GLORIA MUNDI

                                     

The Levinges came to live nearby,
bothering daddy. He was
a poor torment-seeking man who counted himself a liberal,
a socialist, a brother of the brotherly race.
Yet thought every Israelite should pay rent
for arriving late, by serving apprentice time as an Angle-Saxon.
Maybe by being allowed to run a cheap store
in a Black neighborhood.

Mr. Levinge said “crap”.  He was a master builder,
put up rich men’s villas, and wasn’t Jewish.
Mrs. Levinge had gypsy looks. One of the daughters
flaunted red hair, taught tap dancing.
They were like New York City, loud,
with— you’ll understand me, —neither humility nor class.

Gloria, the youngest, was, God knows, his only friend.
“She was born a lady; she doesn’t have to try”,
said Mama. With furious eyes like a bird,
she could pass for a Cherokee child.
Also was fearless, insolent, daring their downhill Running Path.
She climbed hills, told stories–fiercely moved about.
They shared their local slopes and terrible thickets
together, learnt to grasp
anything truly worth the doing
isn’t of any use to this world.

He’d taken all that in, just as
things collapsed, and here came Depression Time.
The world, like a braked locomotive, shrieked to a deadly stop.
Houses weren’t built, people got hungry.
The Levinges moved out.

It began to rain, endlessly.
The trees skimmed black and slick,
the skies streamed down like distressed faces.
Gloria disappeared, the one who’d helped him jimmy open
the crack welded shut like battleship plates
over pandemonium.

In a world generous with gifts,
the one he needed most was washed away
with neither thank you nor goodbye,
leaving only one crack, —that face
like a lonely truth, that dancer’s form and shape.
Which made him a downhill runner
the rest of his days.

© Andrew Glaze 2022. This is a previously unpublished poem.

At a very young age, my father considered Gloria Nell Levinge to be his first girlfriend. She may have actually lived next door and, although one source says she was his age, others indicate she was 26 months older.  Meanwhile, Mr. Levinge’s name was originally Levigne and had been altered by immigration officials when he arrived here from France. He had a degree in Engineering from the Sorbonne, and specialized in tall buildings.

My father studied Latin, and, roughly translated, “Gloria Mundi” means glory of the world.  He once commented that he’d “never met anyone like her”, and I can easily believe that. He’d had a conventional Southern upbringing among the genteel country club set, with girls who were trained to never steal the spotlight.  He once told me about a girl he knew whose mother would periodically reprimand her with, “Burgess, your brain is showing!”  Now he suddenly had neighbors from New York, with seven children who really didn’t care about the nuances of future debutante cotillions.  They had wider interests. Their mother had enrolled them in dancing and acting classes early-on and they all thrived in that arena.

Born in February sometime between 1918-1920, Gloria was the baby of her family.  She and her three sisters soon became known for their performances in theater pageants and plays, often as a group.  As adults, the three older sisters opened dance academies in and around Birmingham.

Gloria had self-confidence from an early age, didn’t care much about what anybody else thought, and when my father would take her for “a date”, they’d get all dressed up, but she would still wear sneakers to be comfortable. He was a shy boy, dress codes for girls in the South were typically de rigueur, and yet she was introducing concepts he’d never considered possible.

I don’t know where Mr. Levinge relocated his family when they moved, but clearly it was still within the city limits. In reality, the departure may have been because he suffered an early death from a burst appendix near the start of the Great Depression. Lacking his income, his wife had to sell her nicest belongings, and their children supported her for the rest of her life.

The Depression began when my father was nine in 1929, and ended when he was thirteen. At some point my father’s family also moved out of the neighborhood, but into a larger Tudor style mansion that overlooked the city. His father was a doctor who deftly managed to sidestep the pitfalls of the Depression by using barter and other options of free trade to keep afloat. I currently own a ladies Elgin watch that he bartered for his dermatologic services and brought home for my grandmother.

As for Gloria, by 1936, she’d been groomed by her entire family to compete in the Miss Birmingham Beauty Pageant and won!  The title qualified her to enter the 10th Miss America Pageant on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She competed using her dancing talent and was one of three contestants to win the “Talent Award”.  In the end, she was fourth runner-up for the crown, losing to Miss Philadelphia.  She also managed to become Miss Daytona Beach during this time period.

