Blog Post #10
By Jane Van Ryan
Pleas Lindsay was a family man who had a gift for maintenance work. Over the years he had learned to do some carpentry, plumbing, and could repair nearly anything.
He first met Evelyn Hazen in February 1987, when Lucille LaBonte called him about putting a new roof on one of Evelyn’s rental properties. Eventually he stopped caring for the rental properties and began to take care of the properties’ owner. He stayed in the Mabry-Hazen House to keep Evelyn company and take meals to her “toward the end,” he told me. After Evelyn died in June, Pleas became the 24-hour-a-day security guard and caretaker.
Although he slept in one of the second-floor bedrooms, he confined his daytime activities to the rear of the first-floor. A space between the bathroom and the kitchen (now the office of Mabry-Hazen House Executive Director Calvin Chappelle) was his sitting room. It housed a sagging couch and a tattered chair, both of which were loosely covered with white sheets. A bare light bulb hanging from a cord in the ceiling illuminated the space.
For entertainment, he had a black-and-white TV and newspapers brought to him by his wife and children. They were his only link to the present. The house with its musty leather-bound books and gloomy portraits of Evelyn’s ancestors enveloped him in the past.
“She lived in a world of make-believe and reality all at the same time,” he said. The long furrows in Pleas’ kindly face bent slowly into a good-natured smile. “Lucille says she was eccentric. [I thought she was] cuckoo.”
I interviewed Pleas on the front porch of Evelyn’s home, where he sat in a worn rocker and occasionally took drags from the cigarette cradled in his thin, yellowed fingers. His voice was soft and low, full of patience for his former employer who often had talked about her past—her job at the University of Tennessee, her summer job at The New York Times when she was a young woman, and her trips to Europe.
Occasionally Evelyn had “flashbacks,” he said, making him wonder whether she might be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. She also “was pampered as a kid,” he said, and “was used to having her way regardless. She wasn’t used to anybody crossing her. She didn’t know what no was.”
One of the stories Evelyn told like “a broken record,” Pleas said, involved taking her friends to her father’s grocery warehouse on Jackson Avenue and allowing them to pick out a few treats. There was tobacco stored in a climate-controlled safe, and she told Pleas the boys liked getting into it. She always told them they had to list everything they took, even if it was “one piece of candy.”
“If you could work around [Evelyn], make her think everything was her idea, you could get a lot of work done,” Pleas recalled. But you had to do things her way, he added. When he fed the cats, he had to put the food in the dish a certain way. Evelyn was an “animal lover,” he said. “More than one time” he saw a cat jump on the table and take a bite out of her food, and it did not bother her at all.
Pleas said Evelyn was “definitely out of the norm,” but he was able to get along with her. “She was friendly with me,” he said, although “we did have a fuss or two.” A conversation about the suit against her former fiancé Ralph Scharringhaus led to an argument. When she got angry, her eyes looked as if there “were fire coming out of them… If looks could have killed, she would have killed a lot of people.”
She also tended to “cuss” people behind their backs, Pleas explained. She criticized her renter John Green when he was out of earshot, but then she offered to give him the house he rented if he would continue to feed her dogs. Later, Lucille asked Evelyn if she wanted to change her will and leave the house to John. She responded, “Certainly not.”
Pleas said Evelyn gave him 10 shares of stock, but he gave it back to her two days later. He had heard how Evelyn used the stock she had given to her housekeeper as a weapon. Whenever Evelyn got mad at her, “she brought the stock business up,” Pleas said. “She didn’t know how to give in the true sense of giving.”
Pleas put out his cigarette and exhaled a plume of smoke. She was like a “puppeteer, you know. You danced to her tune.”
More from Pleas and renter Archie Russ next.