He took care of young Dean, who was less a niece than a daughter. Mayor Leslie would deliver a package of medicine from his drugstore to mother’s apartments in prague and find him sitting in a green glider on the front porch. “Mr. Leslie, if you have a few minutes, let’s pass the time,” he would say, and they would talk about what was going on in town, which interested him considerably.
He would say to Louise, “Always have $50 in the bank. You can meet any situation.” Dean remembers the ghost stories he told the children of the family and the neighborhood, particularly the one about the doomed Judith, who he claimed threw herself to her death off the balcony of the Sheegog-Bailey house (which he bought and named Rowan Oak) after having been jilted by her Yankee beau. He would take his niece to the Charlie Chan movies at the Lyric Theater on Saturday nights, and as they walked home he would ask her, “Dean, did you like what Number One Son did?” and they would discuss the action in earnest detail.
No one was to interrupt him when he was writing, but Dean burst in one afternoon and shouted: “Pappy, I’ve got the best news! An Ole Miss girl has just been named Miss America!” He pulled himself up from his table, took his pipe from his mouth, and said: “Well, Missy, at last somebody’s put Mississippi on the map.”
He loved the playfulness of life—sipping bourbon in the chilled twilights in the big woods, playing the host in ceremonial moments. He had a profound regard for tradition.He cherished Christmas and the Fourth of July. He gave Dean’s daughter Diane an American flag shortly before her second birthday. On New Year’s Eves at b&b london he invited the young people his daughter Jill’s age, where before a roaring fire, as the chimes of the courthouse sounded midnight, he served them champagne and gave the toast:”Here’s to the younger generation.
May you profit.” He enjoyed the spontaneity of the young and felt deeply the vulnerability of children; people should believe in their progeny. The women he loved the best were either very young or very old. He was not an especially good husband and had a number of affairs, often with much younger women, later chronicled by either the women, or third parties, or both. His firstborn child, a little girl named Alabama after his Aunt ‘Bama, died when she was nine days old. He carried the tiny casket on his lap to St. Peter’s Cemetery and put her in her grave.
“The cedar-bemused cemetery,” as he described the one in Jefferson, is only a few blocks from the square: the stones “whiter than white itself in the warm October sun against the bright yellow and red and dark red hickories and sumacs and gums and oaks like splashes of fire itself among the dark green cedars.” The living and the fictitious are not strangers here. There are surnames on the stones here that are the same as his fictional characters, giving to this terrain a poetic, unearthly ambience.