Wednesday, February 29, 2012
More on Miss Edna
My post on her passing from Monday encapsulates my thoughts on her passing, but today I've developed some new thoughts on reactions to her death. In some quarters, I've seen crude and boorish remarks, which is pretty much par for the course given the uncivil anonymity the internet affords people. You know the saying, "Character is how you behave when nobody is looking"? Well, the online world allows people to flaunt their character in broad daylight. But those knuckleheads are to be expected. They're a given in this day and age. What really stood out for me was the comments section in the Houston Chronicle's obituary. It astounds me how some people can argue so vehemently about something they know so little about.
Miss Edna was not, as some would cast her, a monster exploiting and abusing lost and lonely girls who didn't know any better. Neither was she Mother Teresa, warning them of their evil ways and counseling them to repent before it was Too Late. The truth, as pretty much happens all the time in this life, falls somewhere in between. How some people can wake up in the morning and see a world of black and white with no subtleties in between escapes me.
The fact of the matter is, nobody grows up aspiring to be a prostitute. Miss Edna certainly didn't, and neither did any of the women who worked for her over the years. And with the exception of some of the women working the legal brothels in Nevada, I'll wager very few opt for prostitution as a career choice just for the heck of it. Most women (and men, too, lest we overlook the gay prostitution subculture) are forced into whoring due to circumstances. They feel that course is the only option left for them, and desperation (including the strong motivation of not starving) makes it easy to disregard such niceties as pride and morality.
Nobody ever started their prostitution career at the Chicken Ranch. Miss Edna certainly didn't. But the Chicken Ranch was a haven of sorts from the violence and exploitation that plagued prostitution in Texas cities through the latter half of the 20th century. Illegal drugs weren't tolerated, pimps were kept at bay and even drinking was frowned upon--drunk customers were refused admittance. Miss Edna may have been overbearing and strict with her "my way or the highway" attitude, but she was fiercely protective of her girls, to the point of forcing Larry L. King to change the names of some of the characters in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas to better protect their identities. Did she profit from the brothel? Of course. She always viewed herself as a business woman more than anything else. But the whores who worked for her profited as well. None were ever forced to stay, yet they did--some for years--because of the sense of security and safety the Chicken Ranch offered, especially when compared with the alternatives.
Some are accusing the media of "glorifying" Milton in death, pointing out that she was a madam and a law-breaker. I suppose the same charges will be leveled at me, either for these blog posts or my book once it is published. Nothing is farther from the truth. Like it or not, the Chicken Ranch was a very big part of Texas history for 130 years. The little country brothel in La Grange is a distillation of Lone Star heritage, and every significant cultural event--from the days of the Republic to secession to both World Wars to the space program and college football--the Chicken Ranch shares connections with all of them.
Edna Milton, the women who worked for her and the men who patronized the brothel weren't demons or angels, they were simply human beings with feet of clay, trying to make their way in the world as best they could. The Chicken Ranch did not invent prostitution, nor did prostitution end when the Chicken Ranch closed down for good.
I choose to view Miss Edna's life as inspirational. That a woman who faced such adversity and obstacles early in her life was able to overcome them and actually prosper in what could charitably be called a bad situation. Then, when even this was taken away from her by Marvin Zindler on prime time television, she triumphed over that as well, performing on Broadway and traveling the world. That's why I like the photo top right and the article from US below so much--they show the re-invented Edna, freed of the burden of the brothel and enjoying her new found celebrity. Once she tired of the limelight and the celebrity circus, however, she simply checked out and lived a quiet retirement in anonymity until her death. She went out on her own terms, and really, once all is said and done, isn't that all any of us can hope for?
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