Author’s Note: The following Cameo appeared in September 1999, and later again in January, 2005 when she was 97 years old. Mrs. Campbell held a special place in my heart for many reasons. My late husband taught in the Intermediate Department with her for many years. At the time of our wedding in 1948, she, along with her sister, Mrs. Tom Campbell, Mrs. Freeman Rogers and Mrs. Vernon G. Miles hosted our wedding reception at First Baptist Church. Her daughter, Becky, Now Mrs. C.A. Marvin, was in my Junior Sunday School Department as a precious little blonde haired girl before that time. Please note that Mrs. Campbell would of been 99 soon, and that she has lived in eleven decades from 1907 to 2006. She was my friend and there is such a lonesome spot in my heart when I realize she has now gone on to heaven, and no more will I be able to see and hear from her here on earth. Minden has lost a treasure.
Our Cameo personality today is the epitome of a lady – a Southern lady. She was born in the first decade of this century – 1907 – and has lived in each decade of the century. Mary Hays grew up in Castor, where she attended school. She was one of 12 children – including two sets of twin girls.
For two years she transferred to Arcadia schools, but then returned to Castor where she completed her high school education.
We talked of the Great Depression and she said that those living on farms did not experience the same troubles as city dwellers. Her family had an orchard, cows, pigs, a garden, chickens and grew almost everything they needed. Her father had ought about six Japanese plum trees. When they were ripe, she said her girlfriends wanted to be there and get their share. They loved the delicious plums.
Mary attended Mary Hardin Baylor College in Belton, Texas. After a time there she returned to Louisiana a completed a business course at Norton’s Business College in Shreveport.
Following the completion of this course, she was employed in the office of the T. L. James Construction Company in Ruston, LA. for about three years.
Meanwhile, her future husband, John T. Campbell, completed his high school education in Castor by the time he was 14 years old – that is right, he graduated from high school at 14 years of age. From there he went on to LSU Law School to complete his education.
Mrs. Campbell said that she had known him casually there in Castor. She knew who he was, but they had not dated. A little while after he returned from LSU Law school, they dated and in 1932 they were married and established their home in Minden.
One of the first things she did after moving to Minden was to put her letter in the First Baptist Church. Iam told that she is the lone remaining lady who established the Women’s Missionary Union at First Baptist Church – I suppose that makes her a charter member.
For more than 30 years, Mrs. Campbell was chairman of a WMU circle in the First Baptist Church and was a teacher or a superintendent of 13 and 14 year olds in Sunday School for more than 30 years.
They welcomed the birth of their daughter, Rebecca, in 1935. She is now Mrs. Charles Marvin (he is a retired judge.) Rebecca teachers school at Stewart Elementary School. Rebecca and Charles are the parents of Mary’s grandchildren – Melissa, Michele, Schuyler and Mary Margaret.
Memories of 1933
Mary remembered the year 1933 as the year so many things happened in Minden. After the big fire in February, the banks closed their doors in March. No one had any warning. If they had no money on hand, they were unable to draw out of any money they had in either of the banks.
Mrs. Campbell remembered that John T. had gone to New Orleans at night to appear before the Supreme Court the next day on a case he was handling. He would arrive in New Orleans early the next morning, take care of his business before the Supreme Court and then board the train that night to ride back to Minden, arriving early the next morning back at home. He had cashed a check to have adequate expense money for the trip. That was a life saver, Mrs. Campbell said.
Grocery stores were accustomed to allowing customers to charge their groceries and have them pay up at the end of the month. Now there was no money to pay and the grocers made the customers pay as they bought the groceries – no money – no groceries.
Miss Nellie Hays, who was Mrs. Campbell’s sister, moved into the home with them. She had a little money on hand and by pooling their cash they were able to meet their needs. Mr. Campbell’s brother, Cecil, moved in with their brother, Tom, and his wife, Beatrice. His money was pooled with theirs and they were able to manage to get by.
The banks were closed for about three weeks before customers could withdraw any money they might have had in the bank.
Mary and Rebecca tell one of John T. campbell’s oft-repeated stories about the depression years. He said that he examined the title to property for an oil and gas lease for a man from south Louisiana when the banks had been closed for some time. He gave his written title opinion to the client, telling him his lease would be valid. When the man asked how much he owed him, John T. said, “That depends on whether you want to pay by check or by cash.” The man said “Cash.” John T. said “Well you owe me just $20.” The main paid him with a $20 gold piece.
John T. said that was the “best” fee he ever earned because it enabled him and Mary to “eat” during the time the banks were closed and they were short of cash.
May 1 of that same year was the day of the tornado that destroyed the southwest corner of Minden. Mrs. Campbell was taking care of her sick sister, Beatrice Campbell (who was also her sister-in-law, as sisters married brothers), when the storm hit. They had no idea of the destruction t hat had occurred. When they discovered what had happened, they were literally frightened to death.
