first and only meeting with Mrs.
Rita Ainsworth took place on a hot and humid summer day in southeast Texas.
Is there any other kind? I was about 14 years old at the time. Miss
Rita was a well known madam who had owned and operated a very successful brothel
in the Dixie Hotel in downtown Beaumont
for many years, and I knew of her through my father. He and his eldest brother,
my Uncle Jake, were actively involved in the “rackets” in Beaumont
and had a long standing business association with her. Uncle Jake was murdered
in 1958, and two years after this a major effort was made to drive vice and corruption
from Jefferson County by the James Commission, a state investigative unit. My
father seemed to have curtailed some of his activities after this, the degree
to which I don't know, and the Dixie was shut down, so far as anyone knew. Miss
Rita and Aunt Thelma, known as Aunt "Teet" to me, Uncle Jake's wife, were
good friends of long standing.
I was spending the day at Aunt Teet's place
visiting with her and her two nieces, Nancy and Hope, from Louisiana, who were
spending the summer. She continued to live on their large property in the north
end of Beaumont after she
was widowed. The grounds were resplendent with massively tall pine trees, the
ground carpeted by years of fallen dried needles, and it was all beautifully landscaped
with the prize winning camellia bushes she and Uncle Jake raised, interspersed
with glorious azaleas, dogwood trees, roses and several lovely little fish ponds
with large goldfish swimming in them. My brother and I used to feed them bread
crumbs we had brought along on Sunday visits when we were younger. Miss
Rita's property joined hers, and the two “estates” together probably covered
close to a square city block, if memory serves me.
We were sitting out
on the back of the property at the massively heavy cement picnic table and benches,
colorful square, ceramic, inlaid tiles decorating them, and Aunt Teet was fixing
our picnic lunch at the table. The menu for that day was sandwiches on Diet Rite
bread, the slices so thin you could read through them, and saccharin infused,
vile tasting Diet Rite Cola, a newly introduced soft drink for the diet conscious,
of which I was not a member. The sandwich filling consisted of a bilious concoction
of cooked, pulverized green peas, chopped celery and onion and just enough mayonnaise
to gloop the pasty stuff together. I can't recall any other ingredients, but this
puree of putrefaction was enough to rattle my gustatory sensibilities, and I was
not a picky eater. She was always trying to get the girls to lose weight when
they visited, and Heaven knows I needed to, but those sandwiches were downright
I heard Hope say “Well, hello Rita” and turned in time to hear
my aunt snap “That's Miss
Rita to you, missy!” Gliding through the trees was the most elegant older
woman I had ever seen. By then Mrs.
Ainsworth was probably nearing sixty, or thereabouts. She was wearing a full
length, diaphinous lounging gown in a colorful floral print, feet shod in soft
leather slippers, her makeup flawlessly applied and her hair piled high on her
head and arranged in a silvery soft french twist. I had the impression that she
was very tall for a woman, but that may have been my awestruck misperception.
I knew immediately who she was and I would like to think my mouth wasn't gaping
open. She looked at me and said “You're Willie's girl, aren't you?” which elicited
my double quick “Yes, ma'am.” I was shocked that she knew who I was and flattered
at the same time. She spoke with me for a couple of minutes and then said I was
to come over later and swim in her pool with the girls, who had an open invitation.
I got home that evening I told my mother all about meeting Miss
Rita, and she said that she had known her when she and my father first married
in the mid 1940's. They had lived in a suite of rooms in the residential part
of the Dixie Hotel until they found an apartment. She told me she used to sit
up and drink coffee and talk with her long into the night when my father's snoring
kept her awake. Mama described her as pretty, gracious and friendly, with a keen
sense of humor. Meeting her has been a nice memory for me to hang on to for all
of these years.
"True Confessions and Mild Obsessions"
May 9, 2013 Column
Related Topics: People
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