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Dessie, my favorite aunt . . .

I remember all my maternal aunts—my mother’s sisters—except for the one named Vera, a young woman that died in childbirth or shortly afterward, unmarried and outlawed by family and friends. Pregnancy without benefit of clergy was socially unacceptable and frowned on in the early years of the twentieth century.

My aunt Vera’s baby boy was taken in and brought up by Vera’s mother—my maternal grandmother, a short stout white-haired whirlwind of energy that seemed to take great delight in applying a peach tree switch to the derrieres and legs of recalcitrant grandchildren, girls and boys alike. I was one of the most recalcitrant of the bunch, and was dealt with accordingly.

My grandmother’s name was Viola, but her nickname was Odie and she was called Miss Odie by all, including me and the other grandchildren. I intend to devote and dedicate a separate posting to her at a later date, so stay tuned—it will be worth the watch and wait!

My favorite of my mother’s sisters, for various reasons was Aunt Dessie. Two of those reasons were her daughters, both a few years older than I—my first cousins and by far the prettiest of the entire gaggle of cousins. I’m speaking of the female cousins, of course. There may have been male cousins that were more beautiful, or at least as beautiful, but I was not then, nor am I now, into recognizing and interpreting beauty in males, cousins or otherwise, not even if some had sported the marbleized features of a Michelangelo.

For several years in my early boyhood, the years between my age of six to the age of nine, Aunt Dessie lived, with her two beautiful daughters and her city police officer husband, next door to me and my family. Aunt Dessie was always, in my memories of the earlier years, a lady of ample proportions and a lady afflicted, or perhaps gifted, depending on one’s point of view, with a pronounced proclivity to accumulate and produce intestinal gases. She and my mother and my two elder sisters would frequently get together in her living room to sit on a sofa, form a quartet and sing gospel songs.

I didn’t hang around to listen to their singing because the vocals were sometimes punctuated with the release of said intestinal gases, but never was a note dropped nor any mention made of the activity by the other singers. Not all the punctuations were audible but the lean to the right was unmistakable—politically speaking she always leaned to the left, but for that purpose she usually leaned to the right because she was usually seated to the right of the others.

My aunt would sort of hitch up one cheek and tilt slightly to the opposite side to accommodate the action. Evidently the other two women had grown inured to the effect but I had not, and therefore did not long linger in the living room, regardless of the quality of the singing. I always found something to do or watch outside, something more interesting and more rewarding, both on auditory and olfactory levels.

Well, that’s enough of the religious references. I liked my aunt’s husband. He worked with the city for many years as a uniformed patrolman and drove a black-and-white in the performance of his duties. On more than one occasion he pulled up beside me and suggested that I return home because I had no business in whatever particular part of town I had wandered into. I usually followed his advice and headed in the direction of home, but depending on the circumstances I sometimes reversed my direction when the cruiser was out of sight.

I don’t know how much a uniformed police officer made in those days, but it must have been considerable. My aunt’s home was nicely furnished, and she and her daughters were always dressed in the latest fashions and had all the evidences of an upper-class family, including new toys and bikes, birthday parties, beauty parlor visits and vacations.

I often heard the adults in my family and their friends speculating on the source of my aunt’s family income and the prodigious outgo of that income, but the only emotion I can remember is envy, whether mine or that of the others.

In her later years Aunt Dessie lived the life of an unmarried alcoholic widow, a frequent visitor to the seamy side of life in Columbus, Mississippi in an area across the river where several unsavory hangouts existed at the time. As a young GI, just returned from a two-year assignment in the Far East that included a 15-month combat tour in Korea, I had occasion to visit those hangouts several times while on leave en route to my next duty assignment in South Georgia. I remember the name of only one bar, that of the Dew Drop Inn. I Googled Columbus’ night clubs of today and found lots of names: He Ain’t Here, Elbow Room, Hitching Post, First And Last Chance, Gravel Pitt, etc., but no Dew Drop Inn—bummer!

I encountered my aunt several times at different locations, always with a different person and always sodden with strong drink, as they say in the Bible. On one memorable occasion she asked me to give her a ride home at closing time, and during the ride she made several improper overtures to me, all of which were politely rejected.

I drove her straight home, and when I told my brother about her proposals he confirmed my suspicions—apparently my aunt was available to any bidder or buyer of drinks. I never saw or spoke to her again—not that I purposely avoided her—it’s just that I was never again in the circles in which she moved—she lasted several more years before leaving the bar scene and life for an unknown location—I trust that it is on a higher elevation than the plane on which  she lived in the latter years of her life.

My favorite aunt has long ago departed the scene, as have all my maternal aunts and uncles, and I would suppose also all my aunts and uncles on the paternal side of my family. If any paternal aunts or uncles survive, they are nearing or have already passed the century mark in longevity—I seriously doubt that any are still among us.

There is much more to talk about, especially about my aunt’s daughters. I was delighted to see both women several times in later years. The younger daughter was active in the music scene in Memphis, Tennessee for many years. My brother said that she was a high class you know what, a hundred dollar an hour lady—in those days and in that area one hundred dollars an  hour was indeed high-class, considering that the hourly minimum wage was only seventy-five cents per hour. You can click here to confirm that if you like.

