These were my standards of bravery, strength, beauty and brains growing up. They were and still are formidable queen mothers, only now they’re also queen grandmothers and great-grandmothers as well. They are my dad’s mother, Nana, sitting front and center in pink rocking the fur, to her left my dad’s oldest sister Aunt Marie in the deeper blue, standing behind her is Aunt Marva in pink, my mother is in light blue next to her, then my Aunt Patty in black and white and Aunt Virginia in red. There were uncles and my father around, of course, but it was the women who were front and center in my mind and my memories.
My Nana was one of my first babysitters. She cooked pancakes with corn in them and served them with thick Karo syrup. She had fish fries on Friday nights during Lent. She used to smack my hand with a white marbled brush if I was foolish enough to reach up to interfere when she was doing my hair. It felt like she was pulling my brains out through the roots of my hair because I was tender-headed as a child. She’d send me into the backyard to choose the switch she would use for my whooping when I misbehaved too! Yep, I had one of those childhoods and she was one of those Nanas. I also remembered how she used to hum church songs, sometimes singing out loud. To this day, “This Little Light Of Mine” makes me think of her. She lived with her oldest daughter, Aunt Marie and I remember thinking how lucky my cousins Leslie and Linda were to have her around all the time.
Aunt Marie is a fiercely intelligent, outspoken, humorous, beautiful queen. Straight forward and eagle-eyed, she misses nothing! She was always so well put together with lovely hair, make-up, and smart clothing style. As a teenager, I lived with my Great Uncle James for a time. She was the aunt that would come pick me up every other Saturday to take me to the beauty shop with her so we could get our hair done. She was somewhat intimidating to me as a child, but I was always certain of her love. As an adult when I went back East for my maternal grandmother, Mimi’s funeral, it was Aunt Marie that noticed I needed to ask my son Lyndon to open a water bottle for me because I didn’t have the strength in my wrists to do it myself. She interrupted the conversation in progress in Aunt Virginia’s kitchen to ask me why he had to open the water for me. I was still in the midst of my testing and had not yet discovered my Lupus diagnosis, so I had to tell my female relatives the symptoms I’d been having up until then. Nope, nothing got by her.
In order of descending age, Aunt Virginia was the next oldest. She has another nickname that we call her in the family, but she doesn’t care for people outside of it to know it, so we’ll go with the other nickname- “The Colonel”. This was due to her formidable organizational skills and the fact that she would coordinate most of the annual summer trips to Caledonia park for our family and The Reeves side of her husband’s family. She was short in height but never in stature. She married an ex-military drill sergeant, Uncle Tom, but was never intimidated by his loud, gruff manner. When the family was at Aunt Virginia’s house, the kids would play in their remodeled basement while the adults were upstairs playing cards, watching a game or just hanging out. She was the aunt that insisted I come back for my dad’s funeral when he passed. I didn’t have the money so she bought the ticket. It seems she was unable to attend her own father’s funeral because Uncle Tom was stationed in Germany at the time. She didn’t want me to have any regrets as she did for not being able to make it back for my dad’s service. She’s also the consummate hostess and cook like Nana. If you tell her you’ve been craving or thinking about some food or dish, she will make it or make sure it’s in the house.
Aunt Marva is the quiet, gentle one of the group. A velvet lady with the strength of steel. She had the most children (5) and was the only aunt to have boys. She had three of them so I can understand the steel strength. She is sweet, understanding and very loving. She is the daughter who looked the most like Nana. As an adult, when I talked to her about Baby Bub as she was going through a serious she-devil teenage phase then, Aunt Marva was always soothing and reassuring to me.
Patty is the baby of the aunts and the one I spent the most time with because she and my mom were thick as thieves after my mom left daddy. Her daughter, my cousin Sonya, was close to my age so we also spent a lot of time together. Patty was beautiful, outgoing, with long flowing hair that was always on point. Seriously, she could have been a model if she wasn’t so short. She had a mouth and a temper on her too. You didn’t want to cross Patty, no sirree. She was also the only aunt I was allowed to call by her first name. She was simply Patty, not Aunt Patty. Sonya and I got into all kinds of shenanigans because my mom and Patty were usually off doing their own thing. Patty’s home always looked lovely because she loved going to flea markets and decorating her home.
That brings us to my mother, Alverta. I’m not sure I can even do her justice. She was a single mother who worked her ass off to make sure we lived in decent places and went to decent public schools. She is beautiful, stylish, sharp-witted, opinionated, and generous with her time to those in need. She is a woman of enduring strength, courage, and humor. She cooked for us, kissed us good night, hid eggs around the house at Easter, took us out to The Pancake house for my birthday every year, and too many hundreds of other memories to write. I just remember thinking and I still think so to this day, that my mom just always kept moving forward, no matter what. No matter what. I still haven’t been able to do that.
These women grew up in a different era and thrived for their daughters and sons. These women showed us what it took to raise daughters and sons of worth because they didn’t know any other way or they wouldn’t accept any other way. Thank you.