My Mamie Mae (more formally known as Harriet Livaudais Buckner) grew up in a family that was deeply rooted in New Orleans culture. She still lives in Louisiana to this day, so I don’t get to see her as often as I would like. Thus I was extremely excited as I sat down in my living room chair, computer in lap and anticipating a long conversation. And, after a few missed calls and one failed internet connection my grandmother’s face appeared on the screen, the interview commenced.
Harriet Eunice Livaudais went to The Academy of the Sacred Heart from four years old to seventeen years old, a prestigious all-girls Catholic school in the heart of New Orleans. When I asked her about how she grew up she responded with an amused laugh, “…my surroundings were protected, for sure…[I] hadn’t had a lot of experiences.” So when she attended college at Louisiana State University (LSU) as an Art Major she knew she wanted to live on campus, and have a truly independent experience.
She related her sheltered childhood, to her start of college at Louisiana State University as the biggest transition. Suddenly she had a lot more independence and, “…had co-ed classes- with boys. I had never had boys in my classes before!” She found herself feeling very timid and shy, as she had been surrounded by the same people for eighteen years. Luckily, she joined Pi Beta Phi, a sought-after sorority, that helped her come out of her shell and gain a supportive circle of friends.
As I desperately searched for my computer charger so the interview wouldn’t have to end, I asked about what challenges she had come upon that made it difficult to maintain her studies. Mamie Mae recalled her junior year of college as the most chaotic and challenging. Her parents wanted her to leave LSU because she was a debutante. Being a debutante is an inherently southern tradition where a girl of an aristocratic or upper-class family who has reached maturity and, as a new adult, comes out into society at a formal ‘debut’. This was extremely important to her parents as her father was an, “…old line, southern chivalrous gentleman.”
She says the debuts were not a one-time event they were a constant part of her life that ate away a chunk of her time. They would start with a luncheon, then continue with an afternoon tea, next was a cocktail party, then a dance/ball that would last till around four in the morning, and would finally conclude with a breakfast directly after the ball. After all of that, with just a little bit of rest, they would start all over again at lunch.
In the event, Mamie was, “expected to hold her own.” This was when adults began to take her seriously and she had to make a place for herself. She was expected to exhibit manners, be extremely polite, and able to interact flawlessly with “wealthy, well-to-do people”. When I asked her how she felt about the situation during college she answered with a sigh, “I know I’m appreciative that I got that opportunity, but I didn’t look it at that way when I was going into it. However, in retrospect, it gave me a lot more self-confidence when I knew I could handle my self in that sort of situation.”
The one thing she always knew was it meant a great deal to her parents. Debuts were always about heritage and legacy. They were not for only broadening your horizons, they also extended your social connections. It was a great honor when she got invited to any of the organizations or groups, especially if her father wasn’t a member of them, because it showed how much they truly respected her father. Some of the debuts she was invited to include: Rex, Proteus, Obrien, Pickwick Club (Secret Men’s Organization), War of 1812, World War Two, and the Opera Ball in Houston, Texas (due to her grandmother’s connections). She was presented at most of the old line originals. “It was definitely a coming of age ceremony I would say…,” she told me.
With a small smile and closed eyes, she described to me the first debut ball she was presented at, the ball where she met my grandfather (a.k.a Yoyo to his grandchildren). It was August 15, 1969. She met him after the beginning of the ball with their second date already scheduled for August 31. Not even two whole weeks later, after a whirlwind courtship, he asked her to marry him on September 7, 1969. She said yes (‘of course’) and on Friday, May 29, 1971, they had their rehearsal dinner, then Saturday she drove to Baton Rouge and graduated, and finally on that Sunday, Memorial Day, May 31, 1971, Harriet Eunice Livaudais married Keric Norman Buckner and became Harriet Livaudais Buckner. When asked why they waited so long to marry, Mamie shared that they waited because it was extremely important to her to graduate with her father’s last name as he had never gotten a chance to graduate and finish college, so she was continuing his legacy.
After talking a little bit more about her experience as a debutante and college student, we concluded our discussion with a little bit of life advice. “I learned a lot more self confidence in myself,” She explains, “If you want something bad enough you can go get it, go get it!”