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Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Page 11

Rebecca Wells


  And Caro climbed back up in the bunk, and she said since she was the one to answer the door that I had to pretend to be Rhett. “Kiss me, Rhett,” she said, and I gave her a kiss, and she said “Rhett, oh Rhett,” and then I put my finger back up above my lip the way we do to pretend we have Clark Gable’s mustache. And then there was another knock on the door!

  And we all thought it was the conductor again, and so I climbed down and opened the door. It was a colored porter with three glasses of milk on a platter for us. I thanked him and he asked if we wanted our shoes polished. We all said, “Yes, thank you.” And I got our shoes and handed them to him. Then he said in a whisper, “Ginger want to know if yall be doing all right. She say run two cars down if you in trouble and she take care of you.” We were all surprised that he knew Ginger, but Ginger gets around, you know she does. I thanked him, and he said, “My name is Mobley if yall need anything.”

  And so Mobley has just taken off with our shoes and he better bring them back or we’ll have to go sock-footed to the diner in the morning!

  Riding a train is a wonderful thing. I have decided that I just want to live on a train. Oh, you should just see the way the world looks as we roll along. I don’t know exactly where we are right now. Just somewhere in the countryside I guess, heading up to the Gate City of the South.

  We all say goodnight, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite.

  XXXXX

  Vivi

  December 13, 1939

  Atlanta, Georgia

  3 o’clock in the afternoon

  Dear Dear Necie-cakes,

  We pulled into the Atlanta depot at 9:17 this morning. The station is huge. You could fit maybe three of our Thornton depot into this one and still have room left for a small dance party.

  Teensy’s Aunt Louise met us at the station. She was wearing a big fur coat with a matching hat and muff, and she had Teensy’s cousin James Junior alongside of her. She greeted us all very politely, but right off the bat I could tell she was a snob. She is a nicer snob than her son, but still a snob. That James Junior is a snob without even the decency to try and hide it. He said something ugly about my luggage before we even got out of the station, and when he saw Ginger he acted like it was illegal that she was not wearing a maid’s uniform. Teensy told him that not all maids wore uniforms in Thornton. And he looked at her, his very own cousin, like she had head lice. Well, Necie, I have decided to overlook the way they act because we are their guests.

  Let me tell you, girl, this whole city is on fire with excitement! You can feel it crackling through the air. There are movie displays in every single store window, and it’s like all of Atlanta is one giant movie advertisement.

  I hear that Miss Mitchell has been staying inside her apartment ever since October because the swirl is just too much for her. She’s just been having to rest and take aspirin every half hour. I can imagine how she feels after all she has been through to write the best book in the world, and then to have the movie opening and all. Oh, I wish I could get to know Miss Mitchell. I would give anything in the world. I feel like I already do know her, but I want to know her better.

  Well, when we got to Aunt Louise’s house we all had to pick our jaws up off the sidewalk. It is a mansion. Teensy said Genevieve secretly calls it the “Coca-Cola Palace.” I mean, it’s like nothing we have in Thornton. Big circular drive and a porch that is so dressy you feel like you’re in a dining room. And inside, oh, Necie, it’s like something out of the movies! They are so rich that all their colored help wears crisp uniforms and acts English. Not at all like at home, where we play cards in the kitchen with Ginger or Shirley or whoever.

  The very minute we got here, Aunt Louise said to one of their maids, “Go and outfit this maid from Louisiana right away.”

  It was like she didn’t know Ginger’s name, although I had introduced them when we got off the train. Aunt Louise looked at Ginger’s clothes like they were full of fleas and bugs or something. Which you know isn’t true because Delia would not have it.

  Well, then the next time we saw Ginger she was tugging at this black starched uniform and white ruffled apron. And she had this little maid’s cap on her head! I teased her and said, “Ginger, I’m gonna take a picture of you so everyone at home can see you all dressed up.” And she acted real funny, like she didn’t know me. Delia would just fall over laughing at the sight of Ginger in that Frenchy uniform.

