Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Aunt Eugenia, Gussie, Uncle Edward        Gussie  

Augusta Hicks Bayonne, also known as Gussie, was born in Fullerton, Louisiana to Nace and Willie Estes Hicks. The oldest daughter of an oldest daughter, Gussie has six sisters and one brother, named in order of birth: Wilma, Marion, Gladys, Nace, Jr., Robertine, Onita and Elois. Gussie is my mother.

Gussie was about four or five when she visited her grandparents in Bayou Maringuoin, Louisiana and was photographed with her Aunt Eugenia and Uncle Edward.

Augusta was enrolled as a first grade student in the newly constructed St. Monica Catholic Church School in 1926.  She was a good student and graduated in 1934. During the summer, she was a member of St. Monica's softball team.  Gussie enrolled in Xavier Prep in the fall of 1934 and joined the CYO basketball team and played for four years. She was on the Letter Squad and in two operettas.  Her favorite subject was Latin and she graduated in 1938. She met Harold, my father, her first and only boy friend, and together they enrolled in Xavier University.

Harold and Gussie finished their freshman year at Xavier and enrolled as sophomores when they dropped out of school for financial reasons. They were married in 1940 and had five children between 1941 and 1949, namely Patricia, Jacqueline, Annette, Carol, and Harold, Jr. The Bayonne family lived in Portsmouth, Virginia during WWII.  Dad was a welder and was hired to work on war-bombed ships at the Norfolk Shipyard. After the war, we moved back to New Orleans and lived with  Grandmother Carrie at 3212 Dixie Court. In 1950, we were evicted from Dixie Court to make room for a school. 

We had trouble finding a place to live. No one wanted to rent to a family with five young kids. With financial assistance from Grandmother Carrie, a lot was purchased in Jefferson Parish. The area was undeveloped - no water, gas or electricity. Trees had to be cut down before the house could be built. As soon as the house was framed, we moved in. Although we were living like pioneers, we were happy.

Mom was hired as a second grade teacher at Kenner Elementary in 1957. We all attended Kenner Elementary but only my brother, Juney, was currently a student. Gussie enrolled in Xavier University to work toward a degree in education. She also enrolled in a German class at  Southern University in New Orleans where I was a student. At the end of the semester, Mom,  my friends, Barbara and Maxine, and I were the only ones to earn the grade of B.

In 1967, Gussie was hired as an Outreach Worker for Jefferson Parish Community Action Program, President Johnson's War on Poverty Program.  She worked with the needy in every aspect of their lives. Gussie loved her job and was the first employee to received the  Employee of the Year Award.  In December 1985, she retired with 18 years of service. Dad had retired the year before due to poor health.

After retirement, Mom was very busy caring for Dad who died in 1994 and Big Mama, her mother, in 1998. She continue to do community work with the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Program - 18 years on the job and 14 years after retirement.

In 2000 Gussie made her 80th birthday. It was a banner year and a year of first experiences: first passport, first airplane ride, first trip out of the country and first birthday party. Onita, a younger sister, gave her the gift of a lifetime; she took Mom to Rome for the canonization of Blessed Kathrine Drexel. Mom felt eternally blessed to attend the canonization of Mother Katherine Drexel because she met her when she was a student at St. Monica Catholic School. Gussie was chosen to read her composition, "Building for Eternity" to Mother Katherine, something that she will never forget.

Now, Mom is in the final stages of Alzheimer's; she is no longer able to care for herself and she has forgotten her sisters, her brother, my sister Jackie and me. She only knows the people she sees everyday- my sisters Annette and Carol, grandkids Carla, Cameron and Marcus. To paraphase Nancy Reagan whose husband, President Ronald Reagan died of Alzheimer's, It is a long, slow goodbye.