literally crawled in in a grain punch  covered night-shirt. We looked out for each other.

My Sophomore year, Bob made damn sure I pledged Lambda Chi and that they bid me. He and my friend Ralph worked their magic. I, the eternal outsider, was now an insider. I only made it through the ridiculous pledge period because of them…

And our lives changed forever. I met some people who are to this day, my dearest friends. Thanks to Bob….

And we met some incredible women from Sweet Briar College. And Bob fell in love. Totally and completely, with one of them.

When I look back on those years , I always look back through an F. Scott Fitzgerald filter. They were definitely Fitzgeraldian days dipped in Lisa Birnbach Preppy handbook filter. We were young, white, privileged and very cute. And it was a beautiful, if unreal world.

If I was Nick Caraway, Bob was our Gatsby in love with our Daisy Buchanan. And I have never seen a man as in love with a woman as he was with our Daisy. He was protective and cautious and the ultimate Gentleman. And too patriarchal and protective  for his own good. It did not end well.

That was the first crack in our perfect world….

Both our lives pretty much went to hell our senior year. Daisy had left Gatsby and my family was falling apart over my Father’s cancer and the resulting money issues. And I was freaking out about dealing with the fact I was gay.

We moved apart instead of supporting each other. I’m confident we meant well, but we had to deal with our worlds shattering on our own. We were men of a certain time and class. We were trained to draw in, not ask for support.

But we stayed friends. He went on to Law School in Alabama and seemed to pull it all together. My life was messier. But Bob, who I thought was the least likely person to deal with unconventional behavior, stuck with me.

Late night calls when I had too much to drink didn’t phase him. I remember one late night, drunken call when I told him I was Gay. He said “If you had told me in 1977, I probably wouldn’t have ever spoken to you again. But, hell, nothing else turned out like we thought it would, so I can deal with this, too. The world just isn’t what we thought it was…just be happy”

I went to see Bob in Alabama almost every year between 1981 and the mid 1990’s. The first trip was a bit awkward. We were watching something on HBO and he kept talking about the tits on the leading actress.  I had to tell him “Bob, I’m not going to jump your bones. You are my friend. That’s it. Don’t try so hard.” He adjusted. For those of us from my time and place, that was a necessary conversation.  After that, we spent the next 15 years discussing Diasy Buchanan and what had gone wrong in both our lives….

Until about 20 years ago.

Then we both finally grew up. He loved Fairhope, Alabama. I remember going there on my annual trip to see him and he told be how much he loved it there. Not Mobile or his condo on the beach. He loved the artsy world of Fairhope.

I fell in love and he was thrilled.  He met a woman, who I never met, in Fairhope and he fell in love.  Daisy was finally exorcised.  We were both happy. Finally. We didn’t need each other so much anymore…..

Time passed….

And we were talking about getting together again in Lexington.

A few years ago, my other college friends from W&L and Sweet Briar began getting together again in Lexington, Virginia where we spent those formative years together. Some of us had not seen each other in almost 30 years. But those years and those friendships meant so much, that, as we grow a little older, it meant a lot to regroup and come together again..

Most people will never understand the world we lived in. Preppy Boys School and Preppy Girls schools where we could put on our best faces, attitudes and clothes for the weekends we shared. And we only realize how much we lost when, in those pre-Facebook days, we weren’t able to re-connect because we did not share alumni associations….We were all a little lost without each other…

A couple of years ago, my College group started meeting again. When we feared Sweet Briar would close, it jump started our need to get together. The Daisy Buchanans, Nick Caraways, Jordan Bakers and all the other wonderful Fitzgeraldian  pieces of our past tried to find a new relevance.

I called Bob several times and begged and bitched at him to come meet us. He would never commit. The rest of us got together and talked about him and plotted how to get him to join us.

As my friend Carolyn said: “We are a jigsaw puzzle and Bob’s the missing piece!”…

And now always will be.

I found out Bob died when our friend Ralph read it in the Alumni Magazine and called me. Bob had already been dead for 5 months. I’m still in shock.

I keep thinking I should do the right thing -like Bob would have- and write his wife.  I can’t. I just can’t. Not yet.  That would make it too real.

I still need to think I can have too much to drink one night and call my friend and we can pick up right where we left off. We always did. For almost 40 years I could track him down in Alabama and we would figure out how to make the world right….

