When I heard that, right away I got to thinking about my Aunt Annie Southerland. Not that she reminded me of a black bear. Actually she resembled her old tomcat, Pharoah: compact and lithe, with a wild mane of white and black hair and a feisty way of dealing with the world. She was a beauty too, and loved a sassy joke.
Aunt Annie never caught the traveling bug. A trip from her cozy brick home in the suburbs of Kinston, to Duplin County with her husband, James, (Mama’s brother) whom she lovingly called Mr. Southerland, was about as far as her Gypsy inclinations carried her.
When really got her dander up was recalling the story of her maiden cousin, Ruby Mae, who went sashaying off to Italy hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pope and wound up having her bottom pinched by a most friendly, Italian gent.
However, Aunt Annie…..
There were few exceptions to Aunt Annie’s reluctance to travel. But she did make one trip to Atlanta with four of her six sisters; they all hopped on the southbound overnighter to make a short visit to Atlanta, mainly, to see: “Gone With the Wind.” They were afraid the film might not last long enough to reach Kinston, what with Clark Gable whipping out things like; “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn!”
Years later, Aunt Annie did make plans to go see her youngest daughter graduate from college. But that didn’t work out. A week before graduation, Sugar up and married a man, who looked as fine as Clark Gable; and they moved right on to New York.
Her sisters worried about Sugar being homesick, but Aunt Annie, still wouldn’t budge. Having lots of fun, wish you were here. This card almost did it! Almost: Still Uncle James couldn’t persuade her: despite threats to go without her. No matter, because Sugar, being a chip off her mama’s block was back home before the dishes had been unpacked and “nary a thank you note written.”
Aunt Annie just didn’t cotton to folks who insisted on tottering about the world.
She’d mumble when someone dared remind her what a great time ‘so and so’ was having in Florida. Or her hoity-toity sister, Essie, when Essie decided to experience the joys of England.
The highlight of Aunt Annie’s day was the procession of folks who traipsed up her front walk to sit for a spell and chat. Uncle James said she had no need for a newspaper or a telephone, because news came straight to her. Daddy referred to her shady domain as, “Aunt Annie’s Throne Room.”
She did hear most of the news first hand. And although she wasn’t a gossiper herself, she would lend a “worthy suggestion,” now and then. To be perfectly honest Aunt Annie had a positive way of stirring up people, she inspired them, she made people think and act, but mostly she made people feel good. Aunt Annie loved a happy ending, and she certainly had no intention of going gently “into that good night.”
As I looked back with sweet nostalgia: I can still see that blessed lady, with her wild mane of hair flying in the breeze; bustling in and out of friend’s and family’s homes, a determined look in her eyes: cheerfully bearing the fruits of her labors. If degrees of greatness are measured, Aunt Annie surely tipped the scales.
Check up visits might be expected if you hadn’t shown yourself on the front porch in a reasonable time. “I declare, Laura must be having one of her spells,” she’d sigh. “ I reckon you’d better just drive me over Mr. Southerland. I’ll get my hat.”
Uncle James would put on his coat and tie and straw hat, nothing flashy, but elegant; and he’d leave with a smile on his face. Probably, because he’d long ago accepted just how much that stubborn woman really needed him.
Actually, my Uncle James was a happy, satisfied man, with a twinkle in his eye: married to a cantankerous woman that he loved better than molasses and biscuits. And situated right beside her, so close he could hold her hand, was one of those rocking chairs with his name on it.
“Goodnight Mr. Southerland.” “Goodnight Mrs. Southerland. I wouldn’t mind a little kiss. Hummmmph.”