I remember trying to milk a cow (with careful supervision and encouragement from Aunt Minnie), learning how to draw water from the well, watching in amusement (and some fear) while the cows came over to our car and tried to lick off the paint, and eating freshly churned blueberry ice cream. There was an old upright piano in the parlor which jangled and rattled out of tune. The parlor seemed stuffy and formal – not nearly as inviting as the sunny sitting room near the kitchen. The parlor belonged, somehow, to the memory of Aunt Shack, the sister who suffered for years from asthma and could never venture far out of doors.
Aunt Minnie was always in the garden tending to the plants and flowers. Her hands were gifted – for healing, massaging and soothing – and she was responsible for much of the physical beauty of the place. She could tell a story about every bush and tree in the garden, as it extended down toward the river. I remember how my father delighted in going on a walking tour with her on our visits, absorbing Minnie’s serene enjoyment of the land and everything that grew upon it.
Aunt Mary was more the scholar and intellect. She had studied to be a teacher and earned a college degree, but gave up her teaching career to raise her brother’s children. It has always seemed significant to me that Aunt Mary died (at 103, in 1981) on the same day my daughter was born. What conflicting emotions for my mother, to be thinking about the death and the birth, and simultaneous grief and joy!
My father was steeped in his Virginia heritage, too. He was
the youngest of five children, born (1915) and raised in Richmond,
Virginia. His mother, my Grandmother Dunc, had grown up in Lynchburg, and always maintained close ties to her kinfolk there. Dad’s father, “Daddy
Hull,” had grown up in Marion, in Southwestern Virginia. My father and his
siblings attended schools scattered around the state – Fork Union Military
Academy, Martha Washington College (Abingdon), Hampden Sydney College
(Farmville), and V.P.I. (Blacksburg). For my father there was not one place or town that incorporated “homeness,” but rather, the loose association of family homes and relationships scattered across the state. He loved to tell tales – about Ginter Park (climbing trees and delivering newspapers with his brothers), about catching a skunk at Camp Wallowatoola, and about summertime visits to Tazewell (Aunt Georgia), Staunton (Beverly Orchard), Blacksburg (Uncle Kent Apperson), Lynchburg and Amherst. I got the distinct impression that there were Apperson cousins in every town in Virginia