I haven’t cried for Bob until tonight. I’m finally crying as I type this.

I’ve always been a writer, or at least an observer. I’ve always had a wall between me and the rest of the world. I’m not good at interpersonal things. I just buck up and keep going. Bob was like that, too. We just tried to do our best, act as gentlemen, with a code of honor and decency, and keep going. Stiff upper lip and all that…

But I’ve finally just got to pause. And do the ungentlemanly act of publicly grieving for my friend. I’m sorry, I just can’t stop myself….he was just too special.

 

 

 

 

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Chapter 94: Better Dead Than Red

I grew up during the Cold War, so I can remember when the worst thing one could be called was a “communist.”  And the term was used freely to discredit those one did not agree with…

I will always remember when my sister was born.  My Mother suddenly discovered “Dr. Spock’s Baby Book” and it became second in importance to her to the Bible.  She walked around constantly with her dog-eared, worn paperback copy and quoted it constantly.  No matter what the subject, she had to go to the index and see what Dr. Spock recommended.

This made my father crazy.  It was always “Dr. Spock” this and “Dr. Spock” that.  One day, he grabbed her copy of the book and threw it in the diaper pail.  He said: “Goddamit, Lou, Dr Spock is a Communist.”

That shut her up and she never quoted him again.  To her, and most people of that era, there was nothing worse than being a communist. She never quoted Dr. Spock again.

As a sidebar, the diaper pail was where the kept my sister’s soiled all cotton dirty diapers.  This was before Pampers.  A service would come around periodically and take them away and leave clean ones.  It was kind of like a human litter box.

And,I might add, my sister’s subsequent fashion choices later proved one could not learn an appreciation for natural fibers through osmosis.

Now, I question how we have reached the point where people are not outraged by Trump and his cohorts openly consorting with Communists like Putin and Communists interfering in our elections.  It’s a different world….and how did we get here?

When I was born, my father made my Mother go right back to work at her receptionist job and I was left with my Grandmother and Aunt Goldie to spend most of the first few years of my life in the Mill Village.  I’ve always been grateful for that.  I was never one of them, but I knew them well.

This gave me an exposure to uneducated, working people who I would have missed had this not happened. I may have gone to an expensive College and be an over-educated liberal now, but I spent a lot of time growing up with poorer, less educated people.  And I later worked with more of them in the warehouse of my Father’s company when I was in my teens and in the mill myself during my college summers..  I’m not a silver spoon Progressive.

And I wonder what these people and the people in my family would think of the world today if they were still here…

How did we get here?  The idea that Trump and his cohorts associated with Communists who possibly interfered with our elections would be enough to make most of these people disavow him right away.

But then, this was before Brietbart and Fox News….

And before “Conservatism” became a middle-class ideal.

My parents rode the post-war wave to prosperity.  They moved from the Mill Village to a nice ranch house on the other side of town.  They did very well financially.  For a while…

You see, you have to have a somewhat firm financial position to have the luxury of embracing Conservatism.  My parents were the first Republicans in our family.

But my father always lived to take advantage of every Veterans Administration program he could qualify for….and this became particularly important when he was ravaged, physically and financially, by cancer in his 50’s.  He lived for and by government programs then. We were caught by the safety net.  This all changed by the time my Mother had Alzheimer’s,  but that is another post….

But what would these people say today?

My great Aunt, Big Mary, with her pictures of JFK and FDR on the wall…

My Granny, who was the one of the few people I have ever known who did not see Class or Race, but only saw people.  Period.  Who walked from the hills of West Virginia to Danville to find a better life in the Mill….who knew we were all in this mess called life together. And thought we had to try to take care of each other and lift each other up.

My other Grandmother, who was crushed by changing times, broken dreams and financial failures to the point she spent most of her later life in a state funded mental institution.

My Uncle Wiseman, who was agorophobic and didn’t leave the house for 30 years.  Even he was too fond of channel surfing, by hand on the TV,  not to just stay on Fox News….

My Aunt Goldie, who always referred to former Charlotte Mayor and former Republican Congresswoman Sue Myrick as “that bitch.”  Well, I know what she would say….

But these people all knew the government had a role in making life better.  And they knew that manners and common decency was important.  And they feared the “reds”.

But they are gone.  And I don’t think they would recognize their children and grandchildren today….

