Money and Popsy in New Orleans
Martha Yarborough DiPalma
© Copyright 2015 by Martha Yarborough DiPalma
This writing is a description of some of my early life with my grandparents and a few of my aunts and uncles and cousins.
and “Popsy” McBryde lived in a big old white house at
1537 Henry Clay Street in New Orleans. I remember visiting my
grandparents for a few weeks during several summers. Here is my
first attempt at using their typewriter in the summer of 1951 when I
composed a letter to my mom and dad: (In nine-year-old cursive, I had
added a P.S.: “Thanks for letting me stay.”)
Dear Mother # & Dad,
I am having a grand time here
yesterday Popsy &I went to the park & met MR. Mac we fed the ducks & a pretty swan the “old lady” as MR. Mac calls her. It started lightining & thundering so we went home & on the way we met a student of Popsys & w e talked & then we went home. We might go again today because on Thurday you can by tickets for 2 ct. on the rides. Well I better be going.
One February during Mardi Gras, our family stayed with them for a few days. We dressed up in costumes and went to the parade. “Popsy” dressed up like a Chinese man. Mother was a gypsy. John was a cowboy. I was a rabbit, and Dad dressed up like Abraham Lincoln. He was so handsome! I was proud of him with his tall silk hat and his fake black mustache and beard. We caught many beads thrown off the floats as we watched the parade.
“Money” and “Popsy’s” house had a special smell. I still remember it and occasionally get a whiff when I enter old homes, museums, or basements. Speaking of basements, I loved spending hours investigating their basement. There was a lot of old furniture and lots of drawers and boxes down there. I looked through cabinet doors, drawers, closets, boxes, under old furniture--in anything--to see what I could see! One summer I remember distinctly seeing a guitar or banjo. (Or was it a violin?) As it was up high, I was afraid to climb up to get it or touch it without permission. I knew I couldn’t ask “Money” to come down the steep stairs to see it, Somehow the time ran out before I could get my hands on it, so I determined that on my next vacation I would make a point of finding it.
The next summer finally came! As soon as I could, I made my way to the basement. I looked for hours… days… to no avail. Finally, I asked “Money” about the instrument. She said she never remembered seeing it. I insisted that I had seen one the summer before. Again, I spent hours looking through all the drawers, doors, closets and boxes.
She must have sensed my disappointment, because she offered to buy me a ukulele and let me take lessons. Boy, was I excited! I can still remember how that uke looked. It was blond with a brown design around the hole under the nylon strings. I took several lessons at Werlein’s Music Store before I had taken it home with me that year.
At bedtime, I slept with “Money” in the old double bed that had an iron rail at the head and feet. “Popsy” slept on a cot at the end of the bed. He always tied a white handkerchief over his mouth. When I asked him why, he said he snored and it would help cut down on the noise. I don’t remember hearing him snore, so I guess it worked!
Some days “Popsy” and I would go to Audubon Park to feed the ducks and swans. He was an amazing bird watcher. I thought he knew the calls and songs of every bird. He could make a sound with his mouth on his hand that he said was of a bird in distress. It would draw all the birds in the area to check out what was happening. Then we would feed them with old breadcrumbs.
When we were finished feeding the ducks and swans, we would head back home and sometimes we would skip! He was also great at string tricks. He could take a piece of string tied in a circle and loop it over his hands and fingers, and before I could see how he did it, he would create a chair or a crow’s foot or a spider web, or a ladder or a teacup. He taught me how to make the teacup, but the rest were too hard!
He also liked to read to me. My favorite book was Uncle Remus Tales by Joel Chandler Harris. As he read, he sounded just like Uncle Remus relating the stories of B’rer Rabbit and the Briar Patch, B’rer Bar and B’rer Fox. His Negro slave dialect was perfect. Dad made a recording of him reading to me. Uncle Remus told his stories to a little boy. I remember being so excited because I got to speak one little line, “Uncle Remus, Did Brer Fox ever catch the Rabbit?” “Popsy” was such fun! I loved him a lot!
