The Cast of Characters

As in all families, most of us had nicknames used almost exclusively in the family.  As I tend to refer to family members by their “family names”, I thought a list would be helpful.

Your humble author  – Nance or Nancer (strictly in the family),  and Nöödnick II.  (There were so many Nancys in my school, that for awhile I went by Nancy Jane.)  Jane was the middle name of 2 of my great-grandmothers: Sarah Jane Smedley Sparks and Mary Jane Shepherd Gambell; and my great-aunt Lucile Jane Conover Gambell.

My Mother-in-law called me Nan, which I disliked intensely.

My Sister – Linda Elaine. She was Nöödnick I to our Dad. No one really called her that. She was always called Lindy,  named for our Mom’s dear friend (and Maid of Honor), Marilyn (called “Lindy”; I have forgotten her last name).  Our Dad preferred “proper” legal names – which was why she was named Linda. Only one person (Roscoe Feild)  actually called her Linda.  She said many times that she wanted to change her name, legally, but never did.

My Mom – Eileen Frances Fight. The only nickname that I know of – was “Pete”, which is what our Dad called her during courting and early marriage. Once she became a grandmother, she was “Granny”.  She was named for her Mother: Frances Eileen Gambell.  Mom was actually raised by her grandparents, Molly (Mary Jane) and Arthur Gambell.

My Dad – William Albert Sparks.  His parents and sister called him William.  Everyone else called him Bill.  My Sister and I called him “Pops”.  As a grandfather he was “Gramps”.  He was named for his 2 grandfathers: William Withers Sparks and Albert Lizer.

Paternal Grandfather – Charles Craddock Sparks. Everyone called him Charles.  His wife always called him “PaPa” (emphasis on the first Pa) .  As a grandfather, he was called “Poppy”.  I do not know about his first name, but Craddock was for an Uncle, Richard Craddock Sparks (who, in turn,  was named for the editor of the oldest newspaper in Kentucky, Richard Craddock).

Charles’ Father – William Withers Sparks.  He was called GrandDaddy Sparks, to distinguish him from another “GrandDaddy” in the family.

Charles’ Mother – Sarah Jane Smedley. She was called Grandmama.  My Mother knew her as “Aunt Sally”.  Mom had relatives who lived in the same small town, Cynthiana, so she knew the Sparks’ before she actually met my Dad.

Paternal Grandmother – Margaret Louis Lizer. She was called “Mag” or Meg” by her huge family.  Her middle name was for one of her father’s best friends. As a grandmother, she was called “Mucky”!

Mag’s Father – Albert Lizer.  He was always called Albert.

Mag’s Mother was Tilitha Frances Adams.

Only Aunt – my Dad’s sister – Sarah Frances Sparks. She was always called Sarah. My Dad called her “Sis”. We called her “Auntie” or “Lil Auntie”, she was not quite 5′ tall.  She never married. She was named for her two grandmothers, Sarah Jane Smedley and Tilitha Frances Lizer.

Maternal Grandmother – Frances Eileen Gambell.  She was called “Fa”.  As a grandmother, she was called “FaFa”, pronounced Faffy.  She married, first, Otto Enos Fight. And second, Oscar Howe.  Both marriages ended in divorce.

Fa’s Father – Arthur William Rogers Gambell. He was called Art. As a grandfather, he was called GrandDaddy Gambell.  He was named for his Father – Arthur Gambell, his grandfather “William Gambell” and his Grandmother “Miss Rogers”.

Art’s Father – Arthur Gambell.

Art’s Mother – Alicia Frances Featherstonehaugh.  She was called “Fanny”.

Art’s Sister – Alicia Frances Gambell.  She was called “Daisy”.

Art’s half sisters were Maud Gambell and Olivia Gambell.

Art’s step-mother was Maud Shanly.

Fa’s Mother – Mary Jane Shepherd.  She was called “Molly” and as a grandmother, she was called “Mammy”.

Molly’s Sister – Evelyn Shepherd.  She was called “Aya”.

Mollie’s Brother – Leonard Shepherd. He was called “Uncle Buddy”.

Uncle Buddy had 2 children:

Robert Raymond Shepherd (Bobby) and Agnes Shepherd.

Maternal Grandfather – Otto Enos Fight.  His Father was Enos D. Fight.  No known nicknames.

The Frank Family:

Robert Davis Frank (my spouse).  He was called Bobby by friends, Robert by his parents.  He had a lot of nicknames, mostly from classmates.  There was “Hook”,  Prof or Fessor (short for Professor) because generally he knew answers to most questions.  Then, because he had 2 first names, one friend decided he needed a last name – which was Jones.  So he became Bob Frank Jones.  Then, another fraternity brother decided he needed a first name. Then he became Joe Bob Frank Jones.  Then it was decided that because southerners were called by double names, he should be called Joe Bob. He was named for his Uncle Robert Peck, and his paternal grandfather Davis Frank.

