Category Archives: the Family Magnolia

Lemon-Scented Guilt

Judy Mae Jamieson was fifteen. It was the summer between her junior and senior year, and the Southern sun was warm and inviting. Her horse, Buck, lingered in the pasture, ready to run on the levee. The inviting waters of Blue Lake called her name in rhythmic ripples. Her younger sister, Sondra, had already escaped the house and entered into summer, but Judy had stayed behind. It was the summer of 1960, and today Judy would be trained on how to have a coloured housekeeper.

Esther and Oodie had one daughter, Baby Sister. She was around Judy’s age. Her skin and eyes were as dark as Esther’s, but her tall, slender, silent nature was like her father. Usually, Baby Sister stayed with Oodie’s mom, but today she had come to the Jamieson’s house with her mom. Esther and Alice had decided that this was the day both girls should get a glimpse into their future.

Judy showed Baby Sister how to use the vacuum and explained what was expected with the mopping and furniture cleaning and base board scrubbing and light fixture dusting and ceiling cobweb removal. Baby Sister towered over Judy, nodding, with the occasional “yes’m” escaping her lips. The gentle words would flutter through the air, causing ripples that carried a heavy resentment which settled over Judy, making her flesh feel tender and raw. It was obvious Baby Sister had no intentions of being a Southern housekeeper. Judy hoped Baby Sister knew she had no intention of keeping her, but Judy said nothing. Instead, she showed Baby Sister where to find the cleaning supplies and thought of Buck alone in the pasture.

Hours passed, and the aroma of lemons filled the small white house. It clung to the lingering resentment, which Judy inhaled with each breath. She couldn’t wait to spend the next day at Blue Lake, drowning the guilt in the wild summer waters. Eventually, Baby Sister came to her, finished and ready for her work to be inspected. Her fingers were pruned with cleaner, her knees tender, her pride tarnished. Judy inspected the cleaning to ensure it was immaculate. She knew that after Baby Sister left, her mother would retrace every step to be certain it kept with her standards. Alice would not only be critiquing Judy’s ability to handle a housekeeper, but would be reporting back to Esther on Baby Sister’s work. Judy had to make sure it met the standard.

That night Judy lay in bed, grateful that the day had passed and grateful that the next day began Esther’s vacation. She was grateful that she would be spending the next day at Blue Lake cleansing the lemon sent from her flesh and the day after that riding Buck far into the future, where she wouldn’t own a housekeeper . . . at least not for many years.


Still Sleeping Sweetly

Mark Leon Rogers was the youngest of five. He was born to Don and Sarah during a time of hope and promise and new beginnings. It was a time of Cowboys and Indians, Pinochle and Dominoes. It was a time of faith in America. It was October 1953.

It was a time when newborns slept sweetly snuggled between their parents. Like the four children before him, once Mark grew bigger, he would sleep in the small wooden crib against the wall in Don and Sarah’s bedroom. Then, when he out grew the tiny crib, he would share Donnie and David’s room, where model airplanes hung from the ceiling tiles and mischief was often conducted.

Donnie was the eldest. Donnie was the one who held Mark. Mark seemed incredibly tiny, even in Donnie’s childlike arms. Mark’s skin was warm and soft. His breaths escaped in tiny waves of heat, and his eyes were a shiny bright blue, holding endless possibilities. Donnie had just turned nine, but he would remember Mark’s eyes the rest of his life. David nor his sister’s had eyes that bright. Donnie doubted any baby had eyes so bright and full of the future. They were shiny blue eyes he would again see in his daughters’ faces and again belonging to his granddaughter. Maybe it was genetics or maybe nostalgia, but Mark’s eyes would always seem to hold more blue.

On that brisk October morning, Sarah was woken by the sleepy sunlight peering through her window. She had slept well and felt refreshed. Mark hadn’t woken her up to eat. He laid next to her, his lips slightly parted between his chubby cheeks. She ran the back if her hand over his tender flesh, but he lay there still sleeping sweetly. Her thumb fluttered across his lips, but there was no heat. Her heart became heavy. It dropped into her stomach, growing into an unbearable weight, as she frantically shook Don awake. 

