Tag Archives: aunts

Dream A Little Dream

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A little music, a big memory and a whole lot of Mama…

This past weekend a bunch of my kinfolks got together for a reunion in Gatlinburg, TN, an event I had looked forward to for quite a while.  It was a branch of the family tree on Mama’s side, the Williamses, namely Mama’s big brother, my Uncle Otto and his wife, my Aunt Katherine’s, kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.  These are some of my favorite people on the planet, folks I don’t see nearly often enough.  I also saw some younger cousins, all grown up now, whom I had not seen since they were little, and some I’d never met yet.

Before I had even made it into the pavilion I found myself wrapped in a warm, loving hug from my cousin Stacy.

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She and I have been in touch on social media (one of the blessings of technology!) but have not seen each other face-to-face since the late 1980’s.  What a joy to see that sweet face again and enjoy a brief moment to catch up a little.  Second hug of the day was from her daughter, my cousin Danielle.  I’ve also been in touch with her online, but we had never actually met until that moment.  The musical genes in the Williams side of the family have passed on to Dani in a big way, and I was able to share a little bit of family musical history and heritage with her as we talked.

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Soft breezes blew through the shaded pavilion as my cousin Hazen asked the blessing over our meal and time together, adding special prayers for Aunt Helen as she deals with ongoing health issues.  I breathed a prayer as well for Dean, her husband, that he will remember to take care of himself as he tries to take care of her.  Seeing and hugging her was a special joy, as it always is.  She and Mama were so close, and when I hug her, I can almost feel Mama hugging me back as Aunt Helen does.

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I felt Mama with us all through the day, as we shared food and pictures and stories.  Aunt Helen’s kids, Lisa and Mike, were the kids out of the bunch I spent the most time with growing up.  And they were there, with Lisa’s husband Tim, who is a recent addition to the family and fits right in.  Mike’s wife Jane never changes, still glowing wth a headful of red hair and a huge smile.  All Mike and Jane’s kids were there, Aunt Helen’s grandchildren, and a huge light in her life.

As we shared food and stories and pictures, I felt Mama all around me, and I saw glimpses of her…in my cousin Robin “volunteering” to get up and sing, something Mama used to do…in the adult recreations of childhood photographs and the howls of laughter that resulted…

…in talking with Hazen about how active “my dead people” are in my dreams…

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…in the photo of me and my closest-in-age cousins performing a “family breast exam” (Mama and Uncle Otto are in Heaven laughing their heads off at that, while Aunt Katherine is telling us to “Be refined!”)…

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Family is not always dignified.  But that’s usually when it’s the most fun.

Unbeknownst to most of the family, Dani and I had cooked up a surprise to share, and after the meal was done, we offered them a little song, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”.  Making music with a cousin I’d just met for the first time was both a joy and an honor, and I hope it’s only the first of many more times we can do it.  My beloved Sweet Pea captured the moment with his phone, and I am so grateful that he did!

All through the day I felt Mama there with us, along with all the others on the Williams side who have gone to Heaven and wait for us there.  The last verse of the song we shared says:

“Sweet dream till sunbeams find you,

Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you,

But in your dreams whatever they be,

Dream a little dream of me.”

I dream little dreams of them all the time, waiting for the day we are all together once more, with God and one another, all the generations of our family making music together. All worries behind us.  What wonderful dreams!

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When I Was Six…

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The world looked different…

 

When I was six

Richard Nixon was President

and all the grownups on the news

were talking about a place called

Viet Nam

If I wanted to mail a letter

a stamp cost 6 cents

but I was only just learning to read and write

 

When I was six

Courtesy and Sense both seemed

more common

We were raised to say “Please” and “Thank you”,

“Ma’am” and “Sir”

 

When I was six

I sang all the time

just because it gave me joy

All the kinfolks I loved

were still alive

Talking to Jesus was

the easiest thing in the world

and my little-girl prayers were simple

 

When I was six

Summer vacation meant Myrtle Beach

and I always threw up

going over Saluda Mountain

Mamaw’s house at night seemed like

the quietest place in the world

and if Mama took us to Aunt Ruby’s

for a glass of tea

that meant there’d be time to play

 

When I was six

The world outside was not innocent

Then, as now,

people were doing

unspeakable things

to other people

But it seemed like those things happened

less often

When I was six

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(My first grade picture from Giffin Elementary School, in one of many dresses Aunt Ruby made for me.)

