Sunday, December 29, 2013
My Life in Words, Part Seven: Ba Sister got tired of it all
Me-Maw and her daughters: Evelyn and Beth
While there were only two girls in the family, they were not close. They were rivals for affection, rivals for compliments, and rivals for any good words which were to be spoken of them. From childhood, my aunt had been given a name by her older sister. She was called Bay Sister. Probably it was actually “Ba” Sister, meaning Baby Sister. But that was the name she carried until death. And I think she grew tired of being the baby sister who had to carry the older sister’s reputation on her back. When they left the house, it was the baby sister who was reminded to watch out for the older one. Because the older one, my mother, was a daredevil. She would do anything on a dare, from crossing a canal that runs through the urban areas of New Orleans, to jumping off a second story roof. She had a quick temper that matched the old wives tale of redheads being hotheads.
Mae Beth aka Bay Sister
Ba Sister got tired of it all. She got tired of neighbors complaining. She got tired of family hysteria. She got tired of her mother making excuses for what Big Sister had done. She made a decision to get out, and to get out as quickly as she could. So she enrolled at Soule College, which was a business college and she excelled at everything young women are supposed to do well. She took Gregg Shorthand. She did bookkeeping (accounting was for the men). She typed close to 90 words per minute and her spelling was exceptional. She almost finished the complete program at Soule, but she was offered a job at Humble Oil, probably as a result of her father’s good reputation with the same company. So she made the calculated decision that what she had left to learn in her program was not worth the delay in the start of her career. At her age, she couldn’t yet realize how much she would grow to regret that decision. It was one of the few things in her life which she didn’t see to the end. But what she did do was take those first baby steps that would lead her to the rest of her life. She had no idea at the time what would come from the decision to take that job. It would truly be the yellow brick road taking her to her own wonderland, her own Oz.
A new Beth.
Ba Sister’s first job for Humble Oil was in Grand Isle Louisiana. What a tiny dot on the map of Louisiana! It was barely even in Louisiana, but instead it was a collection of houses and offices built on pilings hanging on to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. From a distance, it looked like a circus scene, with all the houses on stilts, and one would expect to see clowns emerge from them, also walking tall balancing on ten feet poles of wood. If you are not from Louisiana, or another town that lives on the edge of water that routinely rises without mercy, you wouldn’t be used to the stair climb you would make every morning as you reported to work. The “girls” in the steno pool would live together in what would appear to be a summer cottage to the uninitiated eye. They had a chance to see many men in Grand Isle. But what you really saw was the men arriving to work and then leaving work seven days later. Grand Isle was the hub of men who climbed aboard helicopters which flew them out to platforms which consisted of oil wells, a heliport, and living quarters. It was quite an unnatural situation. Instead of men climbing on the city bus after slogging through a hard day’s work, these workers would walk across a metal catwalk, looking down at water that may be 100 feet or more deep until they reached their living quarters, which was also the living quarters of 50 or more other men. While that job was an excellent training ground for a future executive assistant, it was far from excellent as a hunting ground for a husband. Of course, Ba Sister would have never been guilty of hunting for a husband. She was the New Woman. She would support herself, travel alone or with girlfriends, and rebel against every southern rule for women she had been taught.
She didn’t feel the sand of Grand Isle, Louisiana between her toes for long. Her skills did not go unnoticed, and she was soon working in the Central Business District of New Orleans in the Humble Oil Building. Even there, everyone knew her father, Red Honeycutt. His was a hard reputation to ignore. From his first job of driving a truck, he soon became a roustabout, then a drill pusher on one of those dots in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the job of those men to pull oil from under the earth’s surface to sate the thirst of a growing America. His fellow employees respected and trusted him. Within a very few years he was an important member of the Employees Federation, the pre-union organization which worked with the management of the future Exxon. The election to President of the Federation was not a surprise to any who knew him. His honesty and integrity was known and respected by the rank and file, and even more amazingly, by management – even the highest level of management in the company. All this was to say that Red’s daughter didn’t go unnoticed by that same management. She spent enough time in the pool of young workers to make good friends. Earning good money for the first time in her life, she treated herself well. The first big purchase was a 1953 Chevy. It took her for weekend trips to places she had only heard about. She went away to visit the families of friends she met at work. But she also went to places her car could not take her. She was the first one in the extended families of her mother and her father who had ever left the country – on purpose. She had had uncles who had seen Europe, but that was on a trip paid for by everyone’s uncle – Sam.
The whole time Ba Sister was taking the world by storm (a little storm, but a storm nonetheless) the Big Sister, my mother , was attacking the world with her hammer.