Monday, October 12, 2009

LOVE WAS HER NAME

In August, 1947, when our family ended a gypsy summer on an odyssey to “Diddy Wah Diddy” (California to readers), we returned to my mother’s home town and the place of my birth, Franklinton, Louisiana. Franklinton, a piney woods village of approximately 2,000 people in southeast Louisiana, wasn’t the paradise in which my father expected to gypsy when he sold most of our possessions, bought a small gray utility trailer and filled it with camping equipment, then settled us in a 1941 blue Ford coupe bound for “Diddy Wah Diddy.” We were a family of four children two adults, and TeeNap, a cocker spaniel who lay at my feet on the entire journey West. My father had declared that we ‘d be gypsies forever, a declaration that filled my heart with terror, for I could hear all the school and library doors in the world clanging shut against me and felt that I’d never sleep in a real bed or take a bath in a porcelain tub again.

When my Grandfather Paul found us camping out in Burnet, Texas, he asked my dad to come home to Franklinton to help him run the Ford business that Grandfather had established in the days of Model T’s. Actually, my dad didn’t turn the coupe around and head back to Franklinton until we reached Los Angeles. When he turned east, then southward, I felt deeply relieved to be returning to civilization. That was the year Hallie C. Love came into my life. Perhaps my memory of her is so vivid because she became a stabilizing influence for me after the unsettling gypsy odyssey West.

Before “Diddy Wah Diddy,” I had spent wonderful summers with my grandparents in the old white frame house with its Victorian cupola on 10th Avenue in Franklinton. The silence of the old house had been heaven to me since the rest of the year I was surrounded at home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by three noisy, quarrelsome siblings. In my grandparent’s home, I spent hours on the sleeping porch at naptime, reading “The Little Colonel” series and didn’t give much thought to outdoor activities.

However, the first week after we moved to Franklinton, my mother sent me on a hike with Mrs. Love. A stocky woman in her sixties, Mrs. Love wore her untidy gray hair in a loose bun and her weathered face sans make-up. She led a group of Girl Scouts down to Miles Branch, approximately two miles from town, and in the pine-scented air, marching along with other giggling girls behind this Pied Piperess of youth, I felt as though I had entered a world of adventure that, unlike the “Diddy Wah Diddy” trek, was SAFE.

Mrs. Love loved the outdoors, camping, and, above all, Girl Scouting, but she appeared to have better sense than to sell all of her possessions and take up the life of a gypsy as my father had proposed to do. Her father, Mr. Cozine, was an advocate of Boy Scouting, and he revered Lord Baden Powell, its founder, but Hallie Love revered Juliette Lowe, the founder of Girl Scouting, and she established the first Girl Scout troops in Franklinton during the early 1900’s.

I never saw Mrs. Love wearing any dress other than the tattered green cotton leader uniform of the 40’s, cinched at the waist with a Scout belt and buckle, from which dangled a silver whistle like the one Juliette Low used when she put her patrols through the paces of marching to raise money for war bonds or instructed them to make formation for outdoor activities. Mrs. Love had been my mother’s Girl Scout leader and had inspired my mother to work toward the Golden Eaglet award, the equivalent of the Boy Golden Eagle award in the early days of the 20th century. Under Mrs. Love’s tutelage, my mother and several others worked on a myriad of badges that were sewn on the sleeves of an old khaki uniform I later donated to the New Orleans Girl Scout Council. She achieved this high honor during a time when Golden Eaglets were few in number in the U.S. Sadly, she didn’t live to see me become an executive director for Bayou Girl Scout Council in Lafayette, Louisiana, but if I had to trace the origins of one of my former careers, that of an executive in Girl Scouting, it would be to this Golden Eaglet scout and to “Mother Love,” as we called her.

Mrs. Love not only shepherded Girl Scouts for 50 years, culminating with her death in the 1960’s, she was coordinator of the Friday Club, a group of youth, delinquent and otherwise, that she rounded up every Friday during humid Louisiana summers for a day of swimming, picnicking, and hiking at Peter Pan, the Girl Scout camp about ten miles from town. Those of us who belonged to this club would squeeze into an old wooden-sided, long-bedded truck with open(!) tailgate owned by Uncle Zeke Babington, local hardware store proprietor. The old truck was driven by “Tin,” a toothless black man with a wide smile and high tolerance for the delinquent members of the group who’d hang their feet over the tailgate as we sped toward Peter Pan. Mrs. Love rode in the front seat with “Tin” and never looked back at us, practicing, I supposed, “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Our ages ranged from 7-16, and we weren’t divisible by age, older children buddying with younger ones in couples because that was the way Girl Scouts took care of one another, Mrs. Love told us.

Note: Part II of LOVE WAS HER NAME will appear in a successive blog.
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