She grew up on a side of the road
Where the church bells ring and strong love grows
She grew up good
She grew up slow
Like American honey
-Copyright Cary Barlowe, Hillary Lindsey and Shane Stevens
Effie Rae Dial was born in 1919 near Delta, Alabama.The youngest of her siblings, she was doted upon and fussed over by an array of brothers and a dear sister after losing her parents to tuberculosis as a tiny girl. She blossomed into a sparkling, willowy beauty.
My grandfather Excell was one of those older brothers. From the time I was knee-high to an Alabama grasshopper, I heard about Effie and her accomplishments in the great wide world.She was sent to business college in Birmingham after high school by her Sears & Roebuck executive brother, Roper. At a time when women were routinely denied opportunities for career advancement anywhere but schoolrooms and hospital bedsides, Effie went to work for Singer Sewing Centers. She was promoted from the factory floor early on. Suitors abounded.
The war started, and everything changed except her drive and ambition. When WWII ended, she was without a job. A call from Cabin Crafts Chenniles took her to New York for training and opened up a bright future. Effie had her dream job and met her dream man, Jim Wells.
He was very handsome, charming and from Virginia. They ran off to Reno to marry and settled in San Francisco. His insurance career flourished. Though she lost Jim to cancer, she never left her adopted city.
She remarried a nice man named Stan Lonning. He was a military officer, and Effie had years of fun and parties at The Presidio. She volunteered. She worked tirelessly for San Francisco General Hospital and their fundraising thrift shop.
When Stan passed away, she continued to live in their home with its magnificent view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the City By The Bay. I visited her there last week, and my great-aunt is as wonderful a tour guide as ever.
Effie Wells-Lonning is an inspiration to me and many others. I am deeply grateful to have shared a few days with her and enjoyed her company. A wonderful bonus was the discovery of some remarkable photos . . . they are priceless to me.
I left a good many behind (with my heart) in San Francisco, but you get the idea. I am enormously proud of Effie (she doesn't really like the Rae part).
She continues to inspire and captivate our entire family, and we're looking forward to her visit this October. I have promised her quality time with my chickens and a sunset from our deck at Lovie Lane.
I don't know if I'll leave my heart there, but I'm very excited to be off to San Francisco tomorrow morning. I am already suffering blog withdrawal—I don't think I can thumb-type well enough on the Blackberry to do this—so I will look forward to returning with lots of pictures.
None of them will surpass the one at left. I am a very poor photographer.
I am deeply blessed to have a wonderful great aunt who lives across from the city by the bay. She enjoys a magnificent view, and I love being with her. I recently found out that she likes to lunch at Neiman-Marcus downtown. Fewer things in the universe could interest me more! Those who have shopped with me know that I am a bit star struck by Jay Strongwater, Jimmy Choo, and Mr. Christian Louboutin. Add a lovely meal to that, and I'm in heaven.
I will check into Facebook periodically and try not to miss too much.
In true San Fran style: Peace and Love from Delta.
I am fascinated by the ideas put forth by Sir Ken Robinson, U.K. native and Los Angeles resident. If you pay attention to him, you'll be forced to reconsider all you've been taught from earliest memory, and how it has impacted your intelligence and creativity.
According to Sir Ken, we are going about education all wrong, and I think he's right. The teachers I most admire embrace methods way out of the box . . . with nothing but a wave at the box, indeed.
If you name your favorites from elementary school on, who were the ones who inspired and made you soar? I shared a fifth grade teacher with my mother, the very strict and demanding Mrs. Dothard. She noted that "Patricia talks" on her report card. Many years later my own echoed, "Beth talks too much".
At the time, I might have told you she was difficult. She pushed me and made me stand and read out loud to the entire class almost daily. She was relentless about my posture, for heaven's sake. She wore old-lady combat boot shoes.
The truth is, I worshiped her. I am happy she touched my life and made me feel smart early on. I am grateful she allowed not one moment of squirming or nonsense in her classroom.
And I really do sit up straight because of her concern for my precious diaphragm.
There are more, of course. We all have them. I would be much less verbose without Mr. Joseph Gilpin, who introduced me to the joys of classical Latin. (Some people might find that an improvement.) He taught World Religion, too, and I took every class I could with him. I would happily have signed up for Dog Grooming 101 if he had been involved.
Sir Ken says we're medicating our children into mediocrity (my words, not his). I have grave concerns over ADHD drugs, and he does as well. I grew suspicious of the label and the "epidemic" many years ago.
Please listen to what he has to say. It's insightful and I would be delighted to hear your comments.