 

 

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Chapter 93: Goldie – Part 2

So Goldie moved to Charlotte in 1965….

This was a Big Deal back then when single women simply did not relocate for jobs.

But my Mother, as usual, took center stage.

“Goldie is moving to Charlotte.  I don’t understand this at all,but I hear they have good shopping in Charlotte.  We can go see Goldie and shop and buy things people in Danville don’t have and tell them we got it in Charlotte.  They have malls!  That will be so much fun!  Of course we will stay with her and visit, but the shopping will be great”

Mind you, the only gene my family has in common is the “shopping gene.”  We have can go generations without any commonality, we can have serious discrepancies in educational levels and political beliefs,  but you say the word “shopping” and everyone falls in line.

One of our first trips was to buy my sister’s dress for the Little Miss Danville Pagent when she was “Miss White Swan Laundry.”  Lou, my mother, must have looked at every party dress for a 4 year old in Charlotte.  She settled on a pale green chiffon dress with  about 75 crinolines at Ivey’s, that had bells, and was more pleased than if she had been a witness to the seconding coming of Christ.

We then went to see “The Sound of Music” at a theatre in Downtown, now Uptown, Charlotte, weeks before it came to Danville.  She acted like she had been to Paris to buy clothes and London to see theatre.

She couldn’t wait to tell everyone  she knew in Danville about her adventures.  And this would only work because most people in Danville only left town to go to Myrtle Beach for a week in August….

Goldie settled into her job.  She did her work.  She accepted her new place and, I think, loved her new apartment.  In Danville, she had had an apartment in an old house on West Main Street, near Averett College, in the Historic District.  In Charlotte, she was in a one bedroom apartment in a new part of town.  There was a drive in theatre behind her apartment and if you climbed on the kitchen counters, as I quickly discovered, you could see the movie for free over the fence in the back.  You might not be able to hear it, but…..

And since my Mother only ever wanted to go places she “knew people” besides Myrtle Beach, Goldie’s new apartment became her vacation getaway.

Goldie would tell me of her travels.  Of seeing Carol Channing in “Hello Dolly” in New York on Broadway.  She had a walk in closet full of fashionable 1960’s clothes.  She taught me the Twist and the Watusi.  Lou could not have cared less….If it didn’t happen in Danville, it was irrelevant.

And Goldie struggled with the bridge between her old life in Danville and her new life in Charlotte.  She missed her family but loved the new opportunities she saw…She struggled for balance.

I’ll never forget one visit to  see her.  A mutual friend of hers and my parents had stopped by.  A traveling salesman.  A real Don Draper….

I remember the night so well.  My sister and I had been put to sleep on the rollaway bed, but I had gotten up and snuck into the kitchen to watch  a movie over the fence at the Drive In.  My parents had said it was a dirty movie, so I had to try to see it….

I heard my parents and Goldie talking in the living room.  Since this was not in Danville, my Father was free to drink more than usual.  Since it was not in Danville, my Mother actually had a few cocktails since “no one would know”.  Her motto was always, “it doesn’t count if it’s out of town.”

Anyway….

Goldie was saying:  “Arrington Callaway came by last week.  He was too drunk to drive, so I let him stay.  I let him have my bed and I sat by the bed in the chair all night listening to him talk about his life.  He is such an unhappy man.  I never dreamed…”

Now my mother had Southern Belle Simple down to an art form.  Even before she got Alzhiemers, she could toss her earrings and put her head to the side and look at you in a way that made you believe absolutely nothing was going on behind her very fetching eyes.  She worked it to her advantage, like no one else I have ever seen, well into her 60’s.

But the woman could also drop the mask and get down to brass tacks faster than anyone I have ever seen.  And it was scary to watch the transition…..

My Mother Lou, who was on her third drink or so, said:  “Did you sleep with him?”  Goldie said, “No, of course not, his wife Susan is one of my oldest friends.  I just listened.  But I worry.  Should I tell Susan?”

Lou looked at her and said:  “That man is sex on a stick.  Are you sure you didn’t sleep with him?”

Goldie said: “No.  I swear.”

My Father, who had drunk himself into a stupor by then, piped in:  “I knew you were a lesbian.”

Lou said to my Father:  “You shut up.  I’ll deal with you tomorrow when you are sober.”

