Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Our Aunt Minnie

My Great-Aunt Minnie,
my grandmother's sister.  Her stage name
was Dixie Gardner during her
vaudeville days of the 1920s.

Minnie Bland Blankenship was anything but bland.  Born in Alabama in the early 1900s, my grandmother's sister left the rural life in the 1920s for a show business life in New York City.  In the mid 1960s she came to live with us for about a year and a half after my parents' divorce.  My brother, sister and I were between the ages of 10 and 13.  I loved hearing my great-aunt tell of her experiences and never tired of hearing them over and over.  She never tired of telling them, either.

She traveled to South America to be in a film, Tropical Love, with the silent screen star Mae Murray.  Mae was known as "The Girl with the Bee Stung Lips".  While filming the movie, the actresses rode horseback and stayed in tents.  One night my aunt placed part of her costume, a large hair bow, on top of an object in her tent.   The silhouette outside the tent gave the appearance of one of the costumed actresses.  The following morning a dagger was found thrust through the outside of the tent right under the silhouetted hair bow. (I could just picture this savage beast outside her tent that night)

I want to believe the above story is true but I have seen the above described scene before in an old movie. :~)

What sultry eyes you have Mae Murray!

My aunt said she saw a tipsy Mae Murray drink champagne
out of her slipper at a party. 

(Loved this story, too!)

My aunt is third from the left.  While filming this movie in South America,
she said she met a Prince Alfonso who wanted to marry her.  She said
he threatend her and to take his own life if she would not agree to marry him. She "consented"
at the time she said to save her life.

She said she received threatening "telegrams" from Prince Alfonso while on the steamer
traveling back to Greenwich Village from South America. She said she moved immediately
 after she arrived back home, fearful he would trace her to her apartment.

The story is her brother refused to have anything
else to do with her, he disapproved of her "show business" life.

In later years, probably during the 1940s,  my aunt worked in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, at one of  the plants originally called the Clinton Engineer Works, a code name for the facility.  There were over 400 buildings there, one wonders why it took so many buildings to process atomic materials for the atomic bomb.  A far cry from her vaudeville days!

Women , monitoring electromagnetic machines at Y-12 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, also known
as "The Secret City" during the era of the Manhattan Project.  My aunt and grandmother both worked here during
this period.

The other fascinating stories my aunt told me involved women inmates.  For several years during the 50s and 60s, she was the matron of the Knoxville City Jail in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Oh my goodness,  I have to say, the stories she told of the jailed women were as interesting as those from her vaudeville days.


My great-uncle Taylor, Minnie's husband, displaying one of his passions.  What a character!  He had
a collection of antique cars in pristine condition.  In the late 1960s
he would drive to our house in one of his cars from
the 1920s. Taylor and Minnie were quite wealthy, I can still hear my mother
say, "they lived like misers and ate canned mackerel".  ;-)

The story of my family's relationship with my aunt did not have a happy ending.  The Reader's Digest version:  My uncle wanted his wife to return home and came after her one day.  She didn't want to go and thought my mother should have stepped in and "stood up for her."   She left with him that day and never spoke to us again nor did we ever see her again.  I'll always believe she was wanting to escape a bad marriage.

As we age our physical eyes are dimmed but our hindsight vision becomes 20/20.  I realize now it was my grandmother's "suggestion" to my mother that her sister come out to "help" us when no help was needed.  I feel my mother could not say "no" to her mother's "suggestion" that my aunt come and help when no help was needed.  I have written before of the lesson of learning to say "no", it is difficult to say even at our great expense.  We would rather greatly suffer sometimes than say that simple two letter word.


Clint said...

This is a wonderful post. You have some very interesting relatives! I know that you, as a young girl, loved hearing of your great aunt Minnie's adventures.

Shady Del Knight said...

I love a woman with sultry eyes and bee stung lips! (LOL) This is a very interesting article, Cindy, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about your great aunt's fascinating life. As you indicated in the last paragraph, sometimes you must read between the lines to determine actual motives and intentions. My family was the same way. My mother grew up with the notion that appearances are everything and that keeping secrets from other family members was necessary and justified. I didn't like living that way then and I don't like it now. You are very lucky to belong to a family that respects its older members and loves to hear their stories. Trust me. There are families in which no questions are asked, no advice is sought, and no stories are told.

Sabine said...

very interesting. A taff lady your aunt Minnie.
Greetings Sabine

Karen Kyle Ericson said...

Wow! I loved reading this story. My family is quite opposite. The photos are so nice. I love the sienna and the faces. Thanks so much for sharing this.

Cindy Ellison said...

Shady, Sabine and Karen - thank you for your thoughts, they are appreciated!

Shady, yes I know about keeping up appearances. My step-mother told people I was teaching art at the U of TN when I was teaching an airbrush class at a vocational school! I want things out in the open, too, and to know the truth. After this post, I realized even the photos shown in this post were hidden from "someone" and my uncle found some divorce papers hidden in my grandparents' barn!

Sabine and Karen, again I thank you both. It was an interesting story to me, too, and I also love those old photos! The good news about the photos is I have more of them!

Aishah said...

Thank you Cindy for sharing your Aunt Minnie and her fascinating life and stories with us. I do wish we could know the rest of the story. Did she ever have a child? That picture of her looking over her shoulder (was it her?) will remain with me for a while.

Cindy Ellison said...

Aishah, it was good to hear from you and thank you for your interest. My aunt and uncle had no children. I think that is one reason she liked living with us, she was involved in our lives, knew our friends and playmates. I laughed one time when a girlfriend of mine from school asked if we had a maid! Aunt Minnie answered the phone sometimes and my friend thought she was the maid.

Yes, that is her in the photo looking over her shoulder. By the time I finished writing this yesterday, I was crying. To this day it is still painful about never seeing her again.

Crystal Mary said...

Hello, Lovely to discover your Blog. What a wonderful story about your Aunt, I wish there was a photo of her in latter years. Do you post on Sepia Saturday?? They would love this!
God Bless from the land of Oz.

Cindy Ellison said...

Hi, Crystal Mary. It is so nice to "meet" you, it seems you and I have so much in common. I will check out 'Sepia Saturday', I like it already :-) I think there is a picture of my aunt at my mom's when she worked in Oak Ridge, TN. I need to get it and other photos.

Thank you so much for following me, I look forward to following you. ♥

Crystal Mary said...

Hi again Cindy,
Here is the Sepia Saturday address, you can put yourself in there as a link-up?
You will love it and they will love you.
Clint has a lovely wifey in you, so happy for you both!! My hubby Ray used to teach at Greenway in Knoxville. I have been there often. Have you been to Rogersville? It is so historical..

Life 101 said...

Your aunt was quite a character. Do you know what part of Alabama she came from? There are a lot of Blands around here.
Your story was well told. Good job.