The columnist before me
October 17, 2018
When my Aunt Sylvia died a few months back, down in Alabama, I wrote of my sadness in her departure in a column not long after.
An interesting twist of losing one aunt was reconnecting with my other, living, aunt and the closeness that cropped up.
Aunt Vicki is the much younger sister of my mother and Aunt Sylvia. She really didn’t live with either when they lived at home. Both had left the nest when she was a very young child due to the 15-16 year age difference.
My best memories of Aunt Vicki are in the summer she came to live with my mother and stepfather and, more or less babysat, me and my sister. I think we were about nine and eight, respectively. She taught us songs so we could give a concert to my folks and Aunt Vicki took us to learn to ride horses. I can’t say it was every week, but it was a lot and I have never been scared to ride horses because she exposed to me to them at a young age.
Over the years, we didn’t stay in contact much.
More my fault than hers. I was often in other countries and hard to get in touch with. I know she was an art teacher in the Alabama school system until she retired and that she is happily married.
She visited me once in Carbon County well over a decade ago with my mother. Aunt Vicki impressed me with her kind Southern demeanor. I was happy to be related to this genteel personality.
Flash forward to when we talked after my Aunt Sylvia died a few months ago.
Aunt Vicki had soothing words, because I did feel some guilt about how I had fallen off the radar with this side of the family.
The big surprise I got as we started talking more and more was that my grandmother worked for newspapers as a columnist.
I never knew this.
Aunt Vicki sent me clippings of works my grandmother had written a couple weeks ago. It has been fascinating to read her words.
One column she wrote was under the name “Joy” and the column was called the Tales of the Tatler. Another column, she used the name Joy Sutherland and the column was called “The Joy Girl Advises”. When she went by Jo Ann Sheridan, her column was called “Storehouse of Advice”. They were advice columns, more or less.
Then she had another one called “Our Younger Set” and she called herself the Gossip Gatherer, where it was more about who was doing what around the town of Birmingham. I believe that one was the first column she wrote from what I can tell about the dates. It was 1928.
Wow! 90 years ago!
I also got clippings about my grandmother as a debutante. It looks like she was a popular young woman in Birmingham with all the clippings and stories she appeared in.
I am so grateful to my Aunt Vickie for sharing these with me.
I didn’t ever really know my grandmother from my father’s side because she died when I was four, so I was always grateful for time spent with my grandmother who was alive. I visited my grandmother in Alabama pretty often once I got a license and could trek down to Birmingham. She treated me like gold when I came, so the long drive from D.C. was worth it.
She passed away decades ago, but now knowing she worked for papers gives me a connection to her that is hard to describe.
I have known for years she could write, but I never knew I was more or less following in her footsteps.
At this point, I’d like to share a letter my grandmother wrote me when I was very young.
It is very precious to me and I think, after reading it, you can understand the love I had for my grandmother and why my Aunt Vicki sharing so much about her I didn’t know is giving me insight to the person who wrote the words below.
Your grandmother can’t be with you this, your first Christmas. I so much wish I could. But there will be other Christmases and other times when we can be together.
You are still such a tiny baby you have no idea how much you mean to us, especially to me.
If a mother has a very special feeling the first time she holds her new born baby, certainly a grandmother gets a sort of breathless feeling when she beholds her first grandchild. He or she will always be a special sort of person.
And so, since I can’t be with you, I am writing you this letter as a Christmas present you can keep to remember me by.
I hope I shall be able to be here to watch you grow to manhood. God willing I will.
There are many things I would like to give you this Christmas, things lasting and beautiful.
First of all, I would like to give you a belief in God, one that would last til all eternity, so that when things seem perfect and bright, you could give thanks to him from all blessings come; so that when things look dark, you would know to whom to turn,
Next I think I would give you honesty, the kind that comes from the heart and makes you fair and square not only with yourself, but with your fellow man.
Then there is courage, we all need that. Courage to face the good things and the bad. Sometimes things come so easy to us, we need courage to weigh them and decide if they are best for us.
Then I think I would give you curiosity- the kind a small boy needs to discover worms, turtles, kites and many other things; and the truth and answers about them.
The ability to dream is also very important. Yes, I think I would like you to have this. Few things in life that are worthwhile are accomplished without dreaming of them first.
Success I would like you to have if it can be gained without sacrificing integrity.
Last of all I would give you a love for beauty.
Not just the kind of beauty one sees in a perfect rose or a gorgeous sunset. No, not just that kind. The real kind of beauty, perhaps in the smile of an old newspaper vendor on the street, perhaps in the wrinkles on your grandmother’s face caused by worry, work or fear. Perhaps in the smile a little girl gives her sick dolly, or in the care a little boy gives his cherished toy car.
All these things I would give to you, Michael, along with the love we all have for you. If in the future, these things come your way, cherish them well, for they are the things that last for always.”
I always knew my grandmother had a way with words from what she wrote to me, but learning she gave advice to others and worked for newspapers has me proud to be carrying on what she did way back when.
So I will walk in her footsteps and give some advice.
If you have relatives you have been out of touch only because you haven’t taken a little time out to contact them, remedy that.
I have benefited in so many ways because my Aunt Vicki is back in my life. Not the least because she opened so much about my grandmother I really had no idea about.
No doubt some relatives are best kept at a distance, but if you have some that are like my Aunt Vicki, don’t wait another day and reach out.
There could be a treasure trove of information about you, your family or life, just waiting to be unlocked.