To Goldie she said:  “Listen, you aren’t married.  You don’t know what it’s like.  We all marry these hound dogs and it’s our job to keep them on the porch.  If they wonder, we don’t ask too many questions.  Susan knows what she got.  Believe me.  You did her a favor.  Keep your mouth shut.  If anyone knows about this, it will be blamed on you because you are a single woman over 30.  You will be called a slut for letting the old dog in in the first place.  I know because that’s just what we do.  We always blame the woman.  I put on my hat and gloves and went to see Herman’s boss and batted my eyes to stop his over night travels.  Susan should have done the same.  It’s more her fault than yours, but no one will ever see it that way.  That’s life.”

I think that might have been the night Goldie realized how much distance she had traveled….

And over time, we went to see Goldie less as a family.  Eventually, I would go see her alone or with my friends.

But Goldie always walked that tightrope between the old world in Danville and the new world in Charlotte.  Charlotte was never home to her, but she know she knew Danville was no place for her at that time in her life.  I’m not sure she ever found her place….

More to come….

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Chapter 93: Goldie

Goldie….My aunt Goldie.  It’s very hard to write about her…

I  was always much closer to Goldie and my grandmother Sigmon than I was to my parents.  I’m not quite sure why…

But Goldie was probably the most important relative in my life…

Goldie was different.  She loved the sun.  When she spent a lot of time in the sun, she looked just like Lena Horne.  She was earthy, but elegant.  She always kind of made me think of Barbara Stanwyck.  She never forgot where she came from, but she was always trying to do better and to move forward.  She was grounded.

She was an ambitious woman when ambitious women were not fashionable….

She never, ever treated me as less than an equal.  From as far back as I can remember, she always talked to me like I was a friend and an adult- even when I was 5 years old.

Goldie shouldered the responsibility of supporting my Grandmother and several other crazy relatives.  She was the de facto Matriarch of my Mother’s family.  My Mother may have married and distanced herself from them, but Goldie never did.

My Mother and Goldie always seemed to differentiate themselves by  thinking Lou, my Mother, was the pretty one and Goldie was the smart one.  In those Mad Men days of the 1950’s and 1960’s, for women, pretty always trumped smart.

Goldie was a career woman-when most other women thought that meant you just couldn’t get a man.

Goldie could be the most elegant woman you could imagine.  The woman could dress to kill.  She was tall, thin and Lena Horne tanned, but that was not a fashionable look at that time…she was tall, edgy and angular, not soft and conventionally pretty.  She loved clothes and had some great ones, but could dress down with the best.  My Mother used to get her left over formal gowns and have them altered to fit.  When Goldie died, she spent months plotting how to get her fur coat…

And she always treated me as a friend more than a nephew.

One of my first memories of her is being with her in Ballou Park while she was waxing her car.  Goldie was wearing a man’s Brooks Brother’s Oxford shirt, capri pants and penny loafers…her usual uniform when not working or going out socially.

Cars were important to that generation.  Both Goldie and my Father had to have a new car every other year.  That was one of their many points of competition.  One year, they actually ordered the same Ford LTD in the same color and fought about who got the idea first for the next two years….They both almost died.

I digress…

That day, when I was 6 or 7. I was in Ballou Park with Goldie while she was waxing her Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and she was talking to me.  She always called me “Monk”, short for Monkey, for some reason…Maybe because she always said all small children always looked liked monkeys….

She was saying:  “Monk, I’m going to quit night school. It just doesn’t matter if I get my college degree from Stratford College.  No matter how hard I work and what degree I might get, I’ll aways be a secretary or, at best, an Office Manager.  Because I’m not a man.  I was valedictorian of my High School Class and I might be smarter than any man, but I’m still a woman and my options are limited.  I hate to quit anything, but I know when I’m beat.”

And she and my Father fought constantly.  Goldie was one of the very few people who would stand up to him.  There was a unique dynamic there….

My Father always hinted that Goldie was a Lesbian and she always hinted he was Gay.  It was subtle and took me many years to realize this was going on, but it was a constant undercurrent to their battles….

