Monday, March 06, 2006

Monday Memory

Did I ever tell you about my mother’s family?

Mother’s mother was a loving, nurturing woman. She made each grandchild feel special and loved. She was a very good cook and seemed to enjoy cooking. I remember “helping” her make butter – churning and placing the butter in pretty molds. I have a strong auditory memory of her singing “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” as she cooked or worked around the house. Her house was very unusual in floorplan. A hall ran from the front door straight through to the back door, and the bathroom was on the back porch. The living room and kitchen were on one side of the hall. The bedrooms were on the other side. A fig tree grew in her back yard, and Grandmother made fig preserves every year. The front yard was dirt (common in the area) and had to be swept regularly, a job I sometimes was assigned. She kept a container of dimes in her kitchen cabinet from which she took dimes to give to the children when they came to visit. Although she died many years ago, today is her birthday.

Since my mother was the youngest of 13 children in her family, all my maternal aunts and uncles were older. Because of this, I barely remember my Uncle Jack and his wife, Aunt Georgia. I have a general impression of Uncle Jack as jovial and fun to be around. They did not have children. I am told that when World War II was over, and Uncle Jack came home, the then 4-year-old Joan thought he was Daddy. When I learned that he was Uncle Jack, I kept looking behind him, apparently expecting to see Daddy and all the other soldiers marching along behind him in a neat military line, coming home from the war.

My Uncle Grice was not a prominent figure in our lives either. I remember him as tall, redheaded, and slim. He died in my early adulthood.

My Uncle Bill was not around much as I was growing up either. My early childhood impressions were that he, his wife, and their son were much closer to his wife’s family.

Uncle Charlie was married to Aunt Ruth for as long as I can remember. They died within a few months of each other in the early 1990’s. Uncle Charlie was tall, red haired, and slim. Aunt Ruth was also tall and slim, but she had blond hair.

Uncle Tom, and his wife, Aunt Rowena, were probably the aunt and uncle to whom I felt closest and had the most connection. Uncle Tom was a State Patrolman. In my childish perception, he was a giant of a man towering above us, dressed in his beige uniform and big hat. As an adult, I was surprised to discover that he was actually under 6 feet tall. He was generally not very talkative, but he had a dry sense of humor that made him funny and pleasant to be around. However, as a very shy child, I also felt somewhat uneasy around him because I couldn’t always tell if he was kidding or not. Aunt Rowena was loving and nurturing and just as talkative as Uncle Tom was taciturn. Their son, Jack, was slightly older than I and an occasional playmate. We always referred to him as “Little Jack” – I guess to distinguish him from our uncle Jack. Their daughter, Jane Ann (Cozy Reader), was born when Jack was 9 years old and was a playmate for my younger siblings. In the early 60s Jack went into the navy. I can still bring up a mental image of how handsome he looked in his uniform! Soon after he came home from his military service, he was killed in a hotel fire. He was 22 years old. Our son, Steve, was born on what would have been Jack’s 23rd birthday. Uncle Tom and Aunt Rowena sent Jim and me a check for $500 as a baby gift – a fortune to us and a lifesaver in those lean seminary years. I will probably never forget the sense of indebtedness and appreciation that gift gave me. It was not only a financial windfall but also a token of family love and support.

We called my mother’s oldest sister “Aunt Sis.” I always saw her as sophisticated, reserved, soft-spoken and classy. She always dressed “to the nines” and carried herself with great dignity and poise. Her husband when I was a child was Uncle J.B. I never knew her first husband, the father of her only child. Aunt Sis outlived three husbands and died at age 96 only two or three years ago. (Aunt Sis's grandson writes A Few Minutes with Robin and Andy.)

Aunt Vera (called Vek – pronounced Veek) was very talkative and affectionate. She always paid a lot of attention to the children in the family. She was teased about exaggerating their accomplishments. When a baby began to babble, Aunt Vek always “interpreted” their nonsense syllables so that all the children were early and prolific talkers. She is often quoted as having said, “We specialize in beautiful children.” She was as homey or country as Aunt Sis was dignified. Interestingly, both of these aunts, although possessing almost startlingly different personalities, each radiated a sense of love and acceptance to their nieces and nephews (as least to this niece.) I always looked forward to seeing them.

Aunt Mary lived with my grandmother throughout my childhood. She married for the first time at about the age of 40. As a child, Aunt Mary was our closest aunt because we saw her every time we visited our grandmother. Since she had no children of her own, she loved to spoil us. She kept a stash of candy in her cedar chest for us. Anytime we visited, the first thing we wanted to do was see what she had in her cedar chest. I remember her taking me shopping at least a couple of times. She had pretty red hair, and I always thought she was beautiful. She gave me an emerald cut birthstone ring for my birthday when I was 12 or 13. I loved that ring and felt so elegant when I wore it. I made the very ill-advised decision to give it to a boyfriend (commonly done in those days when a couple dated steadily) and never got it back. I think of that surprisingly often with regret. I guess that ring was the first “nice” jewelry I ever owned. Aunt Mary died in the mid 80s. She had a long, miserable fight with cancer of the mouth and face (I presume brought about from a lifelong habit of using snuff.) She had several surgeries and was somewhat disfigured in efforts to stop the growth of the disease. I am grateful that I had opportunity to visit her several times at the hospice center during her final illness and tell her how much she meant to me and how many wonderful childhood memories she was a key player in.

I don’t recall getting together with these aunts, uncles, and cousins frequently, but we met informally from time to time at my grandmother’s house, and some years we had family reunions on Grandmother’s birthday. In spite of the fact that we never lived in the same town with my maternal relatives, I always had a strong feeling of loving connection with them.

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