In 1937, she left for New York City and joined the Ensemble of a Broadway musical titled, “Marching Song”.  It opened in February and closed in April after 61 performances. Next, she decided to head for better weather and a potential movie career in California.  She did indeed dance and act in films. My uncle remembers going to see Best Foot Forward with my grandmother in 1943.  She pointed out, “There’s Gloria”, in a segment where Gloria had a small speaking role. Her niece says she was in at least one Abbott and Costello film.

On July 28th, 1942, she married Gene Lester, a pioneering West Coast news correspondent and photographer for The Saturday Evening Post.  He covered events with celebrities from the Golden Age of Hollywood, but particularly became known for his photos of Marilyn Monroe.  His one regret was that when Cary Grant invited him and his wife to visit for a weekend, he turned him down, because he and Gloria, who were early in their marriage, had just had a major blow-up argument.  Later he learned that Grant had been planning to give him an exclusive for his secret wedding to heiress Betty Hutton that weekend. From that story alone, it seems likely that Gloria had an interesting life and career. They had two daughters. Her husband died in 1993, and she died four years later still living in California.

Gloria never realized it, but by being “the one who’d helped him jimmy open the crack welded shut like battleship plates” she forever addicted my father to a love of surrounding himself with interesting people.  Debutante balls were all fine and dandy, but nothing compared to surrounding himself with artists, dancers, composers, musicians, and other poets and writers. And that is exactly what he proceeded to do, initially in Birmingham, then for 30 years in New York City, later in Miami, and finally back in Birmingham, until he peacefully died, satisfied with his life, at the ripe old age of 95.

—E. Glaze

Gloria Levinge with her mother. Photo courtesy of her family.

The Ballad of Being Gone

— In honor of suicide awareness month

Where’s the old brown Victor AM box
with half a sandwich of what there was for dinner
and half a sandwich of peanut butter.
Going to visit myself again, and in that place,
Jack Benny’s scratching at his violin for Love In Bloom,
Ethel Waters piling up clouds of Stormy Weather,—alas—
as lost as a puff of wind in the grass.

And, Daddy, chewing his pipe in the northwest chair,
and Mama, who’s played a Brahms Waltz on the baby grand.
Then the lawn in the side yard, its badminton net
and the primal fig tree by the back porch,
and the glorious night of the Night Blooming Cereus.
Where’s that gone?

And that midnight ringing of the phone, 
wet and hot, to soothe the dolors of the skin,
near which Emily Dickinson
first made a vast hole in the air and drew me through
and shut the wind behind us.
And where’s that brave stony porch against storms,
and the port cochere, and my lonely sand-pile,
where’s what I was,
and our beautiful house of green?

and daddy hurrying down deadly, the last hateful night,
going to headlong ruin by anger destroyed,
his harsh forty-five chucked beside him on the seat,
all ready to kill the girl who dared disgrace him,
and bringing the end of all that we knew
of our house and our city and being young,
as lost as a puff of wind in the grass.

By Andrew Glaze, © 2002, from his book Remembering Thunder

In 2005, my father wrote an email to a friend:

“Dear Marilyn: re the last verse of the “Ballad of Being Gone”.
When I was 24 and in the air force, overseas in Wales, I received a telegram that my father had died, which was puzzling enough, since he had always been in good health. It was only after the war was over and I got home that I learned my father, (who was a doctor) had been involved in a love affair with his secretary and had shot her and himself.  My mother had to sell the house and go and live with her sister in Fort Worth.  Our house, which sat on 2 and a half acres over looking Birmingham from Red Mountain, went for a give away price, and all my things, including my record collection and books, went for little or nothing, so when I came home after the war, there was not much to come home to. Gone without remedy indeed!  Good thing I have always been a resilient soul. I got over it. But to this day my brother won’t talk about those days.”

As for my father, he eased his mind through his poems. There are three specific poems that wrestle with the repercussions of his father’s self-implosion.  Each one goes to a greater depth than the last.  First came his 1978 poem, “My Father Invented The Submarine” from his book The Trash Dragon of Shensi , followed by 1981’s “The Ballad of Being Gone” in Remembering Thunder.  The third poem is called “Loblolly” and is not yet published.

My brother and I grew up with the knowledge that our grandfather had killed himself before we were born.  However, it wasn’t until I read “The Ballad of Being Gone” that I learned it had been as part of a murder-suicide.  I still remember my father’s comment when I asked him about it; “It was just like daddy to bite his own nose off to spite his own face”.

Our grandfather was a highly successful dermatologist at the time, greatly respected, and well known for his gregarious personality, many talents, published medical research papers, and a high level of intelligence.  He and my grandmother were popular members of Birmingham society and the country club world.  They had a steady housekeeper, a beautiful mansion surrounded by other lovely mansions, and, before the war began, when my father wasn’t playing golf, or tennis, he was dating debutantes.  

