(I’m in a performance of “Steel Magnolias” — April 29-May 1, 2016. Our director, Annawyn Shamas, asked us to write a biography for our character. I play Truvy, what follows is what I wrote. All make-believe, but what a fun — and insightful? — exercise!)
It had been a long, hot and muggy summer and my Momma was certainly glad when I was born in September 1941. She and Daddy had only been married a short while. Momma was the only child of Papaw, Clayton Otis Cane, and Mammaw, Louisy-Anna Morrow Cane. Mammaw was so named ‘cause her Momma and Pappa wanted her to always know from whence she came. She won every pie contest in the area, why her strawberry pie has become legend throughout the Parish; and even though she shared the recipe with everybody and their sister, no-one could quite make that pie like Mammaw Louisy-Anna.
Everybody called my Papaw ‘Poot’ ‘cause that’s the sound he made when he spit out the toothpick that was forever held tight in his teeth. Until it became like a projectile, then “Whoa, Nellie bar the door!” That man loved to chaw his little bits of wood. I’d tell him, “Papaw, someday I’m gonna spit out a baby and name it “Poot” after you.” “I’d be right proud!” he said. Mammaw and Papaw were dirt poor farmers, the year my Momma was born there was a bumper crop of corn, so naturally she was aptly named Cornelia-Maisey Cane. She was the apple of their eye.
Now, my Daddy, that’s another story. Lloyd Eugene Lean, everybody called him ‘Lenny Lean, the big talkin’ machine’. He was a traveling salesman working with the farmers in our area of Louisiana and Arkansas introducing the newly created pesticide DDT which guaranteed to kill the bugs that so walloped our crops. Daddy must of been a good salesman ‘cause he sweet talked Momma between the haystacks and grain bin. Next thing you know, Momma and Daddy were standing before the Methodist preacher with Papaw quietly behind Daddy, with his Remington .22 pump action rifle.
They hadn’t had much time to discuss naming me and when I was born, Momma was completely out of it so Daddy took it upon himself to name me. He thought I was truly lovely, so he put it together and told the nurse to write down “Truvy” and then ‘cause he thought I was the most beautiful thing he’d ever laid eyes on, and ‘cause he had a sense of humor that came with a wink of the eye, he gave me the middle name of Maebelle. Yes, ‘mam, that makes me: Truvy Maebelle Lean. Which just might have been an omen and birthright for me ‘cause beauty has always been my favorite topic; beauty and romance.
In December 1941 my Daddy, not one to sit still, up and enlisted in the Army of the United States of America. He told Momma it was his patriotic duty and moved Momma and me back in with Mammaw and Papaw. Papaw wasn’t none too pleased, but Mammaw loved having us girls all together. Countless nights all three of us would sit on the front porch swing and she’d say, “Ladies, we must be strong in our own selves, AND we must bond together for the good of one another. ‘Cause sometimes that’s all we girls have. Um-hmm.”
It was a gray day in January 1945 when the two military men knocked at our door and handed Momma an envelope she opened it and read, “We regret to inform you that your husband, Captain…” That was as far as she got ‘fore she fell into a weeping heap right there on the front stoop. I never really knew my Daddy, but everybody who knew him tells me I’m the spitting image of him; and then they say,“Yeah, and you talk too much like he did too.” We laid Daddy to rest out by the grove of pecan trees. And Momma, well, Momma she started dying little-by-little that day too.
The day of the annual Marmillion family shrimp boil, was a swampy hot July day. Momma stayed behind while Papaw, Mammaw and me went to eat our fill that shrimp. When we got home she was a laying on the porch swing all peaceful like. It was said that Momma died of a broken heart and I don’t doubt it. We laid Momma to rest by Daddy out by the pecan trees. Ever since then, I can’t eat a pecan tassie that I don’t shed a tear.
