Carroll Leggett: sis claire

Southern Legitimacy Statement: To start with, I can’t find your so-called “Southern Legitimacy Statement” on this website, so you can just kiss my old southern ass if you don’t think I am southern enough for you. My forbearer James Castellow was in Bertie County NC before 1700 and built the first courthouse there. Was a member of the NC Colonial Assembly and would have been Speaker, they say, except despite being a lawyer and a preacher before coming to America, he was also a drunk. I found his name in The Colonial Records once, but then later couldn’t find the page. Maybe somebody tore it out. Probably my Aunt Idelle, who married some fellow with a funny name from up north. She was a teetotaler and had just as soon everybody forgot about our ancestor James Castellow. James and his wife Mary ran a grist meal for a living and signed most of the deeds in early Bertie because he had built the courthouse next to his mill for convenience purposes. That was on my mother’s side. On my daddy’s side, his granddaddy turned to preaching after The War and was noted for holding a prayer service for rain in the 1860s under a brush arbor. Everybody got drenched on the way home, the paper said, and he built a church “and it prospered.” If you are in Bertie County on Sunday and want to attend the church he founded — Siloam Baptist — please drop in. Tell them I sent you. My Granddaddy preached there, too, and I am kin to most of the folks still going there, especially the Leggetts and Spellers. I am wore out already telling you why I am Southern and, besides, what I am telling you may be off point and I may be wasting my time. But to make up for any perceived deficiency I will tell you that when I was a tiny tot living in a pea patch in Bertie, our mule died and rigor mortis set in before anybody found him. For some reason, my brothers called him “Little Mule,” but, regardless, he was too big to get out of the barn door with legs stiffened and outstretched. and I remember watching them tear the side off the stable to get Little Mule out so they could put him on the “glue” truck and haul him way.

Made my way from a pea patch downeast to Harnett County where I grew up. Attended Campbell University and Wake Forest Law School. Became Chief Deputy Attorney General of North Carolina by the time I was about 30. Spent six years as chief of staff to a United States Senator, then rambled the world representing various foreign interests in the US. Have been writing all my life and for a dozen years had a monthly column in Metro Magazine published in Raleigh. Now I am a freelance food writer and my Facebook page is a food blog which follows and comments on the restaurant industry in downtown Winston-Salem and its “Restaurant Row.”

sis claire

The letter began, “I haven’t slept on a dry pillow since Martin died!”

Mary Louise rolled her eyes.

My God, they were married 54 years and you’d think he died on their honeymoon. Maybe fell off the upper deck of the Queen Mary or was trampled by a herd of wildebeest while they were all dressed up in pith helmets and safari pants. Tore that picture up as soon as I pulled it from the envelop.
Monogrammed linen stationery. Baby blue. Know she picked “baby blue” because it matched her eyes. Someone who had it as easy as Clare should be ashamed to whine in her old age.

But leave it to Clare. Last letter she was complaining about being poisoned by bottled spring water. Now that’s a stretch. A real stretch. So much sodium in it that it makes my ankles swell, she said. Well, drink the blessed tap water, Clare. But, no, that’s got chemicals in it. Chlorine. Like in Colgate toothpaste, for Heaven’s sake. During Eisenhower some fool politician claimed chlorine was a communist plot to kill everybody off. Well, we’re all still alive – except Martin who she aggravated to death — but she still brings it up. Should have put it right there on his death certificate. Cause of Death. Aggravated to death by his wife Clare Christine Cornell.

Paul got it right. Heart attack on the tennis court three years after he married her. Poor Clare. Oh, poor Clare. Grieving widow. And, my goodness, what to do with all that money. Started by ordering the most expensive black lace dress in New York City and a yard-long string of pearls from Tiffany. Pearls are symbols of tears, she said. Tears, my ass. Put the body on ice till they arrived and she got the dress fitted. Whole town was wondering why it took a week to bury Paul. I knew, but I bit my tongue. Momma would have wanted me to.

You look after Clare when I’m gone, Momma said. You know, she’s the baby. Like she ever needed looking after. She found her way in the world mighty quick. Blond hair and blue eyes and naturally curly hair like a movie star. Tall for a woman and men always turned and looked when she came in a room. And looked, and looked and looked. She got her pick. Always got her pick. Spend your life playing second fiddle to that.

At Christmas Momma wouldn’t have cared if nobody else showed up as long as Clare was there, Martin trailing along. Nothing ugly to say about him. Never had any hard feelings. The minute he set eyes on Clare, we were all over. Like a bee to honey. My mistake. Shouldn’t of ever let him see Clare till I had a ring on my finger. Stupid me. Dammit.