I recently read the book, “Steve Jobs. The Man Who Thought Different”. It had some good insights on the highs and lows at Apple Computer . It also showed the good and the bad of Steve Jobs. He often spoke about how things in our past connected the dots that shaped our future. One of the dots in my past was my Aunt Edna.
Edna Earl Johnson was born in Sparta, GA in 1917. She wasn’t a famous person or someone that you were likely to read about. But when I was a kid she was always there when we visited Sparta. She loved all her nieces and nephews and frequently rode us around in a wheel barrow, talked to us like we were adults and not just silly kids, and seemed to love having us there. During WWII she and my Aunt Mildred worked in a munitions plant. They were true Rosie the Riveters. They were also both tough women who weren’t afraid of a few bombs. After the war she got her beauticians license and worked in a small beauty shop in Harlem, GA. There was a black and white photo of her hanging on the wall of a small storage room in the house showing her standing next to her chair in the beauty shop. She was unsmiling but stood straight and proud, dressed in her white beautician’s uniform. Her hair was jet black and she was a beautiful woman. By the time I was old enough to remember her she was much older and had become slightly gray but I still thought she was beautiful. She left her job at the beauty shop to take care of my grandmother who was suffering from cancer. In those days you didn’t stick an ailing relative in a nursing home and hope for the best. You took care of them and kept them at home. Even when it meant you had to give up your own life for a little while. She never complained either. Even when, ten years later, she again had to readjust her life to take care of my grandpa.
Edna never married. I asked her one time, right after my own divorce, why she had never settled down and had children. We were sitting at the big kitchen table sipping on beers. Aunt Edna drank hers with a straw in the can. She thought about it for a minute and told me that she had just never found anyone that she wanted to put her cold feet up against at night. We talked a little about my divorce and how heartbroken I was. She made few comments but she still managed to make me feel better. Maybe it’s because she listened. So often we try to think of the right thing to say to someone who is suffering. Instead we should just listen to them and let them know we’ll be there for them if needed. Edna knew this and I’m forever grateful to her for doing this for me.
Edna and I both shared a love for reading. The nights in Sparta were long and dull. My grandpa had the only TV in the house in his bedroom and he would turn it off and go to bed after he watched “The Lawrence Welk Show”. This left us kids with almost nothing to do the rest of the evening. She always saved her books for me to read. Usually it was a Perry Mason mystery and I devoured them all after the TV was turned off. I still love Perry Mason and even have several copies of those books now. Every time I read one I think of her and the hot summer nights in Sparta. I would sit in a rocking chair reading and occasionally watching her iron clothes. She would pull out the ironing board and set it up in the bedroom. A lone light bulb hung from the ceiling and it also had the only electric outlet in the room. She would reach way up and plug the iron into the ceiling fixture. I still think this is a good idea because you don’t have to worry about the cord getting in the way.
She was also an animal lover. There were always all kinds of dogs running around the yard in Sparta. Her particular favorite was a Manchester named Patty. Patty was a mean little dog that was quick to bite if you happened to walk by her. She often hid under a table and would bite the heels of unsuspecting victims that walked by. I remember her getting my dad a time or two. If you were dumb enough to retaliate back at Patty you were sure to face the wrath of my aunt. Patty was her baby and she didn’t let you forget it either. Patty eventually got old and feeble. Edna realized she was in constant pain so she took her to the vet to see if he could help. The vet told her that Patty was suffering and needed to be put to sleep because it was the humane thing to do. Edna thought about it and reluctantly agreed. A few days later he asked one of the family members to give Edna’s check back to her because there was no way he was going to cash it. On the memo line she had written, “For killing my beloved Patty.” He knew if he cashed it no one in small town Sparta would ever again trust him with any of their animals. She buried Patty at home and you can still see the little grave. Aunt Edna had a granite headstone placed on it. Like I said before, Patty was her baby.