My Father used to say to her: “Are you going to the beach again with that bunch of loud women?  Have you all given up on getting any man?  You might get one if you weren’t all so loud and vulgar”

She would tell me:  ” I was so shocked when your Father married Lou.  I mean, he always hung out with the girls, but I never thought he would marry one.  I was eavesdropping the night he proposed to your mother.   I came out to the porch afterwards and ask him if he was sure he wanted to take on that much trouble…”

Usually, their battles were more symbolic.  They once had a fight about whether paper napkins or paper towels were more expensive and did not speak for 6 months.

And my Father always had distinct ideas of how Ladies should behave.  To him, my Mother was a Lady and Goldie was a Broad.

Ladies never went to bars or drank beer.  Goldie used to meet the boys at Earl’s Bar and Grill on Riverside Drive after work and drink all the boys under the table. She handled the boys in ways they were not trained to manage….

In the mid-1960’s, she was offered a very nice job promotion and a transfer to Charlotte. My Mother’s immediate reaction was “How can you move somewhere you don’t know anyone?  I don’t understand.”  My Father said:  “Hell, she is 37, what else does she have to look forward to?”

She sat down with me at her apartment on West Main Street and told the 6 year old me:
“Monk, I’m going to take the job.  There is nothing here for me.  I can go to work and put on my hat and gloves and play bridge with the Old Guard at the Ballou Park Nature Center each week until I’m dead, but I’ll always be poor Goldie, the uppity old maid from the mill village here.  And I have to support your Granny and Wiseman.  This will always be home, but I have to take this….I have to leave.  And leaving you is the hardest.  But you have to know when to leave.  Remember that….Part of fighting is knowing when to just quit the field and move on-no matter what is pulling you back.”

More to come….

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Chapter 92: Scarlett Grows Up

Some women, in every man’s life are unforgettable.

Lavinia Randolph will always be one of those girls for me….

She was a force of nature.   From band days in High School through most of the next 25 years of my life, she was also one of the ties that  bound me through most of my years in my home town.  She was my guide and my companion on the journey to survive the modern day South.

I think every man, gay or straight,-has one or two amazing women in their life, and Lavinia-Lena- was one of mine…

In my little town, she was the romanticized notion of what we all thought a Southern Belle should be.  She bewitched a generation of local Southern men-from garage mechanics to football heros to college professors to men about town.

She was Scarlett O’Hara, Maggie the Cat and  Blanche DuBois all wrapped up in one 5′ 2″ package.  She was Liz Taylor on location.  Only later would we realize how hard it might have been for her to play all those roles….

Lena was great at symbolism.  She drove through our little Southern town in an elderly convertible and was more memorable than Suzanne Summers in the white convertible in “American Graffiti.”  And I’m sure she was more than aware  of that..

If I was an unsure, alleged member of the FFV (First Families of Virginia), she was one by proclamation. Just looking at her and the way she carried herself, no one would doubt her claim on Virginia Royalty.  She was also my distant cousin, so we could share-or ignore- the significance of our alleged  shared heritage.

And she had really great tits….

High School Band was the great social leveler of our time. Back in the late 1970’s, private schools did not really exist in our little Southern town.  If they did, they were some sort of religious schools, so we did not pay any attention to them.

As a rule, no matter what your income or your class, we all went to the same public High School.  And we all had to find our roles under the Friday Night Lights at J. T. Christopher Stadium during the Southern Ritual of Football Season.  Attendance was socially required.

We had the band, we had flag girls twirling flags, we had majorettes twirling fire, we had the Kiltie Corps who shaked pom poms wearing their tartan plaid outfits,-and we had “Letter Girls.”

We went to George Washington High School, so we had 4 girls who lead us into the stadium each Friday night of football season.  Each one wore a shako hat and a military inspired uniform with one letter on it-  either G or W or H or S.  George Washington High School.  They lead us into the stadium.  The “W” always had the best tits.  Think about it….

Lena was the “W”.

Lena was the earthy, but almost untouchable girl, we worshipped in High School.  She was the girl the boys all loved and wanted-deeply and passionately.  The girl a lot of girls hated-deeply and passionately.  She was an enigma playing a role she didn’t really want to play but didn’t know how to avoid.  A lot of us were…

I’ll always remember stopping by her house after a Sub Deb Christmas dance in High School.  One of our friends was her date.  He was drunk as a skunk and wearing a Christmas wreath.  We woke her mother, who regally came down the stairs looking like Bette Davis in a peignoir-probably the only woman in our little town who could be awakened at 2:00 am and be wearing a piegnor and perfect makeup- and her Mother saying:  “You are all drunk.  I can’t let you drive until you sober up, someone fix me a Scotch and we’ll chat while you get it together to go home.”