Once, one of his friends asked Bob’s Mother what she called him, she replied: I call him Robert, Bob, Bobby, Bastard, or whatever comes to mind! Thus, shocking all the kids.

Robert’s Mother was Helen Bernd Klein.  She was called Helen by everyone but her husband. He called her Helly.


More to come.


Third Date: one week later.

This was memorable because Bob invited me to his apartment for dinner, and he cooked.  With anyone else, such an invitation meant that I cooked.  Wow, I thought!  This is novel and potentially impressive.

I was not even allowed in the kitchen, but I heard just about everything,  as the apartment was small.  At one point, he did ask me to open crackers and please be sure not to tear the cardboard.  My, my. He sounds like my Dad (which was not at all bad).

He served shish-ka-bob, a rice pilaf (recipes we still use, and both from James Beard), and asparagus.  It was all delicious! Then we watched an SEC football game on TV.  He had a 10″, portable, color TV.  I had never seen color TV, so I was quite excited.  This is the same TV mentioned in “March Madness”.  I think that TV lasted about 20 years.  It became the one by the bed, once we could afford a bigger TV for the Family Room.

Saturday became Date Night with Bob.  Other guys were seen on Fridays or Thursdays.  I was quite happy with this arrangement!

Betty and Roy McCurr

I am sure I have mentioned Betty, our maid, on more than one occasion.  I do not think I have ever really told you about her.

I believe Mom hired her shortly after we moved to 108 on July 1, 1949.  She arrived by bus around 8:00 every Friday, dressed very nicely, then changed into a starched white uniform and went to work. This order was reversed at 4:30.  The bus stop was just a half block away – across from the white house on the corner.  Incidentally, this is where Ruthie Shepman and I caught the bus to grade school on the mornings her Dad could not take us.  (Can you imagine 2 nine-year-olds catching a city bus to go to school today??)

Anyway, Betty vacuumed, dusted, changed beds, washed an ironed clothes.  If our rooms were not neat, Betty would not enter our rooms, so on Friday mornings our rooms were always neat. She did not iron Dad’s handkerchiefs or shorts – only Mom did those.  Sheets and Dad’s shirts went to the laundry.  All clothes then were cotton or linen, so there was a LOT of ironing.  In 1949 – she was paid $5.  I have no idea what Mom paid in the 60’s.

Very quickly, Betty became family.  Mid-morning she would join Mom for a cup of coffee and I can still see the two of them sitting at the kitchen table, stirring cream and sugar into their cups.  Mom did a lot of volunteer work, mostly at Lindy’s high school, Eastern, before she became involved with Tournement Bridge.  Friday meant that Betty would be there when I came home from school.  We would chat for a bit before I “hit the books”.

Her husband was Roy. He was a big fellow (probably would have made 3 or 4 of Betty).  He worked at one of the distilleries, I used to know which one.  He would drop by on occaision to see if we needed anything, requiring brawn.  Then later, after Betty was gone, he would drop by, just to visit.  Again I have forgotten how long they were married, but Betty died of Leukemia, about the time our first child was born (1970).  She was so sad that she would not get to see Nancy’s baby.

When my dear Uncle Lute passed suddenly, Mom headed immediately to Cincinnati.  That left Betty to break the bad news.  Though she had no children of her own, she was wonderful and just held me until my sobs subsided.  She was not “as big as a minute” as the expression goes – so it was weird, at 14, to be bigger than she.

In our kitchen, there was a blackboard above the wall telephone, where we could write messages, needed groceries, etc.  The upper cabinet door (on the inside), next to the black (green, actually) board, was where important telephone numbers were written in grease pencil.  One day, when no one was home, Betty spent lots of time scubbing this door until all remnants of black were gone.  She was so proud to tell us that she finally had time to clean that horrible mess.  Well, it never occurred to any of us that she might not know what the data was and that it must be preserved.  Then it dawned us, that perhaps Betty couldn’t read.  But then we said that wasn’t possible as she would leave written notes.  We didn’t dare ask her about it for fear of seriously hurting her feelings.  Ultimately, it was concluded that the McCurrs did not have a telephone, so she had no idea what the numbers were.  That was the only disaster of her many years working for us.

When Rob was born, Mom asked Betty if she would baby-sit him so we could all go out to dinner.  She drew herself up and said, in no uncertain terms, “I will NOT be a ‘coat-tail granda-mammy'”. Mom said, “OK”, and that was that.  Once again, we had NO idea what that expression meant, but she said it with such conviction, we dared not question!

