13 August 2015


Today was another ride on an  emotional roller coaster.  We attended the funeral of my 96-year-old cousin, my last first cousin on my father's side.  This has been the end of an era on that  side of my family, just like when my last uncle on my mother's side died less than two weeks ago.  As I have explained before in my book about my mother Geneva, I had a lot of first cousins on my father's side who were as old or older than my late mother.  The reason for that was because my father's two brothers were both 18 and 20 years respectively older than he was.  They both started their families young, as a lot of people did way back then, and my father started his own family late, having had to be the man of the family at the age of eight when his own father died at the age of 45, leaving him with the responsibility for his mother and baby sister.  Not that his father ever took responsibility for anything when he was alive, mind you.  Christened "the fiddler and the diddler" by another of our cousins, he was a story unto himself.  Another time maybe I'll tell you that one.

Girda and me
last Christmas,
because I promised her
I would never show anyone
the photos of us on her last birthday
 at the end of June.

When someone dies, even if you were not even particularly close to them, it is a phenomenon how the memories of your shared interaction or even just your thoughts about the person wash over you in waves for a little while, like surf breaking on the shore, each wave triggering another memory until the tide goes out and then there is calm.  That is when you go hunting for the beach treasures or the shells, or in the case of the death of a person, sifting through your memories because that is all that is left.  

Today, we arrived 30 minutes early for the visitation as we had been invited to do, because the casket would be open for a little while before being closed for good at 11 when the public visitation would begin.  Since I had only heard about her death on Sunday just yesterday, I am still in the wave-crashing mode, and as people came and went, I heard more stories, many I had not heard before.  I was heartened by the number of attendees, since she had reached the age of 96 and all her contemporaries were gone.

She never had children of her own, yet she had many as a third grade teacher for many years.  Her husband was the head of the math department of a college in a small town for quite a long time, and was famous for tutoring young brains who were having a hard time with the subject.

She was the epitome of the Gracious Southern Lady, always beautifully dressed, wearing very high heels well into her eighties.  Always behind the wheel of a new Cadillac, usually wearing a fur coat and lots of nice jewelry to boot, she entertained like a Queen, ever the consummate hostess, always, always finding an occasion for a party.  

She tried very hard to influence me when I was growing up, telling me things (almost surreptitiously) about how to be a good wife and an asset to my future husband, how to make a active social life for us as a couple, how to manage introductions, and all the finer points of etiquette.  She knew my own mother didn't know much about these things because Geneva worked far too hard and was way too busy to play bridge and go to ladies' hats-and-glove club meetings.  It must be pointed out that she did not learn these things at her own mother's knee, either.

I suppose I failed her in the end, because I have always considered a bridge game a colossal waste of time, and I would rather read than go to parties.  She was a fabulous cook, so probably I didn't really let her down in that regard.  She was the first person I knew who had a whole wall of cookbooks in her kitchen, and I consciously, or not, emulated that.  Her own mother was the consummate biscuit maker using buttermilk, soda and lard puffed to perfection in her wood stove, although I never knew my cousin to make a biscuit.

She did not marry the love of her life till her early thirties because she would not walk down the aisle till she had completed her college degree.  Long ago in Alabama, a person could teach with two years of college, and only then after passing a teacher's certification exam.  My own father had done this early in his life.  When she met her future husband, he was quite a lot older than she with all the requisite degrees plus a war hero besides, and he was possessed of a brilliant mind.  She wanted to measure up.  She did not want him to be ashamed of her because she was lacking, so she put him off till she could say that she had, too, earned her bachelor's degree like the other wives in his circle of academics.  

They were a devoted couple the rest of their lives together, and then she lived another 20 years after he died.  I have never seen another couple who so openly adored one another the way they did.  I heard many intimate details about their life, none of which I will share here, but trust me on this one, they had their challenges. No one's life is a fairy tale.  If you think so, you have heard a lie.

One's truth always lies in the eye of the beholder, but it is actually somewhere in the middle between what you think you know and in the perception of others. It was a revelation to hear some of the stories I heard today.  

I had no idea.  



  1. So sorry about the passing of your Aunt. She had a wonderful life with her true love and I bet she was so interesting. She had a long and good life and many memories. She is with her beloved one now.
    You have my deepest condolences.

  2. What a great tribute to your cousin, Ellen, and such a good analogy of the emotion of death and the waves. I have no doubt your cousin was pleased with your outcome, an independent woman with class who speaks her mind and cooks a homestyle or gourmet meal and desserts sans the bridge group.

  3. Lovely writing, Ellen! So poetic! I look forward to hearing more of their love story.

  4. Hi Ellen! I'm so sorry to hear this about your cousin. What a tribute to her and I'm sorry for your broken heart. What a sweet picture of you two.
    Yes, I believe I'm having more fun with the dolls that Carter will! :)
    Blessings to you, sweet friend,
    Shelia :)

  5. A great life story your cousin would be proud to read
    It's sad when we loose our families
    Thanks for letting us honor her also

  6. Ellen, so sorry for your loss. The photo of you two needs no words, I know you will certainly miss her. Sending you a hug.............

  7. Your cousin would be happy with what you told us about her. Very interesting. Good for her, in her generation, for getting a college degree. You have some lovely memories, that I hope comfort you. You have had your share lately.

  8. What a beautiful tribute to your cousin. She sounds wonderful, and what an interesting glimpse into history as well. Not many women her age went to college at all, much less insisted on a full four year degree. Life moves and changes, and it's hard to grasp sometimes. You've described the ebb and flow beautifully.

  9. I am so sorry for the loss of your cousin, Ellen. Hers sounds like an amazing life. And you are so right about perception.

    Wonderful tribute!

  10. I'm so sorry for your loss! She sounded like a wonderful person who lived her life on her terms. That's a great picture of you both! It's good that you have fond memories to hang on to now.

  11. So sorry for your loss, and what a wonderful mentor for you growing up! It sounds like you have a very close family, Ellen, You are truly blessed!

    Ricki Jill

  12. I am so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to her, and a gorgeous photo. xoxo Su

  13. I know it was a difficult day for you Ellen, and I am trying to read between the lines about the new stories you heard~ I pray it wasn't further upsetting to you, but I know you are too life savvy to be shocked by much~ You have been in my thoughts, and I hope you and sweet husband found some peace and fun after these trying days~


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