Practice makes perfect, even with kites

Published 12:05 am Saturday, March 7, 2015

Peeping through my Venetian blind, I saw a kite, high over the great lawn of Covington Hall. Looking more, I saw that it was under the command of Clay Clyde Clump, who often does odd jobs for the Covingtons.

The day, being pretty, I walked over to speak to “Clydie” Clump, who told me he was practicing for the kite-flying contest the Covingtons sponsor each year. They call it the Benjamin Franklin Kite Contest and began it to honor Franklin on the tricentennial of his birth in 2006.

Busts of Franklin are awarded to winners in several categories – highest-flying, longest-flying, and most original.

A piece of good news – Andrew Garner, who’s been editing the paper in Greenville, is back in town, working with local news.

Going to our newspaper this week, I returned a wave from Lee Enzor, who was standing on the porch of his law office on Dunson Street. It seems someone told me that Lee’s office, a brick house, used to be the home of the Bermans, a prominent Jewish family that settled in our town.

Seen shopping was George Harmon Proctor.

Seen at Tabby D’s for the Friday-night buffet was Jimmy Ponds, librarian from Straughn Elementary School, recently retired.

I’ve asked “Miss Sue” (she runs this town; she do!) to share some information about the late Mary Jim Merrill.

It follows: Friends and family members gathered in Andalusia during the Valentine’s Day weekend for the graveside service of Mary Jim Hilson Merrill Pianowski, lately of Ft. Walton Beach, who passed away a few days before Christmas.

The weekend was chosen because it was closest to her birthday, and also because St. Mary’s Episcopal Church dedicated its 5K fundraiser to Mary Jim’s memory. She was a founding member of St. Mary’s, and an early contributor to its rice and beans outreach ministry, for which the fundraiser was held.

Mary Jim graduated from Sidney Lanier High School and attended Huntington College. The next year, she moved with her parents and her brother, Joe Irving Hilson, to Andalusia. It was there she met Walter Oliver Merrill, son of Walter Clement and Mary Theo McLaney Merrill.

Mary Jim and Walter attended the University of Alabama, where Walter Oliver Merrill played football for the University of Alabama. Paul “Bear” Bryant, who was an assistant when Merrill played for the Tide, once said, “Walt was one of our great players, a great person and a warm friend of mine.”

Walter is the only Andalusian who has ever played in a Rose Bowl game. Injuries received while playing service football during World War II contributed to his untimely death at the age of 35.

Walter O. Merrill had three brothers – Henry, Joe and Robert.

Walter O. and Mary Jim had two children, Marianne and Walter, Jr.. Marianne Moates Weber (Mrs. Al Weber) is a writer who resides in Prattville, and Walter, Jr. is a professor in the Department of Cardiac Surgery and Chief of Staff at Vanderbilt University Hospital.

Several family members participated in the church 5K and fun run on Saturday morning.

A family dinner party was hosted on Saturday evening at the Second Avenue home of Melissa Merrill Gambill, daughter of the late Henry Merrill. Melissa’s siblings also were present, including Dr. Phillip Merrill and his wife Gayle (nee Banks) of Dothan, Dr. Richard Merrill of Andalusia, and some of their children and spouses. Dr. Joe Merrill, retired cardiologist, traveled from Houston for the family gathering. Marilyn Williams, close friend, catered the party, which was an elegant array of tasty finger foods and delicacies.

Sue Bass Wilson, long-time family friend of the Merrill family, also was invited to attend the event.

On Saturday afternoon, Tripp and Regina Bass hosted a tour of their Three Notch Court home. Mr. W. C. Merrill, co-owner of the Andalusia Manufacturing Company, built the residence in the early 1930s for his family, who resided there for about 20 years.

The Charles Bass family lived there for 43 years and Tripp’s family has occupied the property for almost 10 years. The Basses always have the welcome mat out for the Merrills to visit the home. On this particular occasion there were a number of the younger generation of Merrills who had not visited the family home before. Many stories were shared that weekend and old acquaintances renewed.

The Merrill children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, as well as extended family members and friends, were in attendance for Mary Jim’s services on Sunday at the Andalusia Memorial Cemetery. The Rev. Cindy Howard, rector of St. Mary’s, conducted the service.

Following the service, St. Mary’s spread a lovely noon luncheon for the Merrill family. Family members walked through the quaint, original church structure; and some of the younger children got to pull the bell rope and ring the bell!

After she was widowed, Mary Jim Merrill later married Tom Pianowski, and they lived for many years in Fort Walton Beach. The family matriarch, Mary Jim treasured Andalusia as her home

Upon her entrance into Andalusia society, Mary Jim taught a dance school and her mother played the piano for the pupils. A photo of one of her dance recitals on the East Three Notch School stage is pictured in the new “Images of America: Andalusia” book. She and Zelda Fitzgerald took dancing together in Montgomery. Mary Jim remembered the dancing teacher building a platform around the Court Street fountain, bringing in an orchestra, and the dancing girls twirling umbrellas around the fountain, quite a sight for the 1930s!

When Mary Jim’s family moved to Andalusia in 1939, her father became the manager of the Coca-Cola Company, a position he held until his retirement in 1957. The Hilson family resided on the corner of Third Avenue and College Street. Walter and Mary Jim later built a new home facing College Street for his young family directly behind the Hilson home. Walter was employed with the family business, the Andalusia Manufacturing Company.

Although “Ma Jim,” as her family called her, was in her early 90s, she was youthful in appearance and mannerisms. She will be long remembered as actively cheering for Alabama football while serving as a constant source of optimistic encouragement to all of her friends and family members.

If you collect stamps, now is the time to buy stamps commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the War Between the States and the War of 1812.

Again, I ask the citizens of Andalusia to join the Covington Historical Society and pay its annual dues of $25 to help preserve the history of our county, whether you attend meetings or not. Mail to CHS, P.O. Box 1582, Andalusia, Alabama 36420.

To commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the War Between the States, let us return to this week 150 years ago.

The North won the last major battle for the control of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.

The Federal Congress passed an act known as the Freedmen’s Bureau to supervise those dislocated in the South because of the War, especially the black population.

On March 4 Lincoln was inaugurated for this second term. He would not live long, however.

The new mysterian is a lady who taught science at the Andalusia High School. She liked to say, “the older the bird, the brighter the plumage.”

Recent birthdays are those of William Dean Howells, American novelist and editor, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, English poet, wife of Robert Browning, and penman of the most famous love sonnet in our language, “How Do I Love Thee.”

Now, gentle reader, allow me to join Buffalo Bob Smith in encouraging each of us to be in his place of worship this weekend, Lord willing.

Fare thee well.