The Library Card: Chapter One
Jeffrey Pipes Guice
The year was 1958, and Clay, as he was called, was with his mother celebrating his 58th birthday. He had his usual birthday dinner of steak, mashed potatoes, and a wop salad, capped off with a large slice of pound cake alamode with a liberal amount of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup on top, all prepared by the family domestic, Edna, who had been with the family since Clay’s father was a teenage boy, long before his parents were married. She must have been close to one hundred years old, but she never missed a single day cooking for the family, including the holidays. She would prepare their dinner and then leave to go home on the street car, every evening at 6:15 pm.
Once they each enjoyed a second helping of dessert, his mother handed Clay his birthday present, which was wrapped with a bow and a card.
Clay’s mother insisted, as she did every birthday, that Clay open the card first and to read it aloud.
“To Clay,” he read. “Happy Day to my birthday boy. From Mom” which was the exact same sentiment she had written the previous year, and each of the previous years before that, going all the way back as far as Clay could remember.
He then unwrapped the box and acted surprised by her gift, which was a new pair of boxer shorts, a new pair of cuffed khaki pants, and a new white button-down collared shirt, all from Perlis, which was exactly the same gift she had given him the previous year, and the previous years before that.
The reason Clay only acted surprised was because it was at his mother’s direction that he was to go to Perlis and buy the exact present every year, have it wrapped, and then bring it home so she, his 88-year-old housebound mother, could give it to him.
It was as if Clay’s mother wanted him to wear that uniform of khakis, and a button-down collared shirt, the uniform that most Uptown men wore, just so that maybe Clay could fit into the normal world, a world which she so aspired for Clay to be a part of. As if clothes could somehow truly make the man.
Clay thanked his mother and then cleared the table. He washed the remaining dishes, as he did after every dinner. Once he hand-dried and put the dishes away, Clay joined his mother in the den, as he did every night, so she could enjoy her bourbon and coke nightcap or two, and reminisce about the good old days when their family still had a proper position in New Orleans society, a membership at the New Orleans Country Club, and money in Whitney Bank. By the time she was considering her third nightcap, she would have inevitably reached the point where she would bore Clay with the idea, yet again, that at one time they did indeed enjoy a significant position in New Orleans society if only they hadn't lost the money along the way. Clay would often inquire about the circumstances surrounding the loss of the family fortune, but his mother would always comment, “If only your father was still alive” which was quickly followed up “Clay, you are truly good for nothing. When are you going to finally do something with yourself?”
Even though Clay’s maternal grandparents had left his mother with enough money to live her last few years peacefully at the Poydras Home, his obstinate mother refused to leave her home, located in a quiet Uptown neighborhood, on the corner of Nashville Avenue and Hurst Street.
As any typical person would, Clay felt a strong responsibility for his aging mother and was more than happy to assist her at a moment’s notice. Still, he resented his two older siblings who refused to help in their mother’s elder care other than to bark orders at Clay from their homes in Atlanta and Charlotte or during their annual visits to New Orleans during Mardi Gras when they would ask about mother’s finances or add to their already compiled lists of furniture and other items they wanted once their mother did indeed finally pass.
As she did most nights, his mother would nod off around 9:00, usually after the fourth drink, at which time Clay would sleep walk her to her room, and put her to bed. Clay would then grab a Dixie beer from the refrigerator and enjoy the noises of the night while rocking back and forth on the front porch.
Born in New Orleans on May 20, 1900, Clay was born Henry Clay McFarland, IV, the youngest son of Henry and Elizabeth Anne McFarland. It was his mother her wanted to call him Clay. So he was Clay.
Clay’s father, Henry III, known as Hank, had gone to Ole Miss and, in a fit of rebelliousness against his own father, Henry Jr., had joined Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, nicknamed the Dekes, whose members were well-known on campus for their poor grades and all-night drinking parties. After a six-year run, he eventually graduated with a Liberal Arts degree and attended Tulane University Law School, finally passed the Louisiana Bar after three attempts, but never really practiced law.
He did follow in his father's footsteps and joined various Mardi Gras organizations including Mithras, Acheans, Twelfth Night, and Proteus. Lacking any normal ambition, Hank spent most of his afternoons and evenings with his friends at the Louisiana Jockey Club, and then sometimes toasting the sunrise at the Southern Yacht Club. Without leaving any type of note or explanation, he committed suicide by pistol when Clay was just ten years old. His sun-blistered body was found two days later, on his sailboat in the middle of Lake Pontchartrain, about ten miles south of the Tchefuncte River Lighthouse, wearing only his white Embassy boxer shorts. Hank’s application to Rex hadn't yet been approved by the time they found him dead. As a kind gesture to his socially prominent family, the Rex Organization approved his application posthumously.