 

 

Best Friends

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Too many kinds to count…

This week many people observed National Best Friends Day.  I think it’s a nice idea to recognize the value of friendship and to appreciate the people who add such richness to our lives.  It got me thinking about the many “best friends” I have enjoyed over the years…and why I can’t really say that I have ONE best friend.

There were the earliest friendships I enjoyed with my brother and cousins, before school started and we met all those other kids in our age group.  Even though I am not as closely in touch with my cousins as I’d like to be, they are in my heart always, and I would give any of them anything I could offer if they were in need and I could help.  We share memories, blood and decades of love.

Then came the school friends, those people outside my family circle, the ones I met and learned how much we had in common.  Those moments of discovering that we liked or disliked the same foods, or shared a favorite song or hobby, were the youthful foundations upon which some of my longest-time friendships were built.  I am still in touch with some of my grade-and-high-school friends on social media, and seeing how their lives have progressed to this point is both fun and rewarding.

The church and college friends began my deepest connections, ties that bind us across years and miles to this day.  My college graduating class has a milestone reunion coming up this fall at homecoming, and I look forward to seeing many of my classmates there to reminisce about our times in the dorm and the music building.  My roommates especially helped me bridge the transition between living at home with my parents and making a new home with my husband.  I crave in my heart to see Janet and Dana, and soon.  It has been WAY too long since the three of us have been together.

These days I am still making college friends through my connections as the Chapter Mother for Alpha Gamma Chapter of Delta Omicron International Music Fraternity at Carson-Newman University.  Getting to know these young student musicians and to encourage them has been my joy for almost 10 years now, and I hope to continue in this capacity for many years to come.  My musician friends come in all ages, shapes and sizes, with specialties ranging from voice and instruments to conducting and composing.  These friendships help me to continue growing as a musician and as a human.

I’m grateful that almost every job I’ve held has yielded one or two lasting friendships as well, and since I’ve worked in predominantly male environments, I refer to some of these fellows as my “work husbands”.  At my first TV job, there was only one other woman in my department, a top-notch board operator named Linda.  We referred to ourselves as The Gyno Mafia!  I have a dream team of current and former coworkers I would surround myself with if I ever had the chance to build my own company.  The combination of professional excellence and wacky humor makes work a lot more fun, and shared goals (and grievances!)  give us much to share.

So many other “best friends” come to mind.  Mama and The Aunts who wait for me in Heaven.  My precious husband, who, after nearly 30 years of marriage, is still my favorite person to spend time with.  And our beloved, goofy dogs, Ernie The Wonder Beagle (in Heaven) and Our Boy Roy, who has been part of our family for almost 9 years now.

So, who is my “best friend”, really?  They all are!  And if I spent the rest of my life counting the reasons I love them, I would never finish.

 

Happy Leap Day

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Why it’s special to me…

My whole life I was blessed to have not one, but TWO, Uncle Johns.  Uncle John Flanigan married my precious Aunt Ruby, about whom I have written numerous times.  Uncle John Bryant married my larger-than-life Aunt Martha, about whom I have also shared memories here.  Uncle John Bryant was unique in several ways, not the least of which was his birthday, February 29, 1928.  Just as Mama’s July 4 birthday and Aunt Martha’s May 5 “Cinco de Martha” birthday seemed to foreshadow their personalities and idiosyncrasies, so did Uncle John’s Leap Day birthday.  He was without a doubt one of the most fun people in our family.

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The above picture was made in 1971, with him and Aunt Martha all dressed up fancy for either an Eastern Star event or, more likely, a Lion’s Club function.  He was a longtime member/officer/President of his club in Knoxville, an organization which devotes itself to helping people with impaired vision and blindness.  One of the ties in my ugly necktie collection has a lion embroidered on it, and I think it might have been his.  The above picture also shows him the way I always think of him, goofing off and cutting up.

