Kittie Howard

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Saloon Hall Dancer (LA Memory)

Once in awhile, I'd ride into Baton Rouge with daddy to visit Great Aunt Edna, his favorite aunt and his mother's oldest sibling.  I didn't know why at the time - adults didn't tell kids much then - but Ma didn't like Great Aunt Edna. I only knew not to mention her name to Ma and never to tell her when we visited.  I knew what happened when daddy, for some reason known only to daddy, would mention her name: Ma would slam her dish towel on the kitchen counter, storm out of the room, and slam her bedroom door.  Slam! Slam! Slam!

One time, when she exploded like a hurricane, I tip-toed down the hall and widened a crack in the doorway.  (Ma slammed a door so hard, it always bounced back.)  Ma was on her knees praying.  I wouldn't know until I was in my late teens that Ma prayed for Great Aunt Edna's soul.  Her sister had been a saloon hall dancer on the Delta Queen and Memphis Queen riverboats that plied the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Memphis in the 1920s and 1930s.

Great Aunt Edna had also held her own playing blackjack and poker with the boys.  She'd gotten lucky at the craps table a few times.  Even better, she knew when to walk away and played more for the fun of it than a a compelling need to do so.

Great Aunt Edna never married, never put any babies up for adoption (or otherwise).  When the years caught up with her, as they do with us all, she retired to a modest house not far from the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge.  She paid cash for the house, as she did for everything.

When the weather permitted, she liked to sit on the front porch on Sunday afternoons and smoke two cigarettes while she sipped one highball.  Daddy said that when a passing neighbor fussed at her for smoking and drinking (on a Sunday, no less), she told the neighbor, "When you get to be my age, you can think about telling me what to do."  Great Aunt Edna was in her late seventies at the time.

Daddy love to quote his aunt:

When another neighbor complained about her not going to church most Sundays, she said, "The Good Lord made me.  He knows what I'm doing.  There's no reason for me to pester Him all the time."

When the neighbor pushed, she retorted, "You take care of your sins, and I'll take care of mine."

When a cousin said she should marry a gentleman caller for two decades, she said, "I'm not a babysitter."

The Great Aunt Edna I remember had fluffy white hair, hazel eyes that sparkled, and a warm smile in an almost-plump face.  Her skin was as soft as a cloud.

She fussed over me, the way that kids like, with oohs and ahhs about how good I was, how pretty I was, how she loved my smile and so on, until I melted, totally melted, into a curled-up ball next to her.  She'd then stroke my hair while she and daddy talked and talked.  I don't remember a word they said.

Great Aunt Edna died in her sleep from natural causes.  She was 96 years old.  Her face was as smooth as Ivory soap.

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