My grandmother, Beth (left), and her sister Minerva, around 1906
The elder great aunt, Inez, was a history teacher, avid reader, accomplished painter, and lover of classical music and opera. She never married, but lived with a friend, “Aunt Blanche” in Endicott, New York, where they both taught. On holidays and many other times during the year, Aunt Inez came to our house, pulling up in her venerable, bulbous green Chevrolet: an antiquated accoutrement that defined her as much as the sturdy, thick-heeled, black lace-up shoes she always wore. She loved lavender scent, and violets and full-blown roses patterned her sheets and wallpaper. One room in our house was always kept for her extended visits, and the bookcases held bound issues of National Geographic, history books, piano music. We were great friends, from the time I was little (when I called her “Aunt Nine”, a name that stuck), to her very elderly years, when she came first to live in our town after Aunt Blanche died, and later, with my grandparents in our house.
In her nineties, Aunt Inez suffered a series of small strokes that impaired her ability to retrieve the right words, and eventually, her memory. Reluctantly, my grandparents found a place for her in a nursing home, where she lived for a number of years until she died – by then, having difficulty even recognizing her sister. I was grateful for her death, as I remember, because she had long since lost the qualities that made her herself, and I doubt she would have wanted to live on in that state.
I have her diaries, written in the years from about
1914-1924; her detailed family genealogies; and a set of stories she wrote and
gave me, bound into a book, when I was twelve. They tell the family history,
about how each branch of the matriarchal line made its way from New England to
central New York and what their lives were like there, and continue on to tell
her own story of growing up on a hill farm in the tiny town of Beaver Meadow,
taught by her remarkable mother, Libby, to read the classics and play the piano
and paint and embroider, and by her father to fish and ride horses and grow
potatoes. Apparently, with her teacher’s instinct, she figured out early on
that I would be the one to give those stories to, and one day I hope to extend
her narrative and make it into a book. Aunt Inez is buried near my grandparents
and her own parents in the Miller family plot in the
South Otselic cemetery: a beautiful, quiet, tree-filled spot perched above the town, overlooking the corn, oat, and hay fields of the lovely Otselic Valley. Someday before long I’ll go over there and sit and ask her to help me tell those stories.