Tag Archives: Branch Leigh Arthur Jett

The Postal SERVICE Rocks

No, not that Postal Service although their original Such Great Heights (covered by Iron & Wine) is on my short list of all time favorite. I mean the USPS, so much in the news these day of summer 2020.

Easter 1948. I am second from left.

My paternal grandmother factors into my life off and on until her dying day. She and my grandfather care for me in that I actually live with them as a young child for months on end at the Methodist parsonage in Farmville, Virginia where my grandfather, Other Dad, is minister. We have a grand time. At Easter Mother Leigh organizes a massive egg hunt in the sloped side yard rife with tree leaves for me and the neighboring children. I love it, but never find the golden egg. I voice that I am entitled, it’s my egg hunt. She smiles and shakes her head, no. She teaches me life lessons that stay with me to this day.

Years later her antebellum home in Richmond is where Donny & I have our wedding reception. And a few years after that, I find myself cooking weekly meals for her and, with young Emily in tow, drive them across town to her when I fear that she is beginning to neglect eating.

She tries to give me her engagement diamond when she knows that she is in her twilight but I tell her I will get it later. I don’t want her to go. I am her namesake. We are Leighs. She is my anchor.

Branch Leigh Arthur Jett

I also live with Mother Leigh my first year at Richmond Professional Institute (my second year in college) in downtown Richmond until a room that I approve of becomes available. I turn down at least one. It’s not good enough for me to leave the room I share with my young cousin Peyton in The Big House on Three Chopt Road.

There is a traditional blue postal dropbox almost directly across residential but extremely busy Three Chopt Road from 6416, or as we call it The Big House. So named to distinguish it from The Little House which is situated directly behind The Big House. A double car garage in its first life it is where I live with my parents until Dad reenlists and we become an Air Force family. The mailbox is specifically at the point Old Mill Road, a lovely steep shade tree lined one block street that intersects Three Chopt Road just south of The Big House. My grandmother uses it religiously. Her mail is delivered to The Big House through the brass front door drop slot and I am sure that she has a means to leave outgoing mail for the postman but throughout the day, everyday, Mother Leigh will post a paid bill, a letter to a friend, a query. It will not do to save up the lot for the postman. It needs to be posted upon completion. And so each goes into the blue dropbox.

Then one day just like that the dropbox is gone. Mother Leigh is horrified. She calls the post office and is told the volume at that location is too low to keep the dropbox in service. She is livid. She explains that she uses it everyday, several times a day. She is brushed off. Her adult children tell her to forget it, that it’s a closed matter.

She is not to be denied. She begins a phone campaign. A letter writing campaign. She calls in all of her favors to anyone that can sway the vote. Judge Powell lives across the street. A retired Episcopal bishop lives in the house at the mailbox corner. Visualize huge trees, privacy shrubs, semi circle driveways with generous homes between all and you can get a sense of the neighborhood. She reaches out to each and every neighbor. Mary Anne & Edmund Rennolds, founders of The Richmond Symphony, live next door. My grandmother will even buttonhole the neighbor on the other side, who is below my grandmother’s standards. Whatever it takes to get her mailbox back. She wins. The blue box is returned.

You do not mess with a Leigh.

Epilogue

That neighbor on the other side of 6416, Mrs McLester, gets on my grandmother’s wrong side shortly after she and my grandfather move permanently into The Big House. Mrs McLester asks my grandmother why she and my grandfather do not sleep in the master bedroom (Mother Leigh plans it as a dorm type room for we grands when the families arrive for holidays). The master bedroom windows faces Mrs McLester’s world and she notes the lack of lights and activity at night. Mother Leigh draws herself up and declares it none of her business.

The rose archway

One afternoon a few years later we kids have been sent out to rake pine tags in the huge side yard situated between The Big House and the Rennolds house. The yard is full of tall pines and beyond it a beautifully defined formal garden to be entered through a wooden arch that is full of rambling roses in season. We quickly get tired of plain raking and decide to make ‘houses’ using pine tag ‘walls’ to define rooms as well as make beds and chairs. We each have our own house and quickly run out of tags for all of our decorating.

Then I get the bright idea to ask Mrs McLester if we can have some from her front yard which is similarly graced with tall pines. My cousins are skeptical. Mrs McLester is off limits. I am not to be deterred. I march up to the front door and knock. Mrs McLester answers. I take a breath, introduce myself and explain our mission. She looks me over. I muse to myself that my grandmother’s character analysis is not off base, here stands a hard woman. I do my best to portray an air of positive expectancy. I should not have worried. Kids raking her yard for free and Mrs. Jett’s grandchildren at that? Still she hesitates. Greed wins, Mrs McLester gives a reluctant nod of approval and much instruction about where to rake and what to leave alone. When we later explain to the adults our clever solution when we run out of pine tags for our project, all they can do is laugh.