The assumption was that Don or Sarah had rolled over on Mark in the night, which was not uncommon at that time. Later, it was reveled that there was a hole buried deep in Mark’s tender heart. Since his first hot breath, each one was bringing him closer to his future. His fate had never meant to bring him far. Mark’s blue eyes shone for four brief days.


the American Adventurer

Donald Aubry Rogers was a respectable man. Adventure littered his youth. He had hitchhiked across the country and hopped trains back. He had rustled cattle cross states and accidentally driven dealership cars into Mexico (even though he was trying to make it to California). He’d been a soda jerk, a pharmacist and a bronze-star awarded WWII medic, but that was all behind him. Now he reveled in the lack of adventure.

Don had missed the first part of his boys’ lives. He hated to miss more, but despite his desire to be home, he knew his duty and followed orders to Germany. A promising career had laid before him when he was finally relieved of duty, but holding the horrors of a war medic deep inside, the last thing he could stomach was a career in a pharmacy or a hospital. Little did he know sickness and medical demands would haunt him, stealing a wife and child, permanently marking his daughters, and eventually claiming him. He would never truly escape it.

For now, he relaxed into the American Dream. His beautiful wife, Sarah, kept the house and four kids in their quaint, yellow and orange, two story home. Each day he walked to work at Montgomery Ward in his freshly pressed shirt. Each day he walked home for lunch, where Sarah would be waiting for him with another freshly pressed shirt. After a modest lunch and changing into his fresh shirt, Don would start his walk back to work. He walked through the Southern heat and under the ancient magnolias. A Camel Straight frequented his lips, and a grateful prayer escaped in each smokey exhale. For in 1952, Don Rogers was finally living his greatest adventure.

the Cotton Farmer’s Wife

Alice Augusta Schmidt Jamieson was as stubborn as she was petite.
Her pristine white country home was kept by a local coloured woman. Alice held a great deal of respect for Esther. She had thick dark skin and eyes like molasses, that pulled people in with their sweetness.  Esther kept the house spotless, cooked the meals and stayed nights when the girls had sleep overs. Esther taught the girls the latest dance moves, listened to their gossip and secrets, and taught them that the word “nigger” was offensive.  Something the girls never forgot.

Despite that, Alice still favored Esther. Hiring Esther provided Alice with more time for gardening. Not everyone found help so easily, but Esther’s husband, Oodie, had been the straw boss in Hayes’ cotton fields for years. Even though Oodie was illiterate, he made sure the others were there on time, measured their satchels of cotton, paid them accordingly and sent the loaded wagon to the cotton gin.

The cotton gin was settled down the road, within walking distance from the two-bedroom home. Behind the house lay the horse pastures. Behind the pastures ran a bayou. Behind the bayou were fields and fields of cotton. During the season, when the sun started to wake early and the heat began to test its strength, Oodie would meet Hayes at dawn in the fields, verifying that all the workers were accounted for and that the day started off smoothly. Hayes would then head off on foot to the gin. Other farmers sent their cotton pickings to Hayes’ gin to be separated: cotton seeds for cotton seed oil and replanting, branches for baskets and satchels, cotton wrapped in tufts. It saved local farmers in labour and was a great source of extra income for Hayes and Alice, especially with their dinner parties. About once a month, the local farmers got together for a gala of a dinner party. There would be food and laughter and their local workers would serve. Esther always worked Alice and Hayes’ dinner parties, and if the night was expected to bring a large turn out, Oodie would valet the cars in the yard.

Alice couldn’t complain about life. Her girls’ spent their summer days riding their horses on the levee. Her dearest friend was within walking distance, down at the country store. Her husband was so well respected by both blacks and whites, that often he would frequent black restaurants or have their workers barbecue up some of their slaughtered cattle. Between the barbecued cattle and the catfish gifted from their workers, Alice’s life was quite good. Fires and rifts and desegregation lay hidden before her, but in 1955, as Alice let her Doral fill her lungs and fresh dirt slide between the flesh of her fingers, she knew she had all a Southern woman could hope for.

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