  The three of us are staying in a gorgeous big room here in the mansion with its own huge bathroom and a fireplace and a bay window looking out over the backyard. Our antebellum hoop dresses had already been hung in the armoire. I just can’t wait to wear my navy bengaline! This is all real different from at home, Necie. It is way fancier than Teensy’s house. There are tiny little bars of soap in the shape of tennis rackets in a silver dish in the bathroom, that is how rich they are.

  Caro and I are sleeping in the big bed and Teensy’s going to take the day bed that has a jade satin comforter on it. The butler or whatever he is brought our bags up here and that’s where I am now, writing this all down to you so you’ll feel like you’re here with us. I like having to write everything down because then I know I will remember it. There is so much to see and do and take in that my head is spinning!

  Oh, well, we are in Rome and I reckon we’ll do like the Romans.

  More later.

  XXXXX

  Vivi

  Later

  10:30 at night

  Necie, girl—

  We had this formal sit-down dinner and met Uncle James. Finger bowls and silver napkin rings with their high-hat monograms on them. That awful James Junior sneered at me the whole meal. I don’t even see how that boy could be related to Teensy and Jack.

  Teensy has taken off all her clothes and you should see her. She’s stretched out on the bed with her legs crossed and her head thrown back and she’s saying, “Peel me a grape, Beulah!” You know how she is. She made all three of us climb into that big claw-foot bathtub and bathe together when we got upstairs! She dumped the whole bottle of French bath salts into the water! The whole bottle. We just laid up in that tub and soaked ourselves silly. I know I shouldn’t be telling you this because your face is probably all red by now, Necie-pooh-bear. You are so much more modest than we are. (But we love you anyway.)

  XOX

  Vivi

  P.S. Our beds were turned down for us when we came upstairs. It made me miss Mother. She always turns my pillow over to the cool side when she comes in to say goodnight.

  P.P.S. Gee whiz, I almost forgot to tell you! In The Atlanta Constitution tonight they described what Miss Mitchell is going to wear to the premiere: “a pink tulle dress with layers and layers over pink crepe, over a tight-fitting bodice with a sweetheart neckline.” I can’t send you the paper because Aunt Louise is keeping it for her Gone With the Wind scrapbook. But I copied this down for you before I gave her back the paper: “Rose-colored camellias, those flowers so redolent of the Old South, will form her floral adornment, and tiny silver slippers will peek beneath the folds of the bouffant skirt.” Since I plan to meet Miss Mitchell personally, I will tell you more about her outfit after I see it for myself!

  December 14—no! December 15, 1939

  2 o’clock in the morning!

  Dear Necie,

  Girl, girl, girl! We have just gotten home after the most exciting day that I have ever had in my life. Ginger was waiting for us, all upset because she didn’t get to come with us for everything, and almost in tears because she thinks she’s not doing her job as chaperone. We have hardly laid eyes on Ginger since we got to the Coca-Cola Palace. She says Delia is going to kill her when we all get home. I said, “Ginger, I don’t even want to think about going home! Now, will you please go downstairs and make me some coffee-milk because I have to stay awake to write Miss Necie.”

  So here I am writing you from the big bed where Caro is sound asleep and Teensy is snoring as usual from her bed. I am always the last one to go to slee
p, no matter where I am. But, honey, I have got to tell you everything.

  First of all this morning, we had breakfast and do you know that Aunt Louise was already dressed up in a gorgeous antebellum dress?! Yes, right there at the breakfast table. And that little weasel James Junior had on a tattered Civil War uniform that Aunt Louise had got her hands on. Uncle James had already gone off to Coca-Cola, and I don’t know what he was wearing. All I know is that Aunt Louise revealed that her dress came from the actual movie! A whole bunch of her friends from the Junior League were extras for the bazaar scene (remember from the book?) and got to be in the picture. Can you imagine?

  That goon James Junior took off with some of his twelve-year-old goon friends, and Aunt Louise said she was spending the day going to the events with her friends before they had to go over and check the Municipal Auditorium where the ball was. So that meant that Ginger and one of Aunt Louise’s maids came with us when William, the driver, took us out and about.