She came by it all naturally…..

Lena once told me:  ” I can give them Scarlett O’Hara or I can give them Bella Abzug or anything in between.  Whatever works in the situation….”

She became my friend.  I think she always knew I was gay and knew I would always worship her with a little distance.  That distance made us friends.  I wasn’t a potential problem for her- only an acolyte.

We only had problems when I tried to play the role I thought I should play and she had to stop me and make me face reality.  Eventually, she was my first small town Daisy Buchanan and I would always be her adoring Nick Caraway.  The original straight woman and gay BFF dynamic….She was my trainer on how to deal with complex Southern women.

We always seemed to be able to look at each other and laugh.  We both knew the rules and appeared to play by them, but broke them, secretly,  every chance we got.

We would  bond over years and cigarettes and scotch and bourbon.

She could take off the mask with me, pour a glass of Scotch and light a cig,  and tell me how hard it was to be a small town Scarlett O’Hara and know I still loved and worshipped her.  She would tolerate my misplaced affections and put them in perspective and encourage me to be me.    We would work it all out as years went by….

And I was one of the few that knew how lonely she was on that pedestal.

We shared the burden of unrealistic expectations and the desire to break free of them…

We became rebels together….

After High School, I went to Washington and Lee University.  She went to Mary Baldwin College.  We met at fraternity parties and dance parties …

We worked it out to become that rarest of things in the South- men and women who were truly friends.  Without benefits or expectations.  That is a more complex journey than most will ever know….

And eventually, we became co-conspriators….

One of my best memories of Lena was at a Funeral Home in our home town when we were in our early 30’s.  It was a sad night, getting ready for the visitation for one of our mutual friend’s Mother’s visitation.

Lena and I got there early and walked into the Chapel up to the coffin and looked at our friend’s Mother.  Lena clutched my hand and said:

” This will not do.  Block me.”

Being more insecure and uncomfortable in a funeral home than Lena, I was shocked and said: “What do you mean?”

She said, “Honey, his mother was a Homecoming Queen in 1954.  Believe me, no matter what else happens in life, that matters.  I’ve made that trip.  I could not live the rest of my life in peace if I knew she was spending eternity wearing coral lipstick.  What were they thinking?  Obviously, no woman or gay man did her makeup.  Block me.  If someone comes in, don’t let them see me.  Do your gracious, Southern Gentleman routine and chat them up.  I need 90 seconds to fix this.  We have the same skin tones and I’m sure I have a lipstick in my purse that will work.  She will not spend eternity wearing Coral Lipstick if I have any say on this.  We can’t let go of everything.  We have to fix what we can, keep up appearances and move on.”

And she fixed it.

And, after that night, we didn’t see each other again for 20 years…

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Chapter 91: The Evils of Water Proof Mascara

According to my Mother, water proof mascara did more to change the South than air conditioning.

She was an old school Southern woman who believed you had to create a little magic each day as you went forth to play your role.  I’m not sure she ever knew she was playing a role, but she was a consummate actress.  Someone once said that whenever a Southerner decided not to take the stage, the world lost a great actress.  He must have known my Mother.

I’ll never forget her maquilage.  She had a vanity in her bedroom with  a gigantic mirror and with 3 drawers on each side.  She would put on her girdle, of course, her slip and stockings  and then sit down at the mirror to work her magic.  She would turn on every light in the room and pick herself apart in that mirror as she dressed and made herself up for my Father and the women of the clubs.  She never knew how truly beautiful she was….

I would sit on the bed sometimes and watch her.  Powder puffs with powder that matched the scent of the Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass cologne.  Her little bit of “good” jewelry in the drawers, taken out piece by piece.  It was magic watching her create magic.

Later on, she would discover “Make Up Mirrors” and bought  several.  She eventually got to the point she would put on her make up in a speeding car going cross town.  But I remember when it was a determined part of her day.  Getting ready for my Father to come home, getting ready for a club meeting or getting ready to go out for the evening.  I would sit on the bed and watch her and talk to her.  She would explain how important it was for a woman to look good.  She would relish the few special nights on the town in a small Southern town.  She enjoyed it and I loved to watch  her prep for it.

