Friday, July 25, 2014

Aunt Elsie and Denise

Mejol and I went to West Virginia to visit our Aunt Elsie and our cousin, Denise.

(Before that: my personal Fact Checker, Charles Dimmick, emailed to let me know the name of the restaurant we went to in Baltimore was the Paper Moon Cafe and sent their web page to prove it--and he was always. I often wonder how it would be to be 'right' as often as Charles. Of course, I will never know....)

Aunt Elsie is the only surviving child of Eli Jones and Lina Manona Sadler Jones, my grandparents. She was the sister of Cleo (my mother), Georgie (Mejol's mother) and Juanette (I can't be sure I spelled it right--it was pronounced 'Won-ett'). There were three sons in the midst: Ernest, who died as a child, Leon, who died in his teens, and Granger, who, along with his wife, Elsie May Taylor, sired 8 of my first cousins. (I always called her "Aunt Elsie May" to distinguish her from Aunt Elsie. How many people, I wonder, outside of Appalachia, have ever had two Aunt Elsie's?)

Denise is the only first cousin out of 18 who is younger than me. Aunt Elsie and Uncle Harvey adopted her when she was six or seven or so (remember, I have no concept of linear time!) I was 8 years older than her when that happened.

And here is something I believe devoutly: Denise was the best thing that ever happened to Aunt Elsie and Uncle Harvey. They were devout members of the Nazarene Church--my Uncle Harvey was a Pilgrim Holiness minister until something I was never told about happened, something about doctrine, I would imagine, knowing those two denominations, drove him to the Nazarene Church. They were incredibly strict and doctrinal. No TV in their house. No tolerance for smoking, drinking, dancing, short-sleeves for women, hair not in a bun for women (a lot of stuff for women that was almost radical Islamic). I used to go, as a child, to spend a week with them. Before we went to bed, we got on our knees in the living room and prayed for a long period of time.

Denise untied the knot of all that. Oh, it was terrible when it was happening, for all of them. But she, in a way, brought them into the 20th century and into a kinder, gentler kind of Christianity. And now, when Aunt Elsie is 89 (if my math is right) Denise lives with her and makes her life so good by doing what Aunt Elsie can't do for herself.

Denise has a bi-racial daughter named Lavonza, who came over when we were there with some of the best chicken salad I've ever eaten. I'd only met her once or twice before.Yet she hugged me and kissed my cheek like we were the closest of relatives. She works for a Jobs program and just got a promotion. She is beautiful--40 pounds lighter she would be 'fashion model beautiful'. And she is delightful--charming, funny, engaging--and obviously loves her mother and grandmother profoundly. Denise is divorced from a man that is not Lavonza's father. So the three of them are a Trinity of women, who, from my brief time with them, have found the best of life out of what might have been the worst of life.

It was a joy and privilege to be in the midst of this three generation family of women for a few days. They are my 'family', though I've seen them very little for decades. But for those three days, I felt embraced by them, as if no time had passed since our last meeting, as if 'blood' is all that mattered, even if the 'blood' wasn't literal.

When I was growing up, I thought Aunt Elsie was one of the smartest people I knew. All these years later, given all the smart people I have met over time, I still believe that. I often, often questioned her opinions and still do, but not because her opinions aren't 'smart', just because smart people can disagree.

The trip to West Virginia jerked me back in time to who I was decades ago. And who I am now was not disappointed with that person I used to be. Family stories I knew and was glad to revisit were told and some stories I didn't remember or didn't know came forth. All of it made me, and this is hard to explain, 'more Me' than I had been before the visit.

I'll write more later about this journey into the past and into a new present. Just not any more tonight.

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.