Great Aunt Lessie

Meet my Great Aunt Lessie:

She turns 90 this coming November. She's my mother's aunt - her mother's sister - and the only living relative from that generation.

My own grandma -- "Grandma Gregory" --died when I was in my early 20s and I loved her dearly. She was full of life; fun, silly, spunky, sassy, and while she had her share of tragedies she chose to have a positive outlook on life. I love that about her.

It wasn't until my own grandmother passed away that I began to know Aunt Lessie. She reminds me of my grandma in so many ways, certainly with their southern drawl and mannerisms and their similar looks and laughs.

When I decided to head to Texas to see Lenny and his family, I called Aunt Lessie to see if she was up for 2 kids and their mother and she said, "Why sure. I'd love that!" And so, we stopped in Iuka, Mississippi on Saturday for a quick overnight visit. I purposely brought my computer with me so that I could have her tell family stories. We spent almost 5 hours just typing and talking. At first she claimed she couldn't tell stories with me typing, but she soon got used to it and every so often would lean over and say, "Now don't type this. It might hurt someone's feelings." So very cute.

I was struck by several things. The tragedies on my mother's side of the family run pretty wide and deep. From affairs to alcoholism to child drownings to freak accidents that left one of my great aunt's mentally disabled to almost losing everything in the Great Depression. Wow. I sat there stunned listening to her stories.

In talking about how I couldn't really comprehend what she’s gone through, she said, “It is tough. But the Good Lord just takes you through it." I made the simple remark “We have it so easy nowadays," and Aunt Lessie quickly piped up saying, “Oh ya!” She said their belief in God has carried her relatives through their tragedies.

She basically raised her mentally ill sister and I asked her about that and she said, "It was what needed to be done – raising Sister. If someone was sick somebody took care of them … no question about it – you wanted to and you just did it … we took care of each other … That's what family does."

There were several moments throughout our visit where I felt so proud. This particular story below left me full of tears. This is what she said:

"I was 10 when the Great Depression started. Back then, they didn’t have big trucks and roads like they do now. Everything went by railroad … you see, there was a road through Leedy, passenger trains, box cars that they shipped some stuff one way, and open back the other way. Men would “ride the rails." That really happened. And Hobos would come by the house and ask for food. They was hungry. They didn’t have any money. No jobs and out trying to find a job to send money back to their families. And Mommy always cooked a lot of extra food at morning and at noon and people would come by and she would fix them a big plate of whatever she had … biscuits, bacon, eggs, butter, molasses. We never turned anybody away that was hungry. And they were hungry. Nearly every day a hobo would come by and they was never turned away."

"And also, during the Great Depression, people that bought groceries at our store, but didn’t have money to buy things for their kids but my daddy would always give the kids something. He felt bad for them kids."

I cried because I was SO proud that they didn't turn away the hungry. They didn't turn their back on those in desperate need. In fact, they cooked EXTRA to help complete strangers. That is so important to me and for the first time I was able to make a connection ... perhaps that's where I get that longing to help. Maybe?

And yet surprisingly, for as many tragic stories as I heard, there were twice as many fun, silly, happy stories. At one point, Aunt Lessie was laughing so hard that finally, when she composed herself, she stood up and began waddling to the bathroom stating, "I done already wet my pants." Giggling all the while, which sent me into a fit of hysterics.

I really wanted to know if she could think of things that ran in our family. You know, those character traits {or flaws} that make you part of your family line. Here's what she came up with:

“Now I’m contrary and that definitely runs in the family."

"They {her relatives} are all truthful – if they tell you they’ll do something, they’ll do it … and if they can’t, they’ll tell you … you can depend on them."

"We all have great senses of humour and we love to laugh." {emphasis hers}

"Being part Cherokee Indian, we're able to endure."

"None of us could cry." {And there's where this apple falls WAY far from the tree.}

Her attitude today, at almost 90 years of age, being basically blind, shuffling along behind a walker was this:

"I'm just thankful, really thankful, that the Lord lets me get up of a morning, and see enough to do my little routine … get to the kitchen, coffee on .. wash my face and hands and go to the bathroom – then glasses and my housecoat on. I'm not sad – just thankful."

How's THAT for an amazing attitude!

As I wandered out of little, rural, southern Iuka, Mississippi on Sunday morning, I found myself reflecting on all that was shared by Aunt Lessie and I just kept thinking, "Wow. I'm really proud of my family. I'm proud to be right smack dab in the midst of their family tree."

Growing up, we lived in Canada where my mom and dad went to work in a Bible college, so we really did not see my extended family very often. Several years would pass before seeing our blood relatives. So for me, this time with Aunt Lessie was precious, because it helped me to get a bigger picture and a different perspective into my roots. My family history. My genes.

What a special, memorable evening I won't soon forget.


Angie said…
Great blog!
Very cute pictures and great graphics.
What a wonderful look into your life!
Cleary said…
I so hope and pray we can leave that kind of legacy for those that come after us. A great tribute and reminder.
amywb said…
This is so awesome, Alysa. This post has really inspired me to do this same thing with my grandma. I have listened to her stories many times but have never sat for five hours and typed them down. Wonderful recap! And what a dear aunt you have.

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