As a result, when my grandfather abruptly left this world in tragic and dramatic fashion, it was the scandal of the decade, equal to the OJ Simpson trial.  My poor grandmother fled to Texas with my 14-year-old uncle in tow.  They stayed there for a year until the people of Birmingham had forgotten the headlines and moved onto other news, and then quietly moved back. 

Eventually, I learned that my grandfather snapped when the young woman he was having an affair with “tried to break it off, take the car he’d given her, and leave with another man.”  A few years ago, my brother tracked down a 1945 newspaper article explaining the sequence of events.  Apparently, after speaking with the girl on the phone, he furiously drove to her house in his car and shot her when she opened her door. From there he drove to his medical office downtown, called my grandmother on the phone to tell her what he’d done and explain what he was about to do, and then killed himself.

The one cherished memory that my father held close for the rest of his life arrived in the form of a letter, written by my grandfather a few months before he died.  It said, “Everybody else has seen it before I did, forgive me for not recognizing that you are a first-rate poet.”  My father later wrote, “I memorized this letter. To me it meant, ‘After all this time, you’re free.  It’s okay to be you.’  So, I decided to go back home after the war, study medicine, and, when he retired, take over his practice.”  “Years later, Mama was able to say ‘The only good thing about Daddy’s death is that it let you do what you wanted to do.’ At last, I was free.”

Interestingly, it wasn’t until my grandmother died, in 1981, at the age of 93, that my father visited the cemetery in Birmingham and viewed his father’s grave for the first time.  He returned to Manhattan afterwards and confided in me that, at some level, because the burial took place while he was abroad, he’d never really accepted that his father was dead until that moment of finality. I guess he’d never had the courage to face it before then. 

Thirty-six years after the drama unfolded, he finally had a form of closure to work with.

Andrew L. Glaze Senior. Photo taken by Andrew L. Glaze Junior in 1938.
Property of the Andrew Glaze (Jr.) estate

— E. Glaze

God’s Various Enterprises

                                    For Bessie Blevins

A divine visitation came to our house
that year.
In a dream, God sent Bessie a business gift,
a radical formula for straightening hair.
Rinsing the long black mop in grease,
you run a hot iron through it,
to the sweet reek of blue smoke!
“Brother, she asked, “lend me eleven dollars.
Then I can go into business.”

In 1932, that was more than a cook’s wages for two weeks.
Three times what his father gave him a week
for the savings bank against college.
Where to find it?
But he finagled, somehow,
and gave the dollars to her by the kitchen door.
Later she unveiled an epiphany.
Row on row
of grey‑black cans of petroleum grease, like a factory–
like Henry Ford’s flivvers
stuttering through the factory door.

She was born in Demopolis, once a failed vine and olive colony.
At Renault House
she wrung chicken necks on the back porch.
Her Papa’d gone blind
staring in the fierce bagasse fire,
boiling molasses down out of sugar cane.
She never went to school.
Children she nursed taught her to write a little,
mumble through the bible verse by verse,
and the man of six foot four she married,
used to get drunk and beat her,
giving her two kids. Her favorite songs
were “Precious Love”, and
“The Waltz You Saved for Me.”

Lay any guilt?  To her, life don’t argue.
And for the eleven dollars– bless him,
that little boy did the best he knew.
She was right. Life is what it is,
and we can only climb the barricades it rears,
against all thoughtless, ill-regarded, acts of love.

© 2021 by Andrew Glaze, from his unpublished book Sideways Tales.

In 2010, my father e-mailed his friend Irene Latham to compliment a book she was writing for young readers. Leaving Gees Bend is about a young girl in an Alabama town known for Black women who are skilled quilt makers.

“Irene,
The whole heartedness with which you tackle a sad, and practically helpless society and people, breaks my heart. I can’t read more than a few pages at a time because I start crying. I know these people, because I grew up with them. I can’t help thinking of my friend and our maid, Bessie, and the time she asked me to lend her $11 to start a business (hair grease). I took money out of my college savings to help her—thank God.
–Andy ”

Bessie worked for my father’s family for many years, both as a maid, and as a nanny to him and his siblings. At the time she had her dream, my father was eleven or twelve and she’d been with the family since he was three.