He and Aunt Martha were a huge influence on me as I grew up, especially in my love for dogs.  They never had human children, choosing instead to be dog parents, and the first dogs I ever remember getting to know belonged to them.  Very early in their marriage they raised a Fox Terrier named Trixie, but the only dogs I remember are Chihuahuas.  Susie was the first I remember, followed by Buffy and then Ginger.  (Chihuahuas and other small breeds have long life spans, so Aunt Martha and Uncle John’s dogs were with them for a long time, with the exception of Tina, of whom I have no pictures and Aunt Martha always swore that the vet killed.)

 

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His way of showing affection was teasing.  For much of my childhood before Granny died, he and Aunt Martha would come over almost every Friday night, Susie, or later Buffy, in tow, wrapped in a little red flannel blanket (which I now own and sometimes put in Roy’s dog bed).  He was a big barrel of a man, about 6 feet, 4 inches in height and carrying all his weight around his waist.  He’d come ambling into the house laughing and saying, “What are you up to, Rastus?”  (I’m not sure where the name Rastus came from.  The only thing similar I’ve ever heard is the name Erastus in the Bible.)  His odd sense of humor became more finely honed once he went to work for the funeral home.  Those fellows developed an unusual sense of humor in response, I think, to the sadness they saw so much of the time, as well as to the frequent overnight shifts they worked.

Around Christmas every year, Aunt Martha would get her promotional funeral home calendars, share some with the kinfolks, and then mark her copy every three days for the nights Uncle John would be staying over at the mortuary on call.  Often, when his overnight fell on a Friday, I’d go and spend the night with her and the dog.  Sometimes those Friday overnights were when Mama, Aunt Ruby, “Mamaw” Allred and I would pile into the car and head up there for a late-into-the-night quilting party.  He was a bit superstitious about Friday the 13th, and when his overnights were on that date, Aunt Martha sometimes would call him and, in her best scary voice, remind him, “It’s Friday…the 13th!!!!!”

Sadly, I lost both of my Uncle Johns within about 6 months of each other.  Uncle John Bryant was semi-retired, and had gone in to work at the funeral home one chilly day in January, 1992, when he had a massive cerebral hemorrhage and was taken to Baptist Hospital, lasting for another 8 days but never to awaken.  Not long before he went into the hospital I remember telling a friend at my job how cool it was that in 1992 Uncle John would get to have another “real” birthday.  He spent that one and all the ones since in Heaven.  I spent his next to last night with him in the hospital, and he began what I now understand was the active dying stage while I was with him.  All I knew then was that the nurse said I should call Aunt Martha and have her come as soon as she could, but he held on for many hours after that.  I was not present for his death and that bothered me for a long time.  Now I know it just wasn’t meant for me to be there, and that’s OK.  I’ll see him again someday.

He loved the Tennessee Vols and the Lion’s Club.  He loved going to the 1982 World’s Fair and seeing all the sights there.  He loved to joke about retiring and opening up a hot dog stand outside Neyland Stadium and becoming a millionaire.  He loved to joke, period.  He loved the succession of little dogs that were part of his and Aunt Martha’s family, and they both passed that love of dogs down to me.  He loved Aunt Martha and her kinfolks.  And he loved me.

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In Stitches

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Mama, The Aunts and the fabric of memory

I’ve been missing Mama and The Aunts a lot lately.  Mama’s birthday was July 4, and the second anniversary of Aunt Ruby’s passing is coming up on August 12, so I guess those are a couple of reasons they’ve been on my mind.  While I was blessed to know all of Mama’s sisters well, when I refer to The Aunts, it’s Aunt Ruby and Aunt Martha I am thinking of.

They were the ones who sewed quilts together with Mama, along with Ruby Allred, our next-door neighbor on Ford Street.  I and many of my family members possess these works of art and craft, some stored away in cedar chests while others decorate our beds and couches.  Their colors and patterns brighten our lives and homes with warmth, both physical and spiritual.

It is fairly easy to determine the age or era of our family quilts by the fabrics used to make them.  Lots of the older ones contain material from many of Granny’s old dresses, and they are backed with a type of cotton fabric that Mama and The Aunts called “domestic”.  It was basically a coarse cotton muslin near as I can tell.  Later quilts were backed with king-size bed sheets.  They provided a good expanse of seamless fabric and were smoother than domestic.  I think that domestic had become more costly as well, which may have contributed to the switch.  Some of the later quilts also had lighter-weight batting inside between the patterned top and the plain backing.  These lighter quilts are perfect for use in warmer weather.

