"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 3"

Scurrying off the elevator at the fifth floor, Autumn ran headlong into one of the most revered celebrities in the Atlanta newspaper world - humor columnist Lewis Grizzard. Almost spilling her coffee on his clean white shirt, Autumn brushed by Grizzard with no clue as to who he was. "Hold on there, sugar britches," Lewis barked in his thickly-southern, Georgia accent. As she pulled away he continued, "you don't crash into old Lewis like that without leaving yo' driver's license number and insurance information - not to mention yo' phone number!" Autumn muttered an apology of sorts as she resumed her torrid pace down the corridor and toward her Chief Editor's office door.

Celestine Sibley had been with the Atlanta newspapers seemingly since The Flood. She was a crusty old warhorse that first started writing for the Atlanta Constitution in 1941. The Managing Editor of the Atlanta newspapers, Ralph McGill, had once referred to her as the, "Matriarch of the Old South." Her over 10,000 columns, the vast majority written for the Atlanta news public, had earned her the pinnacle of reverence and power among her peers. Autumn Belle did not know these things about her new boss. All she knew was that she was hungry, in a hurry, and late. As she stumbled into the outer area of Mrs. Sibley's office, Autumn announced to the secretary who she was and asked to be shown to her new desk.

"So, you're Rhett Hamilton's girl, are you?", Sibley said as she walked out of her office and into the waiting area where Autumn was standing. "Yes I am," she said, "and if someone doesn't show me to my desk, I think I am going to faint!" She was out of breath, her golden blonde hair was tussled and falling wildly about her head, and her purse and breakfast were barely hanging from the tips of her fingers. Mrs. Sibley eyed her in a most unamused fashion, as her sunglasses kept sliding from the top of her head down toward her nose. Sibley pointed a long, skinny finger down an adjacent hall and said in a very stern voice, "third cubicle on the left." She sounded much like one of the old school "marms" that Autumn's granddaddy used to tell about at family gatherings when she was just a girl.

As Autumn plopped down at her desk, Mrs. Sibley's secretary, Jewell, followed her into the cubicle with an arm full of personnel documents for her to fill out. As she laid them on the desk, Autumn looked at her with a great expression of puzzlement. Jewell explained, "These are your employment papers...We will need them filled out before we can process you into the permanent records system." Autumn patted Jewell's hand and said, "That's alright, honey, I'll get to them later...Right now, this girl's gotta' find the john." Jewell Barnes had also worked for the Atlanta papers, and Mrs. Sibley almost exculsively, for the better part of twenty-five years. She did not appreciate this spoiled, little, rich girl referring to her as, "honey."

"I am old enough to be her mother," she thought.

Autumn came back from the bathroom, sat down at her desk and ate her now-cold breakfast. She got up just before her last bite of the cinnamon roll and began looking for the coffee pot. As she flitted out into the hallway, Mrs. Sibley met her and asked if she would come to her office. Autumn replied, "Sugar, I'll be right there, just as soon as I warm up my coffee cup, unless of course you would rather take care of that for me while I touch up my make-up...It has been a very hectic morning." Celestine Sibley's eyes began to dilate. She held her composure well considering the urges she felt. Her first instinct was to turn Autumn over her knee in an effort to teach this insolent "kid" respect for one's elders. She motioned to the opposite end of the bullpen where all the staff writers worked. "You'll find the coffee pot down there, " Mrs. Sibley said through clenched teeth, "when you are done, I would like to see you in my office."

When Autumn finally came back into Mrs. Sibley's office, she was offered a chair. As she slowly sipped her coffee, Mrs. Sibley gave her a brief overview of the Atlanta newspapers and their operating policies. She discussed the goals and weekly deadlines for the paper's Society Section, and informed Autumn of the variety of assignments she would be covering in her new position as Mrs. Sibley's Assistant Editor. Those assignments would include weddings, bah-mitzvahs, funerals and wakes, grand openings, election campaign meetings, and even beauty contests. If any society-related event happened within fifty miles of Atlanta, Autumn Belle was to cover it for the paper.

When Mrs. Sibley completed her explanation she asked if there were any questions. Autumn sat up in her seat, slid it over to the edge of Mrs. Sibley's desk, and said, "Now, sugar, you KNOW who I am, of course, and you KNOW that my daddy would want me to be involved in only the very top level of operations here at the paper...So, I was wondering if maybe there was something a little more glamorous and exciting that you might have for me to do while I am here?...We wouldn't want to get off on the wrong foot, now would we?"

Celestine Sibley slowly got up, walked around behind Autumn Belle and closed the heavy wooden door to her office. She sat back down, slid forward in her chair, folded her hands on her desk and looked at Autumn in the same fashion a bull looks at a rookie matador before he charges. "My dear Miss Hamilton," Mrs. Sibley said in very deliberate and measured phrases, "Your daddy owns this paper, that's true enough...But, you are just like the rest of us - an employee of your daddy's...He has instructed us NOT to give you any preferential treatment or undue consideration because of your lofty pedigree...Therefore, you will be shown the same courtesies and expressions of respect as anyone else in our offices...But, nothing more...You are NOT starting at the top of this paper...You are MY assistant...Therefore, you WILL do what I tell you to do, WHEN I tell you to do it...If that does not suit you, you may then go running back to daddy and suck on your privileged, spoiled-rotten thumb until it rots off the end of your pretty little hand...Either way, from now on, I am, 'Mrs. Sibley'...My name is NOT, 'S-U-G-A-R'...And, this office starts work promptly at 9:00 AM, Monday through Friday...Is that clear?"

Autumn blinked her eyes, shook her head, and tried to collect her emotions. No one had ever talked to her like this, ever! She was hurt, offended, angry, and extremely taken aback. The only words she could manage were a noticeably weak and timid, "Yes ma'am..." With this, Mrs. Sibley sent Autumn Belle back to her desk with the assignment of filling out her employment documents and returning them to Jewell's desk before lunch. Quite a rude awakening for a privileged southern princess like Autumn Belle Hamilton.

Following this very highly emotional exchange, the rest of Autumn's day passed as a blur. Five o'clock seemed like it would never come. She forgot all about going by the Silver Skillet, as well as the mystery about the cook's voice. All she wanted to do at the end of her first day was to go home and cry on daddy's shoulder.

Before her time at the Atlanta Journal was done, it would not be her last.