Upon the occasion of a family emergency I found myself wondering why I turned out one way rather than the other, why I deal with things the way I do, and why it would never occur to me to run screaming into the night like Prissy in Gone With the Wind.
All I can say is I'm lucky enough to be related to these three women, my great-aunts: Lucy, Onie, and Addie.
These are three of the toughest women ever born. Never, in all the time I knew them, did I ever see them back down from any person, place or thing. Never even a blink in the face of adversity. Just "figure out what needs to be done, and do it."
Aunt Lucy, on the left, was an English teacher, old school, meaning not only did she expect papers turned in on time but she also expected they would be brillant and creative - anything less was a sinful waste of paper and graphite. She taught high school, and eventually married one of her students, a year after he graduated, remaining married to him for over sixty years. She became the historian in the family, ferreting out all the little generational details, to the point of visiting the chieftain of the clan in Scotland -no call to warn him, just marched up to the front door and introduced herself. Like any mountain girl, she figured they were cousins, so it was okay.
The woman laughing in the middle is my Aunt Onie. Her full name was Leona, but she was so tiny, it was shortened to Onie from the beginning. I have no memory of her when she wasn't laughing. She became an English teacher too (the family is riddled with them), famous for reading her students papers and then arguing the contents with them in class. Her greatest love was debate - what viewpoint you held was unimportant. What mattered was that you were able to present your reasons for holding that position, and discuss the pros and cons. She waited late to marry, with the ceremony performed in the parlor of the family farm, leaving immediately afterwards for her new home across the state in Newport News. A year later, she and her husband were in a horrific car accident on an icy winter road. He died instantly and she suffered an injury that would cause her to have a pronounced limp the rest of her life. She continued teaching, but never remarried. When she died forty years later, she was buried beside the man she had only known for a year and a half.
On the right is Addie, short for Adeline Virginia Magruder- being the oldest girl she inherited all the family names and ancestral history. Although the entire family was nothing more than a pack of rabid devoted Roosevelt Democrats, Addie was the most rabid of all. She served as County Chairman of the Party, then Southwestern State Section Chairman all the while writing letters directly to FDR discussing his New Deal. College-educated like the rest of the children, she had no tolerance for willfully ignorant people, and a great belief in the ability of the American people to accomplish anything they put their minds to. She inherited a love of horses from her father, and established a stable of Tennessee Walkers that was the envy of local horsemen. She chose not to marry, remaining on the farm after my great-grandfathers death to watch over her mother. After my great-grandmother's death, Addie maintained the family homestead, supervising and hiring crews of men to work the fields during harvest. One of the great family mysteries is a shooting that took place involving Addie and one of those hired men. I found the letters that flowed between the other siblings as to what to do, and they are very careful to refer only to generalities. The gun disappeared, as well as the court records.
So what did I inherit? Love of family and its history, being a Democrat, knowing when to laugh and how to debate politics.
Most importantly: never back down, and do what you have to do.