“There is something in the pang of change, more than the heart can bear, unhappiness remembering happiness.”–Euripedes
“Sometimes you have to accept the fact that certain things will never go back to how they used to be. Life goes on.”–Unknown
As a young girl, the first death that I remember was Great, Great Aunt Mandy. Although there had been previous deaths within my family, I had been far too young to remember the grieving process and the funerals that go along with that. My mom tells me that Great, Great Aunt Mandy, Amanda Crockett Walker, was my Grandmother’s mother’s sister who had lived in Portsmouth, Ohio at one point in her life, but when her husband and two sons died, my Grandmother moved Mandy to a senior living apartment in Flatwoods, KY to allow her to be closer to family. I recall Mandy visiting my immediate family’s home for a Thanksgiving dinner once, and I also remember interacting with her on a number of occasions at my grandparent’s house.
My memories of Mandy are somewhat murky as I was still quite young. She smelled, to my child-like perspective, like an “old person,” an impression that it is hard to elucidate other than to say it’s a storage-closet type scent, combined with the aroma of talcum powder and bar soap. Her long grey hair was always gathered in a bun at the nape of her neck; and, her body, and skin, were soft and loose. She lived a modest life, and, as best I can recall, she was quiet, gentle, and seemed content to look and listen to surrounding conversation. However, my further impression of her was that even though her vision was not great, her awareness was sharp, keen, and highly observant.
Great, Great Aunt Mandy’s dresses (no trousers for her) appeared to be simple, homemade frocks–at least to my childish impression. She was regarded in the family for her sewing and quilting as well as for regularly reading her large print Bible. Unfortunately, many of my memories of Mandy, and this time period of my life, are intermixed–much in the way my grandmother’s vegetable soup was a jumbled assortment of leftover vegetables all tossed together and cooked into a muddled, savory scent of past meals.
This is Great, Great Aunt Mandy at my childhood home for Thanksgiving. Neither the first picture (L), nor the second picture (far R), are of great quality, but I still wanted to include her in this remembrance.
Sadly, one of my strongest memories of Great, Great Aunt Mandy was being pulled out of school early to attend her funeral. This was a big deal, not only for the obvious reason of missing school, but also because I would be riding in a limousine! I had never before ridden in such a fancy car, and in my young girl’s mind, it seemed like a grand adventure.
Honestly, I recall very little of the limo ride or the funeral. However, I do distinctly remember riding in the back of the limo through the small town of Flatwoods, KY on our way to the cemetery, and I was astounded by the amount of traffic, well, as much traffic as this small town could have had in the 1970s. It struck me as odd for two reasons. The first was the new understanding that even though I might be in a school all day long, life continued moving, never pausing, outside the walls of our school building. Furthermore, and even more striking, was the fact that even though Great, Great Aunt Mandy’s life had ended, life was going on without her. This poignant lesson has since occurred to me through each and every loss or traumatic event.
Again, not the best quality of pictures, but as you can see in the pictures, she was married in 1915 in Raceland, KY, the hometown for my parents, their parents, and so many of my relatives. Raceland, KY, to this day, is near and dear to my heart.
For example, I could not believe that life could carry-on during the fateful day of the 9-11-01 attacks. Cars continued to drive past the school in which my husband and I worked, and yet, we were very aware of the devastation of that day. Why wasn’t time standing still out of respect?
Great, Great Aunt Mandy’s boys. I look at this picture and feel sad knowing that each one left the bounds of this Earth before her. I am so grateful Grandmother moved her closer to family once they had passed.
When a beloved teacher retired from an elementary school in which I not only worked, but had also been a student, I recall thinking that our school would never be the same. How could our school continue without this formidable force of instruction guiding the way for the rest of us? The following year, staff members occasionally recalled her, expressing how she was missed, how she would have responded to this new policy, or that type of behavior, but with each passing year, as more new staff entered, and other staff left, her memory grew more faint until now, I would imagine, no one at the elementary even remembers her. Even now, my own memories of this once gigantic influence in my professional and personal life (She was teaching when I was a student at this school.) are clouding in the way a sunny day is steadily overtaken by an overcast day with the gradual gathering of grey.
More pictures of Great, Great Aunt Mandy and her boys.
Despite the fact that I currently live beside a major state route, there are no nearby businesses, and thus, since the beginning of our COVID-19 quarantine, there has been a drastic reduction in traffic near our home. Additionally, working from home feels like a bubble–get up, sit in front of the laptop for seemingly hours on end, answer emails, grade papers, hold virtual meetings, and never leave our house as most information and communication now comes to us.
Driving to a nearby walking path recently, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of traffic zipping to and fro on the main roads. Suddenly, and with great clarity, my early memory of driving through Flatwoods in a limousine for the funeral of my Great, Great Aunt Mandy came back full circle with a crashing realization. Memories, not only of the limo ride, but of Mandy and her peaceful, unpretentious, calm spirit.
Life is going on in spite of COVID-19, just like it did on the day we buried my Great, Great Aunt. How we live, interact, and move is changing, evolving, and adapting in real time, but life continues on. Soon, COVID-19 will be a memory, and eventually it will be a blip on the radar of history, like the shooting of Lincoln, the trench wars of the first World War, the rise of Hilter, the shooting of JFK, the Cold War . . . .
Meanwhile, Mandy’s memory will most likely pass once I am gone, but the lesson of her funeral drive is eternal.
My Dear Readers, you won’t be housebound and/or restricted forever. You won’t be eternally labeled as essential or nonessential; and, hopefully, you won’t always have to worry about finding supplies such as toilet paper and disinfectant wipes. Life goes on. Life continues, and eventually all of these memories, like my grandmother’s vegetable soup, will all merge into one collective.
Have faith. Honor and learn from the past, but don’t cling to it. Trust that the Creator of Life will allow this event to serve a purpose–even greater than my remembrance of my humble Kentucky aunt. Above all, rest in the knowledge that nothing lasts forever, not even a virus, and you are not alone as we navigate this new terrain.