Monday, March 23, 2009


Today is/was my great Aunt Dorothy's birthday. She would have been 103. Her brother, my Grandpa James almost made it to his 100th birthday. Great Aunt Dorothy was an infant nurse for many, many years. She lived upstairs in her own apartment on the farm in the same house she and my Grandpa were born. She never married. She kept busy with a garden, her African violets, quilting...and traveled extensively. She was retired from nursing when I was a little girl. I'll never forget her tea parties. She served us lemonade in fancy tea cups. With my younger cousins, they added a dressing up element to it. And when my firstborn was a little boy, he got to go to one of Aunt Dorothy's tea parties.

Great Aunt Dorothy was a very disciplined woman. Strict with herself in exercise, and being a part of family gatherings. She would join us on pony cart and wagon rides.

I wonder what it was like being a nurse of babies from the 1930s to the 1970s. I regret never asking her about that but, I wonder if she would have shared even if I asked. She used to volunteer at the hospital even during her retirement. I remember flower arrangements in her refrigerator, as well as clothes to be ironed. She died in 1994. Eighty-eight years old?

Even though she never married, she drew these intricate family history trees. And the branch that held her name, and the names of the ones like her who never married, the branch was broken. Jagged. As if in a storm. My branch was open, for she drew the trees when my youngest brother had not even been born, and yet there was space to pen him in.

Nowadays, geneologies are much easier researched on the internet, and almost drawn for you on the computer. But, back in the sixties when Great Aunt Dorothy drew them, making copies was much more expensive and complicated. And yet, we were all given copies. And it was fun to find our names on the Smith side or the James side and know we were part of a much bigger family. Pictures of people stare out at us from the trunk, ancestors buried in the Mansfield, Illinois plot. My little branch should extend into three more, and firstborn has the grandchild--and my brothers and sister all have kids. But, I ponder my great aunt who drew herself just a broken branch on a huge tree of names and dates.

My cousins who still live on that farm remember her better than I. Bob remembers that she did not allow vulgar language during Scrabble games, and if the word did not appear in the old dictionary they used, then it was not allowed. I have a picture of her in a Christmas morning shot when I was a little girl. She looks so stylish, and happy, and beautiful. A career woman back when the only careers for a woman were nursing, teaching, or secretary. She shared the same name as my Grandma James---she was a Dorthy, too. So, my Grandpa married a woman with the same name as his sister. Miss Dorothy James lived upstairs, and Mrs. Dorthy James downstairs after my grandparents traded houses with Uncle Wayne across the road. My Grandma James was a homemaker. She fed the farm workers, and her own family. She had a garden, and she canned, and "put up" food for the winter. Hers was not an easy life. She cooked huge Thanksgiving-sized breakfasts, dinners, and suppers until she was well into her seventies. I have had it so easy in comparison.

Happy Birthday, Great Aunt Dorothy.


Bob said...

I can't say Aunt Dorothy really chided me about using "ZIT" in Scrabble. Her scornful look was enough. Quiet folk up on the farm.

joyce said...

voracious readers. maybe they were not as chatty as I am, but the winters were long. and I found out later in life that Grandpa James collected clean jokes.

Bag Blog said...

They just don't make 'em like they used to. Your Great-Aunt Dorthy must have been a jewel.

joyce said...

I emailed my Uncle Wayne, who lived on the same farm with her all his life, and asked to fill in some gaps, and he sent an amazing email back. Maybe I can get Bob to help me edit it. She was amazing. But, sadly, the Dorothys did not always get along. I can't imagine being an expert baby nurse, and yet not having any children of my own and then not being called upon for things. I wonder if my mom, or any of my aunts asked Great Aunt Dorothy questions in her area of expertise? The more I learn, the more questions.

jennifer said...

I had a great Aunt Dorothy and she was precious too. Something about the name?

She sounds like a wonderful lady. I think she would be pleased that you remembered her birthday and have fond memories of her.