THE JITTERBUG QUEEN

AvatarIt occurred to me recently that I have often written about my Dad (the baseball pro) but rarely have I mentioned my Mom (a classical and jazz pianist, and the jitterbug queen of the Ft. Worth bar scene in the 1930s).

There’s probably no good excuse for this.  Time perhaps was the enemy.  My Mom began to shrink from life in the 1970s; she had a series of strokes and died in the mid-1980s.  I did not begin to blog until the 2010s.  I moved to Hempstead and spent countless hours with Dad beginning in early 2012, and lived with him the last year before his death – hearing his repeated stories that I captured in the blog and in a family history, The Book of Us.

Yes, admittedly Mom missed this entire PR gambit and that’s a shame, because she was equally as unique and talented as Dad, but in such a different way. 

Florence Evalynne Fuller McAmis was born in 1914 into the family of a Ft. Worth optometrist who provided a fine two-story house and domestic help to his wife to help raise four sons and a daughter.

Life was good in those days.  There were private lessons for Evalynne, a child prodigy on the piano who mastered everything from classical to jazz to boogie woogie.  It was a musical family in fact, with brother Bob on the drums, and brother Clarence a fledgling vocalist. 

Mom became pianist for the city wide high school orchestra and formed her own group that provided “fill-in” music for the radio.  Also in Mom’s band was another Ft. Worth native, Tex Beneke, long before he made it big nationally with the Glenn Miller band.

Music was in her veins – and not only revealed itself on the piano.  Mom could sing and dance.  By the 1930s, dance floors were hopping, with the shag, the lindy hop, the west coast swing, and the jitterbug.  She and brother Bob won every jitterbug contest they entered.

For Mom there were dreams of a career as a professional musician.  Everyone agreed she could go as far as she wanted.  But life took a turn.  Her father died, financial support for her training ceased, she dropped out of school, married her first husband, divorced, and eventually supported her widowed mother as a waitress before marrying Dad and producing four children in a working class family.

Sadly my Mom never bounced back from the difficult turns in her life; was never able to recreate new dreams for herself.  There were moments of joy like the period where we had custody of my uncle’s piano and she once again could create music.  There were times where she brought joy to us as children – gossamer Christmas experiences woven from the air, because there certainly was no money.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons I have failed to write about my mother.   I cannot bring myself to spool out a fairy tale.  I cannot fool my reader or myself into believing that on balance she had a happy life.

Which is a terrible loss. She had a musical soul that withered away; a brilliant mind; a strong sense of right and wrong; a heart for the underdog, for fair play and common decency that got lost in her bitterness.

I have to hope that she is in a better place and found her peace.  And I believe that while none of her musicality passed to her children, we did benefit greatly from that intelligent, reasoning self at her core. 

— Jonnie Martin

About jonnietootling

It seems forever that I have seen myself as a writer, enamored of life and great literature. I have been a journalist, a blogger, a published novelist; hold both a Bachelor's and Master's in literature and creative writing. Now in my 70's I am blogging here about existence, philosophy, art, literature, people of every stripe, finding our way through life, and growing old with panache.
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3 Responses to THE JITTERBUG QUEEN

  1. Joella Ewing says:

    Jonnie, that was lovely. I think your mother would have been touched by your sensitivity.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Laurel says:

    Our moms often have to do the difficult things and it may make them a little hard. I am glad you know about her joyful side, too. Your love of dance comes naturally!

    Like

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