Emelda Beason had a lovely lilt to her laughter, a natural hoarseness. Her words and tone were gracious. Jakesport was a fishing town on Alabama’s Coosa River before developers turned it into a crafty daytrip shopping destination. Descendants of fishermen and farmers lived in surrounding communities. Emelda was the recent widow of Dr. Tim Beason, one of Jakesport’s own. After Tim’s death, she settled into a condo on the riverfront. Emelda was proud of her spacious two-bedroom apartment with a lanai, large dining and living room, space enough to host a monthly bridge game. She was expected to maintain a respectable home and maid services were included. She and Mary (Pook) Beason, Tim’s first cousin, were neighbors. During Emelda and Pook’s morning walks, they chatted. “Pook, the girls I’ve interviewed aren’t working out.” Pook, a trim and kinetic woman in her early 50’s laughed and put her foot up on a bench to tie her sneakers. “Girls? Emelda, what age group are you interviewing? There are child labor laws now.” Emelda laughed and puffed on the cigarette between her manicured fingers. “Pook, don’t tease me. They all just rubbed me the wrong way.” Pook touched her gently on the arm. “You’ll be okay when you meet the right one.” They passed several of Emelda’s customers from her cosmetics franchise. She spoke warmly to most. Pook noticed that Emelda’s personality dimmed when she saw customers that were not white. “Emelda, was there a pattern to the women you interviewed?” Emelda stopped walking and took a deep breath. “Pook, I’m ashamed to say this, but I get uncomfortable when colored people come into my house.” Pook was the most tolerant person Emelda knew. “Emelda, you have a right to how you feel, there’s no shame in that. Just remember that people are people.”
Soon after their conversation, Pook mentioned Gigi to Imelda. “She won’t work on Saturday or Sunday. Weekends are her husband and grandchildren’s time. You’ll like her. She’s a dresser like you and has a wonderful sense of humor.” If you want, I’ll let her know when she comes by to pick up clothes for her church’s yard sale.”Emelda was in no hurry to meet Pook’s “friend”. A few days later, Pook was helping an attractive black woman put boxes into the trunk of a car. The car itself was astonishing: a glistening classic red 1970 Cadillac Seville convertible! Emelda wondered who the driver was. “Good Morning Emelda. Somebody wants to meet you.” Sometimes Pook was too friendly. “Emelda, this is Gigi. Gigi, this is my cousin, Tim’s widow, Emelda.” “Gigi If you have a minute – you and Emelda can have a cup of tea.”
Gigi was as outgoing as the Alabama sunshine. “Well hi there, Emelda. My name is really Gerri but my grandbabies call me Gigi, that’s Grandmama for short and I like it. My husband does too. He calls me Gigi all the time. You can call me Gerri or Gigi. But how are you doing today? You need a little help?” She touched Emelda’s elbow and started walking toward the entrance. Emelda was beginning to regret this introduction, thinking “This one talks too damn much already.” She looked over her shoulder and saw the satisfaction on Pook’s face and decided to at least do an interview.
Emelda gave Gigi a tour and Gigi complimented her well appointed home and how nice each room was decorated, especially the sunporch. “That’s my lanai”, Emelda corrected. “Your what?” was Gigi’s query. When Emelda repeated the word, lanai, Gigi chuckled and said, “I beg your pardon, ‘Miss’ Emelda. We have one of those but we just call it a sunporch.” A bit put out, Emelda made an almost inaudible “harumpff” sound, begged her own pardon and added, “Well Gigi I guess that’s really what it is, a sunporch.”
The only snag in what could have been a good arrangement was Saturday work. “Now Emelda, I don’t do anything on Saturdays but make cakes, cook Sunday dinner and play with my grandchildren, teaching them my special 5-egg pound cake.” Emelda was disappointed and aggravated, but dared her emotions to betray her. On Gigi’s first day, she brought Emelda a large golden pound cake. “I didn’t see any sweets on your counter. If you like this, I’ll make one for your Bridge group.” Emelda made a point of checking to see what kind of car Gigi was driving. There was no Cadillac. Instead, there was a more sensible Chevrolet; it too was a shiny red.
In time, Emelda became more comfortable with Gigi, who did little it seemed, but chit chat. She enjoyed dusting Emelda’s heavy period furniture and classic picture frames with an ostrich feather duster. “These type of furnishings call for a light touch,” she’d say. Their acquaintance blossomed until Emelda offered Gigi an extra $35 if she would come to work one Saturday a month for an hour. That’s when Gigi’s sunshine took on a bit of an overcast. “Saturday is my family day. Remember?”“Oh yes, I forgot.” Emelda seemed to relent. Yet, that very evening, Emelda called Gigi in a frantic voice. “Gerri, Darling, I don’t know how this happened but I have somehow misplaced the diamond bracelet Tim gave me. I am so heartbroken.”
Gigi’s first thought was to console Emelda, “It has to be there somewhere, do you remember where you last saw it?” “No, I don’t Gerri, I wondered if you saw it.” A somberness came over Gigi, “No Emelda, I did not see it.” Gigi sighed. She recognized when southern manners were sweet and bitter at the same time.
Emelda has planned to ask Gigi to set the table for her guests when she arrived on Saturday. But when Gigi walked into the condo at 11:50, Emelda was astonished! Gigi was wearing a full length ice white mink coat, black pumps with rhinestone trim, a tweed suit and ruffled shirt. Her hair was covered by a matching mink tam. Not waiting for Emelda to close her mouth, Gigi spoke first. “I’m on my way to a concert by the Five Blind Boys Gospel Singers in Birmingham and dinner. I have to pick my husband up at home in an hour, so let’s get started looking for that bracelet, okay?”
Emelda was at a loss for words, she didn’t have a coat this fine. Gigi handed Emelda a package. These were not the hands of a maid; she was wearing a platinum wedding ring set with what seemed like 1.2 to 2.0 caret diamonds. It wasn’t as elegant as the one Tim had given her, but it was sturdy and clear and not what a maid should have. Confused, Emelda blurted out, “I found the bracelet Gigi. Thank you for coming over. I’ll be okay.”
Gigi smiled. “ I made my 5-egg golden pound cake for your guests.” “Emelda, you’re wondering by the way I’m dressed today why I’m working as a maid. You’re right for thinking that. I don’t have to work. My husband has a very good job. He travels around the world training people how to use farm equipment that he and his family invented and sold to a big manufacturer. I just like doing something instead of sitting home and being a lonesome pretty lady so I’m always out and about volunteering in Jakesport. When Pook told me about you needing someone for a while, I thought maybe I could help you take your mind off of things on one hand and on the other, meet someone new to try my 5-egg pound cake on. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
Gigi smiled and as she closed the door on the way out, Emelda peered out the window and saw Gigi get in that classic 1970 red Cadillac and speed down Riverfront Street.