When we get the right President in office, when the economy is under control, when oil prices finally stabilize where they really should . . . this will be everyone's experience at the service station.
(Believe it or not, they actually used to be called that.)
Many thanks to my friend David "Papa" Boyd for continuing to update me on the latest and greatest from Florida. Without him, I'd never have seen this failed entry for the state's new official song. I might have voted for Mr. Peeples, given the opportunity.
The buxom blonde you see at left is Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote in the movie version of The Help, released on August 10th. It should interest and encourage women the world over to learn that Miss Chastain once felt awkward and less than confident about her looks. “All of a sudden I’m auditioning for TV shows and everyone is really beautiful, tall, blonde, and perfect-looking, and I’m tall, freckly, and not I guess ‘conventionally’ beautiful,” she said of her show business beginnings.
In 2006, she starred with Al Pacino in Salome. The play was first performed in Los Angeles, and called for her to appear nude in front of 1,400 theatergoers every night.“I was being cast as this woman who is this object of desire in the play,” said Chastain. Suddenly she felt beautiful enough. Salome may have launched her career, but The Help is the movie that is going to skyrocket Jessica. Her Celia is a sensitive, ditzy-blonde-with-a-soft-heart classic.
I loved Kathryn Stockett's novel from the first page, so I fully anticipated hating the film version. Characters never look right, settings are never up to my imagination's par, and dialog always seems a little off to me. I am regularly annoyed by faux Southern accents in theaters. Anachronisms bug me.
I am a seriously picky moviegoer.
The Help is a triumph on several levels, portraying the racial divide in 1960's Mississippi with candor and a big dollop of emotion. I cried at least five times while watching it unfold yesterday—though there are plenty of laughs as well. The audience was about evenly split between black and white, and we suffered together, enjoyed the same jokes and ultimately applauded as the credits rolled. Movies like this one serve to remind us how far we've come.
While Jessica Chastain is getting famous, her co-stars are undoubtedly gaining a lot more attention in Hollywood. Emma Stone is perfectly cast as Skeeter. I wasn't too sure about Allison Janney portraying her mother Charlotte, but I was wrong. She carried off her role with great aplomb. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer absolutely shine as Aibileen and Minny.
Best of all, Bryce Dallas Howard plays the best bitchy Junior Leaguer ever as Hilly Holbrook. She deserves an Academy Award nomination.
Bless Sissy Spacek's heart for giving us the perfect Missus Walters.
It could be argued that the biggest star in the movie is the sets, elaborately constructed and lovingly detailed for authenticity. Production designer Mark Ricker studied old copies of Better Homes & Gardens and—more importantly—our touchstone Gone With The Wind for inspiration.
That's right, you just stepped into the sixties . . . wood paneling and all.
Go see The Help. You can say you knew Jessica Chastain before the rest of the world discovered her, and you'll be glad you saw a truly wonderful movie.
She was a thirteen-year-old girl when she hopped a freight train to anywhere better than Huntington, West Virginia. Disguised in her brother’s clothes, she meant to join a circus.
In her time, “Diamond Teeth” Mary Smith McClain was called “The Queen of the Blues”. She played everywhere from the White House and all over Europe to the Cotton Club and Apollo Theatre.
She was commonly promoted on the same bill with performers like Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Count Basie and Ray Charles. At a gig in Memphis, a young Elvis Presley brought liquor for her to share with Howlin’ Wolf.
Her half-sister Bessie Smith died in 1937 in following an automobile accident. In an interview in the early 1990's, Mary remembered seeing Bessie lying on a stretcher on the hospital floor. She lay there so long, Mary said, that her blood clotted on the floor. Although Bessie Smith was a huge star, a black woman in a hospital couldn't expect to get immediate attention.
Diamond Teeth Mary had diamonds lodged in her teeth.
Why the diamonds? Some said they were an on-the-road hiding place for jewels from a bracelet her mother had given her. In other stories, the stones were from a necklace she stole from her abusive stepmother.
Mary said, "All the singers were doing stuff like that [then], with gold in the 1940s. I did diamonds, just to have something to make me stick out."
She certainly did.
In the 1960's, Mary moved her focus from the blues to gospel music, which she claimed she had never sung before 1964. Mary became a star at church, singing Precious Lord and Amazing Grace while falling into relative obscurity as interest waned in the blues.
In the late 1970's, when blues music was enjoying a renaissance of sorts, Mary was "discovered" by folklorists who invited her to perform at the Florida Folk Festival. Her performance there brought down the house and earned her an invitation to sing at the White House in 1980.
