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.