Her birth-town of Demopolis was founded by French exiles from Napoleons empire and is one of the oldest continuous settlements in the US. It’s likely that her ancestors were slaves to those residents. Her daughter’s name was “Belle”, with the French spelling that translates to “Beautiful”. According to my mother she also had a son.

Her 6’4” husband lost his life at a relatively young age when someone broke into the Dry Cleaners where he worked as a night watchman, and shot him. My grandparents attended the funeral with all three kids in tow.

Like all Black members of her generation in Alabama and the South, Bessie had to follow extremely specific, mostly unwritten, racial guidelines.  And yet, she was more fortunate than most. My grandparents were modern thinkers at the edge of Civil Rights awareness and they treated her well. Derogatory names for African Americans were banned from their household. “Colored people” was the socially acceptable term used by both Blacks and Whites in those days..

Bessie took the public bus to and from their house each day, which required walking up and then back down a hill. At times they drove her or picked her up from her home just outside the center of town (my uncle describes it as a “shack”). Truth is, the majority of “colored people” lived in very small rectangular cabin shacks in neighborhoods they were relegated to. Segregation laws kept it that way. Only occasionally did she stay overnight in a room above the detached garage that was designed for the hired help, but mainly used by my grandfather to store his fishing equipment.

My uncle says she was a natural, self-taught musician. It began when she would try to pick tunes out by ear on my grandparents’ baby grand piano. She enjoyed it so much that my grandmother supplemented the cost of a secondhand upright piano of her own. It sat in her “shack”, where she taught herself to play, and was her most cherished possession.

However, Bessie’s major advantage turned out to be my M.D. grandfather’s medical connections. At a time when Birmingham was becoming a major medical center in the South, she was diagnosed with Pernicious Anemia; normally considered a fatal disease. So, my grandfather took her to see Dr. Thomas Spies. He was the Director of the Hillman Hospital Nutritional Clinic and soon to become the USA’s foremost expert in nutritional diseases. Bessie became part of a major study that involved treatment using an unappetizing substance made from liver. The medication was expensive, but my grandparents footed the bill and Bessie recovered. Spies went on to publish his study and the report mentions a female participant identified as “B.B”. He went on to find nutritional cures for Pellagra and Tropical Sprue and by 1938 he was Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year, in comprehensive science”. According to my uncle, when she had other health issues and needed a mastectomy later in life, Spies’ Clinic took care of her. Nowadays, Pernicious Anemia is easily treated with Vitamin B12. Capsules or coated tablets disguise the taste.

A different perspective of Bessie’s life comes from a memoir my late mother wrote. It describes what was an everyday occurrence for Blacks in the South.

“In 1949, I was 18 years old and full of youthful idealism about race relations.  Yet, somehow segregation was far from my mind when I invited Bessie, a longtime servant in my future husband’s family, to the wedding.  Racism in the context of religion had never truly penetrated my mind. Yet at the same time, I knew very well that Blacks and Whites had separate Methodist churches.

I was waiting in the vestibule for the traditional music cue when Bessie arrived.  The groom’s brother, who was one of the ushers, came to me with Bessie on his arm and said, “Where do you want Bessie to sit?”  “In the pew with your family,” said I. The only thought in my mind was that Bessie would be the most comfortable with them, and that she was, in a sense, family.

Bobby, my future brother-in-law, escorted Bessie through the doors and on up the aisle.  After a couple of minutes, back again they came through those doors, Bessie still holding Bobby’s arm and closely followed by an unfamiliar man of middle age.  Bobby said, “This man says that he’s a church official, and he wants to talk to you.”  The church official informed me very courteously that it was against church policy for Bessie to sit in the main auditorium.  She would have to sit with the black church employees in the corner of the balcony.

I was amazed.  I knew that my world was racist, but I never thought my church would be this petty, to embarrass a gentle, elderly woman like Bessie on what, I thought, was a personal occasion. I said to the church official, “Bessie has been working for my fiancé’s family since he was a little child.  She should be with the family.”  He politely disagreed.  A tornado of righteousness rose up in me. I was an 18-year-old struck with shock that my religion wasn’t what I had thought it was, and I was going to set it straight.

“You know that my family has been going to church here since I was six years old.  My brothers and I went to Sunday School all those years.  My mother taught Sunday School here.  My grandmother goes to church here; my uncles and aunts went to church here.  We went to Vacation Bible School and revival meetings and everything”.

He said very quietly, “Yes, I know that.”

I said, “Well, what about ‘Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight’, that we used to sing in Sunday School?  What about ‘The Brotherhood of Man?’  This doesn’t seem like Christianity to me.”

