"Willy Silly Billy" they called my mother, Wenonah Stewart Bond. Julia Dogan Dulany was "Jumpy Dumpy Dog" and Carolyn Beatrice Evans had "Catty Batty Eel" as her pet name. When I was young I treasured those wonderful, ridiculous names. I couldn't hear them often enough, and growing up in New York I made my mother repeat the nicknames of her friends -- the "girls" -- over and over. This was my connection with her childhood in Washington, a town that I did not know.
The "girls," as they still call themselves, were best friends. They were all members of the "Migs" -- the Mignon the social club that the girls formed in 1920 when they entered Dunbar High School. The Mignonettes have met monthly now for 65 years.
In the early years they attended school together, roller-skated down 7th Street to the public library and went away in the summers, often to Highland Beach near Annapolis. After high school they never lost touch. Many attended Miner Normal School on Georgia Avenue, the District's "colored" teacher training college, and they moved on to lives as teachers, mothers and wives. Most of them stayed right here in Washington.
The Migs have always teased my mother gently because she left town. The girls all went down to the train station and tearfully waved her off to college when she went to Atlanta University. Even now they will say, "Just look at Wenonah, will you, decked out in the fishnet stockings and patent leather shoes. You know she must have come from New York. She'd never be wearing those stockings now if she had stayed here in Washington."
Even though we lived in New York, my mother came down to Washington fairly regularly for the monthly club meetings. One member still drives down from New Jersey every month. In addition to club meetings, the Mignonettes attended each other's weddings, sent christening and graduation presents and served as honorary aunts to everyone else's children.
When I went off to college in the 1950s, I was greeted by a Mignonette daughter, and when her daughter was exploring college possibilities a generation later, my daughter showed her around the campus. Even though we had hardly spoken over the years, there was no doubt that she could call and that my daughter, as a Mignonette granddaughter, would respond.
There were times of celebration and the tragedies of death and divorce. At funerals and through hospital sojourns, the Migs always stood by one another.
Several months ago my mother telephoned me about the Mignonette luncheon that she was scheduled to host this spring. Meetings always fall on the third Saturday of the month, regular as clockwork. She made all the necessary arrangements and, promptly at the appointed hour on the third Saturday, the Mignonettes arrived for lunch.
The "girls" read everything. They are unabashedly opinionated on all matters, politics included. The talk ranged from Ronald Reagan to Clarence Pendleton, chairman of the Civil Rights Commission. Neither fared very well with the Migs, but in the case of Pendleton, they expressed a certain personal disappointment.
"Yes, you do know who he is, Doris. His father was the Pendleton boy who used to play the piano for our dances and at Sunday school."
"No -- you don't mean it?"
"Yes, indeed. The very same one."
"What a pity."
The Mignonettes unerringly reduce major issues to personal dimensions. Black astronaut Frederick Gregory was the only son of "our" Francis Gregory -- Dunbar High School. One of the Migs even flew down to Florida for the landing of the space shuttle.
No surprise, then, when one member of the group arose at the meeting to proclaim that "we must all get together and root the Hoyas home." A few were puzzled or unsure as to who the Hoyas were, but others explained. They, however, would not cheer for Georgetown for the diverse and maniacal reasons that the rest of us have. Many had never even been to a basketball game. Wouldn't know a pick from a dunk. Couldn't tell you what the Big East was. Probably they had read Patrick's name in the paper, but would be surprised to learn that since the NBA draft, promoters are heralding "the Ewing decade." Why, then, should the Migs "root the Hoyas home"?
"Coach John Thompson's mother was in our class. She was the Alexander girl" (no relation to the writer).
Dunbar High School, class of '24. Now there's a reason. With their territorial ferocity intact and Washington, D.C., as home, Dunbar High School friends are remembered with proprietary affection and pride -- especially the Class of '24 -- and after 65 years the Mignonettes endure and flourish.