B&W Photo credit to John Wesley Perkinson (except the Easter egg hunt)

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Branch Leigh Arthur Jett

Mother Leigh & Other Dad

Mother Leigh (Leigh Jett) & Other Dad (Rev Starke Jett II)

“I’m your youngest daughter,” time and again I tell my grandmother, whom I am named after and whom I decide to call Mother Leigh. I live with my paternal grandparents (I name our grandfather Other Dad) so much in my single digit years that it feels like that to me. She smiles and pats me on the head, never a word one way or the other crossing her lips.

It is she who teaches me to cook, by example. Mom, a teen bride, becomes a great cook but in her early married life years she is just beginning to hone her skills. Mother Leigh never lets lack of a recipe stop her. Once she chases a dressing that a chef refuses to divulge to her until she gets it to her liking. It’s simple but I can understand the elusiveness of it. It’s a sweet and sour combination dressing for a fruit salad. Donny & I both love it.

In my years with my grandparents (Other Dad is a minister on the Methodist circuit so they move a lot) I collect a plethora of amazing memories. Mother Leigh making me white sugar and butter sandwiches on the new time saver, sliced bread. Or scrapping the burnt topping off of breakfast toast and then convincing me that it is perfect. And she sells me on the chicken back. That piece that no one ever wants has a sweet chunk of hidden meat if you know where to look. Being a child of a successful gentleman farmer Mother Leigh learns this secret and more from her practical upbringing. She calls out a butcher if he offers her less than the prime cut of any animal. She knows where to find the best country hams. Usually in some out of the way gas station. She is onto the marvels of gas station food decades before it becomes popular.

Mother Leigh

Branch Leigh Arthur. She does not like the name Branch and always uses Leigh instead. She tells me that she is named Lee but that she changes it to Leigh when one of her brothers also named Lee keeps opening her mail.

A young wife and mother during the depression, she is never one to waste a thing. She has a continuous ball of saved string that she uses and adds to with such regularity that it hardly ever changes size. She gives me the task of turning plain lard packed in a new novel plastic sleeve into a buttery looking color by squeezing the red dot of food coloring tucked inside back and forth. She takes me with her to downtown Farmville, Virginia to buy real butter by the measure for special occasions. We walk. It is a short distance and ladies of her generation do not drive.

Mother Leigh spends her entire life going everywhere she wants to go, and she is a mover and a shaker, without ever getting behind the wheel of a car. Her oldest daughter, also a Leigh (Florence Leigh aka as IG. Go figure where that came from, no one seems to know. Not from me although I like it.) finally bites the bullet and learns to drive when she turns fifty.

I beg my grandmother to take me on a train ride and so she does, not once but over and over. We get our tickets at the tiny station in Farmville and patiently sit in the waiting room until our train arrives. The conductor helps us board, then folds up his steps and with a whistle the train leaves the station. We get off at the first town and take the next train home. It is all so exciting. I never tire of it.

When I am in college she quizzes the young neighbor girls and gets me the new fashion at the time, a wrap around skirt. (How could she know that I am wishing so hard for one.) She has no idea what they are but that doesn’t stop her. She takes the Westhampton bus to LaVogue (a very high fashion store) in downtown Richmond and tells the sales clerk what she needs.

evangeline

B Leigh (as she signs her books) plays the role of Evangeline in a ‘Colonial Tea’ at the local movie theater March 1911. Her note to me written in the flyleaf August 1968 just months before I meet Donny.

When we live in Whaleyville and there is no heat in the house, save a wood stove in the living room, she bundles me up in blankets warmed by the stove to make going to bed less chilling. And then rewarms the blankets as many times as I ask her. In Farmville she packs cold buttered rolls and the Sunday comics to entertain me while my grandfather preaches his sermon. No nursery for me. I will attend the service. But my young status is acknowledged. She knows the service will not ramble on. She taps her watch if my grandfather goes over his allotted minutes.

And the cooking, oh the cooking. She’ll gladly give you any recipe but it goes something like this. A lump of butter the size of an egg. About 3 cups of flour. Never an oven temperature or time with any of her recipes. She just knows and so will you after enough trials. She rolls biscuits from a huge ball of dough using a drinking glass to roll and then cut. She doesn’t own a spatula. Her knuckles do a better job of cleaning out a bowl than any tool.

wedding reception (1)

Our wedding reception at 6416 Three Chopt Road, June 7, 1969

She is her own woman. When she is a young adult, my grandfather is assigned to her family church in Alta Vista, Virginia. He pays all of his parishioners a visit. The day he arrives at my grandmother’s house she expresses no interest in meeting the new minister feeling that her sisters can cover the job well enough and sequesters herself in her room. Her mother will have no such nonsense and scoots her downstairs. At this point everyone is in the living room visiting. Slowly descending the staircase (think antebellum home) my grandmother pulls out her best manners for the young minister who rises to meet her, “So glad to meet you Rev Jett.” Her sister Clara’s up coming wedding at which he will officiate on her mind, she continues, “I understand that you will soon have the honor of changing one of our names.”

