My cousin Hal sent me a couple boxes of family papers from my Aunt Betty, which I've started to go through this weekend. Betty was the secretary of her generation in the family, taking an organizing role in almost every family reunion (certainly in the first one in 1977) and producing with me a family newsletter for a few years. Of all her nieces and nephews, I was the only one to share her interest in our family genealogy (at least back in the 1980s), and it was a bond between us.
Going through these two boxes, full of books, notebooks of genealogical research, and photographs raises many memories - of the people in the photos, and of seeing the photos themselves. The larger photo above I remembered very well, and the people in it. Uncle Jim and his sister Aunt Fannie had died by the time I arrived on the scene, but my Granny Dimmick and her sisters Johnnie, Kate, and Lal I remember very well. (Aunt Valda I must have met twice or thrice on visits to Lake Charles, but I recall her vaguely.)
Granny could fill a book on her own; she and Grampa moved in next door to us when I was only a year old, so my sister and I had the rare privilege of grandparents who were immediately available. When I see these photos, though, I think more of visiting Aunt Lal and Aunt Kate at their big old house on Moss Street, not far from our church. By the time I knew them they were both widows and shared this home together.
Their house was what we think of as a traditional Southern house: tall, white clapboards, with tall wooden Corinthian columns and a veranda. For a little boy who liked nice things and who still had a bit of a taste for exploration, there was much to discover. We always seemed to enter through the side door right into the back parlor, which Aunt Kate and Aunt Lal used most as their living room. Painted a rich dark green over white (you could see the swipes of the paintbrushes - I always liked that) there were two white oval bookcases with big shells on top on either side of the entrance to the dining room. The front parlor had a small television in it (I don't ever remember it on), topped with a photo of Kate's daughter's bridal party, and also a Victorian settee upholstered in the softest burgundy velvet you can imagine. At one family gathering one night I remember lying on that sofa, loving the feel of that velvet against my cheek, watching and listening to all the grownups in the back parlor, the bright lights and the laughter. (My family is good at laughter.)
In the square front hall under the square burgundy-carpeted staircase, round portraits of George and Martha Washington. Granny and her sisters were always very proud of our family connection to the Father of Our Country through their mother's family.* Daughters of the American Revolution, each and every one.** Upstairs, a very long corridor with the front balcony at one end and a secret staircase at the other. That screened-in balcony might have been my favorite place in the house. There was an abandoned purple armchair up there, impregnated with dust, and I loved to beat the dust out of it. The secret staircase was really just a disused backstairs with a pile of rubbish at the bottom. I remember a small American flag there that Aunt Kate let me keep. Upstairs you could walk almost the length of the house without going into the hall because the bedrooms all had walk-through closets. One of them had a window - a window in a closet! I always thought closets were completely dark, not like rooms themselves with windows.
But the most exciting novelty of the whole house was the elevator. An elevator in a house! Aunt Lal was an invalid, and the elevator was installed for her. (Why they didn't make the front parlor into a bedroom I'll never know - surely that would have been more economical.) Whether getting to ride in it, closing the folding cage door or holding down the buttons, or just watching it go up and down was a real thrill. If you were on the second floor watching it descend, you'd see the little platform on the roof stop in place at floor level, to keep anyone from falling through the shaft. That elevator never ceased to fascinate us.
The Evans girls grew up together in the boardinghouse their mother Alice Vivian Trotter Evans ran in New Orleans, so they were all of them used to having a lot of people around right from childhood. Aunt Kate once told me that there might be 40 people in the parlor after dinner: her parents, the seven children (and I will probably get the order wrong: Bess, known as Sister; Jim, Fannie, Mary Ella, Lal, Johnnie, and Kate), and around 30 boarders (often medical students at Tulane). Aunt Kate told me that they'd keep their places as long as possible, because as soon as anyone made a move to stand up there'd be a chorus of "While you're up, can you get me . . . ?"
Certainly my granny was happiest with at least a dozen people in the room, preferably three dozen. You could tell by the way she smiled.
I can tell that going through these boxes is going to bring up a lot of memories.
*Long story short (too late!), George's first cousin Catherine Washington married Col. Fielding Lewis of Kenmore, Fredericksburg, and died giving birth to his son John. I haven't looked at the charts lately, but as I recall John's daughter married a Keeling Terrell (who was killed in a duel in 1812!), and their daughter married a Trotter. I think the Trotters were not the gentry the Lewises and Terrells were, but I really can't recall. I forget who it was who said "Gentility is what wealthy ancestors leave you when they don't leave you the wealth," but that's about right.
**Granny told me once that her mother told them "You may be white, but you ain't trash!"