I can’t say I was always a model child for Mammaw and Papaw. I’d get in trouble at school for talking too much, and once got detention for messing up the girls’ restroom when I turned it into a hair studio. In high school I had lots of girlfriends, I loved the latest fashions and helped all the girls with their hair, make-up, clothes and complimentary accessories. I liked the boys too, but Papaw was pretty strict and I wasn’t allowed to keep their company. So at night I’d read Harlequin romance novels with a flashlight under my covers and I learned all sorts of practical romantic ideas.
My senior year, I was in the Miss Merry Christmas Festival Queen Pageant. I was standing there in my form-fitting swimsuit holding my breath and waiting to go on when all a sudden I locked eyes with a boy that could have been Ricky Nelson himself. My heart throbbed so much that I nearly popped out of that suit. Harlan Boyd Jones sauntered over to me holding a little basket of french fries. “You want some of this?” He teased me with sly grin and a potato stick. That boy loved his french fries. That why he was called ‘Spud’. Well, after the pageant we snuck away in his ’52 Ford Country Squire station wagon and went up to Frenchman Pointe. It was very daring and romantic all at the same time.
One night Mammaw and me was sitting on the swing just a talkin’ girl-talk. It was our place of sharing whatever’s on our heart. Papaw was washing up from a long day in the field, the azaleas were in full bloom, and…I was too. The Saturday after I graduated high school in 1959, there I was big as a barn with Spud standing in front of that Methodist preacher, with Papaw and his rifle. Soon after we set up housekeeping in a little shotgun house down on 6th and Amulet in Chinquapin just a few blocks from the Methodist church. I lost that baby. Mammaw held me and rocked on that swing, we cried ourselves out of the blues and then she said, “Sweet baby, you will be just fine, be strong and build your bonds wisely. Oh, and Spud’ll be fine too.”
Meanwhile, I went to work for Miss Imogene at the ‘Tame the Mane Beauty Salon,’ she said I was a natural. Spud and me kept trying for babies and kept losing them. Everyday on my way home from Miss Imogene’s, I’d stop at that Methodist church and pray like I was a Catholic. In 1968, glory be to God – and fertility drugs – I successfully birthed two little ‘pink as pigs’ twin boys, Louie and ‘Poot’. In 1972 when the twins turned four, Spud decided it was time to enclose our carport and turn it into a salon for me. That way I could be at home for him and the boys, and work full time too. That’s okay, I was doing what I love. I became the proud owner of, ‘Harlequin and Hairpins Hairdos & More’. Spud said that was a stupid name, so he painted “Truvy’s Beauty Shop” on the outside and that works just fine. I strive for my shop to be a little oasis of beauty ’cause you know ‘there is no such thing as natural beauty’. Most of all, my shop is a place of comfort and refuge.
At the grand opening, my Mammaw and Papaw surprised us by announcing they were moving to Key West, Florida. “Mammaw!” I said, “How can you leave? Your name is Louisy-Anna!” And she said, “Truvy darlin’, you know that Key Lime pie has always been my favorite.” Papaw spit his toothpick, “Poot. We reckon you can take care of yourselves now.” “Well,” I said, “I guess all I can do is wish you the very best and God bless. Thank you for all you done for me.” I hollered as they drove away, “Send me your recipe for that Key Lime pie.” It must be something pretty darn special.
It’s now fourteen years later, the boys are all grown up and leaving home. Spud finds electrical work when he can. And I get up every morning happy to go to work. Today, is Saturday and Saturday is my favorite at the shop ‘cause that’s when the ladies that are dearest to my heart come in – Miss Clairee, Miss Ouiser and M’Lynn. But today is a special day as M’Lynn’s Shelby is getting married today, so we all need extra attention to gussy up properly. I was worried how I was gonna do it all, but last night I got a call from the sweetest sounding young thing who heard I had a job opening. She’ll be here soon. I’ll need to see if she’s the right one or not. It’s important who I bring in here, not only are my standards high, but whoever comes into my shop has to fit in like a missing ingredient of a favorite recipe. She has to be strong in her own self, and she to be able to bond together for the good of one another; ’cause sometimes that’s all we girls have.