The older quilts backed with domestic seemed to pucker up more after laundering, especially if the batting was also all-cotton.  I love that almost seersucker-y texture of an old quilt, as well as the weight and substance of it.  I love the contrast of white stitching against solid-colored fabric.  Mama and The Aunts and “Mamaw” Allred sewed with such precision!  They made such teeny-tiny, evenly-spaced stitches, as Aunt Martha would say, “Ever’ stitch a stitch of love.”

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Nowadays quilts are available in many stores, mass-produced, machine-made items, often designed to look like their older, handcrafted counterparts.  And many of them are good quality and beautiful.  I’ve actually bought some retail quilts over the years.  But even the nicest ones can’t rival the quilts made by Mama and The Aunts and “Mamaw” Allred.  The hours spent choosing the fabrics, cutting and marking, and the late nights sitting around the frames as their thimbled fingers sewed—no amount of money can buy the love they left behind, in stitches.

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Touched

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From their hands to mine…

Once upon a time, long, long ago, ladies wore gloves and carried handkerchiefs as part of their apparel for activities like church, shopping or lunch with other ladies.  It was a more genteel era, an age of structured dresses, pillbox hats and cultured civility.  I often wonder if I wasn’t born in the wrong time because I sometimes yearn for the days of gloves, hats and hankies.

As a lifelong collector with a large extended family, I have inherited some of my Granny’s, Mama’s and aunts’ gloves and hankies.  The detail and craftsmanship put into these tiny items is impressive.  Many of the gloves have decorative stitching or embroidery, and little bitty pearl buttons sewn onto the cuffs.  Most of the handkerchiefs boast intricate stitching and lace as well.

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From the research I’ve done and the variety of items I’ve inherited, there seem to have been specific occasions when a particular length of glove might have been worn, or when a certain hankie might have been carried.  Some of Granny’s handkerchiefs are decorated with motifs for Christmas, weddings or Valentine’s Day, while the gloves range from just-wrist-length to halfway up my arm.  Generally, the longer the glove, the dressier the occasion.  There used to be strict etiquette guidlines for such matters and those rules can still be found in old books and online.  It’s fun to look back at how fashion and manners used to be.

There are also treasure troves of items like these in antique shops, flea markets and on the Internet.  Vintage textiles fascinate me, and the gloves and handkerchiefs in particular, items that began as strictly utilitarian objects, started being decorated and embellished.  They became both useful AND beautiful, petite pieces of art, suitable for framing, shadow boxes and any other display method one can imagine.  I can only begin to imagine the stories behind these tiny treasures.

I guess that’s why the gloves and hankies from my family mean so much to me.  The stories that come with them are part of my heritage.  There were the gloves that I wore with my wedding gown that belonged to Mama, and to Granny before her.  Even though Granny had been gone for 13 years by the time my wedding day came, wearing her gloves made me feel like part of her was with me somehow.  Granny also kept her diamond wedding set tied into the corner of a little hankie when she wasn’t wearing them (which was most of the time because they were fancy and she didn’t want to lose them).  I wish I knew which hankie she used for that.  Before Jeff and I were married, his Aunt Ann made me a beautiful lace-decorated basket and pillow, and wiith it she gave me a handkerchief that had belonged to her mother, Jeff’s grandmother.  What a sweet and meaningful welcome into the family.  I carried it on our wedding day.

I can imagine the church revivals, weddings and funerals where those gloves were worn…the tears of grief and joy wiped from the cheeks of loved ones with those soft squares of embroidered linen and lace.  Ages later, I look at these mementoes and I feel the women of my family in the things that they once Touched.

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Cinco De Martha

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Because I had many mothers…

Last week’s calendar contained both Cinco De Mayo and Mother’s Day, which got me thinking about the many women in my life who mothered me in addition to my own Mama.  Because Cinco De Mayo/May 5 was also Aunt Martha’s birthday, I naturally had her on my mind.  She would have been 87 years old.

In describing Mama I have always said that if she were a color, it would be red because of her fiery and passionate nature.  I also noted that all of Mama’s sisters, in my mind, have a color of their own.  Aunt Martha, to me, is purple…regal, unconventional, stand-out-in-a-crowd purple.  Like Mama and the rest of The Big Five, Aunt Martha was a true original, and in many ways unlike her sisters.  But she and Mama were very much alike in their big-hearted, laugh-till-they-peed-their-pants humor and personalities.

