REMEMBERING A TRUE
Ever since attending the recent funeral for Marian Armstrong Baccus, the term "Southern Belle" has resonated in my brain and for good reason.
The definition of the term comes from the French word "Belle," meaning beautiful, and for years it was flourished on young, unmarried women of the plantation-owning upper class of Southern society.
We remember the ladies of that era wearing hoop skirts, corsets, pantalets, wide-brimmed hats and gloves and often carrying with them parasols and fans.
As those times faded away and women came into their own right, the styles may have changed along with the perception of the term, but here in Monroe we did not need to see ladies wearing the above mentioned garments to recognize a genuine Southern Belle when we saw one.
For me Marian Baccus represented the essence of a true "Southern Belle" in all the proper definitions of beauty, elegance, taste and etiquette.
My memories of Marian are many and treasured and I wanted to share a few which have been recalled in recent days, made even more beautiful since she has left our side.
Go back with me to 1949 to the old red brick Methodist Church on the corner of Broad Street and Highland Avenue. I was three years old and when my parents attended church services I would be left in the nursery along with others of my age to be cared for by ladies of the church who enjoyed caring for small children.
One of my earliest memories is looking up from where I sat on the floor, playing with Tinker toys, and looked into the face of a beautiful lady with a bright smile, dark hair and a gentle, sweet personality. Besides her smile and tender charm I remember how beautifully she was dressed; in a two piece suit with high heeled shoes.
In 1950 the church moved to its present location and there were bright, new rooms for the children to be entertained during the church services. As I entered the kindergarten classes and moved forward, that beautiful lady I remembered was still there, looking after her charges during the eleven oíclock hour and then turning them over to the parents at the conclusion of the service.
One memory seared into my mind was one Easter I can recall as easily as if it were yesterday, seeing Marian in a beautiful dress, wide brimmed hat and those ever present high heels with brightly colored nail polish which matched her lipstick. She could have just as easily stepped from the pages of a Hollywood glamor magazine, so beautiful she was. Those were my first introductions to Marian, which established a friendship which lasted seventy years.
Marian Armstrong was born on February 5, 1923 in Loganville, Georgia to the late Mattie Lou and T. Martin Armstrong, Sr. She graduated from Loganville High School in 1940 where she played basketball and was Salutatorian or her class.
Her family moved back and forth between Loganville and Monroe during her early years, where ever her father could find work. Sometime between 1940 and 1945 they moved into the house on South Broad Street which became the family home until the deaths of Mattie Lou and Martin.
After moving to Monroe she attended business school in town which would well serve her as an adult.
On March 17, 1946 Marian joined the First Methodist Church of Monroe when the building was located at the old location. She, along with all the other church members, made the transition in 1950 to the new building on South Broad Street where she remained a loyal and faithful member for 73 years. During her active years in the church she served as Sunday school teacher, youth leader, nursery leader, organizer of the Banner Sunday School Class and also was an early member of the United Methodist Women. She was also a member of the Pilot Club of Monroe and the Monroe Garden Club.
Marianís professional life consisted of being the payroll manager for Carwood Manufacturing Company and following that she was bookkeeper and co-owner with her nephew Barry in his hair salon, "Styles by Barry."
One of the happiest days of her life was when she married the "most wonderful man in the world," Pat Studdard Baccus on August 25, 1956. Pat was never shy about proclaiming his wife "was the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world!" From that union came their beloved daughter, Pam Baccus Parrish.
That she was, without question, a "fashion plate" is well-known. Her sense of style, color, coordination and accents left friends wondering, "Just where did she learn this and how does she make it look so easy?" Back in the day, the Coca-Cola Company made serving trays to serve their beverages, with pictures on the bottom signifying various times and events of the year. Some of the trays featured young men and women enjoying a cold bottle of Coke while relaxing by a pond, or sitting together at a soda fountain enjoying a glass or in a home setting. Had Coca-Cola known Marian, she would have been one of the models for the company; she was that beautiful and dressed for such a setting andalways in those signature high heel shoes!
One of Marianís trademarks was being an excellent cook and hostess. Many folks wondered where her talent in the kitchen came from. I know the answer to that. Standing beside her mother, Mattie Lou (or "Mama" as close friends and family called her) in the kitchen learning from one who excelled when it came to cooking and baking. Mattie Lou had exacting protocols in her kitchen and Marian picked up on many of those qualities. During
the 70ís when I would be home for the weekend, I enjoyed many meals in the kitchen or dining room of the South Broad Street home and remember three years in succession, on or close to my birthday, I would be called to the house to find my favorite dessert awaiting me; a fresh lemon meringue pie! One hot August day when I found myself facing one of Marianís perfectly made pies, I spent more time than usual there as I consumed the entire pie over a period of hours. It was impossible to only eat one slice! Marian was hostess to my Atlanta friends on occasion where the table was perfectly set with flowers and the menu of vegetables, meat, biscuits, iced tea and dessert placed before us was if it had come from a four-star Atlanta restaurant. Even now friends still wonder how she prepared certain dishes and with each attempt can only hope it would be worthy of what she made.
Her friendships included all ages and she loved each and every one. How often I have heard her say, "What would I do without my friends?" She well knew in order to have friends you had to be a friend, and how lucky was the person who was Marianís friend.
One example of Marianís steadfast friendship with me came when my mother was nearing the end of her life in Piedmont Hospital. She had been keeping up with Motherís decline and sent cards and notes of love and concern. One afternoon, shortly before her death, I received a note letting me know she was thinking of me. She knew of the pain Mother was experiencing and passed
along encouragement I have always remembered. She wrote, "Please remember God loves those best whose suffering is great and her reward will be in His love." I still have that note.
These are only a sampling of my many memories of how sweet and beautiful a person Marian was.
Age diminishes all of us it seems but not Marian. The older she grew the more beautiful she became. The dark hair of her youth made way for the beautiful blonde and later platinum hair which was always perfectly coiffed along with clothes that would make any lady envious. Age stood still for her for so long, but slowly as the years built up and she attained "Legend" status to family and friends she often said, "God has been so good to me," as she recounted the long decades and stories of her life.
Marianís last years were difficult as she suffered from various illnesses and rigors of advanced years but continued to possess a positive outlook for family and friends. During her service, listening to the tributes, I imagined how wonderful it must have been, when she closed her eyes in her bed and during her transition when she opened them in Heaven, she was again young and beautifully dressed as she met Pat, her parents and other family members high above the clouds where they are enjoying a reunion which will last forever.
If anyone should query, "Who would be your definition of a "True Southern Original?" I would be quick to say, "Marian Armstrong Baccus."