19 Apr
Tue / 2016

Inside the MFAH
Ima Hogg: “Like a Rock Star”

March 5, 2016, marked the 50th anniversary of Bayou Bend’s opening to the public. We’re celebrating throughout the year with monthly blog posts offering behind-the-scenes perspectives on this cultural and historical Houston treasure.

I interviewed longtime docent Cyril Hosley, whose official connection to Bayou Bend began in 1994 when she joined that year’s class of docents. But she’s been a part of life at Bayou Bend almost since her birth in 1946.

You spent many of your early childhood days at Bayou Bend, when it was the residence of Ima Hogg. Why was that?

My grandmother, Velma Arisman Beasley, was head housekeeper and cook at Bayou Bend from the early 1930s until Ima Hogg moved out in 1965 because Bayou Bend was opening as a museum the following year. My grandmother moved with Miss Ima (that was what we called her) and a few other longtime staff to the Houston condominium Inwood Manor, where my grandmother continued to cook until she passed away in 1971.

Cyril Hosley’s grandmother, Velma Arisman Beasley, stands at the gate to Bayou Bend’s Clio Garden, circa 1940.
Cyril Hosley’s grandmother, Velma Arisman Beasley, stands at the gate to Bayou Bend’s Clio Garden, circa 1940.

It sounds like you treasure your memories.

My childhood was truly magical. I knew it even then. You have to understand, in Houston, Ima Hogg was like a rock star would be today—everyone knew who she was and admired her so much. I saw people become speechless, awed to be in her presence. She was amazing.

What are some of your earliest recollections of Bayou Bend?

My grandmother often babysat when my parents had errands to run; Miss Ima did not mind at all. I remember crawling or playing on the kitchen floor, and being cleaned up in the sink before my parents came to get me!

There is an early photo of me (below) sitting in the window of what is now the Chillman Parlor, but back then was my grandmother’s bedroom. And there are a few other photos with my sister Carol on the lawn (above), playing dress-up. We loved to run up and down the hill and play hide and seek!

Cyril Collister as a child sits on the windowsill of her grandmother’s room at Bayou Bend.
Cyril Collister as a child sits on the windowsill of her grandmother’s room at Bayou Bend, circa 1950.

What are your more personal girlhood memories of Ima Hogg?

Well, to a child she was intimidating because she was very proper—what we called “a lady.” Remember, when I was born in 1946 she was 64 years old, so in my mind she was always old. She was neat, well dressed; when she went out, she wore a hat and gloves. But I also remember her being so appreciative and considerate of others. When important guests came to lunch or dinner, she always brought them back to the kitchen to thank the staff.

Ima Hogg and Harris Masterson step out at Bayou Bend for the dedication-day ceremony on March 5, 1966.
Ima Hogg and Harris Masterson step out at Bayou Bend for the dedication-day ceremony on March 5, 1966.

Did she interact with you as a child, and then as you grew up?

Oh yes, she was always very kind. A favorite memory is during many Azalea Trails, when I sat in the kitchen and unwrapped endless Werther’s hard candies and put them in a bowl. Miss Ima sat on the terrace and offered them to guests; she feared the wrappers would end up tossed in the gardens if people unwrapped their own!

Later, when I was in junior high, she would sometimes ask me to play the piano at Bayou Bend. I had been taking lessons since age 9, but I was not that good and always nervous about playing in front of her, but of course one did not say no. Still, she was very polite and said encouraging things.

When I got older, she gave me advice on colleges I was considering, and told me how pleased she was when I graduated and wanted to be a teacher. She encouraged me to use her as a reference when I applied for a job in HISD.

Since one of your grandmother’s jobs was to cook, do you have any food-related memories?

Many! Ima Hogg loved butter, and my grandmother always had a metal cup of melted butter on the stove shelf. My grandmother seemed to brush butter on the top of everything before it was served to Miss Ima.

Also, we all ate whatever was being prepared. No one fixed their own meal. One thing she loved was grapefruit wedges on top of cooked spinach; my reaction was “ugh” (to that and another one of her favorites, tomato aspic), but I ate it anyway. She also loved a dish my grandmother made: a ring of white rice and green onions surrounding chicken breasts in a creamy mushroom sauce. That I liked!

It is often remarked that Miss Hogg’s longtime staff at Bayou Bend—Jane, Gertrude, Lucius, and your grandmother Velma—were almost like family to her. Is that how they saw it?

Oh, yes! They loved her and often said themselves they were like family. She kept up with their personal lives. She sent get-well cards, visited them when they were in the hospital, attended family funerals, and, on happy occasions like weddings or the birth of a baby, sent a personalized Bible or other gift.

Cyril Hosley’s grandmother and Miss Ima’s maid, Gertrude Vaughn, play with the Hogg family’s pet dogs.
Cyril Hosley’s grandmother and Miss Ima’s maid, Gertrude Vaughn, play with the Hogg family’s pet dogs, circa 1940.

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