My cousins Nancy, Mary Ann and Theresa from Meridian MS and beyond came in the shop yesterday for a brief visit. I have not seem them in many years so always good to see family faces, familiar cheekbones, eyes and smiles. They brought me gifts. Press photos of my Great Aunts Neill and Jane, along with vintage newspaper clippings from the 1930s and ’40s. Along with all this was a stack of love letters that Jane and her husband Frank (Marine Corps General Frank Loomis) wrote to each other during their separation because of WWII – tissue-thin typewritten carbon copies, dated and numbered.
Both Aunt Neill James and Aunt Jane Loomis have been important to my existence – not just because they are my family – because they were strong courageous independent women at a time when women were encouraged by culture to be seen and not heard. Aunt Neill James was celebrated in her day (the ’30s & ’40s) as a writer, world traveler and amateur anthropologist of sorts, and I have written several essays about her life that have been published. She was my hero when I was a child. I did not get to know Aunt Jane until I was an adult and my husband Robert and I visited her, along with cousins Thomas and June Snowden, in San Diego in her home on Sunrise Circle. At that time, Jane was sinking into Alzhiemer’s and eventually needed an assisted living arrangement. Thus, Thomas and June stayed at length in Jane’s home to begin closing it up and settling where Jane’s and Frank’s belongings should go. While assisting them clean out the attic there, we found the stack of letters, still in envelopes and tied together. These were eventually stored in the Snowden’s home in Meridian. June has since passed from this world into the next and wanted me to have these letters.
Reading these letters was (and still is) somehow a feeling of violating Jane and Frank’s privacy. On the other hand, Jane saved these letters for a reason – perhaps to let the family know how they lived, what they did, where they traveled, and how much they loved each other. Like Neill, Jane was a world traveler and experienced cultures that most small-town girls (born in Gore Springs MS) did not.
Attic treasures. Threads of commonality. Story material.
What’s in YOUR attic?
On Dec. 23rd I left New Orleans around 4pm and entered a driving rainstorm on I-10, just as I got to the Huey Long Bridge. Cars were going about 25 mph because you could not see anything. The blackest clouds I’ve ever seen hovered above. I thought about turning back, but was caught in the line of traffic, so I drove on to I-55 up to Jackson MS to stay overnight with one of my daughters. I planned to go on to Memphis the next day and spend Christmas with my husband. Anyway, after 4.5 hours on the road in the rain and lightning (and I forgot to say I had a psychotic dog with me), I finally arrived at her house around 8:30pm. She had left the door unlocked for me and said she would be there in about an hour or so. I helped the dog, Abbey, from the back seat and grabbed my bag. The front door was indeed unlocked, so I walked through with my dog, dropped my bag on the chair, and let Abbey out into the back yard – after all, it was a long trip. She refused to go out in the rain so I had to force her out and go out with her. Suddenly the wind blew the back door shut. I reached for the doorknob in panic – yes, I was locked out. I am usually quite resourceful in times like these, so I looked for a way over the fence. I can knock on a neighbor’s door and ask them to call my daughter, I thought. No luck. The board fence was too high and I could not get a foothold on the narrow boards. I even dropped a table from the deck over the fence thinking I could drop over and land on the table. Well, I’m also 65 years old and the possibility of my breaking something is real. I had no idea where a gate was. It was on the other side of the yard, in a very dark corner. I fiddled with the gate latch and tried several times to open it. No luck there either. Lights were on in the backyard neighbor’s house. I grabbed a plastic paint lid, climbed on the narrow fence rail and peered over, then threw the lid so it hit the window of the family room in that house. Apparently no one was home because no one came to inspect the noise. Next I found a fire poker on the deck and pried off the screen of a window that looked unlocked. Trying hard as I could, I could not get the window up. I gave in to the fact that I was stuck outside in the rain and lightning with a panic-stricken dog. We hunkered down against the back door, getting soaked and cold. The dog shook with fear. I held her tight. I prayed. I thought. I wished and I cried with frustration. Temperature was dropping. About an hour and a half after I first arrived, my daughter and granddaughter came through the front door. At first they did not understand why I was outside knocking. When they opened the back door and saw Abbey and I wet and sad, they knew. My daughter made me hot tea while I took a comforting warm shower and put on dry clothes. I dried off Abbey and she flopped down on the carpet to sleep off the episode. Another day in the life of a fallible human, I thought.
I’m home in Memphis this Christmas Eve evening. We plan to go to the 11pm service at Saint John’s. While I was stuck outside last night I thought about the Christmas story. No room at the inn. A warm trough. I thought about my life over the past year. Living in two places. Taking a risk. Despite everything, I am grateful. Grateful for hot tea and warm clothes and a warm bed. Grateful for my family, my friends and my life.
What are you most grateful for?