Neone, whose name was Leonie Jacobs, was my mother’s childhood friend. Often on our maid’s night off, Neone would come to stay at our house so that my parents could go out — it was as if my mother were doing Neone a favor to invite her to baby-sit.
Although as children, both my mother and Neone grew up in a poor neighborhood in New Orleans, their adult lives diverged. My mother went to college, married a wealthy architect, lived in a French provincial house, and established a circle of prominent Jewish friends. Neone on the other hand became a single working woman. She worked as a secretary for the L & N Railroad. Her father was an alcoholic and her brother Mike struggled to make a living. Neone felt the responsibility to take care of her family. I once visited Neone’s house on Leontine Street. After walking into the dimly lit living-room, I could hardly see the massive dark furniture. The oppressive feeling in that house made me anxious to run outside into the daylight again.
Although I felt comfortable with Neone, when my parents left me for the evening, I almost felt alone. I remember sitting at the breakfast-room table drinking a cup of split pea soup, feeling afraid and sick. Furthermore, I was aware and perhaps ashamed that our life was out of Neone’s reach. She wasn’t a member of our family, only a visitor, almost a peasant in the mansion of a queen and a princess. Yet Neone had a quiet dignity — she showed no envy. Both she and my mother were tall. Dressed in a high collared dark green dress, Neone’s body was like a tree trunk, straight and firmly rooted. Her green dress set off her wavy auburn hair, parted in the middle, drawn back in a bun. On either side of her oval face, an auburn curl turned in front of each ear. She had hazel eyes and the pale complexion of a red head. Neone colored her lips with a soft orange Tangee lipstick.
I did enjoy Neone’s admiration when she stayed with us, but I also felt a pang of compassion for her meager life. Once when Neone came to spend the night, I intentionally wore my ivory satin slip trimmed with lace, I paraded around the room after I removed my blouse and skirt. to get ready for bed. waiting for Neone to notice. “That’s a beautiful slip — you could be a bride”, Neone said.
I reached the time of my confirmation — this was not only a religious ceremony — it was an occasion for receiving gifts. “Carol,” Neone said to me, “would you like me to knit you a sweater for a gift?” We went together to the department store to choose a pattern from a book and a color of yarn. After looking through the book I picked a sweater pattern with small cables all the way around. Although I liked the design, I did sense that it would be difficult to knit. Yet I chose what I wanted. When finished, my sweater was indeed beautiful and I was proud to wear it. I knew that Neone wanted to do this for me in spite of the expense and the labor.
When Neone was still in her thirties, her red hair not yet touched with white, she became ill. My mother and I went to visit her in the hospital. Neone , her stomach distended, lay in the hospital bed. I knew that she was suffering with stomach cancer. The surgery she underwent only prolonged her pain. A sweet flower fragrance somewhat masked the odor of sickness in her room. I will always remember Neone: her courage, her lack of envy, and her generosity.
Of those who have died:
There are those who have no memorial,whose names have vanished as though they had never been.
But the goodness of their lives has not been lost!