Miss Annie’s No Flapper
By Lena M. Pate
The coroners van sits outside of the old Victorian mansion, set on an acre of land at the back of our subdivision. Great magnolia trees line the walkway that leads to the front porch where a rocker sways, with a slight squeak. As I watched, I hope that it is the breeze blowing the swing; however, I wouldn’t put it passed Annie to be sitting in it rocking as she had for most of her life.
Sniffling and blowing her nose, the housekeeper explains her position in the household, these many years and the positions of the others who worked for Miss Annie.
“I come in as I always do every morning to make herself her tea and toast. When I knocked on her door and entered, the room was still dark so I set the tray down and crossed over to the drapes, opening the heavy, dark blue curtains to let in the morning light. That’s when I saw her.” More blubbering and honking into a linen hanky, I hear her continue to the young officer with his pen posed above a notebook.
“I found Miss Annie in her bedroom covered with her large fur pelt. She’s had it the whole time I’ve worked for her. She kept it draped over that poster style bed of hers with the deep blue and gold brocade canopy, unless she was asleep beneath it to warm her old bones, she was fond of saying.”
I think back at talking to Annie myself about that ratty old fur. Although the hide was well worn, Annie would never throw it away. A wealthy trapper had taken a fancy to Annie in her younger days. The wolf pelts were quilted together into one massive gray spread. Annie told me once, that the cover warmed her more than any man ever had, so she kept the fur and sent all the men packing. She would chuckle with her deep, raspy laugh that recently sent her into coughing fits.
Intently gazing at the house through my own tears, I recalled a warm summer afternoon, she and I sat on that very glider, sipping lemonade and exchanging stories. Annie persistently wore a large straw bonnet covering her wavy gray hair.
“Dear, men want soft, creamy skin not a sun baked prune. Remember to cream your skin nightly to repair the damage from the wind and weather.” She instructed me, nodding her head in agreement with herself.
“My dear, sweet Annie, men don’t care about those things anymore. They want lean, sexy, and hardworking and not necessarily in that order.” Annie just patted my hand, shaking her head.
“Susan dear, don’t you believe it for a moment. A woman doesn’t need model quality features as long as she has dignity in her soul. Show me a quiet girl, one who holds her head up high and knows her worth in this world, and I’ll show you ten men bargaining to be her beau.” Annie sipped gracefully from her tall crystal glass laying it gently beside her on a wicker side table.
“I’ll share my confession with you that will help you understand. Yes, I remember, it was in the twenties, during the social change, when women went from sophisticated young ladies to flappers practically overnight. Those floozies liked having good times, frequenting clubs and even smoking cigars. Not a one of them had any pride in themselves. They took to gambling, carousing and basically no good what so ever. “
“Are you telling me you were one of those loose women but found your way back to the straight and narrow?” I interrupted her with a grin.
“Impertinent child. I would never have been tempted, but my dear sister Katherine was led astray and it was my duty to bring her home. The last letter momma received said she had moved to New Orleans. So I took a train to Louisiana, settling at my Uncles Jeremiah and Aunt Gertrude’s home in town. At night, my uncle and I frequented the most popular clubs looking for Kate. Women wore scant dresses with short hair and caps. Each one painted her lips red and their eyes were lined in black. I preferred to don fine linen skirts with double breasted jackets or graceful silks that brushed the floor as I walked. I never went out without my pearls and white gloves. I didn’t want anyone to mistaken me for one of those easy type girls.”
“Your confession is that you went into clubs in New Orleans?” I nearly choked thinking how she might react if I told her about my jaunts in clubs with my friends.
“If you don’t stop being so cheeky, I won’t finish the story.” She demanded with the raised eyebrow that always brought me into line as a child.
“Where was I? Oh yes, looking for Kate. We settled at a classier nightclub one evening, when my uncle saw an old friend and left me alone. I was afraid I would break out in hives. Jeremiah hadn’t been gone two minutes when a nice looking gentleman walked over, bent and kissed my gloved hand. I was so shocked I nearly swallowed my tongue but instead I gently pulled my hand from his and gave him the “look”. The scoundrel just laughed and bowed again.”
Leaning in closer, I asked, “What did he do then?”
“Why he reached out and took my hand. He said I was the first lady to walk through those doors in a year or two. He turned to the band, demanding a slow dance with just a raise of one hand, then took me into his arms. One strong arm embraced me while the other held my other hand firmly in his. We glided around the dance floor, my dark blue dress swirling about my ankles. We settled on gazing into each other eyes. It wouldn’t have been seemly to do more. My uncle returned, Michael introduced himself, and then asked if he could call on me. My uncle explained that we were very busy looking for my sister.”
“Ah, I wondered why this beauty was sitting all alone in a place like this, so charming and regal.” He said. “It is rare to find a jewel like her anymore.” Tears glistened in Annie’s eyes as she recalled his words.
“My heart sang but I gave him only a coy smile in return. Ladies, after all, shouldn’t appear too eager.”
“Well, did he ever call again?” Annie took her time refilling our glasses before she returned to her story.
“Who do you think gave me the fox quilt for my bed?” she admitted with a twinkle.
I laughed until I spilled my drink on my lap.
“Sit up straight Susan,” she admonished me with her charming grin, while handing me a linen napkin to mop up my tea.
That was the last talk we ever had. I went off to college and she remained behind. I always felt she would be here when I returned. I don’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t notice her swinging on her porch or gardening in her flowerbeds.
I blew her a kiss as she made her last trip from this world to the waiting van. I will miss you dearly my friend.