  Girl, there were already people on the streets of Atlanta out walking around in their Civil War finery and antebellum dresses! We had on the car radio and they were reporting everything like it was FDR himself coming to town. A whole bunch of stars were arriving at the train station, including Claudette Colbert, but we missed a lot of news because at 10:15 we were at the corner of Whitehall and Alabama streets for the big lamp-lighting ceremony. I never knew it before but that very lamppost managed to remain standing after Sherman’s siege of Atlanta. And that very lamppost was relit to show that the Confederate spirit has not died. The three of us just cried and cried, thinking about the Confederacy. And then the Governor gave everyone the rest of the day off because Premiere Day had been declared a state holiday.

  So then old William drives us to Peachtree Street and he finds us a good place and we sit on the roof of the car to watch the parade. Oh, it was so crowded, I mean people were eight and ten deep. And then the parade started. Necie, there must have been fifty or sixty cars, with stars sitting in the back of convertibles, looking like royalty. Clark Gable himself was there! Honey, I am not kidding! I saw him with my own two eyes. And he is just as wonderful as I thought he would be. Carole Lombard was with him and they waved and smiled at us, and I swear to you, Necie, he looked right at me. Teensy and Caro are still trying to act like this did not happen, but they are just jealous. I’m telling you the truth: Clark Gable looked right at me and smiled.

  But back to the parade. I saw more stars in ritzy cars than you ever imagined existed. You just forget you ever heard of a Depression when you see something like this. After the parade was over, William took back streets to get us to the Georgian Terrace Hotel. At the hotel, would you believe that there were governors from five Southern states up there giving speeches? We had to wait until all those old men were through, and then Clark Gable himself got up! Everyone was yelling and screaming and clapping and giving the rebel yell. So the three of us did our rebel yell, you know how we do, and I gave some of my famous whistles. You would have just fainted from all the hoorah.

  We were just exhausted by the time we got back home, and we had some fruitcake and Cokes in our room and took a nap. We pretended that we were the Southern belles at Twelve Oaks during their nap scene. We said, “Ginger, why don’t you find a fan and fan us like at Twelve Oaks?”

  And that Ginger said, “It’s December. Yall don’t need no fan. Hush up and go to sleep.”

  Teensy whispered, “Delia lets Ginger get away with murder!”

  But Ginger heard her (she can hear a cat tiptoe across a carpet), and Ginger said, “Miss Teensy, you better nod off or you gonna find out what murder mean.”

  We didn’t get to sleep for long because Aunt Louise’s maid came in and woke us up to start getting ready for the ball. Aunt Louise’s dressmaker was here, and we had to try on our antebellum dresses for her because Aunt Louise wanted to see if they needed any adjustments. My navy bengaline and green taffeta is the cat’s pajamas, as you know. But I tell you, those hoop skirts are hard to get around in. Just turning around, I knocked a fussy little knickknack off a prissy table in the Coca-Cola Palace. Thank goodness it didn’t break!

  And so we were all dressed to the nines in our Civil War getups and William drove us over in the Packard, and another car carried Aunt Louise and Uncle James to City Auditorium for the costume ball, Dixie’s greatest social function. That skunk James Junior came with us and drove us crazy. He is only a year or so younger than us but he acts like he is a big fat baby. I started making faces at him before he had a chance to make faces at me. He told Teensy she looked stupid in her white taffeta ruffles, and so she pretended to wipe a booger on his goofy-looking Confederate uniform. We started laughing so hard that I busted some little hooks in the back of my dress. I don’t see how Scarlett and them ever managed a good laugh in these things.

  Well, I forgot about everything when we got to the ball!

  There were thousands of people lined up in a little park in front of the auditorium. Uncle James said they were the people who didn’t have tickets, and that they should have stayed away like Mayor Hartsfield requested. But they were standing out there in the cold, looking like the folks who live at Ollie Trott’s Trailer Paradise at home, with bad teeth and all. When the police gave them orders to move back, they did. We just walked right by them, Necie. Aunt Louise tried to make us hurry, but we all had trouble walking in those hoop skirts. You might look like a lady in those things, but you get nowhere fast, let me tell you.

