Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Aunt Shirley and the Dees Women

Last weekend, my mom and I joined two of my aunts (Peggy and Patt) and a cousin (Susie) to spend a day cleaning my Aunt Shirley's house. As a child, I never imagined my feisty, sharp-tongued, hardworking aunt would ever need my help.

Here she is about three years ago along with my Uncle Bully.  (Yep, that's his name, and well-deserved!)

Now she suffers from a form of dementia. She has a lost look in her eyes. When my Mom told her I was along for the day, she asked me who I belonged to, though I spent many weeks at her home through the years. (The "who do you belong to" question is a common one among us cousins, but I've never been asked that by an aunt or uncle.)

But that's recent history.

Way, way, back, in rural south Georgia, there was a young woman who was one child of ten. She grew up in various places, mostly in and near Worth County. Her father was a sharecropper, and later worked on dairy farms.

There were lots of kids at home and not much - if any - money. But they always had clothes to wear and food to eat. My mom says she never felt deprived since they were like most everyone else around them. They were taught (mostly by example...and switches they selected themselves) fear God, work hard, and take care of family.

Aunt Shirley is the one on the back row, second from the left. Aunt Peggy is in the front on the left. My mom is in the front, far right. If you know my family, you'll see how much my niece looks like my mom here. (I love that about family: the resemblances pop up everywhere!)

I love this picture. I love that my older aunts (married, with kids of their own by then) are dressed as if for church, and my uncles look a little more casual, including the baby, Uncle Robert. All of them are fun, friendly people, which does NOT show up here. I guess having your picture taken was serious business in 1953!

Later, apparently bouffant hairdos were all the rage.

My Grandma Dees is seated, and from left to right are Mom, Aunt Shirley, Aunt Margaret, and Aunt Peggy.  I'm going to guess this is the late 60's since my Mom looked like this when I was born. I don't actually remember it, of course....I've seen pictures. ;-)

These women have had a lot of influence on my life and who I am today. A LOT!  Among a million other things....Grandma taught me to show hospitality and love through food; Mom taught me to value family; Aunt Shirley taught me to work hard; Aunt Margaret taught me to sacrifice for family; Aunt Peggy taught me the value of having someone who will always think you're perfect just the way you are.

That was the 50s and 60s. Here they are in the late 90s!

In the background is Aunt Shirley's house. I've always loved it.  It's sad to see it in disrepair now. I used to imagine how I would live in it someday.

That, of course, was before I realized that I'm not the fixer-upper type. Well, and that pesky little detail of actual ownership....

OK, one more picture. Here are Aunt Patt (a voluntary Dees by virtue of marrying my Uncle Wallace), Aunt Shirley, and my cousin Susie. This is at a baby shower for my sister. Since Grayson is almost 12 now, you can do the math.

It was Susie's idea for us to get together at Aunt Shirley's last weekend. She's a super hardworking wife and mom who has, by necessity, learned patience through life's challenges. And the woman is a cleaning machine! 

Many summers, my sister and I spent a week at Aunt Shirley's house. We helped pick vegetables from the huge garden (while whining), clean the house (while whining), hang laundry out on the line (while whining), shell peas (at least we got to sit down), and shuck corn (you guessed it - while whining). OK, before you judge, let me tell you there was no air conditioning in the house, and when you shuck fresh corn outside, the silks stick all over your sweaty self and there are WORMS!

A couple of those years, Susie came too. (I think she now goes by Susan, but she's still Susie to me!) Those were the special years, when we had someone else to help come up with new things to do. And as it turns out, when three little girls whine about shucking an entire truck bed full of corn, something magical happens and your uncle tells you to JUST GO AWAY! And, because you are little girls, you DO! And without one bit of guilt.

Anyway, although last Saturday at Aunt Shirley's was hard, it was also wonderful. I spent a whole day with some of my extended family. We worked together, laughed together, were sad together.  We shared a few meaningful glances and found that it's still hard to get much past Aunt Shirley. We remembered our times together, and worried about the future together. And that's the key; we were together

These days, when we are so busy just getting from one day to the next, we don't always take time to just be together. Cleaning and organizing is physical work, but we are quite capable of talking and catching up at the same time. And somehow, even if we aren't talking about deep, personal issues, we're still bonding. My Aunt Shirley didn't always know who I was throughout the day. But she knew that I was family. And that she is loved. 

Maybe that's the secret of Aunt Shirley and the Dees women. They aren't touchy-feely. They might not sit around and share their deepest thoughts, fears, and triumphs. They probably won't ask you, "How do you feel about that?" when you mention your latest struggle. But they will pray for you. They will come alongside you and will often offer practical help. Just know, if they offer advice, it's likely to be of the "buck up" variety. 

I'm glad I went to Aunt Shirley's last weekend. I hope I remember its lessons.

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