Why didn't Diamond Teeth Mary record when all her contemporaries seemed to be doing it? She somehow evaded the recording studio in favor of live performances for decades. Some said it was her temperament; Mary liked to work things on her own terms and burned her share of bridges along the way.
University of South Florida anthropologist Maria Vesperi received an NEA grant in 1982 to archive some of Diamond Teeth Mary's performances and stories on video. Vesperi offers another view: "Mary was a country person. She had the opportunities, she was sought after, but she didn't want it—didn't want the city life that went with being a recording star at that time, to have to live in an urban area. She liked being on the road."
Diamond Teeth Mary was probably the "Lady with the Million Dollar Smile" that a young Levon Helm saw at medicine shows in the '40s, performing as a singer/dancer with the F. S. Walcott "Rabbits Foot Minstrels". In The Band's "W. S. Walcott Medicine Show" she is referred to as "Miss Brer Foxhole" who's "got diamonds in her teeth". Levon describes her this way in his book, "Our favorite act was 'The Lady with the Million Dollar Smile,' F. S. Walcott's big featured singer, who'd come on in the third quarter of the show. She was an armful. She wore bright dresses and had all her teeth filled with diamonds! She sang on all those real get-down songs like 'Shake a Hand'."
During her later years, some diamonds were replaced with foil. When Mary's mother was diagnosed with cancer, she had her jewels removed and pawned them to pay for her mother's care.
Eventually, some friends helped her have new diamonds installed.
Diamond Teeth Mary was booked at the old Palms Club on U.S. 301 in Bradenton, Florida when she decided to retire there in 1960. She lived in Bradenton until moving to a nursing facility in St. Petersburg shortly before her death on April 4, 2000. At Mary's request, her ashes were sprinkled on the railroad tracks in West Virginia where she hopped her first train. Her gowns are in the Florida State Museum and the Memphis Blues Museum. Miami's famous blues club, Tobacco Road, named the performing room upstairs the Diamond Teeth Mary Cabaret in her honor.
I grew up with postcards of Paul "Bear" Bryant walking on water. (That's right . . . walking on water.)
His signature houndstooth fedora has been immortalized in countless ways including baseball caps, shopping bags, tiny umbrellas for cocktails and photo frames for the Alabama Faithful.
Football is football everywhere else, but in Alabama it's serious.
Whether you cry "War Eagle" or "Roll Tide," you revere the traditions and the competition. So this was a bit of a surprise.
Lady Gaga visited The View covered (almost drowning) in the black-and-white print.
In local stores this pattern is sold exclusively in support of the Crimson Tide. I am quite sure Lady Gaga is not aware of this, but it's nice of her to unwittingly show her support for an SEC favorite.
With one child at The University of Alabama and one at Auburn University, I try to maintain neutrality. I only hope Miss Gaga will step out in orange and blue soon.
Here's an example of a concept I applaud with an execution that, well, is a bit iffy for me at this point. The wood shark at left is $800.00. He is available from The Made In America Store in Elma, New York.
"Save Our Country First" is their tag line. I like that a lot. They offer a variety of apparel with catchy slogans designed to inspire patriotic spending, such as this one.
That is a worthy sentiment, to be sure. A friend posted information about The Made In America Store yesterday and I got all inspired to try to buy something from it. After all, "The Made in America Store opened on April 3, 2010. Located just 20 minutes from Buffalo and less than an hour from Niagara Falls, NY, it is the only general merchandise store in the country that sells 100% American Made Products, down to the packaging. Our mission is to restore U.S. manufacturing jobs by providing American consumers a brick & mortar store and e-commerce site that guarantees that each product sold is entirely American in materials and labor."
The problem is, I found many items like the shark, which I have yet to factor into my decor. Is this a prime example of what our country is producing at present?
"The instructional pack includes an instructional DVD narrated by Quaker Boy founder and champion caller Dick Kirby. Dick will take you through a step-by-step approach to learning how to master the mouth call."
Again, not my cup of (American) tea. I kept hoping to see some cool shoes or accessories or a bracelet. (The bracelet section appears to be empty.)
I want to shop at The Made In America Store. The cotton candy looks appealing, but is not enough to place an order at $1.75.
There are some nifty signs offered at $12.00 each.
You don't get much more gung-ho U.S.A. than John Wayne in a beret. I think it's great though I have no place to put it.
I wish The Made In America Store well. VERY well. I will continue to check in and try to locate items that will make my wallet/pocketbook-conscience feel good. I know we are capable of producing attractive, cost-effective and quality goods in this great country of ours.