Sunday, December 18, 2005
Great Aunts - Viola
On September 16 or 17, 1919 (no one is real sure), Viola and Iola were born in Mount Vernon, Georgia. According to Great-Aunt Letha, when the twins were but a few hours old, their mother gathered up all the children (including the newly-born) and went to the home of the woman with whom her husband was having extra-marital relations. I'm having trouble remembering how the story goes... either she stood peacefully outside and told the woman to send her husband home OR she snatched the heifer from her porch and whipped her ass. You know how legends go... they vary with the teller.
We call her Aunt Vee or Veola. She's only called Viola when Iola is referenced. Of her siblings, Aunt V has the most children, holding the record at six. It was once rumored that she aborted twins back in the day, but I find that a little difficult to believe. I mean hell... if you got six, what's two more? And Aunt V has always been a make a way kind of girl. For most of her life she struggled to make ends meet. From earliest childhood I remember she never had a lot of food in the refrigerator. I later found out it was because she always picked up what she was going to cook for dinner on her way home from her day job.
Having never learned to drive, she always rode public transportation or walked. Her walk has not changed much over the years. It remains very determined.. head down.. one arm swinging... purse swinging from the other (part Aunt Esther from Sanford and Son and part Clara from Too Wong Foo). During one of our large family functions, at least 25 years ago, she needed to get from one end of the room to the other. The only route was through a makeshift Soul Train line (which we still do). I can clearly recall her walking down the line in her usual fashion amidst shouts of "go Aunt Veola" from the sidelines. Hilarious!
Typical summer family gathering in the garage
(told you we still do it)
She worked hard all her life... Always kept a housecleaning gig, but in the 50s she became a nurses aide at a local hospital. She worked third shift, which meant she was nursing at night and cleaning houses during the day. As a result she would nod off anytime she was seated. I remember holiday functions where she would be at the table, surrounded by and engaged in lively conversation. She would fall into a light slumber but always awaken and rejoin the conversation as if she never left. Retirement has been hard on her. When I suggested she volunteer at the hospital.
"I need to get paid for what I do," she replied. She's still trying to get a job. She seems to think she can get a few hours sitting with "an old person." Is that not a laugh?
Aunt Veola, Aunt Letha, and Aunt Beulah moved into the Sea View Manor housing projects in the 1950s when they were newly built. My mother and her sister say that all the young cousins would gather at Aunt V's, which made sense because she had the most kids. My grandmother would make sure she fed her kids first and tell them not to eat at V's cause she didn't have a lot. They would eat anyway because no one can fry up some chicken backs and make a pot of beans and rice like V. And there was always enough. Back in the day she could also whip up the best potato salad and a mean macaroni and cheese. She's most proud of her sweet potato souffle. She likes to bring it with her on every special occasion. My aunt Jane eyes it suspiciously because she says Aunt Veola reminds her too much of Aunt Bethany from Christmas Vacation, who brought a jello mold made with cat food.
Aunt V is the most style conscious of the great aunts and, perhaps, the most vain. She is the only one who fully utilizes cosmetics on a daily basis. The rest will put on a little powder or "rouge" on very special occasions, but Aunt V beats her face DOWN everyday. Her applications are not always the best. The eyebrows are never consistent. Sometimes she's surprised... sometimes she's angry. It's a toss up. Her vanity runs so deep that this past Easter she told me she went to someone else's church because she didn't have anything new to wear to her own. She refuses to wear the same thing to the same place unless she can reinvent the outfit with alterations and new accessories AND it must be done several years after the initial wearing. The only exception is the family reunion. In its 36-year history, she has never repeated a family reunion outfit and she will pack a boutique for the trip. She has a costume jewelry shop at her house and the purse must ALWAYS match the shoes. I remember heated comments from Aunt Letha because she would need to bring at least three hats, each in their own box.
"V you can't bring all these damn hats in my car," Aunt Letha would say.
I don't recall a response from Aunt V, but we would be squeezed into the Oldsmobile with those hat boxes perched wherever they would fit.
In my lifetime she always had the reputation of being the sister not to mess with. For years, she kept a pistol in her bedroom closet. I think the reputation was solidified because she cut her son when he was in his late teens after he told her he wasn't gonna mop no damn floor. The story has many different accounts but the most consistent says that she was holding a butcher knife at the time and hit him across the back of the neck with the blade. When she was questioned by the authorities, her response...
"I shit him out and I'll send him back to Jesus."
45 years later he has a good-sized scar and he's by far the best behaved of her children. He will do anything in the world for his mama. He has a special place in her heart too. I believe his daddy was her great love. They sent each other holiday greetings for years and he would always include "a piece of money." She was clearly shaken when he passed away.
She is an avid gardener. Even now, at 86-years old, she must plant in the spring. She loves flowers. One year she created such a burst of color in the projects that the local newspaper commented. Not only did she plant outside her door and down her walkway, she spilled over into her neighbor's yard, Aunt Letha's who lived two doors down and the large path that led to the garbage dumpsters. All the neighborhood kids knew not to play around her flowers because she would tell them in the most colorful language. She also slapped one local mother who came to get after her for scolding her bad assed kids. She passed that love of gardening on to me. These days I sow the seeds and bring her plants from my garden. It's funny how roles reverse.
I truly believe I am her favorite nephew. At least she makes me feel that way. I just got off the phone with her and my head is swelled the size of the Hindenburg.
"You're so wonderful! I love you so much... You sang so beautiful at that funeral... You was sharp as a tack!"
She values me because I take the time to comment on her appearance. Sometimes I flirt with her. My opinion is the one she seeks when she dresses for a function. If she can reach me she'll say, "Come on over and check me out. Is my hair on right (The hair thing is another blog post unto itself)." I'll whip her into shape... get the hair on straight, even draw on the brows. there are some days where she runs out before I can get to her. She's still adorable.
Posted by Rodney ::
1:00 AM ::
Post or view comments