Already smitten by her charm and beauty he replies, not missing a beat, “I hope so Miss Arthur. I certainly hope so Miss Arthur.” She is teased the rest of her life for ‘proposing’ to my grandfather at their first meeting. She gives me her copy of Evangeline that seals the deal for their courtship. She writes their history on the flyleaf. She is the lead in the show and has gone with another but walks home with my grandfather who proposes to her.

And so there will be no other place for our wedding reception than her beautiful Richmond home. Miles from St James Episcopal Church where Donny & I are married makes no difference. I begin my formative years at her knee and I will enter my married life with her southern charm blessing our path.

With this I give you my last post for 2015 dedicated to the woman who set the grandmother bar for me. It’s a high one. I stretch up to reach it with her hand on my shoulder.

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Work = Work With a Dash of Patience Thrown In For Good Measure

Make it Work

The life of a minister is never easy. You have to feed whoever stops by for Sunday dinner whether you can or not. You have to make it work. My grandmother could stretch a dollar six ways from yesterday. But compromise her standards? Never. Flour was cheap and her rolls legendary. She bought the cheapest A&P coffee beans and then when she perked the daily brew poured it through twice to make her bold black coffee the talk of the town.

She always saved string. Time was when everything was tied with string. It was never thrown out. Always reused. We all laughed at and loved that ball of string. Of course she saved and reused bacon grease. Doesn’t every one? And buying groceries? She would take the butcher to the mat over the price of a cut and the look of it too.

She could out Tom, Tom Sawyer. She taught me to love burnt toast. She would scrap the blackest parts off and convince me that it was the best way to eat toast. She taught me to love the chicken back, to actually beg for it and be relieved that no one else did. It was years before I caught on to her wiles. But long before that I was hooked on what she sold me.

She taught me to love to play with buttons. Something free in bountiful supply. While I sorted and made up endless button games, she turned collars and cuffs to give them new life. She would cut a thread bare sheet in half, then sew the two worn ends together so smoothly that no one felt the seam. She made it work.

That Dash of Patience

When I am a kid I have my first epiphany moment. I am bored. I beg the universe to tell me, “Why is this was taking so long?” I actually do not know what this is. But I need to know why it’s taking so long. I am told to use my time for something useful. I am sitting outside in a little bush fort I have created. It is a warm sunny day. This is not the answer I want or expect. I ponder. I decide to teach myself to read. I go inside and get a book. I take it back to my fort and really, really try to make sense of the patterns of letters. It is valiant. But to no avail. It is then that I realize that hard work with a lot of patience and I are going to become very close.

PSSS Have I Got A Deal For You

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A Flower by Any Other Name

“Pick it like so. Run your hand down the stem. Then snap. That gives you a long flower for your vase.” My grandmother, Mother Leigh’s, sage advise. And we all paid attention. Her love for jonquils, and us, was strong. She wanted every aspect to be as right as possible.

oakland road daffodils

Our Oakland Road jonquil field.

Recently Emily and Donald chatted via FB about having daffodils in their own yards finally. And how it reminded them of home. Our Richmond home. We lived on an old daffodil farm. Blooms by the hundreds were ours for the picking every spring. Except that one spring when I thought I would be resourceful, and so when pickers came by asking if they could pick for cash I quickly said yes. The house was always overflowing with the bunches and bunches of blooms that we picked. And the fields were still full. But I should have known that they would pick the fields clean. And you only get one bloom per bulb each year. “Mom, where are the flowers?” Emily demanded when they got home from school. No undoing that mistake.

three chopt driveway

Three Chopt driveway

I too grew up surrounded by hundreds of jonquils every spring. At Mother Leigh’s Three Chopt antebellum home in Richmond, Virginia. Her semi-circular drive was lined on both sides by the blooms. She had a big aged formal garden in the side yard that in its neglected state grew nothing but daffodils. It was awesome. There was a birdbath in the middle surrounded by four patterned simple mazes defined by raised ground flower beds. The gardener always cut the grass so it looked tended. It just had no flowers except in the spring when it was a blaze of yellow.

Where we live now I’ve tried to get a few bulbs to grow. The moles always thwart my attempts. And I am no gardener. I am an admirer and acquirer. I gladly take garden bounty bestowed on me by others. And I richly admire all gardens with great admiration. It’s the growing that teases me. And so I paint my gardens.

Need A Little Art?

 

 

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