After my grandpa died Edna stayed in the old house that my great-grandfather had built with his own hands. Due to limited space I usually slept with my aunt when we visited. I had a bad habit of sleeping on the edge of the old feather mattress. Of course the feathers would mash down and I would go tumbling out of the bed onto the hard wood floor. It was a very rude awakening. There were several times when I woke up to find she was pulling me away from the edge of the mattress. Looking back I doubt she slept much when I was there.
A couple of times workmen mistakenly thought she was an easy target and they would try to pull the wool over her eyes. One event that stands out in my mind was when she had the roof repaired on the house. The roofer dropped his hammer and broke one of the windows. He climbed down from his ladder when he was finished with the roof and told my aunt he would drop by the next day to fix her window. My aunt merely nodded and left him to gather up his tools. When he went to his truck to leave he noticed the truck doors were locked and he didn’t have the keys. In fact he had left them in the ignition of the truck with the windows down and the doors unlocked. He called out to Edna and asked her if she knew where his keys were. She bluntly told him they were in her pocket. Still thinking she was a gullible old lady he sweetly asked her to give them to him so he could go home. She bluntly told him she would give them to him the next day after he fixed her window. Of course this enraged the man and he called the police. He listened politely while the workman raged on about his keys. Then he asked the policeman just what he was going to do about it. He replied, “ I guess I’m going to give you a ride into town to get some glass so you can fix her window because she’s not going to give them back to you if I don’t”. They went to town, got the glass, and he repaired her window. She handed him his keys back and he went on his way. She knew he would never return to fix the window so she just made sure it was done before he left that day. I don’t think I would have the courage to do this although at times I wish I did.
There was another instance where she woke up one night to find a man crawling through her bedroom window. She always kept a gun under her pillow. My uncles use to say that one night she was going to turn over in bed and blow her head off. She raised up in bed with the gun pointed and then realized the man was a neighbor who had gotten drunk and mistook her house for his own. Instead of shooting him she called his wife to come and get him. She told me later that she figured his wife would punish him enough after she got him home so she didn’t bother to call the police. She was an excellent shot and could hit anything she aimed at. This fellow was lucky. My cousins and I use to say that the prison, which was located a few miles from the house, had posters on the fence with her picture holding a gun. We joked that underneath the picture would be a caption that said, “If you escape you will meet this woman and she will kill you ”. There was never an escape attempt when she was living.
Edna didn’t suffer fools lightly. One day my dad and I were sitting in the living room watching TV with her when the phone rang. She reached over and picked it up. A few seconds later she yelled into the phone, “No there isn’t anyone here by that name. What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know how to dial a damn telephone? Well I guess you do have the wrong number!” She slammed the phone down and continued watching TV. My dad and I just looked at each other in stunned silence. I doubt that person ever called anyone again.
I could go on and on with “Aunt Edna” stories. But the thing I remember most about her is how important family was to her. She was always there when you needed her and I think she was happy. She taught me that it’s okay to be a strong, independent woman. I also learned that the world doesn’t end if you speak your mind. Especially if it’s an unpopular opinion.
She’s been gone for several years along with my uncles and several of my other aunts. I don’t go to many family reunions because the people that I most want to see aren’t there anymore. I wish I could go to Sparta and see her still sitting on the old front porch swing fanning herself with a Church fan, a stack of mystery books on the hall table and her buttermilk biscuits on the stove. I would even put up with Patty nipping at my heels while I walked by a table. I would love to see her playing with my grandchildren, riding them around in the wheelbarrow, giving them fresh Georgia peaches, and talking about how much they’ve grown. They would have loved her.
When you’re young it seems like you’ll live forever. It’s only after we’ve grown older that we realize we are only a small blip in time. It’s as if you blinked your eyes and the old familiar things are gone forever.
I hope everyone is fortunate enough to have a ‘dot’ in their life like my Aunt Edna. If they’re still living cherish them and tell them how much they mean to you. I feel very blessed to have known someone that also "thought different".