Miss Azie|She is gentle, gracious, loving, and ‘what she did, she did well’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 28, 2010

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that Azie Jabour “never liked to cook,” but she started the popular annual Lebanese dinner at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church 50 years ago?

Her daughter, Pam Mayfield, agrees that her mother “is not the best cook in the world. When I think of things she made when I was growing up, it’s a limited menu.”

Limited, perhaps, but Miss Azie has a reputation for making the best kibbee and stuffed squash. When cooking kibbee, she always held out some for her son, John Wayne, who liked it raw, “though the acidity of the onions really cooks it.” Yet, she maintains, “I just wasn’t a cook.”

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From the beginning, the Lebanese dinner was a great success “because everybody loves Lebanese food. From the first dinner, it just grew.” Everybody in the congregation got involved with the project, but Miss Azie remembers that in the beginning a few were mainstays, working behind the scenes, cooking ahead of time and handling the finances. Miss Azie continued to participate until three or four years ago when declining health made it necessary for her to retire.

Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.

She grew up in Longview, Texas, one of five children of one of only two Lebanese families in town. She went to college for a year, but it was during the Great Depression, so she felt the need to go home and help her family. She came to Vicksburg with some friends in 1940, and that’s when she met her future husband, Mike Jabour.

Was it love at first sight?

“I guess not,” she laughed, but she didn’t resist his persistent attention, and they were married in 1941.

Father Michael Baroudy traveled from Vicksburg to Longview to perform the ceremony.

Mike Jabour was a young Vicksburg businessman, having opened The Hub, a men’s clothing store, in 1933 soon after he graduated from high school. When he and Miss Azie married they took a honeymoon trip to Havana, Cuba. As soon as they got home, she went to work in the store with Mr. Mike. They worked together for more than 40 “wonderful, happy years. I loved working with my husband. He was so easy to work with.”

Their son, John Wayne Jabour, operated it for a number of years, and Pam had a women’s department there for more than 15 years. The store is now closed.

When World War II ended and the men came home, they needed suits. The Hub was the only men’s store in town, and Mr. Mike’s policy was “take it, and pay me when you can.” One veteran had a folded-up piece of cloth he traded for a suit  — it’s a handmade Oriental tapestry, some 10 feet tall and half as wide, which still has a prominent place in the Jabour home.

One of the store’s promotions was Straw Hat Day back when men wore hats — and the manufacturer would send a straw hat encased in a block of ice to be put outside on the sidewalk. People guessed at the time it would take to thaw, the winner getting a new hat.

During World War II, when it was hard to find a place to live, the Jabours rented one room in a house at Drummond and Division streets in a home owned by some other Jabours. They had begun building a home on Drummond, and Pam speculated that they “speeded up construction when I was born in 1946” because of living with two children in one room.”

They moved into the new house in January 1947 “and had so much room they probably ran around and chased each other.”

Though there were just five siblings in Miss Azie’s family, Mr. Mike was one of nine children, and Pam reflected, “You never had to look for a cousin.” The Jabours had three children — John Wayne, Pam and Michelle. John Wayne died recently; Michelle lives in New York; and Pam resides here.

There’s a tree at the Jabour home that is distinctly Lebanese, or perhaps native to the Mediterranean area. Its fruit is similar to a crab apple but larger, is green and then turns brown, and probably can’t be found in a nursery. It’s called an I-neb tree (no one was sure of the spelling), and many Lebanese consider the fruit a delicacy, “and those who like them know where they’re located in town.” Pam thought her grandmother planted it, but Miss Azie said, “No, but she supervised it.”

Other than a few personal items, Miss Azie said, she has little from the Old Country but added, “They were just lucky enough to get here.”

A few years ago, Miss Azie was ill and in a coma for several months, and when she came to the first thing she asked for was a cheeseburger and a Diet Coke. She said she’s doing OK at 92, and “I thank God. I can’t walk, but I can roll.” (She’s confined to a wheelchair).

She can’t do much now, she said, but, “I read all the time. I read it all. I like novels and read newspapers.” She’s always taken The Vicksburg Post: “I can’t live without it.”

Pam believes, “The luckiest thing is to have your mother. She can’t hear well, she can’t walk, but at 92 she goes to the doctor only for checkups. Many things have made her special — her gentle, gracious manner, being a loving mother, always professional — and what she did, she did well.”

Her name, Azie, reflects that. It’s Lebanese, and it should be spelled Azizie, with two additional letters, but she said “Azie is enough.”

Appropriately, it means “dear.”