Quietly, he said, “There are several of us Church Stewards here.  Would you like to speak with the others?”  He gestured toward the auditorium. “Yes, I would,” I said, and started toward the auditorium door.

Bessie touched my arm.  “Please, Miss Dorothy, I don’t want no trouble.  I’ll just sit in the balcony.”  As she walked toward the balcony stairs, I said to her, “I’m so sorry, Bessie.  I never dreamed this would happen”.  And that was that.  We all went to our appointed places and proceeded with the wedding.

A few years later, in 1958, Bobby got married in New York City and Bessie came from Birmingham to attend his wedding with the respect she deserved.”
—Dorothy Elliott (Glaze) Shari

It’s notable that my mother never returned to her childhood church again, and completely rejected all organized religion from that day on.

By the 1950’s, my aging grandmother was widowed and living in a condo apartment. Bessie or her daughter still came once a week to polish the silver, dust, and vacuum. My father stayed in touch with Bessie for the rest of her life, and although she could not write back, her daughter was able to. When I was a child, and we still lived in Birmingham, I remember driving to her home to drop off Christmas gifts.  After we moved to New York City in 1957, we sent a Christmas card with cash tucked inside.

Sadly, one day a phone call notified us that Bessie had died. However, it wasn’t from natural causes. It turned out that as she grew older, she began to develop cataracts. Eventually she tried to cross a street and was hit by a car.  The consensus was that she hadn’t seen it coming.

Nonetheless, she still lives her simple life within my father’s poem, and in our memories, and now you know her story as well. Sometimes a legacy is measured in the love you leave behind when you’re gone. Sometimes it’s by swallowing a truly awful tasting liver compound to help find a cure for a fatal disease. And on rare occasions, if our stars are aligned correctly, even if we don’t realize it at the time, some of us are able to do both.

—E. Glaze


Although there may be other photos of Bessie, this is the only one in my possession.  The baby in the wicker carriage is my aunt Martha, the toddler in the foreground is my father Andrew, and Bessie is the “Hidden Figure” in the upper right corner.
Photo property of the Andrew Glaze estate.

A Little Han Horse

 

Tail in a rainbow curve,
his mouth ruffling the air like a golden flute,
his hooves glittering in rapture,
with cocked ears, he’s off,
to what improbable sapphire mountain?
Above the thick reek below of rage and grief,
of fire-blasted cities, starving children, skewed old men
proffering grey worn-out eyes
and great bellies, he skims.

Where he goes, also,
is afflicted with wild armies,
furious combustion and loss.
So, he flies as part of it,
through, between, beneath,
hooves flickering sparks, nostrils flaring,
his heart knows it all.
He skips a little dance of joy.

© Andrew Glaze, from Remembering Thunder, 2002

 

My father’s love affair with Asian art, poetry, and culture, was particularly passionate in the 1970’s.  At that time, he read and experimented with writing Haiku poetry, enjoyed taking us to an authentic Japanese restaurant in our neighborhood, and purchased a variety of books on Asian Art.  I think of it as his “Asian Period”. It was during this time that he wrote “The Trash Dragon of Shensi”, ” A Little Han Horse”, and began writing a poem titled “Issa” which is about the Japanese poet and Buddhist monk named Kobayashi Issa.  The latter is included in his 2015 book Overheard In a Drugstore.

The little Han horse that inspired the poem is actually a statuette that sat on a shelf above my father’s desk in Manhattan. Of humble origin, it arrived at our home when he subscribed to a Sculpture of the Month Club that was probably affiliated with the Time-Life publishing company.  It is based on “The Flying Horse of Gansu”, a statue from the Chinese Han Dynasty that was unearthed from a tomb in 1969 and which captured the public’s imagination.  The horse is said to be standing lightly on a flying swallow or hawk.

I remember my father telling me how much he loved looking at it. At some time in later years it was accidentally knocked over and the tail separated from the body. Then, during the move from Miami to Birmingham, it went missing among my parents packed belongings and they thought it was lost entirely for a long time. At that point a kind relative presented him with a replacement that was very similar and my father was literally moved to tears.

I currently own the original along with its detached tail. At some point I’ll find someone to reattach it.  In the meantime, tail or not, he continues to flare his nostrils, skip his dance of joy, and bring me inspiration from a well placed shelf in my living room.

E. Glaze


My father’s little Han dynasty horse statuette.  At the time he wrote the poem, it sat on a shelf above his desk in our Manhattan apartment.

 

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