Aunt Martha never had human children, choosing instead to be a dog mom.  I have followed in this path, and I think that being around her and her little canine companions so much as a child shaped the love of dogs I developed over the years.  The first of Aunt Martha’s dogs (or anyone else’s dogs for that matter) in my memory is Susie, a Chihuahua, the breed that Aunt Martha and Uncle John always favored.  She was a tiny little thing, even though she was overfed, and because her bones were fragile, Aunt Martha was forever reminding Reed and me, “Don’t run the dog,” meaning not to chase her.

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When Sweet Pea and I were finally able to adopt a dog, we chose a Beagle/Basset mix from the shelter.  Ernie The Wonder Beagle was not a huge dog, but he was larger than Aunt Martha was accustomed to.  She asked me once, “Ain’t his teeth awful big?”, to which I responded, “Well, they fit in his mouth so they must be the right size.”  She and Ernie would see each other at Dad’s occasionally and she was always sweet to him, and he loved her as well.  Big teeth and all.

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Some of my musical genes came from Aunt Martha as well.  She had a lovely soprano voice that I loved listening to when we would gather around the piano after Christmas Eve supper, harmonizing out of the ancient hymnbooks that lived in Mama’s piano bench.  Her voice singing songs like “Ivory Palaces” and “Sunrise Tomorrow” echoes through my memory.  She wanted to take voice lessons but Granddad would not allow her to, so to spite him, she quit high school before graduating.  When I graduated from college with a degree in voice, she wrote in the card she sent me that she was proud of me and doubly proud of my majoring in music.  Maybe she lived out a piece of her dream through me.  I hope so.

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She and I always seemed to be kindred spirits and we spent a lot of time together throughout my life.  I spent many nights at her house as a child and teenager.  There were the Friday night TV shows we both loved watching and the trips to the Pixie Drive-In for onion rings and milkshakes.  There was the favorite housecoat I wore when I was there and the stash of “feminine supplies” she kept on hand for when I visited.  (She was always very compassionate about cramps.)

She was a meticulous quilter, her stitches so tiny, close together and uniformly spaced that even a machine couldn’t have done better work.  It seemed like there was always a quilt up on frames in her basement.  Countless nights I would go with Mama, Aunt Ruby and Mrs. Allred to Aunt Martha’s house.  They would work on whatever quilt was in the frames until they couldn’t see straight anymore, drinking tea and Cokes, telling stories and laughing.  ALWAYS laughing.  And even though I wasn’t helping them, they included me.  I didn’t sew then and I don’t really sew now.  But when I concentrate, I can do decent hand work.  I wish now that I had pulled up a chair with them around the frames.  I suspect that I would have learned much more than how to stitch.

Christmas Eve 1994, I presented her with a special little gift.  I had found a picture of her and me together with Susie, the one from earlier in this post.  I set about shopping for the right frame for it and ended up choosing a beautiful silver frame with a heart-shaped opening that fit the photo perfectly. It was like it had been made to hold that very photograph.  I placed the picture inside and gave it to her that Christmas.  The picture below is of her opening that gift as I looked on.  Her expression is priceless.

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I think my penchant for collecting things comes from her as well.  She collected all sorts of things.  Cartoon character glasses and figurines from fast-food places, Beanie Babies, state quarters and California Raisins.  Little things like that gave her huge pleasure.  She also really enjoyed jewelry and sparkly things, another trait I inherited.  She was gone before I bought the Original Kissy Shirt, but I know she would have loved it, because it is funny and splashy…much like she was.  She would approve of the new smaller Kissy Shirt as well, although the weight loss surgery I had and the shrinking process that made the smaller shirt necessary would have worried her to death.

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I miss her all the time, just like I miss the rest of them.  I imagine that her house in Heaven has quilting frames and that she and Mama, Aunt Ruby and Mrs. Allred are reunited there from time to time, working on a quilt for the next family member who arrives there, a warm covering for the bed in their mansion.  When I go to meet them, I will have sense enough to pull up a chair and join them around the frames.