Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reflections on Aunt Evelyne

OK. Enough about husbands.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my experiences with my Aunt Evelyne who died on February 1. She was an unusual person with an extremely strong personality. In retrospect, I see that in many ways she shaped my character.

My mother was the fourth child and Aunt Evelyne was the fifth of nine. I am very sad for her sisters, for I know they loved her and seemed to easily overlook her faults. They saw that her intentions were the best, no matter how people felt blasted by her strong personality and determined nature.

Frank Harmon came to preach at Old Beech Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1943 and was sought by all the girls there as the most eligible bachelor around. Aunt Evelyne was the one he picked to marry, so he was a few years older than she.

My favorite Aunt Evelyne story took place during the Carter administration. She called Aunt Carleen around 2 am in high dudgeon. “I figured out the simplest way to balancing the budget and world peace, and I called the White House and they wouldn’t even let me speak to President Carter!” she complained. Aunt Carleen, ever the sane and level-headed oldest sister, was greatly irritated at being awakened for such an irrational tirade.

I visited her for a week every summer from the ages of 9 to 14. My parents would take me one way and I’d ride the Greyhound bus the other. Since Uncle Frank was a minister, they moved every few years. The first few years I visited her in Dyer, Tennessee; later I visited them in Cookeville, Tennessee.

She would plan special activities when I was there, such as picnics in the park or swimming somewhere—creek or public pool. Nothing was extravagant, for I’m sure they were on a tight budget, but the church manse was always nice and Aunt Evelyne had it well-furnished and decorated.

She treated me as one of her children, even to assigning me chores when I visited. I recall once when my dusting did not meet her expectations. She said, “Hasn’t your mother taught you how to dust?” I was very offended that she would blame my mother for my short-comings. I saw no reason to remove every object from a table in order to dust it, but for her I did. She made me responsible for her sons at times and I didn’t always meet her expectation. She’s the only person besides my parents who ever spanked me.

Sometimes we would go for rides and Uncle Frank would start as the driver. But she criticized his every move and speed, finally simply saying, “Just pull over, Frank. Just pull over and let me drive!” This happened so often that I wondered why she didn’t drive to start with.

She taught me how to sew. She bought me some green and white fabric for three yards for a dollar and a pattern. She supervised as I cut it out and stitched it on her machine. I was so proud of that dress! After that, I made many of my own clothes for years.

She had a reputation in the family for serving food in the smallest possible bowls. When we sat to eat at her table, serving bowls seemed actually to be cereal bowls but maybe they weren’t. Daddy always said he left her table hungry because there didn’t seem to be enough food to go around.

Her other memorable characteristic, also based on frugality, was the Christmas gifts she would give. My mother’s siblings and their spouses drew names each Christmas for next year’s gift to give. Then everyone lived in fear all year that Evelyne had drawn his or her name because Evelyne’s gifts were usually from some church bazaar or bargain basement. The one I recall the best was when she gave my dad two enormous paintings of “Blue Boy” and “Pinkie,” framed in gold and white papier-mâché. My mother insisted that they hang in our dining room for years, vowing that she treasured them because they were from Evelyne.

When one of her sisters and her husband invited her to their 50th wedding celebration, she refused to attend. “Why would anyone want to celebrate being married that long?” she asked. When she and Uncle Frank had been married 50 years, she forbade her children or siblings to honor it in any way.

At every age, she was still a force to be reckoned with. She told me once of going into the kitchen at her assisted living residence to show the cooks how to season their food correctly. Shortly after that I was given a change of address for her, and I wondered if there were a connection.

The last few years, she was in one assisted living home and Uncle Frank in another. She was going to remain married to him till death parted them, but they were parted quite a bit by living across town from each other.

She was buried in Dyer next to her stillborn baby girl. We were unable to go, but my cousin and brother gave me a complete report. The present Dyer preacher preached it, reading many of her favorite scriptures. Of course he didn’t know her. Everyone was very sad and told stories about how wonderful she was. As one of her sisters said, “Evelyne planned trips and made us go all kinds of places we’d never have been if not for her!” True—to visit distant cousins in Missouri or the covered bridges of Indiana, for example.

Uncle Frank did not go to her funeral. That’s understandable, I guess, since he’s 92 and it was 450 miles away. But I thought their children would not want him to preach her funeral, because he’d be sure to say, in his most sonorous tones, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!” But not according to his children. In spite of everything, he maintained a strong love for her and is grieving her passing.

So I guess I got back to love and husbands after all.

2 comments:

Gail said...

Thanks for a delightful account of the memory of your aunt. It is always interesting to hear other people's perspectives. I love getting together with my cousins to share different memories. What is so amazing is that we all will have different perspectives of the same experience. It is as if we all have a different piece to share painting the picture of the experience. Thanks again!
I always enjoy your writing!

chrisd said...

She sounds like a force of nature. I'm sure she's found her peace at last. This tribute to your aunt was a delight but I am sorry for your loss, Lanita.

chrisd
from Chicago Write to Publish