When my sister married, Betty was at the church, watching.  Although she was invited to sit with us, she said that wasn’t her place.   Roy drove the limousine and was very proud of his assignment.

When I married, my nephew was the Ring Bearer (he called it ‘wheel barrow’); my niece was 6 months old and the Honorary Flower Girl.  She had a fistful of the same flowers as the bridesmaids.  Betty held her the entire time, as Eileen cried most of the service. Once again, Betty watched from the back of the church and Roy drove the limo.   I wish we had thought to get a picture of them.


Remembering Debbie Reynolds

img_0602A good friend of my sister and brother-in-law lived in Memphis and was involved in the movie-tv business as an occasional producer.  I knew him well as he was always invited to any parties my sister hosted.

One of his good friends on the Hollywood scene was Debbie Reynolds.  She had occasion to visit Memphis in the summer of 1971 and we were invited to a small cocktail party at his home, to meet her.  We were living in Atlanta and drove over – a painful 8 hour trip through Alabama and Mississippi as there were no Interstate Roads.  We left our son with my Mom, who drove to Atlanta from Louisville – half Interstate Roads.

It was a lovely evening and Miss Reynolds was delightful!  She was funny and quick – and we all enjoyed meeting her.  I think she enjoyed the “Southern Hospitality” as well. She promised to visit again, but that never happened.

Sadly, our friend, his wife, my sister and my Bob are no longer with us.  Now Debbie is gone. Only my brother-in-law and I remain from this marvelous event.  The picture above has been hanging with all the other family photos for all these years – a reminder of some really good times.  (I had not realized how faded this picture is.)


Second Date: October 2, 1965

Monday evening, September 27, 1965, Bob called again.  We had a fun chat which ended with him asking me out for dinner on Saturday night.  My roommates were more excited than I, I think, as they were just settling in to our post college life and I already had a date #2!  Rarely did I have a date #2 with someone really interesting, so I was cautiously enjoying the prospect.  (Historically, my grades and variety of interests  generally “put off” the fellows I thought I might like.  Oh well….there was always tomorrow and I am the ultimate optimist.)

On Friday, I had a presentation to give on some computer process I had just learned (no idea what, now) that included flip charts.  In spite of being president of several organizations in my school career, I was still fairly nervous on my feet.  So, when I walked into the classroom, I saw that Bob was one of the people critiquing our presentations.  Oh, great! I thought.  Yikes, I will be a wreck.  So, I spent most of class time talking to myself that it was really not a big deal and it did not matter.  I was not very convincing.

As usual, it was ladies first, so I pulled myself together, observed the poker face on Bob, and did my pitch.  It was not long and I managed, though I was very happy to sit down. Comments from the viewers were good, so all was well, I supposed.  My roommates thought this was all hysterical!

Around 8:00 p.m. Friday evening, the phone rang.  It was Bob calling to say that he was going to be a little later picking me up on Saturday, because of the football game. “Oh”, said I, “no problem”. Then I said, “Wait, UGA is playing Michigan tomorrow, in Michigan”!  He replied that someone had chartered a plane and he had bought in.  My immediate thought was that I wanted to go. Whether I actually said that on the phone, I don’t recall, but  I know I said it at dinner.  He was beginning to understand that I was a big sports fan.  I couldn’t play any, but I was an avid spectator.

He was in high spirits, literally and figuratively, when he picked me up.  Georgia had won 15 – 7 and there was much celebration on the plane!  He asked me to go out with him the following Saturday, when he dropped me off.

First Date-September 25, 1965

Later on in the week, after our test session, Bob called!  After a few moments of general conversation, he asked if I would like to go to the Georgia-Vanderbilt football game the following weekend.  Of course, I said yes.  He said that was good and that I would be sitting on the “winning side” for a change!

From Wikipedia: The Georgia–Vanderbilt football rivalry is an American college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and Vanderbilt Commodores. Both universities are founding members of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), and currently members of the SEC’s Eastern Division with a total of 76 meetings. This rivalry is both Georgia and Vanderbilt’s fourth longest football rivalry.

[Vanderbilt is a private university, but a member of the tough and prestigious South Eastern Conference.  Vandy, at the time, did not have any courses geared toward athletes and this made it very hard to have a team that could be competitive with large, state universities.  Our current quarterback was pre-med, for example, with no scholarship.  This is a way to explain the presumptuous  comment about the ‘winning side’.  Plus, Georgia was a ‘power-house’.]