I remember “Money” being a quiet, gentle woman. She had a bad limp because she had broken her hip years before and had to wear an elevated shoe. I remember asking my mom why she didn’t get her leg fixed, and she said that it was so long ago that they didn’t know how to fix it properly then.
I thought she was very unusual because she had a job. Not many women worked in her day. She was employed with the Louisiana Tuberculosis Association. I look back now and realize that the family needed her income because my grandfather was a college English professor and there were four children to provide for. They had a cook, too. “Popsy” did a lot more than just teach. He also did all the grocery shopping!
John (Jack) McLaren McBryde, III, was born in 1906, Felix Webster (Web) McBryde, was born in 1908, Flora Webster McBryde was born in 1911, and Carolyn Webster McBryde was born in 1914. All four of the McBryde children attended college.
Uncle Jack was the adventurer. He had his private pilot’s license; he was a reporter for a large Dallas newspaper for a while. He liked to joke about being married three times—twice to the same woman! He had no children. He finally divorced and spent the rest of his life in New York City, where he became a proofreader for Time Magazine.
Uncle Web received his B.A. in History-Sociology from Tulane in 1930 and his PhD in Geography from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1940. He was a Geologist and Cartographer and spent his career traveling back and forth to Guatemala. He published over a dozen books about Guatemala. Every Christmas he would send something to our family from his trips down there: silver or wooden hand-carved forks and spoons, little hand-made dolls, hand decorated tablecloths, hand-made aprons and occasionally some coins. He and his wife, “Van” (Frances Van Winkle) settled in Potomac, MD, and had three children: Ricky, Sally and Larry. We didn’t see our “Washington cousins” very much.
Flora, my mother, went to Newcomb College, which was the women’s division of Tulane University. She really didn’t like college, but Popsy strongly encouraged her to continue. She not only graduated with a B.A., she went on to get her Masters Degree in Social Work in 1933 and worked until she married James Furman Yarborough, my dad, in 1941.
Aunt Carolyn didn’t finish college, although she was a talented artist and poet and was very intelligent. Throughout her life, she wrote hundreds of poems and drew countless pictures. After her freshman year at Newcomb, she went to work at Tureau Infirmary in New Orleans where she met James Chustz, (“Uncle Jimmy”), who became a doctor. They were married in 1939 and settled down in Jackson, MS, raising four girls and one boy. I always thought it was clever that my cousins’ names all started with “S”—Susan, Sandy, Stephen, Sally and Sherry! I had fun saying their names as fast as I could. I loved it that their family lived one street over from ours in a large, two-story white house. Uncle Jimmy developed heart trouble and eventually had to have a multiple bypass. All the cousins were fascinated when he had an electric stair lift installed so that he could ride up and down the stairs to his bedroom and his workroom, where he used to make beautiful stained glass windows. When they added a back room to their house one of the children named it “The Pretty Room,” which it was called until the house was sold years later. ,
When I was a teenager, I realized that Uncle Jack had issues with his siblings and became estranged from them. Through a misunderstanding, he thought that he had been cut out of his mother’s will. When she died there was nothing to leave to anyone, but he never believed that. When the lawyers researched the will and finished all of their legal work, they sent the papers to all of the heirs to sign off on them, but Uncle Jack refused to sign anything. He became embittered and began writing angry letters to his siblings accusing them of lying and cheating him out of his inheritance. I learned the meaning of a legal term when the lawyers declared him non-compos mentis in order to finish with the legal matters
Years later, when I was getting married, I thought of him, alone and apart, and sent him a wedding announcement. It was as if he had received a second chance for family. He began writing voluminous letters, filled with his love for the Lord, with deep theological thoughts. He loved the fact that I was marrying a minister! He even came to Puerto Rico to visit us, and when Mike and I went to Connecticut to visit the DiPalma family, we took the train to New York City for the day to visit Jack. We kept in contact until he died in 1980. We never discussed the past family estrangement. We had established a new family relationship with each other.