I don’t believe the younger daughter ever married, but I know that she had one son in a relationship without, as they used to say in those days, benefit of clergy. She died at an early age, relative to the average life span at the time. The elder daughter, her sister, may or may not still be alive. That daughter lived an exemplary life—she married and had what the old folks in that era referred to as a passel of kids. I don’t know her married name, nor do I know of any way to determine whether she is here or gone to join the others.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

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A letter to Jessie (1915-1997) . . .

Dear Big Sister,

I hope you like this photo—I have several shots of you from over the years, and this is my favorite—just check out that glorious smile!

I believe this is where you were living just before you and Victor bought a farm near the air base and moved there. I remember it clearly, especially because when I was home on leave having completed Air Force basic training, I climbed a tree in the front yard to inspect a squirrel nest and had to holler for help from Victor, your husband and my brother-in-law—he brought a ladder and helped me down from my lofty perch!

This coming December will mark the thirteenth year since you left us. My family and I have passed the time peacefully—very little fuss or muss. We have health problems, of course, the young ‘uns as well as those of advanced ages. I know there are no health problems where you are, and no calendars or clocks—there would be no need for them.

I can capsule the major changes in my family rather quickly, changes that have come about since you left. Important changes for my girls include Kelley’s marriage in 1998 and the subsequent births of a boy and a girl. The boy is now eight and the girl is 6 years old. They live in a nice Dallas suburb and are doing well.

Debbie lives just one mile from us. She works at one of our local schools and loves her job. Landen, her son, was graduated from high school last year and is continuing his education at the University of Texas at San Antonio—UTSA. Lauren, his older sister, was graduated by UTSA this year. Her degree is in Early Childhood Development—she is great with children and seems happy with her work with a local Child Care center.

Cindy and Michael are a properly married couple as of last October, still living, loving and working in Northern Virginia. As you will probably remember, they had been a committed couple for many years, a total of twenty years prior to their marriage—they finally put it on paper! They seem very happy—no children, but they have two cats on which they shower all the love and rights and benefits that would be accorded children.

I won’t be able to bring you up to date on your family—you are probably more up to date than I am. I can’t tell you much about your sons, Wayne and Lynn, but I believe that Lynn still lives in South Korea and Wayne still lives in Maryland. I know very little about the boys and their families, but I imagine that you are watching over them—I want to believe you are, and because of that it takes very little imagination! I also know very little about your daughters or their families. I haven’t seen them since we were all together at your funeral. I talk to Toni infrequently on the phone, and exchange e-mails with Vickie even more infrequently.

Jessie, I’m writing this letter for the purpose of recording some of our mutual history in response to my daughters’ request to learn more about their aunts and uncles and cousins. As I continue with my writing I realize that it makes me feel I am in some way connected with you—if you would like to respond to this letter in some fashion, please do so—trust me, I’m up for it, and as the television commercial says, I’ll leave the light on for you!

This is the third letter I have written. The first was to Hattie, our sister that lived only one day—you probably won’t remember her. She was our mother’s second child, born in 1917, so you would have been only two years old at the time. Had she lived she perhaps could have shared some of your responsibilities as the eldest of six children. Looking back on those years, I know that it was tough for you, but you willingly shouldered those tasks and thereby took some of the weight off our mother’s shoulders. My letter to Hattie is posted on my Word Press blog and can be found here.

It’s odd, but I rarely heard any of my siblings talk about our father—a bit from Larry, a bit from Lorene and nothing from you. Most of what I know about Willis I learned from our mother, and I never heard anything positive. There must have been something other than the negative things, given the fact that our mother birthed seven children for him.

I wish you had told me about the incident in the garden between our dad and you, his teenage daughter. Mama said that he gave you an order and you did not comply quickly enough, so he beat you with one of the wooden stakes, or poles, used for growing beans to climb on—unmercifully, I believe, was the word mama used.

I also wrote a letter to Larry, our brother. You may have been looking over my shoulder when I wrote it, just as you may be looking over my shoulder as I write this letter to you. You can read the letter to Larry here. I was recently contacted by Larry’s daughter Deanna, and we are now friends on a web site called Facebook, a place on the internet where people can find new friends and chat with old friends—not necessarily old, of course! I have mixed emotions about the process, and am considering opting out of it.

I often wonder about Larry’s first wife, Toni, and their two sons, Troy and Marty. If she is still in this life, Toni would be about 86 years old now—you might want to check around to see if she is there with you—one never knows, right? I’m sure you remember that I lived with Larry and Toni for a couple of years or so in Suitland, Maryland. That was a hectic time in their marriage and I was caught in the middle of it. That was not unusual for me—things were hectic from the time Mama married Papa John until I enlisted in the military at the age of sixteen, a period of some seven years. The military provided the stability I needed. I finished growing up in the military, and as you know I stayed with it and retired after 22 years. I can proudly say that I assisted Uncle Sam in fighting two wars during that period, wars waged in Korea and in Vietnam. We lost both wars, but I will always be proud of my contributions to them.

Hey, big sis, this letter seems to have a mind of its own, and it’s getting far too long for a single posting. Let me close this one out and get back to you later with more details. There is so much to talk about—perhaps we should consider putting the letters in book form when I run out of words—if I ever run out of words, that is!

Lots of love,

Mike

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2010 in Family, marriage, Travel, Writing

 

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