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Archive for July, 2012

One year ago, our family lost this dear man:

Bill and Ann Marion

I met him about 20 years ago, and adored him immediately.  One of the first things that struck me about him was how much he loved to laugh.  He had this great chuckle … and when something really hit him funny, he would throw back his head, slap his thigh, and really let it go.

Born on the first day of 1916, Bill was from a different era, and I’m not sure he ever truly left it.  Sure, he dipped his toe in ours from time to time, and certainly wasn’t disconnected or ignorant of what was going on in the world.  He just chose to let some of it pass by without his participation.  Newer technology amused him, but I think he viewed much of it as a toy, and he wasn’t interested in playing with it.  Bill pretty much stopped with the television remote because, really, what else do you need?  Because of his military service and subsequent jobs, he traveled the world, and saw things that became historically significant.  Those things affected him greatly.  But I don’t think any of those things changed the essence of who Bill was from the beginning.  Simple things pleased him – a good meal, a silly joke, a great baseball game (or even a bad one), reading the newspaper every day, and hearing about other people’s lives.  Like any of us, he had his flaws – notoriously tight with money, easily rattled, stubborn beyond all reason sometimes.  But he was also a good provider for his family, a veteran of WWII, and once he loved you, he loved you.  Period.  Bill was also a gentleman – even at his advanced age, he preferred to open doors for me, instead of the other way around.  As long as he was able, he stood every time a woman came into the room.  He said grace at every meal and was always neatly dressed.  He always complimented his wife on how she looked and he was your best audience when you were telling a story.  I think those things were so ingrained in him, he never really thought about it – they just happened.  As we say in the South, his mama raised him right.  And, boy! did he ever love his mama.

Alzheimer’s began to take him from us long before he actually died, but even in his last months, a glimpse of his true self would fight its way to the surface.  One of my last memories of Bill might be my favorite.  We had gone to visit for a weekend, and he was quiet and didn’t leave his chair for most of the weekend … observing but no longer participating in the lives that spun around him.  I think he finally figured out who I was only a few hours before we left.  When it came time to leave, I went over to give him a hug, and said, “You take care of yourself, ok?  I love you.”  He murmured, “I love you, too,” sort of vaguely, and I walked across the room to leave.  As I got to the door, I heard, “But don’t tell your husband, ok?”  I turned around, and saw the real Bill – his hand lifted, pointing at me, chuckling and grinning.  And he winked.

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Four Generations

This is one of my all-time favorite photographs, for so many reasons.

Four Generations

First, there’s the obvious … four generations of women on my mother’s side of the family – what a gift to have this image.

Carrie Frances Mills Elliott – seated
Irma Frances Elliott Shelton – checked dress
Janet Arlene Shelton Stewardson – dark dress
and me … cute as a bug, right ?

Second, it makes me laugh.  Look at Grandma.  She does not look happy to be doing this at all.  Who knows? Maybe she wasn’t feeling well that day. I remember she wasn’t crazy about having her picture taken, so you kind of had to sneak up on her to get a good smile.  But, boy, when she smiled?  Best grandma face ever!  I could talk about her forever … the woman was born to be a grandma.  She was a lovely daughter, a terrific mother, and a great friend … but her gift, her reason for being put on this earth, was to be a grandma.  She cooked like a grandma, she sewed like a grandma, she told stories like a grandma, she grew flowers like a grandma, she spoiled us like a grandma, she hugged like a grandma, and she loved like a grandma.  Still – she didn’t like to have her picture taken.  Silly Grandma.  (Please note – my Grandma was not a giant … this was taken from an odd angle, probably to get us all in.)

Third, I like this because it’s really the clearest image in my head of my great-grandmother.  She died when I was barely 5 years old, so my memories are sketchy at best.  But they all look like this – a tiny little woman, with soft white hair and a serious smile.  My little sister is named for her, and was born the same year Granny died.  The only things I really know about her, I know because Mama tells me the stories.

Fourth, I like it because it gives me a real sense of how I came to be me.  I am exactly like them, and nothing like them.  I have characteristics of each of them, and of none of them.  When I look at these faces, they don’t just hold memories for me, they feel very “here and now,” even though two of them are gone.  They feel immediate and relevant and still influential on my character.  These women – particularly Grandma and Granny – are salt-of-the-earth women.  Their stories are very blue collar, hands in the soil, feet on the ground stories.  When I first began searching my family history, I thought those stories were boring, that they weren’t really stories at all.  I was wrong.  It’s a very solid place to stand, which has allowed my mother and me (and my brother and sister and my niece and nephews and cousins) to stretch and reach far beyond the boundaries of these women.

I think that’s what families are for, aren’t they ?  To ground us, teach us, bind us, and set us free.  And when I search our history, and find another name or place that connects me, I gain  insight and encouragement.

Hard to believe one little snapshot says all that, huh ??

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