We talked of the many places that she had lived in Minden before they finally built their present home after the war about 1950.
In the Kitchen
Mrs. Campbell is a fabulous cook, but is most famous for her pound cake. Many years ago, she told me that she made one each week because just before bed time, Mr. Campbell had a slice of the cake with a glass of milk.
During my mother’s illness, Mrs. campbell brought one of these cakes to my home. She shared her recipe with me, and told me where she had purchased the long loaf pan. I went to Webb Hardware and purchased an identical pan. The pan had little extensions on each corner so that the pan could be used for an angel food cake and inverted to let it cool. Each time I use the pan and her recipe, I remember the caring lady and the delicious cake she brought me long ago.
I reminded her of her “turkey” story that had delighted friends many years ago. She said that she only cooked and served turkey at either Thanksgiving or Christmas and neither of us remember which it was. She used an electric oven to bake her turkey. And bake it she did. She forget to turn off the oven wen the cooking time was over. The next morning when she started downstairs she smelled the turkey and then she remembered. Her description of that turkey was priceless. What had started out as a large, plump turkey was reduced to the size of a Rock Cornish hen, or as we used to say “a little biddie.”
Perhaps there were many harrowing experiences in her life, but the one she told me about rates up there about the worst. She was in the family room and John T. had gone to bed. A knock on the door indicated a man outside who demanded $800 in money. She called John T. to come down out of bed. He came down and opened the door to talk to the man. The man pushed his way in and immediately put an arm around John T.’s neck and held a knife to his throat.
Thinking quickly, John T. ordered her back upstairs to their room, and told her to lock and bar the door. He was so insistent that she went. She barely got it locked and barred before the man tried to break the door down. It held. She was dialing the police all the time. In just a matter of a few minutes she heard the siren that announced their presence. The would-be robber did not escape. The officers nabbed him. Mrs. Campbell said that as far as she knows, the man is still in the penitentiary.
Not A Wrinkle
Several years back, Mrs. Campbell broke her hip. The family rushed her to Willis Knighton in the middle of the night. As they awaited the arrival of her doctor, Rebecca saw a nurse come in and bend over Mrs. Campbell. Without a word, she left and brought back another nurse. There, under the bright hospital lights, they both bent over the bed. Rebecca felt sure that her mother’s heart must be failing or some other calamity.
When they turned, one of them said, “Can you tell us what kind of creme does she use on her face, she does not have a single wrinkle?” They could not believe her age. All that excitement because of the beautiful complexion that she always had and is still wrinkle free and like a magnolia blossom.
This part summer, the entire Marvin family planned their usual vacation to Destin, Florida. In years gone by both Mary and John T. had gone with them. They tried to persuade her to accompany them, but she refused. Rebecca pointed out that she could see her same TV Soap Operas there, and that she could do the same things in Florida that she did here. Finally she consented.
While there she observed her 92nd birthday. The Marvin Family carried her to a big restaurant for her birthday dinner. The staff of the establishment was alerted and Mrs. Campbell was brought to the front and as she stood on a sort of little stage, the entire restaurant sang “Happy Birthday to You!”
On an elevator in the hotel, Schuyler and his grandmother rode the elevator with a group of ladies. When their floor came, his grandmother preceded him off the elevator. Proudly, Schuyler announced that she was his grandmother and she was 92 years old. One of the ladies wanted to know what kind of skin creme she used to keep her skin so smooth.
An Amazing Lady
Mrs. Campbell is so proud of her four grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. Schuyler has followed in his Dad’s footsteps in his grandfather Campbell’s footsteps with a career in law. Presently he practices law in a firm that his Dad is part of, too.
Schuyler has been so good to his grandmother in seeing about the care of her lawn. When the huge pine trees became diseased he saw that they were removed. He has placed a storage building on the back of her lot to keep all the machinery that is necessary to care for her yard. She says that he often stops by to see about her. I felt that there might be just a little favoritism, but Rebecca told me that all of Mary’s granddaughter’s and their husbands love her and are so good to her. Of course, Rebecca and Charles love her and are there for her at any time.
Each Sunday Mary Campbell prepares lunch for her entire family. Rebecca worries that it is too much of an undertaking for her mother but it is the joy of Mary’s life to have all her family together for the Sunday lunch.
Amazing Mary Hays Campbell – still beautiful – always the gracious lady – and 92 years old.
Juanita Agan submitted a weekly column to the Press-Herald for more than 15 years until her death in 2008. She was a resident of Minden since 1935.
The Press-Herald is republishing select articles from Mrs. Agan’s Cameos column every Wednesday.