I flew to New York to attend his funeral at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, and stayed with a couple who were some of Uncle Jack’s closest friends. I loved being able to get around the city on all forms of transportation--except the subway! My dad had warned me not to take the subway! In a rather bold move on my part, I called the Minister of Music at the church and requested that I sing at the funeral: “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” from the Messiah. I could tell by his hesitant response that he was a little taken aback by my request, but he offered to meet me in the choir room before the service. After I had belted out a few bars, he stopped and made a comment, “Lots of nieces want to sing for lots of uncles and many of them really aren’t capable.” However, he was happy to accompany me, and I was thrilled that I could offer my gift to the honor of Uncle Jack’s memory and to the glory of God!
Interestingly enough, my uncles reunited when Jack had had the stroke that finally led to his death. Web had gone to New York to visit him in the hospital. When he walked into Jack’s hospital room, Jack looked at him and said, “It’s been a long time.” Web actually became Jack’s trustee and helped him manage his affairs before he died.
After the funeral, there was a reception where we met many of Jack’s friends who loved and appreciated him. Web asked me if I wanted to see Jack’s apartment and spend the rest of the day together, so we went with another one of Jack’s close friends, (I believe his name was Robert Waite, a professional artist). Jack’s apartment on Riverside Drive was simple and small, but it had a great view of the Hudson River. We also went to Mr. Waite’s studio and saw some of his paintings. I was particularly impressed with a portrait of John F. Kennedy that someone had commissioned him to paint. We went to dinner at a Japanese steak house, and I was thrilled that Mr. Waite and I were able to share our faith with Uncle Web. He remarked, “It sounds like you both have a personal relationship with God. When I was a boy, I loved being outdoors and I sensed His presence too, but it’s been a long time.” The next day we parted for our respective homes. I never had any more direct contact with Web or with Jack’s friend.
Later I was amazed when I was notified that Jack had named me as his beneficiary! Because of his generosity, we were able to put a large down payment on the condominium we lived in for twenty-eight years.
I left Jackson for my freshman year in college at Oklahoma Baptist University because I was impressed with the Bison Glee Club and wanted to major in music. Every year they would come to town and put on a concert. Oh how I wanted to be a part of that choir! What a sound they had! What pronunciation! What a director they had! His name was Warren M. Angel. He had studied under Fred Waring, credited as being the man who taught America to sing. Waring was famous for his Glee Club “The Pennsylvanians.” He was an extremely popular bandleader and choral conductor for almost 70 years. He recorded many albums and had been on several radio and television programs. He had perfected a technique that resulted in precision singing and had held summer choral workshops for years, teaching this technique to many young directors. One of his protégés was Robert Shaw who became America’s most famous conductor of serious choral music.
My dad’s oldest brother, Forbes, taught religion at OBU. Uncle Forbes and Aunt Ruby Lee had two sons, James and David, who had grown up and left Oklahoma by the time I was a student at OBU. I would see my uncle and aunt from time to time, and my mom and dad were glad that I had them nearby.
My freshman year was enjoyable and yet difficult. I immersed myself in music. By the end of my freshman year, I had a minor in music. I took sight singing and ear training, music theory, private voice and private piano. I spent at least two hours a day in the practice rooms of the music building. I wasn’t very proficient in piano so I spent twice as much time practicing piano as I did voice. I had a great voice teacher and had the opportunity to be in the Shawnee choral society. I also auditioned for the Bisonettes, the woman’s glee club. We worked on harmony, pronunciation, blend, dynamics, expression, and we memorized all of our music. It was a great experience when we went on tour and sang in several churches.
I also took a few core courses—English Composition, Physical Education and Survey of Old and New Testaments. I was very upset with my experience in the English course because I had just barely tested to be in advanced English. I thought everyone in the class was smarter than I was, and I was sure that I would fail the course. We were required to write long compositions, and all it took was one grammatical error to make an “F” on my paper. In desperation, I finally went to the professor with my worries, but he told me not to worry because I would finally get it right! He was right! By the end of the first semester, I had a B and was thrilled! I finally got rid of all the split infinitives, comma splices, run on sentences and felt that I had gained a level of ability that would have made “Popsy” (and Uncle Jack) proud!