We knew her simply as the Leaf Lady. Not sure who gave her that name but that is what everyone called her. For well over ten years she wandered the side streets and byways of Buckhead during my elementary and high school years in the 1960s. All the kids knew about her and so did the adults. Even now, over 50 years later, if you mention “Leaf Lady” to anyone from that time and place they will immediately know who you are talking about. She was as much a part of the fabric of our lives as Jim Sallee’s Record Store or the milkshakes at Zesto’s.
Sometimes I would see Leaf Lady almost weekly and then months could go by without a sighting. She always wore the same dress and clutched the same flowered purse with a silver clasp. No one knew who she was or where she lived. Typically, she would either be seen walking at a fast clip or standing next to a bush picking leaves and putting them in her purse. Sometimes she would not pick the leaves but just stand there and touch them rapidly. No wonder we called her Leaf Lady.
I remember once my mom took pity on her and picked her up on Wieuca Road and tried to give her a ride. This must have been sometime in the early 60s. The trouble soon became apparent – she didn’t know where she was going. My mom kept asking “Where do you live?” and “Where can I take you?” Finally, futility set in and mom pulled over and let Leaf Lady out to continue her wandering. I always wondered how she got home every day. Did she live with anyone?
As the years passed her behavior became even more extreme. The last time I saw her I was in 10th grade at Dykes High School. I looked out the window and there was Leaf Lady on the hill above the parking lot. There were some pine trees up there and she started gathering all the pine needles into a giant pile. Before long she had created a giant structure that looked like a nest. She squatted down in the middle of that nest and appeared to be getting ready to lay an egg. Our teacher rushed to the windows and quickly pulled the curtains shut in a futile effort to protect us from what was about to occur.
I can tell you this, it wasn’t an egg she laid.
That was the last time I saw Leaf Lady. Later on, she was immortalized when the Hampton Grease Band recorded “Hey Old Lady” as an anthem to her.
There were more than a few of these characters that inhabited our world. There was Goat Man out on Highway 41, Brookhaven Bobby would answer the phone at the Bar B Que Kitchen, Birdman waved his arms furiously while riding his bicycle and Crazy Eddie could usually be found down at the clubhouse on the Chastain Park golf course. Buy Eddie a hot dog and he would give you a golf lesson. I saw him teach Bruce Hampton a golf grip that immediately took 7 strokes off his score. None of these folks ever went amok with a butcher knife and slashed their way through the mall at Lenox Square; they were accepted, even by our parents, and for the most part lived alongside us in harmony.
So, I’ve been wondering where are the Leaf Ladies and Goat Men of today? Have they all been medicated so they no longer wander? Are they in half-way houses where someone provides round the clock oversight? Has the underbrush of our society been cleared of all these fringe dwellers? I’m thinking something has been lost. I miss them. Oh, to just catch a glimpse of Birdman or hear Crazy Eddie whistle “Dixie” just one more time. I think we needed them to provide us a psychic balance to the left-brained world of duality, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and fallout shelters. I am pretty sure we have lost something important and I’m thinking it may not be not coming back, at least not anytime soon. My children have never been exposed to folks that live on the edge of the bubble and it is their loss.
They say people die two deaths. Once when their heart stops and once when they are no longer remembered. Leaf Lady, I remember you.
Author, Buckhead Tales