My Mother was a very determined woman who lived life by conditions and negotiations.  My parents were married seven years before I was born.  Lou, my Mother, would not agree to children until she had a house.  She got the house in 1957 and I came along in 1958.

She worked after I was born, then spent a few years as a housewife, until after my sister went to school.  I remember when she was a receptionist at Dan River Mills.  I’m not sure what her actual job was, but to her it was pure theatre.

She never learned to drive until she was 25 years old.  After I was born, my Father bought her a 1957 Oldsmobile that was named the “ScottMobile” after me.  The woman did know how to negotiate….

She had a new baby, a house in the suburbs, a nice used car and was living the American Dream of the late 1950’s early 1960’s.  I’ll always remember driving across town with her in that car to my Grandmother’s every day as she went to work.  We had a maid to do the laundry and ironing- every middle class white family did then- but Evelyn could not do my Mother’s detachable collars and cuffs justice.  But she did box pleats brilliantly.

My Mother would get in the ScottMobile every morning to drive to work. First Stop was Granny’s to drop me off and complete her look.  Granny did her collars and cuffs.  She would emerge from the ScottMobile, drop me off and run to the back bedroom at my Grandmother’s 4 room mill house. She would step into her crinolines, add the collars and cuffs Granny had ironed and starched and go on to sitting behind her desk in her “Mad Men” world.  She was quite proud to be a receptionist and not a telephone operator or secretary or some other non-visable role.  It all got a lot easier and less magical when she changed to her Jackie Kennedy shifts….

In later years, she let things go bit by bit.  She still went to the hair dresser once a week to beat up her bouffant.  But the maquilage became less important.

But makeup never lost it’s significance.  Make up means a lot in the South.  The Pentecostal Holiness and other “plain” Christian sects did not think it was appropriate.  Lou had no patience with them.  She would no more have walked into North Main Baptist Church without make up than she would have shown up in her bathrobe.

I’ll always remember being in line for a steak dinner at the Steak King Restaurant in Danville before one of my sister’s dance recitals.  My sister, Lisa, had on full stage makeup, but my Father wanted a steak before the 3 hour dance recital.  Some woman behind us in line said something like: “I can’t believe someone would take a child out in public all made up like a prostitute.”

What happened next was not pretty.  Lou said:  “Do you know me?  I don’t think I know you.  Who are you to talk about my children?”

My Father said: “Goddammit Lou, shut up and don’t pick a fight.  Let’s just get our steaks.”

Lou said: ” No, I will not shut up.  Who is she to judge me and my daughter? ”  She turned to the woman:  “My daughter is going to be in a dance show.  Obviously, you know nothing about this, so you should just keep quiet.  This make up is for Art!”

I’m convinced my sister’s incredible sense of entitlement started that day…

Eventually, my Mother went back to work full-time.  She worried less about her appearance as time went by.  She got older and heavier.  She cared less.

But she never stopped caring completely….

She went to work again at Dan River Mills at Hilton Hall.  This was basically a building full of secretaries and clerical workers.  But she still did her makeup everyday.  Just in the car.

My Mother was never on time for anything in her life and never understood “punching the clock” so she just ignored it.  If she got there 15 or 20 minutes late, so be it.  But, periodically her bosses would threaten her, so she would try to be on time.

Thankfully, by this point, we rarely had to drive cross town with her.  Instead of an hour at her make up mirror, she would put on her make up in the car’s rear view mirror- while driving across town at 65 miles an hour in a 40 mile an hour zone.  Stop lights be damned.  Eye lash curlers, mascara, lipstick, blush, powder- all in the 15 or 20 minutes it took her to drive cross town.  This was true magic.

She once told me:  “I don’t understand waterproof mascara.  I mean, running mascara is a girl’s best friend.  I’ve been stopped by the cops several times for speeding, but let the mascara run, and they let you go.  Same if your Father is being mean.  I mean, water proof mascara is okay if you are going to the pool or to a funeral or something, but raccoon eyes have saved many a woman a lot of trouble.”

And such is the story of makeup in the South.

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The Modern Southern Gentleman

I’ve been re-reading some of my old posts and there are some that I’m quite proud of….

This is one and it seems like a good time to revisit it:

The Modern Southern Gentleman

Some of the others badly need revisions and rewriting for the book version!

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