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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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