514 S. 6th Street, #3
“I like Jean’s version best,” said Uncle Jimmie. Aunt Jean had a gift for telling stories. They may have been filled with embellishments to brighten them up or exaggerated so the heroes became superhuman. I remember when she told us the story of Aunt Anne, who was being bullied every day by a slightly older girl. On the way to school, that girl would steal Aunt Anne’s lunch. My aunt would cry and go hungry. Then one day, she figured out how to stop this bully once and for all.
(Disclaimer: I do NOT recommend this idea for resolving any bullying or other issues.)
According to Aunt Jean, “The next morning, Aunt Anne went outside with two slices of bread, scooped fresh dog poop onto the bread, and made a sandwich. She wrapped it up tight, added it to her lunch bag, and off to school she went. When the bully came for her lunch, Aunt Anne begged, “Please don’t take my lunch today. It is a special one.” She cried like she always did. The bully grabbed it out of her hands and ran off. That was the last day the girl ever stole her lunch or bullied her.” It was stories like this that kept us in awe and in fear of her.
Aunt Anne was born in 1887. She lived at 514 throughout my mother’s childhood (1930s/40s) childhood and my childhood (1950s/60s) and until she died in 1977 at the ripe old age of 90. She was a flapper in the 1920s and led a fast life, earning a lot of money as a bookkeeper for a resort in West Palm Beach, until she lost husbands, daughter, and money in the Great Depression and returned to 514. Upon her return to Griffin, she turned to her Seventh Day Adventist religion. She put all her jewelry in the offering plate one Sunday to finance the building of her church in Griffin, releasing her from all worldly treasures. Regardless of her return to religion, she was still a feisty, tough old bird, whom no one crossed.
She drove a truck. She was the only woman I knew (as a child) who drove a truck. My brother Frank named her “Truckee,” and in the 1960s, the “Keep On Truckin’” pictures reminded us of her. Regardless of what life threw her, she fell back on her faith, and she kept on truckin. She wore a blue and white shift dress with a thin belt, hose with a line going up the back of them, and clunky black shoes. She walked quickly and with purpose.
We were at a convenience store once, and she saw teens buying cigarettes. She put her items onto the counter and followed them out of the store, “Don’t smoke. They are sinful and bad for you. Get rid of them.” Out of respect they said they would try to quit, and humbly went on their way. On a side note, I’d hate to think of how she’d be treated if she tried that in today’s climate of “me, me, me.” We were afraid of her because she’d call out anything that could be considered a sin or a lie (Mom said Aunt Anne could see right through you). Her corrections were curt and swift, and those she caught were never let off the hook.
Aunt Jean was a foster child raised by a few members of the family, including Aunt Anne. After Mamoo’s husband passed, Aunt Anne took on the responsibilities for raising Jean at 514. Jean was two years older than my mother, and they were the closest thing to siblings each other had. Aunt Anne treated Jean as her own and fiercely watched out for her. However, my mother grew up; Jean never did. Jean was always a teen at heart, and it took her many years to graduate, long after Mom was already in college.
My mother, in her autobiography wrote about this relationship in a story when she tried to mislead Aunt Anne to play with one of Jean’s toys. Here is her story in her words:
Jean had a darling little leather suitcase for doll clothes. I didn't have one. I asked Aunt Anne if I could play with Jean's. She said no. Embarrassed as being told No, I said, "Well, that's ok, I have one of my own, anyway."
"Where?" she said, knowing full well I didn't have one.
"In my trunk," I replied, hoping against hope that she would accept that answer. Of course she didn't, and she made me go to my trunk and, of course, I didn't have any. There was no joking about it or teasing me. I knew better than to lie again - at least to her.
All of us have family myths, legends, and stories that provide a sense of belonging, nostalgia, and love for family, well, at least most of the time. Storytelling was the way of sharing information long before anyone could read or write. The story of Passover is one of the earliest and best examples of passing important stories from generation to generation every year while celebrating the festival meal. Even the story of Christmas does this with its pageants and family gatherings. In the past, instead of television, the children gathered by elders and listened to their stories. These were shared with their children, their children’s children, and on and on. Family history was passed on from generation to generation through the spoken word, and if some were lucky enough to save letters, diaries, and writings, at least some of these stories remain.
Yet, it seems to me that the storytellers of today are not the families and their traditions, but the television shows, history channel, and movies. Hollywood has replaced the storyteller. Although people can learn the stories of old, the personal element seems to be missing, that of a grandparent telling the family stories to the next generation or siblings sharing stories told with the younger ones. When families gather today, do the youth entertain themselves with the television or the stories found in their games, or do they ask their loved ones to share their stories? Do they go out and play, or do they spend time with the elders?
At 514 S. 6th Street, our elderly relatives shared stories of each other and generations past when we visited their home, where the television was rarely on, and books were aplenty. We’d sit with Mamoo, Aunt Anne, Aunt Bess, Grams, and Aunt Jean, and they’d share the stories as we made cookies or sewed dresses.
We heard the story about how upon his deathbed, preteen John Rufus, the youngest of the Segraves children of Ada and Rufus Eugene saw Jesus and called out to him, “I’m coming, Lord! I’m coming, Lord!” as he died. It gave the family the hope they needed on that dark day.
Ada had asthma and had gone to help a neighbor fight a fire. She came home and died, leaving seven children. John Rufus was a year old then. She was always one to help when needed, and in this case, she died the hero of the family. She was loved by all.
The farm (on S. 6th Street Extension) was too much for her widower with seven children, so he moved the family to a house in town, then moved to 514, where it had a front room off the porch that was his watch repair shop. One of his quirks that survived him was his affinity for buying insurance on everything. Mom found all sorts of policies on all sorts of belongings, including a barber’s chair that belonged to my great grandfather, in the papers found around the house.
This family saved paperwork, letters, bills, contracts, and even receipts. These tidbits left behind became storytellers, too.
Yet, many stories died with the relatives. Maybe in the case of my grandmother and her struggles, that’s all for the best. However, some of these stories reared their ugly heads with the discovery of Uncle Albert’s letters. Regardless, each story that makes its way into the next generation creates a legacy of the past for the future. As the generations carry on, fewer and fewer stories are left, but preserving them helps us understand the people, their motivations, and ourselves.
I’m wondering where our storytellers are today. It seems the current generation has not had the opportunities to hear of the struggles of the past. Perhaps people are too far apart. Maybe it will take making time to visit with those who have the stories while they are still alive. Maybe it will take compiling the letters, writing them down, or putting them in a blog.
Maybe it’s time to visit with those who hold the stories, interview them, record them, and save the stories before they, along with the former generations are permanently gone.
Thank you to my brother Peter, one of the storytellers. Not only does he tell a good story, he spent voluminous hours sifting through, compiling, organizing, and typing all the documents he could decipher. Thank you to my mother, another one of the storytellers, who left her stories on the computer for us to find. Thank you to those who took the time to share the stories of those who have gone before, but whose voices still remain.