I don’t know if it was the solid gold cigarette case filled with long French pastel colored cigarettes, the little red sports car, or the stylish garments she wore, but Edna E. was one of the most interesting girls I ever met.
Cover of The Big Easy
I was with my Dad in Opelousas LA to visit his client Mr. E. when I met Edna. Opelousas has a colorful history as a place settled by Acadians and French Creoles, whose plantations were overrun by Jayhawkers during the Civil War. IN 2000, it was designated the Zydeco Capital of the world. If you want to know what Zydeco is, watch the film The Big Easy, starring Dennis Quaid.
I had spent the first day alone, prowling around downtown Opelousas looking for Civil War relics, while dad drove out to the saw mill in Port Barre, down the road a piece. Someone must have said, “Bring her out to the house” because after that first day, I spent everyday in the company of Mr. E’s kids.
Mr. E had five children including Edna. As she was 15 and closest to my age (14), our dads must have thought we would have something in common, so I spent the first couple of days with her. Edna was a short chubby blonde with a frizzy perm, pimples, money and little common sense. Her older brother was a tall handsome blonde, smooth-talking Southerner and her dark and beautiful sister had been the Ole Miss Homecoming Queen and Miss Mississippi. Edna had sucked up every ugly gene in the family, and like her mom, was on her way to becoming a boozer.
When Edna took me to her bedroom suite upstairs I thought it looked like a Hollywood set. Clearing a chair so I could sit while she dressed, the first thing Edna did was show me a little vibrating gizmo you “could rub over your fat and shake it right off.” She then gave me a quick demonstration rubbing her fat belly the way you rub salt on a ham. No fat came off. She put the gizmo down and asked what I wanted to do. I shrugged my shoulders. It was her town, I knew no one, I had seen every movie, one of them, The Indian Fighter three times, what could I say?
Edna suggested we go to dinner as they called lunch in some parts of the South in those days. We took off in her little red sports car, a frightening experience as she flew like a mad woman down twisting roads lined with Spanish moss to the local country club.
“Howdy Miss Edna” said each of the members of the black staff. One by one they bowed as the leader, a white man, lead us to a table covered with a white linen cloth. The far wall was decorated with a large mural of happy black folks picking cotton in a nearby field. It struck me as strange to be eating a big meal in the middle of the day, strange to be in this place that smelled of smoke and looked like a casino (it had been), and strangest of all to be with this girl.
The girls I knew back home were the daughters of average folks. Starching crinolines, rolling bobby sox, wearing penny loafers, and making out on the back seat with your boy friend, or hoping to do so when they came home from the Air Force, made up their world. Edna wore designer dresses and heels and I didn’t think any boy would come near her because she was so ugly.
I was a somber person from a long line of somber people. I didn’t fit into the bobby soxer world back home, nor did I fit into Edna’s world. My mother had almost died the year before of a condition which would eventually take her life a few years later. She had stopped making my clothes and I was left to my own devices which produced some odd outcomes. My cousins no longer passed along their hand-me-down dresses because I was bigger than they were, and I was dressed in clothing from the Black Catholic Church charity shop, and wore a black corduroy jacket I had owned since I was six and refused to give away. Edna probably thought I was strange too.
After we finished our exotic meal of food I never heard of, Edna broke out her gold cigarette case and offered me one. “Do you want a cocktail?” she asked as she ordered her third daiquiri. I was to discover that this fifteen-year old drove and drank and smoked. She was Catholic, and I thought she was really bad and it scared me because the nuns told me Catholic girls like her went to hell.
When we left the club, Edna said she needed to visit her dress-maker. She then drove into what some Southerners called “N-town” in those days, and we pulled up to a small rundown cinder-block cottage with one of those see-under porches where chickens ran loose. We climbed the stairs and when we entered the house children came running up to Edna. Their mother scolded them and told them to go outside. Then she proceeded to bring a basted garment into the living room where Edna slipped it on for a fitting. “I will be back tomorrow to get it,” Edna said as we left.
Dianne in New Orléans,1956
The next day, I saw Edna in her brand new gown when her movie-star beau and her older sister’s fiancé picked them up for a dance at the “club.” He was handsome, her dress was beautiful, and Edna was still fat and dumpy, so I guessed the fat shaker thingy did not work. After the couples left, Mrs E went upstairs to her room with the vapors, the seven-year old twin boys began to run amuck, and I did what I had done the past few days, slipped into the kitchen to hang out with the cook who plied me with homemade divinity fudge and asked lots of questions.