Saturday, August 17, 2013


Aunt Laura Lee. She specialized in drop biscuits and fig preserves and raucous laughter. When I went to Alto, the little town where she and all my folks on my mothers side hail from, back in May, my cousin Khim told me a story about her I’d never heard. 

It seems back in the 30’s, during the Great Depression, she and her mother, my grandmother, opened up a little roadside café. My grandmother cooked, and Laura Lee Williams, she waited tables. When business was slow, she would go out to the side of the road, Highway 69, and she would sing. If you'd have blinked you would have missed Alto, but you could not miss Laura Lee in her apron, belting it out. In 1935 she would have been 24, with legs that went all the way to the ground, and flashing blue eyes, and hair that hung down in ringlets. She sang everything from “Cheek-To-Cheek”, the song made famous by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, to Shirley Temple's “Animal Crackers in My Soup”; she would sing at the top of her lungs at the side of the road. 
(this may explain a lot about yours truly) 
And that is how she came to meet her future husband, Jack Phillips. 
She sang him into the café one day, and it was love at first bite!
After he retired some 50 years later, Jack Phillips was County Judge for Cherokee County, and she was his secretary for about 15 years. He was one of these West Texans that basically talked with his mouth shut, between his teeth. They are different from East Texans that way. Laura, she talked with her mouth wide open, and when she laughed it was a big laugh, raucous, with her head throwed back.
Me and Shila passed through one year on our way to a fishing trip at Toledo Bend. We stopped at the Court House to visit them. While we were there, the phone rang. All we got was one side of the conversation:
"County Court, this is Laura, how can I help you?" "Hello Harlan, how is Phyllis?" "You don't say?" "Bless her heart, you give her our love. What can I do for you?" "Yes, I know that bridge, its Andersons Crossing" "Did they? Oh no, not again" 
(raucous laughter) "Is the fire out?" “That's good they had some barricades to put up. Wouldn't want anyone running off into the Angelina river.” (more raucous laughter) "Well, Harlan, they burn that bridge down every year just before deer season" 
(more raucous laughter; apparently burning Andersons Crossing somehow enhances the deer hunting in that region between Cherokee and Anderson County) "We'll let the roads department know, thanks for calling Harlan" (hanging up phone, more raucous laughter, hollering to Jack through the door to the judges office) "Jack, they burned Andersons Crossing down again last night!" (silence from the judges office, then a soft whisper, like a man talking through clinched teeth echoes back) "Well, shoot, they do it every year. When are we going to get us a metal bridge?"

Uncle Jack, you may recall from a previous story, is the "the good man with the barbed wire wit and big heart" who had told me when I was 4 years old that my mother had fallen into the well, and the only way to get her back was to go in the house and turn the faucet on, which I did, crying my fool head off.

1 comment:

Water Baby said...

I love this story! The only real memories I have of Aunt Lera are of her little poodle Suzie. We baby sat for Suzie once and you used to sing her that song 'Wake up a-little Su-uzie, Wake up!' and hold that poor dog up over your head dancing around the living room!