Rediscovering Southern Women in the Mirror

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Today, in my corner of southeastern Virginia, I woke to snow. For this coastal city, it is a more than respectable accumulation, actually close to the predicted 8-12″ I was sure wouldn’t come. In answer to a question from a friend on St. Simons Island, off the coast of Georgia, I said, “Oh, well, what’s forecast is the usual 8-12”. We never get 8-12″ but it’s become our go-to prediction, like ordering from the take-out down the street. “How long til that’s ready,” I feel obliged to ask. “Ten minutes” is the inevitable reply. And often it is pretty close to ten minutes. But we never get eight to twelve inches.

When I was teaching, I loved snow days as much as my colleagues or any of my students. There is the delicious feeling of escape, of vacation of enforced inactivity. The power at the school is out; the roads haven’t been cleared. You are forced to stay at home and do things you normally don’t get done at all (cleaning behind the refrigerator) or have to put off to the weekend (vacuuming and laundry).  Snow days are one of the gifts of the universe to her hardworking subjects.

Today, I woke to snow. I am retired, and every day is a snow day. My plans for today are on hold. I don’t expect to try cleaning behind the refrigerator, but I could clean out the inside, wipe down all those glass shelves, give the stovetop and the granite counter a good scrubbing. I need to vacuum, but looking out my window and then at what temperatures are likely to be through the weekend, I know that I can put that off until tomorrow, even Saturday. No one will be coming to visit, nor will I venture out onto icy sidewalks. I am almost seventy-two years old and cannot risk a fall.

I wrote until midnight and now I am up at 5:00.  The writing of this book is different than the writing of the last one, that one different than the one before. Last night I poured out every detail I could remember in pure description and narrative, mostly unbroken by dialogue.

I will start today’s work by reading yesterday’s pages and beginning the process of giving it some personality, like the woman whose photograph stands at the head of this post, the woman whose name I carry. I am now “Aunt Dean.” Several friends have remarked on my resemblance to her and my two-year-old grandson took one look at this picure on my laptop and simply said, “GranDean,” his name for me. When I explained that it wasn’t, he was insistent, “No. It is GranDean.” And he gave me a hug

Before I am ready for bed, I pull up the photographs and crop them for a closer look. I’m not sure, even now.

,

“She was thirty-eight years old in 1946, the year I was born, and her life had taken more than the usual number of surprising turns. Her departure from the Masonic Home, her first job with the Garretts, and the roads she travelled between the ages of eighteen and thirty-eight are the stuff of legend in the Gibson family. Aunt Cade was often the subject of conversation among the cousins, partly because of the ways in which she was so different from our parents. She didn’t get drunk and she didn’t have any children.

            My cousin, Becky, Adela’s younger daughter, told me once, “Aunt Cade always seemed more like a grandmother than an aunt to me. You know, she always slept at our house Christmas Eve so she could be there in the morning when we opened our presents.” I didn’t know, but it makes perfect sense. Aunt Cade practically raised their mother, and it’s the sort of thing grandmothers do.

            I had my good years with Aunt Cade, years in which I was the chosen favorite, the one who was invited to the Country Club and the English Speaking Union and the DAR, years in which my college education, my graduate degrees, my teaching career, and my perceived sophistication rose ascendant over the terrible sins of my youth, unforgiveable as I sat in at lunch counters in Atlanta, marched with Doctor King, chose as friends many who were much worse than simply inappropriate, and, finally, married first a Jew and then an Irish Catholic.

            And yet, somehow, I was forgiven, and for several blissful years, every time I planned a trip to Montgomery, Aunt Cade would say, “Bring your pearls,” which meant we would be dining at the venerable Montgomery Country Club.” (From The Bustle in A House, Chapter Eleven)

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5 Responses to "Rediscovering Southern Women in the Mirror"
  1. Kasey Brady says:

    I’m not a scholar of literature, but I am a friend of yours, albeit rudely inconsistent. I can’t wait to learn more about the women in your family and their legacies.

  2. Alison Daniels says:

    Always a pleasure to see the photos from your galleries. Your aunt had a face so full of character she is so clear eyed and naturally pretty. Your young self reminds me of Peggy Lipton from The Mod Squad. Looking forward to reading more of the family saga.

  3. Like your grandson, I was convinced that the person in the photo at the top of the blog post was you. Look forward to reading more about this lady.

  4. Kat Varn says:

    Thawing out down here in Charleston! Loved the peek into Aunt Cade. I used 3 snow days to stroll with Mother Nature with my camera. A few on Facebook under Let it Snow. Be in touch soon!

  5. Ellen Lee Bunton says:

    It is funny have many women look like their aunt instead of their mother. Please enjoy the “trip” down memory lane .

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