Thursday, February 6, 2014

PAXTON PEOPLE: PART I: MISS EDITH MAE JONES

 
 
 

Miss Edith Mae Jones loved beaded earrings, big old clunky clip-ons which weighed heavy on her ears before the day was over.   She was fond of great clumps of plastic or glass or pearl, all twirled round into little rose or clustery broccoli or cabbage shapes, clipped onto her ears beneath the sway of her hair.  They leaned more to the blue or green shades, alternating between the days-of-the-week when she wore one of her three suits---the deep blue shantung with the pale blue piping, the bottle-fly green serge with the peplum, and the nice black gabardine one, mostly reserved for special occasions like funerals and teachers’ meetings in Greenwood  or Clarksdale, and the several up-the-ladder progressions to the yearly Speech Contest in Jackson, for all the state’s novice speakers and declarers and debaters. 

 
 
 



Her blouses ran mostly to those silky-neck-bow things, which she thought hid the gentle folds beneath her chin, and to big pearl-ball-buttons on the cuffs.   She was a tallish slim woman, with bouncing salt-and-pepper hair which she dampened and rolled under onto a Kotex at night to preserve her page-boy, before pinning it into one of her pretty pastel hairnets.

 
 
Miss Edith Mae was distinguished from Miss ARDYTH MAE, (the piano teacher who was married and widowed  with several children grown during the years she “taught music”) by being an unmarried lady, one of the several privileged few who “lived at Mrs. Wood's.”  AT as opposed to WITH, for AT pre-supposed a set fee for room and perhaps board (which was generously provided), for you could live WITH someone, in your own house or theirs, from girlfriend to boyfriend to understandin’ to shackin’ to you know how it is to still at your Mama’s, without being on your own two feet. 




But “living at” was reserved for folks making a living---paying boarders and roomers and the frequently-passing-through railroad men keeping a few things in a locker at Miss Florene’s Ho-tel and Caffay between stays.


 
 
 

Miss Edith Mae was the Paxton High School English-and-Speech teacher, with long and numerous orations and poems committed to memory, and a popularity for being on call as entertainment at Civic Club and Lions’ Club and Shriners, as well as knowing by heart quite a few gentle, earnest pieces suitable for the tender ears of the WMU and Missionary Society ladies.   No THE HIGHWAYMAN for them, no BLESSED DAMOZEL, no Ophelia, but mostly Helen Steiner Rice, whom she could quote for any occasion. And of course, she could whiz right through the hymnbook, gesturing and declaring every verse of the good old songs as if they were Dickinson or Donne, and surprising those ladies with those never-sung verses usually buried in the Broadman/Cokesbury third-verse wasteland. 


 


She was also liable to launch right into The Cremation of Sam McGee or Wonderful One-Horse Shay when the company felt right. And she’d even been featured in Mr. Lydel Sims column for her great way with elocution and poetry.  In Spring, Miss Edith was in great demand every year to help choose and rehearse the speeches given by Valedictorians and Salutatorians all over the county.  She was a smart, well-read medium frog in that tee-ninecy pond, and all her students adored her.

 

And once, when she was invited to “do a piece” for the Fourth of July, she chose to recite the entire four verses of The Star Spangled Banner.   

 

When she began the Oh, Say Can You See, and everybody recognized the words, a rustle began, as they straggled to their feet all over the campground.   And stayed standing, each probably wondering when or if they could sit down, or if they should, or was that only if there was music, or what?    As she strode the platform with the aplomb of Webster and Clay and Holmes, gestured aloft, mimed banner-waving, pressed fervent hand to heart, they stood respectfully in that July sun, with pride in their hearts along with a wonder that there were so many verses. 
 
 

When she finished with a triumphant flourish of her right hand to Heaven, she got the only standing ovation in the town’s history which STARTED OUT standing up.

 


10 comments:

donna baker said...

Great story Rachel. Those really were the good old days. I don't know how we made it without calculators, computers nor cell phones, but still...

Justabeachkat said...

Good memories.

Big hugs,
Kat

harleygirl said...

I love to hear your stories from the past. They're so happy. :)

Southern Lady said...

I smiled all the way through and laughed out loud at the end ... the way reading most of your charming "Paxton People" stories goes (awkward sentence, but you know what I mean, I hope).

A Super Dilettante said...

My dear Rachel,

You are a born raconteur. So gifted in the way you tell the story in a way that no one except you could tell these stories about people you know from the past.

My favourite (there are many!!) part is this:

"Miss Edith Mae was the Paxton High School English-and-Speech teacher, with long and numerous orations and poems committed to memory, and a popularity for being on call as entertainment at Civic Club and Lions’ Club and Shriners, as well as knowing by heart quite a few gentle, earnest pieces suitable for the tender ears of the WMU and Missionary Society ladies."

I hope both you and Sweetpea are both doing fine. I'm thinking of you.

Best wishes, ASD

Jeanne said...

Dear Rachel, I admire Edith Mae so much. My mother's name was Mae and she too love anything and everything about literature, English and poems etc. She didn't teach it but she would have been an awesome teacher. She was the Valedictorian in her senior class but she had to accept the honor of Salutatorian because there was a rule that the highest honor of Valedictorian had to be a student at the school all four years and she had only been there for three years. She taught me to read(at my instance) before I entered first grade. Literature was my favorite subject and I credit my mother with her constant reading every free moment she had, for my love of reading.

She adored earrings like Edith wore and her favorite blouses always had a pretty bow at her neck. Thank you for reminding me of my wonderful mother with Edith's story.

Love, Jeanne

Jean Stauffer said...

I LOVED this! Gotta read more!

Beverly said...

Didn't they call them earbobs? Am I remembering correctly? And, isn't that a funny name?

I do believe we have all known a version of Edith Mae Jones, and I daresay we all had a soft spot for her.♥

Kim S. said...

Another story from Paxton!!! I love these stories, Rachel. And I have a pair of those earrings in pink. They belonged to my grandmother, Bomo.

Kim S. said...

Another story from Paxton!!! I love these stories, Rachel. And I have a pair of those earrings in pink. They belonged to my grandmother, Bomo.