I  let Bob’s comment slide, for the moment, but would counter at some point.  Bob then added that it would be Homecoming. [Again, at the time, girls were given corsages for Homecoming.  Usually, they were “pompom” chrysanthemums with school color ribbons.  I agreed that it would be a fun day, but that he should not buy a corsage for me as I would never wear anything red and black when the Commodores were ‘in the house’.  [Retort Mission accomplished, I thought.]

I elected to wear a brown suit with alligator shoes, as Vandy’s colors are black and gold. No black for me this day.  The game was good, though Vandy lost. At least we sat in the “alumni” section, not the wildly cheering student section. At half-time, all the most recent graduates donned black cowboy hats and walked around the field.  Alas, I do not recall the significance of the cowboy hats, although it ‘hung around’ for years . We went to Bob’s fraternity house (Phi Epsilon Pi, later to merge with Zeta Beta Tau) after the game – and everyone enjoyed my “misery”.  I was curious that several of his friends called “Prof”.  As it turned out, he had several nicknames, one of which was ‘the Professor’.

Back to Atlanta and a party at a work friend’s apartment in Colonial Homes.  It was a fun day, despite the score, 24-10.  I suggested that we might return to Athens for the Vanderbilt-UGA basketball game where he could enjoy sitting with me on the ‘Winning Side’. (Georgia’s basketball was mediocre and Vandy’s was excellent.)

Percy Ferguson and Learning to Play the Piano

Last night, I watched “The Pianist”.  WOW! In my mind, it is a must-see movie.  Because my late husband was Jewish, movies about the Holocaust are especially difficult to for me to watch.  However, this true story is about the will to live, despite all obstacles.

What led me to this post was the image of the pianist’s hands – long and bony fingers – which reminded me of my piano teacher, Mr. Ferguson.  Mr. Ferguson was tall and gaunt.  Polio, as a child, left one leg significantly shorter than the other.   He walked with a crutch and a cane.  He drove to the homes of his students and managed the various treks to front doors, including steps and uneven pathways.  I was amazed the first few times I watched him!

Dad had ordered a Baldwin piano from the factory in Cincinnati and it had been delivered shortly after we moved in.  To this day, the sound and action are amazing and better than many Baby Grands I have tried.

My first lesson was in September of 1949.  We had moved to Louisville on July 1, 1949. My Dad had been living at the Brown Hotel for several months while my sister finished the 6th grade in Chattanooga.  I had just begun the 1st grade and was reading “See Jack run”.

Mr. Ferguson brought music with him, each time.  I suppose Mom paid for the music as well as the lessons. (My sister was starting lessons as well).  I believe the lessons were $6.00 for 45 minutes.  Once I had learned to read, I watched Mom write a check to him. (Never would she have told me the amount. I did not need to know that information.)

I do not remember what book my sister began with, but I know that I started in the 2nd grade book.  For some reason, although I couldn’t read many words, I was able to read music immediately.  The plan was to study only classical music.  Mr. Ferguson knew that his students would find time to learn popular music, although he preferred that we did not, while taking lessons.

My sister quit lessons at some point, as she was never really interested.  In later years, she regretted her decision.

I moved quickly to fairly advanced music.  I enjoyed all the music and Mr. Ferguson began to plan for my playing someplace important.  He did not “do” recitals, which was fine with me.  However, I learned two important things about myself: first, I suffered from terrible stage fright and could not play a note in front of anyone other than family; second, I could not memorize my music.  As it turned out, I could not memorize much of anything except phone numbers; something that has been a dreadful annoyance for my entire life. The result is that I have never been able to play anything without my sheet music!

Then, another issue developed.  I was a nail-biter.  I was not so bad as those who chewed below the quick, but I was bad enough.  I finally conquered that bad habit when I was 14.  Suddenly, I was playing the piano with the pads of my fingers, not the tips of them.  I was afraid to keep my nails short in case I would start to bite them again. Mr. Ferguson was frustrated with this problem and it became the beginning of the end of lessons.  Our relationship ended the summer of 1959, when I was 16. Sadly, I have no idea what happened to him after the 10 years we worked together.

As an aside, I always wanted to play the organ.  I met a woman who taught organ and I hired her for a half-dozen lessons.  My parents had a connection to a small Episcopal Church which had a huge, marvelous organ. I could practice there on Saturdays.  Just like being able to read music easily, I could use both feet on the pedals at my first lesson.  As it turns out, I never looked at my hands when playing the piano, which meant that I didn’t need to look at my feet either!

My senior year in college, I was the substitute organist for Wednesday evening Vespers.  I was not great, but I managed.  Sadly, I have not had an opportunity to play an organ since.