Thursday, May 29, 2008

Friday Cemetery Blogging

Like almost every one else who lived in Flat Mound, Texas, Ellis Harp was a farmer. He was a good man, a hard worker, all those sorts of pleasantly positive traits we ascribe to dull, unimaginative people who are otherwise nice folks. He liked to introduce himself to new church members as a “harp workin’ plowboy”. This was usually met with a nervous chuckle and a skittish, perfunctory handshake before the new acquaintance backed away.

Maude and Ellis were married the weekend after Maude’s high school graduation. Ellis left school a couple of years earlier, having learned everything he needed to know, and worked full-time on the family farm. Maude went to work as a full-time farm wife.

They did all the normal things – joined the Baptist church and sponsored local kids at the county stock shows. Ellis wasn’t going to get rich, but they were as well off as most of their neighbors. Maude wasn’t ever going to be a fashion plate or be asked to join the Ladies Garden Club, but she was treasurer of the local chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.

They were happy and when Ellis died in ’48, Maude leased the farm land out to a nephew and moved into town. She was at a bit of a loss for what to do with her time. The war effort was winding down and she wasn’t the least bit interested in volunteering at the local hospital (blood made her puke) or the primary school (children made her itch). A friend invited her to a Thursday night canasta game as a way of introducing to new friends.

Maude took to canasta like nothing she’d ever done before. She and her friend, Minerva Marie Freeman began to enter canasta tournaments whenever they could find them in surrounding cities. One weekend, while Maude was on a roll through the final rounds of the Woodmen of the World bi-annual tourney in Wichita Falls, Minerva Marie picked up a flyer for a Canasta Cruise on a river boat leaving from New Orleans the next month.

As soon as she mentioned it to Maude, it was agreed that they would take the summer’s earnings from the Farmer’s Market and finance the trip.

Maude came in third in the on-board tournament and the ladies were hooked. Maude went pro and Minerva Marie became her agent and promoter. She booked trips to canasta conventions and championships all around the country and even got Foster’s Ford Dealership and Skating Rink to act as Maude’s sponsor.

The two women went on to become legends on the canasta circuit, and were invited to headline a tournament at The Sands in Las Vegas not long after the casino opened. After their first Vegas experience, they decided it was the only place to be for a dedicated canasta professional, so they packed their bags and left Flat Mound behind in favor of a permanent move to the Nevada desert.

Maude got a job giving canasta lessons at a small, family-owned casino in Laughlin, Nevada. Minerva Maria thought family-owned meant a nice little Italian family ran the business as a means of putting the kids through college. Maude never corrected her.

The ladies enjoyed a bit of the high life for many years in Laughlin. Upon her death in 1962, Maude’s body was returned to Flat Mound for burial next to her not all that beloved Ellis, amid a dearth of fanfare.





Thanks to Mindy for giving me the word canasta!

13 comments:

Presbyterian Gal said...

I believe my little old 7th Day Adventist grandmother took canasta lessons from Minerva on one of her many visits to Nevada. Maybe that's where she also picked up her secret habit of chawin' tobacco.

annie said...

Your imagination just cracks me up! The funny thing is, this whole story is not that far-fetched for me. I know people like this!

Quotidian Grace said...

Wonderful! I knew people like this too and they don't live too far from you either.

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

~family-owned meant a nice little Italian family ran the business as a means of putting the kids through college. Maude never corrected her.~

HOWLING WITH LAUGHTER!!!

I love this story Rach.

Gerry said...

Fun and interesting story. A bit bizarre, though.

I found this statement a little odd: "They were happy and when Ellis died in ’48". Must have been a heck of a fella to have people glad to see him go. But I won't HARP on it. LOL!

soul and culture said...

Great story.

peripateticpolarbear said...

It's not a friday without it.

esperanza said...

OK, something happened to my comment. It went something like...
Canasta! I love me some canasta and I haven't played in way too many years. And know those people? I'm pretty sure I'm related to them! (not the nice Italian family, just Maude and Ellis)

mid-life rookie said...

My grandmother played Canasta and hailed from Rising Star. Do you think she met Maude on the circuit?

Cowtown Pattie said...

Rising Star - now THERE's a town!

This is a thigh-slapper, Rach. Too good!

net said...

In our family (especially with D1 and SIL), we play "Can-nasty." Some of best family fights have been over a rousing game of canasta.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

oh my... i think i preach to these people every week. oh wait they're dead... mmm must be their cousins then!

btw... are you monitoring your accessories these days? hee hee

Steve Hayes said...

That is scary, if not downright spooky!