Oralee Dorothea Meachum had a birthday. When you slipped off Christmas calendar page, it was her special day. I don’t remember celebrating, but it was Boxing Day – the date the homeowners paid reciprocity. It was a time for bonuses and special gifts for the hired help.
My mother was uncomfortable when slathered with praise; mostly, her birthday passed without note. On New Orleans’ 2nd Street and Jackson Avenue, it was an uncomfortable birthday both for celebrant and “celebrees.” Oralee showed her displeasure mightily. She had self-described temper tantrums – unless one of her gentlemen came to call.
There was a Christmas nice guy who brought me presents from the Texas centennial all the way from Dallas, long before the NFL Cowboys became famous. I don’t recall any of the gifts, except spread out on the floor they were fabulous. Furthermore, at the age of 8, I was smitten by anything to do with the Old West. Part of the romanticism, when my father was gone, I had imagined that he was hanging around Indians and horses.
When I was the ripe age – maybe four – I was thrown up on a castrated mare, better trusted than a full-male or certainly a tempestuous female. That was Ruby. Several years later my cousin sold her; I spotted her with a plow. Settling down that night proved fitful.
Mother never learned to drive. When she had money for adventures, some gallant offered services as a chauffeur. Otherwise, she rode on the streetcars, memorizing the schedules and enjoying the accessibility – so did I. Until after the Army, I didn’t have a license. This led to a court-martial – threatened by 2nd Lt. Marvin A. Fisher of Philadelphia – until he was straightened out by someone who knew the circumstances better.
In earlier nights, sleeping with mother I had no choice. She insisted a female she brought home spend the night with her. As a 7-year-old I saw the difference. As a consequence I slept in the apartment alone.
When I went to first grade at McDonough 10 a couple of blocks away, Uncle William didn’t alert me to the setting conditioner that left my hair little more than a helmet; she walked me around herself. Uncle William was a former slave; I learned respect for all African Americans from him. Part of the reason: he kept my secrets from the rest of the adult household.
When attorney Larry Merrigan managed to get me into boarding school, Holy Cross College, I became less dependent on Oralee Dorothea Meachum, which he had in mind all along. Because he was a tax consultant to the Huey Long Hayride game, he shot himself in the Roosevelt Hotel – coincidentally on my 11th birthday. I went to Holy Cross as a boarding student except for the year when I was sent to Memphis’ Catholic High School. (His son I met years later in Washington; we discussed nothing about his father. Also a lawyer, he didn’t look happy.)
Anyway, Boxing Day should be mentioned; I’ve never spoken of it before.