When we checked into a Motel 6 last night and turned on the TV, sure enough, it was everywhere. CNN, BBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX. It reminded me of the death of Princess Diana so long ago … what a memorable ending to our summer vacation …
~ o ~
Visiting with Aunt Evelyn in Virginia,
on Sunday, June 21st, she told this story ...
Blanche was the fifth of eight girls and she was always Daddy’s favorite. We all knew she was Daddy’s favorite, too. She was tallest at five feet ten inches. She was prettiest with auburn hair and hazel eyes while the rest of us had plain brown hair and eyes. And, she was always the smartest. You could tell after just a few minutes of conversation with her how intelligent she was. She knew things no one else seemed to know even though she’d never been to college. Although I don’t remember her as a book worm, I remember she loved to read. She read magazines and newspapers and trashy novels (when Mama wasn’t looking) as well as classics like “Jane Eyre.” And, she loved “Gone With The Wind.”
She had great style. It never mattered what she wore, from slacks and flats to a dress and heels; she knew how to accessorize and she did it splendidly and on a very small budget. I remember one time she came to my apartment when I first married and, as we talked, she moved a lamp from one table to another and a pillow from the sofa to a chair and the place looked better somehow. That’s what I mean about her having style. Every place she ever lived was nice, even if it was just an efficiency apartment. And, every outfit she ever wore was well put together, like in a fashion magazine.
I was the number six sister and Blanche was my best friend as well as my favorite sister. She taught me how to dance when I was eleven years old … the waltz, the fox trot and the jitterbug … and even though she was tall, she was the most graceful woman I ever knew.
Our father was a lot older than he let on. Mama was his fifth wife and it wasn’t until his final days that we learned how old he really was. You see, they didn’t keep track of birth dates then as they do now, so he was able to get away with lying about his age. He came from Naples, Italy around 1905-1906 as a young man and we think that was when he changed his age. When he died in 1957, the doctor said he was at least a hundred years old. I traced our family tree in the 1970s and learned that he was really closer to 110. He was about forty years older than Mama.
You might ask how I know Blanche was Daddy’s favorite child. Well, it had to do with his car. When I was 12 and Blanche was 15, Daddy let her drive his car. I remember, because I got to ride in the back seat. He never, ever let anyone else drive his car. Our older sisters still living at home at the time, Marguerite, Lillian and Doris, were never permitted to drive Daddy’s car. But, Blanche was allowed. She was allowed to do a lot of things that the rest of us never were. Which leads me to tell you this …
When Blanche was 16-years-old, Mama sent her away to a catholic convent somewhere in North or South Carolina. She sent her away because Blanche was pregnant. She gave birth to a boy and I never knew what happened to him.
I was almost 13 at the time this was happening and I didn’t really understand what was going on. But, I knew that Mama was making a mistake sending Blanche away. And, for the first time in my life I talked back to my mother and told her what she was doing was wrong. I got my face slapped more than once for “talking back.” Of course, she didn’t listen to me. I was young and naïve and I adored by older sister. Yet, I knew what Mama was doing was wrong, wrong, wrong! And, I knew it would change my sister forever. And, it did.
When Blanche came back, she was almost eighteen and she was changed. She wasn’t the free spirited sister who taught me how to jitterbug. She was quieter and seemed more serious about everything. We remained close throughout her life, but she was never the same. And, neither she nor Mama ever spoke about it again.
After they married, Blanche was eager to start a family. She had you almost two years after their wedding, but she really wanted a son. And, she did finally have a son when you were just two. But he lived just three weeks and he died in his mother’s arms. Then, they adopted Jimmy. I never understood the way your mother treated you and Jimmy. He could do whatever he wanted and she acted as if he were a little prince. You? I can’t tell you how many times I stopped her from beating you when you were a little girl. She seemed to hate you at times. Maybe it was because of your dad, George. He had a lot of problems, for sure, but he always had time for you. I don’t know if you will remember, but he took you with him many times and left Jimmy with your mom. I think he did it to protect you. And, maybe she was jealous of that. He had another son with another woman in Wilmington before he knew your mother, and maybe she felt like she had to compete with that child and his mother. For you, there was no competition. You were the only girl.
The night you were born, Dr. Phipps came into the waiting room to talk to your dad and he told him that your mother was doing fine and he had a baby girl. All George said was, “Well, at least she won’t have to go to war.” It wasn’t too long after your birth that he left the army with an honorable discharge and joined the Hopewell police force. I think he was worried he’d get sent away and didn’t want to leave you. If you look at the photos your mother took of you as a baby with your dad, you can see he adored you. I wouldn’t be surprised if your mother was jealous of that, too.
I don’t know how you grew up to be as sensible and stable as you are. I was amazed that you made it through high school with all that happened with your mom and dad. I’ve wanted to tell you about this for a long time, but I didn’t know if you could handle it. I hope you can handle it now.