Royalty Visits Mobile by Deb Jellett

“In which hospital was your daughter born, Mrs. Coggin?” By this time, the registrar at the rather posh private school my mother was bound and determined that I should attend had bored me silly. But, my job was to sit up straight, say “yes m’am” or “no ma’am” and to be, as my mother put it “sweet.”

She had carefully parked the ’59 battleship caddie in the visitor’s spot in front of the school, an ante bellum birthday cake with massive Greek columns, sitting under a canopy of oak trees

“Now, Debby, be a pretty girl for mama.” She had said as we walked across the parking lot to the registrar’s office. ‘Pretty,’ you see was the opposite of ‘ugly’ – as in “Don’t be ugly to your mama.” Boys were usually ugly and girls were sometime pretty.

My heart wasn’t in it. But, at least I looked the part in a pink lace trimmed dress, white gloves and patent leather shoes that squeaked as I walked. I even had a large pink bow installed in my perfect blonde ringlets. To this day, I can’t face pink.

“Well,” I could see my mother’s face turning red. A small blotch seemed to spread itself all over her face. “It was the Allen Memorial Home.”

The receptionist looked up showing mild amusement and interest. The Allen Memorial Home was a home for unwed mothers.

“But,” mother’s face was scarlet and she gripped the top of her leather handbag for dear life, “that, of course was prior to it becoming a home for . . .”

“Unwed mothers,” I piped in. I always enjoyed this bit and added, “With illegal babies.”

“Illegitimate,” mother corrected, regaining her composure. I don’t really remember what went on after that, but I am sorry to say I actually did get accepted to the school and for a number of years suffered “Southern Genteel Female Indoctrination” that included French, etiquette lessons, how to dance at cotillions and how to walk down stairs with books on our heads. But, that is a whole other and different story.

I was all of five and three quarters at the time and already had a sense that these people who called themselves my family and humiliated me with pink everything were imposters, interlopers, maybe even kidnappers. At this stage, before my blonde hair and blue eyed state had dawned on me, I imagined, fantasized, that my true mother had been an Egyptian princess who had visited Mobile long enough to leave me in a basket on the Coggin doorstep. Maybe I had watched “The Mummy” once too often. But, when you are a child, unburdened by reality or experience, all things seem equally possible. Later when this version of events appeared to be genetically unlikely and my best friend Kathy pointed out that Egypt didn’t have princesses anymore, I switched to English royalty. After all, my chin was kind of weak. Kathy had also been the one to tell me that bacon came from dead pigs. I never ate bacon again. I think she became a lawyer.

My mother used to say, I believe very sincerely, that I should never go north of the Mason Dixon Line or west of Texas. People in the North were rude and people in the West were crazy. Texans were borderline crazy, but generally had good manners. My mother went to New York City once and held hands with her lady companions, lest they be swept away by who knows what force of evil. And, the list of what she wouldn’t or couldn’t do was a lot longer than the list of what she would or could do. She accepted that. I simply did not.

Ever the dutiful daughter, I spent half my life in England and D.C. England was not unlike the South, with an inherent suspicion of outsiders. As far as D.C. was concerned, I would often drive between Alabama and Washington. And, once you got beyond Georgia, you were in a demi-monde, not really the South, more a homage to the East Coast’s English colonial heritage. Virginia, I think, is still a colony at heart.

And here I am back again, doing what I said I would never do – living in the Deep South. And enjoying it. I used to say that I was from the South, but not of it. And now, I am beginning to wonder. I still think I was adopted.