Monday, October 30, 2017

Remembering Alice

From left: Bud, Tommy, Ruby and Judy Dryden
circa 1954, the year before Alice's death.

Yesterday I wrote a post about Alice Scott, the only black person who lived in the white part of Auxvasse, Missouri, my hometown, when I was a boy. Alice was our next-door neighbor. Nearly 1,000 people have already read my post and more than a dozen have left comments on Facebook. (If you missed it, click

Alice died when I was three so I barely remember her, but I’ve always felt like I knew her because of the countless stories my mother and older siblings, Jerry and Judy, told me about her. To write yesterday’s post, I relied on notes I jotted down years ago as my mother, who had a memory like a steel trap and could remember every detail Alice ever told her, related the story of Alice’s life as Alice had told it to her. I always intended to write about Alice and I’m glad I finally did because her story is one that needs to be told, especially in times like these.

Judy, nine years older than I, remembers Alice well and loved her dearly. She was 13 when Alice died. After reading yesterday’s post, Judy sent me an email. I wrote back that I’d like to publish it as a follow-up because it’s a loving tribute that Alice deserves from one of the few people who remember her.

Judy says Alice was "the sweetest, kindest, most considerate person" she ever knew. I can say the same about my sister whose sense of justice and dedication to racial equality has never wavered. A card-carrying member of the NAACP, Judy has, for almost as long as I remember, attended marches, sit-ins and meetings to show her support for Civil Rights. I’ve always joked that she is embarrassed she was born white because, whenever there’s a racial incident, and such incidents are occurring with increasingly alarming frequency in Missouri where she lives, she comes down on the side of African-Americans.

Having read her email about growing up with Alice a constant presence in her young life, I now better understand her commitment. If you enjoyed reading about Alice, I believe you’ll find Judy's account fascinating. 


Your post about Alice brings up all kinds of memories.  

Barring none, Alice was the sweetest, kindest, most considerate person I have ever known.  She also was the best cook.  She entertained lavishly and could make the daintiest appetizers! They were so good that, when I was a child, I would heap my plate high and be full before the entree was presented.  Alice made the food for almost all the bridal and baby showers in Auxvasse and hosted them in her home.

Although she could not read and write, she could cook anything without a recipe. To get one of her recipes, it was necessary to watch her make something and to guess the amounts of the ingredients that she used.  She had no measuring cups or spoons and just seemed to know how much of something to use.

Alice had friends from everywhere and mom used to read her mail to her. When I was five years old, she received a package from California containing a jar of olives.  Stores in Auxvasse did not sell them.  She offered me one and I thought it was delectable.  When Alice went uptown that day, she returned to find her olives gone and I had a tummy ache.  It is the only thing that I ever remember stealing and I won't forget what mom told me about it.

Alice's house and ours were interchangeable as far as I was concerned. I would go over and sleep in her bed.  She always kept me on Saturday night while Mom worked at the store. Frequently we would go uptown and she would send me into the tavern to buy us hamburgers, which we ate outside because Alice was not allowed in the tavern and everybody knew that a "lady" would not go to the tavern anyway.  From there, we went to the movies. (Believe it or not Auxvasse, in the 1940s, had a movie theater.) We always got popcorn and sat in the colored section.  

For a short time Auxvasse even had a drive-in theater. It was across the street from Alice's back yard so that we could sit there and watch.  It showed mostly Laurel & Hardy and Roy Rogers & Dale Evans movies. There were many (WWII) war scenes. Then came the cartoons, which I loved, followed by trailers of movies to come. Then the lion roared and the MGM symbol would appear.  

I was always amazed by what Alice was not allowed to do. She had never driven a car so she had to take the Greyhound to go from Auxvasse to Mexico or Fulton, the two largest towns that were close. Alice was always relegated to the back of the bus and it didn't make sense that she could not sit with me.

Alice worked incredibly hard and most people who knew her respected her for her graciousness, hospitality and intelligence. I had such a profound admiration for her.  She always had the best garden in town, both flowers and vegetables, and she canned and shared bouquets with the church and all of the people she knew who were ill or in mourning.

On the other side of our house lived another neighbor, an old maid named Miss Lou Henderson, who took in a boarder, a Mr. Wayne. Mom said that Alice and Miss Lou were total opposites.  Alice always thought about how she could make any situation better.  Miss Lou always thought about how she could exploit a situation for herself.  

Miss Lou would come by at least once a day to borrow a cup of something or other.  She asked for all our old clothes and leftovers.  Mom subscribed to some magazines and two daily papers.  Miss Lou would come over each morning requesting them.  Dad worked incredibly hard and woke up each morning before 6 am.  The only day he tried to take off was Sunday when he didn't have to be at the store by 7 a.m. Mom always wanted him to not set an alarm and to try to sleep until 8 on Sunday mornings.  It never failed that Miss Lou came over at 6:15 to get the paper and to get change for a dollar so she would have a coin to drop in the Sunday school collection basket.  

Miss Lou was a very religious Presbyterian and was appalled that my parents had not yet picked a church for our family so she took it upon herself to take me to her Sunday school and church and taught me the catechism. She discussed the fire and brimstone that she believed was at the core of Christianity.

Alice, on the other hand, attended the same church regularly and nearly always "boarded" the preacher free of charge.  She was the first to take a meal to the bereaved or to nurse someone who was ill.  She spoke positively of everyone and never complained.  Miss Lou did not treat Alice with respect.

The earliest tragedy that I can remember was when Alice got breast cancer and could not be treated locally. The nearest oncologist was in Jefferson City and his name was Dr. Sugarbaker.  He was a bigger-than-life doctor who became world renowned for his research and surgical skills. (For more about his family, read Fugitive Spring by poet and author Deborah Digges, his daughter.)

Doctor Sugarbaker was glad to have Alice as a patient.  He removed her breast and she lived 11 years after that. It was unheard of at that time for cancer patients to live that long.

Later in her life the cancer recurred and I would ride along when mom drove Alice to Jefferson City. Alice was not allowed in the restaurants and I would be sent in to get sandwiches for us to eat in the car or at a picnic table alongside the highway.  Dr. Sugarbaker continued to treat her.  He and his wife had nine children and occasionally on Sunday he would drive with his wife and children all the way from Jefferson City to visit Alice.  She would always have cake and lemonade for them and usually sent them back with one of her delicious pies or cakes.

Many people in Auxvasse didn't get to know Alice and some said disparaging things about her because of her color. It made me angry and I didn't and still don't understand it.  I remember thinking that, from what Miss Lou told me that Jesus said in the Bible, if Alice didn't go to heaven, there was no chance for the rest of us.

I could continue forever about the joy and the poignancy of Alice's life, her last days in the nursing home and death, but it saddens me.  

I'll always remember sitting with her on her "stoop" in the backyard while she was picking out hickory nuts or walnuts or snapping green beans and listening to her tell stories.

It is as close to heaven as I've ever been.

1 comment:

  1. Judy, so glad you wrote about your life with Miss Alice and let Tom publish. The detaled first person perspective brought her to life. You got to have different experiences with her than Tom and I due to our age differences. I am about half way between you two.

    Knew Dr. Sugarbaker, but not like you did. Was a wonderful doctor who "was ahead of his time."

    Tom, thank you for sharing Judy's email. Your article was a great introduction for "the rest of the story".