I just got this photo today, sent from a cousin. My mother’s cousin, but one of those I thought was my aunt until I was probably 12. My mother has tons of first cousins around her age, and we spent so much time with them (and their kids) that I never had any idea who is a “first” and who is a “second” cousin.
My grandma’s baby sister died yesterday. She was one of the last of the tribe in that generation. The family was so large, that my grandmother was already married by the time she was born (or nearly). She married young, at 15, and had kids young. It’s difficult to tell which generation any of those gals are from, with the way the ages blur.
My grandma, on the other hand, refused to get married until she’d had a career. She went to school and got her Master’s during the depression. She married an engineer. They had three children, with my mother as the youngest and only girl.
They don’t make them like they used to.
All of these women were really quite amazing, and I don’t think they are unique to my family. I think a lot of women of that generation were equally amazing.
The South has this odd mix of social traits from that time: we have farmers and we have “landed gentry”, we have rednecks and PhDs. We have trailer folks and plantation types. It’s interesting but good luck if you are a sociologist. That type of Southerner will have more fun letting you think you are talking to a hillbilly until you notice the Engineering PhD on his wall.
Like my grandma, the Latin teacher.
Joyce, the aunt we just lost, was just as smart, although getting married at 15 she didn’t have the same education. She was a beautiful woman in her youth, and an adorably plump grandma in her maturity. Her children all turned into wonderful adults. I don’t think I have ever met a bigger-hearted woman. One of the neatest things about going to her house was her husband. He followed her around smiling and helping and attentive and still looked at her like she was the beautiful 15 year old he married.
In fact the closeness of their relationship was one of the first things you would notice in their home.
I loved the way they carved out a very nice pleasant life with very modest means. They worked very hard. They watched their pennies. They grew things. The house was small but very cozy. The depression-era women seemed to live that way and got so used to making do, that even when they didn’t have to anymore, it seems that is how they were most comfortable.
Now that I live among the Yankees, I can really appreciate all that is Southern and charming and strong about this generation, this stock. I’m raising my girls as close to this pattern as I can given our lack of references nearby. No country club, no watering hole, no peach orchard, no throng of neighborhood kids – all formative for me. But we have cloth napkins, and we dress simply and we save our allowance and we respect our elders.
And I don’t advertise my PhD either.
The simple tastes, hard work and humor I learned from these women stays with me.
I remember a vivid dream that I had once, where Grandma was getting frustrated with me for being so anxious over my children. She shook her finger at me and said, you come from a long line of strong women, now act like it. I looked in the room and there they were, both sides, bearing just enough resemblance to the photos that I knew who they were. Formidable crew.
And Aunt Joyce gets to dance with them now, as I am sure she has been eager to do for many years. I am sure Heaven is a very rowdy place this morning with all those gals celebrating her long and wonderful life, Southern style.
Rest in Peace doesn’t quite fit. Rest in Joy, I think, much more so.