  Oh, my God! Inside was all done up like the Old South! The stars sat up in their own boxes by themselves. Gable the King and Vivien Leigh wearing this black velvet gown with eighty-four thousand ermine tails on the sleeves. And Carole Lombard with her hair under a black snood. And Olivia De Havilland arrived late and she had to be lifted up into her box! Teensy and Caro and I fought over the opera glasses just to see it all!

  Oh, all the stars were there! But not Prissy or Pork or Big Sam, or even Mammy. They couldn’t come to Georgia because they are colored.

  Aunt Louise told us exactly what all the stars’ outfits were made of and she could also tell you whether the outfits were designed by the guy who designed the movie costumes or not. Aunt Louise knows all these kinds of things because Gone With the Wind has been her personal project for two whole years. She is actually friends with the actress who plays India Wilkes in the movie because that lady is from Atlanta herself. Aunt Louise says that she doesn’t think her friend is all that good of an actress, but at least she represents the South.

  Finally I asked Aunt Louise if she had any idea where Miss Mitchell was. And do you know that Aunt Louise (the witch) looked right at me and said, “Don’t worry yourself over that ungrateful hack, Vivi. She has not shown up.”

  I said, “What?! What do you mean, Miss Mitchell hasn’t shown up?! This party is hers! She is as big a star as Vivien Leigh!”

  But Aunt Louise just gave this little laugh like she knew better.

  All the way back home and getting out of our costumes, all I could think of was Miss Mitchell. (I did pop the hooks, and I also tore my costume under the arms, and sweated a lot. I guess you are not supposed to move or breathe when you wear those outfits.) I can’t get Miss Mitchell off my mind. I asked Caro and Teensy, “Why!? Why didn’t she come? Why in the world didn’t she show up?” Teensy said, “Maybe she was sick.”

  But I think there is something more to this. A great writer like Miss Mitchell has a reason for the things she does. I’m going to find out why if it kills me.

  So that is our day, Countess Singing Cloud. And every single word is true. And when we get home, we will act things out for you—like the way Gable and Lombard turned and talked to each other while they walked arm in arm, and how the actor that plays Scarlett’s father kind of dances like your Uncle Collie. But for now, it’s sleepytime.

  Scarlett-ly Yours,

  Viviane

  December 15

  3 o’clock in the afternoon

  Dear Denesi
e-oh,

  Caro and Teensy asked me this morning, “Vivi-cakes, what all are you writing to Necie?”

  And I said, “I’m recording all our divine secrets for when it is time to write our memoirs!”

  Because, Necie, I just know that somehow everything the four of us do is important. I believe that years from now people are going to want to know about us.

  Well, we all slept real late, especially me who was a real lazyhead after staying up all night writing to you. When I woke up, Aunt Louise was already back from the Press Club luncheon and she was stirred up to beat the band. We all went downstairs where she was on the phone to about a hundred of her friends. We tried not to listen in, but really we had no choice. Because we had to stand near the phone because it was cold in the house and the heating duct by the telephone was the warmest and also because we were looking for a button that Caro said she lost right around in that area. (Hah, just kidding. I had to listen in, in case she was talking about Miss Mitchell.) Well, Aunt Louise kept on giving us looks, but we just kept ignoring her and listening. Just before it sounded like she was about to finish a conversation, we ran into the kitchen and started looking in the icebox for something to eat.

  The maid had left us some roast-beef sandwiches and a cheese and fruit platter, and we were opening some Cokes when Aunt Louise walked in.

  She said, “Well, I don’t suppose I need to tell you what I’m so upset about.”

  We acted like we didn’t know what in the world she was talking about, like we had not listened to her rant and rave over the telephone to everybody in Atlanta.

  Teensy acted all concerned and said, “Auntie Lou, what is wrong?”

  And then Aunt Louise reached into the back of the pantry, pulled out a cracker tin, and lifted a bottle of brandy out.

  She poured herself a glass, and said, “Do not ever call me Lou. My name is Louise. I believe I’ve made that clear in the past, Aimee.”