Not too proud to clown around
Leila Poole is one of those people who always seem to have a kind word or smile. Growing up, I knew her three oldest daughters, Vicki, Sylvia and Dava, because we were about the same age and went to Dukeville Elementary School together. It wasn’t until Leila began going to Trading Ford Baptist Church on Long Ferry Road that I got to know her. I was in high school then.
During those years, it was customary for people to stand on the pavement in front of the church and talk after services. Even teenagers enjoyed talking with Leila because she was lots of fun and seemed young. Only in her 30s at the time, she was young.
Although I knew Leila as a kind person with a ready smile, I didn’t discover until last fall how far she’s willing to go to spread joy and happiness to others. I made that discovery one morning at Hair USA in Spencer, when my mom and Leila had back-to-back hair appointments. Leila and Mom both go to hairdresser Mildred Smith, and on that day, Leila’s appointment was first. While waiting for Mom’s appointment, I heard Leila tell Mildred about dressing up as a clown for a birthday party. Listening for a while, I said, “Leila, I never knew you were a clown.”
She laughed and replied, “I’ve been a clown for years.”
It all started one Halloween when she dressed up to surprise trick-or-treaters. Loving the reaction so much, she began dressing up for family birthday parties and get-togethers using things she already had, like big glasses, a red nose, mismatched clothes and makeup. Wanting to look more professional, Leila asked her daughter, Dava Brown, to find her the right kind of face paint. Dava found not only the right kind of face paint, but also a clown costume at a novelty shop. Leila said it takes her about an hour to get ready now. Her clown name is Lulu.
When Leila’s granddaughter, Lily, was in elementary school, she saw how much fun her grandmother was having and wanted to dress up, too. After finding a costume for Lily, they had an especially fun time at an outreach program sponsored by Trading Ford Baptist Church about eight years ago. For that event, the church invited the community to Dan Nicholas Park for a fun day with activities such as a bouncy house, free food, games and entertainment. Part of that entertainment was Leila as Lulu and Lily as Daisy. Using toilet bowl brushes for microphones, Lulu and Daisy, along with a few back-up singers, pantomimed the gospel song, “O Happy Day.” One of those back-up singers was the pastor’s wife, Sandy Motley.
Leila has fond memories of dressing up for other events as well, including Mary Eller’s 100th birthday party at Miller Ferry Fire Department. Leila sang and danced and even pulled scarves out of her sleeve for the party. I asked her what songs she sang besides “Happy Birthday.” She said, “Oh, anything silly I could find.”
One of the most unusual places Leila remembered dressing up for as a clown was Salisbury Internal Medicine on Mocksville Avenue. The occasion was Dr. Demming Ward’s birthday. His office staff and personnel set up the event thinking Lulu would make a good surprise. Leila said Dr. Ward was indeed surprised when he saw her walking down the hall with balloons and had a good laugh once he recognized her.
When Leila retired from Celanese on U.S. 70, she dressed as a clown for her exit review. The boss said he had given a lot of exit reviews, but never one to a clown. It was all he could do to get through it without laughing. That was probably Leila’s intention all along.
Realizing that some people and especially children are afraid of clowns, Leila wrote a little rhyming book titled, “Clowns are People, Too.” It’s a story about clowns and how they come in all shapes and sizes, with feelings like everyone else. Written in rhythm and rhyme, it’s a shame only enough copies were made for friends and family.
I’m glad I saw Leila at Hair USA and heard her talking about dressing up as a clown. Seeing this as a ministry, her hope is she gives as much enjoyment to others as they give to her. Knowing Leila — Lulu — I have no doubt she does.
Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Call her at 704-278-4377.