Ava Gardner and my mother both were born in 1922 and 1921 respectively and were both raised in the same area of North Carolina: Smithfield, the County Seat of Johnston County. Ava was actually from a small patch of ground called Grabtown, but Smithfield has claimed her for their own as the closest actual town. Smithfield has a small but nice downtown area which they spiffed up one year and won awards for their efforts at beautification. While I actually grew up in Queens, New York, I spent time in Smithfield every summer so my mother could visit her family. They knew the Gardner family and my uncle is rumored to have dated Ava Gardner a time or two, along with many others. Smithfield is also the home of the Official home of the Ava Gardner Museum which I visited last year. If you love Ava and her films, I highly recommend a visit there. So I can claim 2 degrees of separation to Ava!
So Ava and her beauty found their way to Hollywood and stardom. My mother, Martha Ann Sugg, met and married a Yankee from New York during World War II.
My father, Sam Singer, was a soldier and was in Durham, NC for a dance and that’s where they met. Can you imagine the shock of her family when she announced that she was going to marry not only a ‘Yankee’ but also a Jew? I don’t think Smithfield had ever seen a Jew! And you know that DamnYankee is one word in the South. On the other hand, Sam’s family wasn’t too thrilled about him bringing home a shiksa from Tobacco Road, so to speak. They didn’t think anyone in the South had indoor plumbing, electric appliances or schools. Yet, they loved each other.
Martha ended up living in New York City in a small 2-bedroom apartment (and some in-laws for a while to boot) and eventually had three children to raise. She didn’t work outside the home because it just wasn’t really done in those days and she had plenty to keep up with anyway. She did not go to college, but was certainly well educated and read a lot of books.
My mother is my hero for a lot of reasons, but I will tell you about one of them.
One of the best things she did for me was to take me to the local library as soon as I had learned to read in the first grade and got me my very own library card in my name, not hers! This card was, and still is, the key to my becoming an avid reader from then on and a pathway to any future endeavors I might pursue. I also received a good education in the public schools of Elmhurst, but probably the majority of what I have learned came from the books I have read.
In 1973, Sam had sold his business and there wasn’t a lot keeping them in New York and my mother must have lobbied to move elsewhere. They considered Florida where my father’s family had moved, but one visit nipped that idea in the bud! Neither cared for the heat and humidity. We were then informed that they were going to move to Winston-Salem, NC. My mother wanted to be in North Carolina, but in a slightly bigger, more sophisticated town than her hometown, but it was within driving distance. I followed later that year and Winston-Salem became my home too.
No one was more surprised than I was when my mother asked me one day if I knew anyone who could type up some pages for her and when I inquired more I found out that she had an entire book she’s written on the sly! Apparently she had been working on it for about 10 years and yet told no one. Who knew she had it in her! It would have cost a fortune to pay someone to type up pages and pages of practically undecipherable handwritten notes. So naturally, I offered to do it because I had a computer. This was in the 80’s and I had WordPerfect 5.1 and DOS was the only operating system. Microsoft wasn’t even out yet. She gave me her manuscript and it was a mess, but I dove in and worked on it. I had a very hard time reading her handwriting, but would call and ask What’s this say? I finally finished and printed it out. I loved the book! It was actually quite an interesting story and I felt it had a lot of merit. It was about a 15-year old girl, Aquilla Lloyd, who lived in Bath, NC in 1711 and was captured by Indians for a while. There was even a little romance. The book was intended for teens about that age, but it will appeal to people of all ages. However, she sent out a few chapters to a number of publishing companies, but was rejected each time with form letters that it just wasn’t what they were looking for at this time or some such excuse.
Time went by and she died in 1993 with brain cancer. A very dark time in my life. Everytime I saw the box full of her notes, I wanted to do something with her novel, but had no idea, so there it sat. When I finally got Microsoft Word, I converted my computer files of the book into that, but still, no ideas came to me.
Finally, not long ago I read an article in our local newspaper about a woman who had self-published her work as an eBook. Now this was something I decided to check out and when I found out you could publish books without a publisher, I was all over it. I did some research on the internet and found out how to format the book and got to it. I used a story I had written as a test book. Originally it was just my venting about certain events that I put to paper for ‘therapy’ and it was not intended for publication, but I decided, Why not? Then I would know more about getting Aquilla out there. After more work, I was able to get “Aquilla, Indian Captive” published on the various sites.
This spurred my interest in writing my own books and I came up with a great idea in a dream that I am working on now: the Jonny Dimbo series.
Regardless of whether I sell many of my own eBooks, I am just so happy that Aquilla has found her voice and that other people will hear her story. I did this as a tribute to my sweet mother and I hope that wherever she is now, she will know that her dream to publish her book is now a reality. I hope that everyone who reads it will find it worthwhile and appreciate the woman behind the story. Aquilla and my mother share many of the same qualities: a sense of humor, the ability to stand up under hardships and make the best of it, putting the welfare of other’s above her own, doing what has to be done without complaining or whining, never being judgmental of others and a profound sense of who she is and proud of it.
Ava Gardner had the same roots as my mother, but because of her beauty, found fame in the bright lights of Hollywood. Martha became a wife and mother, a different, yet important role. I am so proud of my mother for what she did for me during her lifetime and I am honored that I am able to perhaps find just a little bit of fame for her.
I thank anyone who reads about Aquilla for their part in making this happen. Please feel free to send me feedback because that is what helps to make this all worthwhile. The book about Aquilla is selling very well on Amazon.com.
Mom, I love you. Marcia
P.S. I sometimes wonder how different things would be if Ava had married my uncle!