Tag Archives: Branch Leigh Arthur Jett

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 catch 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 and her sisters are home. Everyone is in the living room meeting the new minister. When it is her turn to speak, Mother Leigh trying to be charming blurts out, “So nice to meet you Reverend Jett. Perhaps you’ll have the pleasure of marrying one of us some day.” She is teased her entire life about 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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