Wednesday, April 25, 2012

AVA...For my Mother.

During much of my growing-up years my mother, Vivian, was a single mom, waiting tables to support three daughters while going to secretarial school at night with the hopes of getting a better-paying job. Scrimping was so much a way of life that Mother, my two sisters and I would regularly sit on Mother's bed at night and count her tips to see if there was going to be enough left to go into New Orleans on the weekend. And every once in a while there would be enough 'lagniappe' that we could indulge in some foolishness.

Going to New Orleans meant a long bus ride, a shorter streetcar ride, shopping for shoes (we always needed shoes), eating grilled cheese sandwiches at Woolworth's counter and, if we were really really lucky, a double feature at the Saenger Theater. When Mother was a teenager she fancied herself becoming a great movie star who would sing, dance and out-perform Bette Davis. Well, no one except us ever discovered Mother but she could do all three better than most of the starlets we saw in those movies.

I was eleven years old when "Show Boat" opened at the theatre. Mother was determined that we should go and I remember that we were all giddy with anticipation. Mother liked Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson but Ava Gardner was her favorite. I also remember that, at that time, I thought Mother looked like Ava Gardner--they were both beautiful women.

When I discovered there was an Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, North Carolina I knew I had to go.....

It is right downtown, run entirely by volunteers who knew and loved Ava.

Picture that a friend of Ava's took and put in the window of his photoshop. Within a short time someone from Hollywood saw it and, Well....the rest is history.

Ava became a star right away and her beauty and talent rivaled Elizabeth Taylor's.

Mother learned the words of many of the songs in the movie and, that night and for years later, would entertain us by singing and dancing in our living room, knocking over furniture as she twirled. We usually would collapse in giggles watching her dance but marveled with envy, her lovely voice.

Ava's first marriage was to Mickey Rooney. In true Hollywood fashion the match didn't last long.

Later she married band leader, Artie Shaw, and that ended quickly as well.

And when Ava married Frank Sinatra is was a bigger event than the Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie match.

I think mother also related to Ava because they both loved good-looking men--to their own detriment. Ava's marriage to Frank was as short-lived as the other two marriages had been.

Ava had a 'stalker' artist that actually never met her but still painted a portrait of her every year for over 40 years.

Many of those portraits hang in the museum.

I think I saw most of Ava Gardner's movies while in my teens and I usually went with Mother. So, being the true southern woman that I am, I had to go to the Smithfield Cemetery to visit Ava's grave, where I discovered something else....

Ava Gardner's middle name 'Lavinia', was the same as my mother's oldest sister's name. I wonder if mother knew that. Or Aunt Billie (as we called her). It is such an unusual name that I wonder where it came from.

(If you look closely at that photo you will see a small white spot above the marker. I sprinkled some of Mother's ashes there. Now I can picture Ava and Vivian singing, dancing and entertaining others in some great after-life where beautiful and talented women go for all eternity. No, I don't believe that but I wish it were so.)


  1. Cool. I was wondering if you were going to be in that area of North Carolina. When mom and I were in Charlotte a couple of weeks ago, we stopped at the NC Welcome Center. In there I spotted a brochure for this museum. But I never expected that mom would actually make it there.

  2. Your Mom was a beautiful woman as well as Aunt Billie and the rest of her sisters:) Of course I'm a little prejudice since one of those sisters is my Mom! Loved your recollections of your childhood and your Mom-made me smile!
    How neat that Ava and Aunt Billie had the same middle name. I'll ask Mom if she realized that.
    Love you, Denise

  3. I wish I could have heard your Mom sing and seen her dance. My Mom would sing all of the time too. I wonder if grandma ever sang to them? Your Mom was always so much fun. Thank you for sharing your memories.

  4. great story