Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Often, folks have a difficult time understanding my family dynamics, for they weren't privileged grow up in such a close-knit family and community. My was one of six children (I'm fairly certain I have that right...). Each of those children stayed in the community and had children of their own. As I have done with Jessie and my cousins, those children all seemed to have children in clumps and passels and all of those children grew up running tame as one big bunch, some close in age, some much older, some the babies, all of them first cousins (or, in the case of Tucker and Aunt Bea who married brothers, whose children were double first cousins!). I can't go through family photos of Papa and Hopie (Aunt Hope, Papa's sister) without seeing other cousins' faces--Gale, John, Mike, Lois, Cheryll, Scarlett, to name a few.
Many of these cousins then stayed in the community (I can only think of a handful that moved away), married and had children (my generation), and we were all raised together. All of our parents were constant fixtures in our lives, be they our parent or a cousin's parent--it was a community effort. It truly took a village to raise us all, and one of the stand-outs was Cheryll.
Cheryll may have been my cousin, but more importantly, she was "aunt". It's a southern thing, this conferring of the honorific "aunt" and "uncle" to close friends and family members. And Aunt Cheryll was something else. :o) She was never able to have children of her own, so we were ALL her children. Every last stinkin' one of us.
She was the first Sunday School teacher I can remember. (As a quick aside, my church was small and close-knit, the majority of us related to one another by hook or by crook. It was the church Papa's generation was raised in, and then us afterward.) She had a room full of unruly second graders and she was mean. But, not really. It only seemed that way. She was actually a huge marshmallow who had a soft spot for each and every one of us. When we would become particularly rambunctious, she would look at us with these big, wide-open eyes and speak through her gritted teeth, "If you don't stop that at once, I'm gonna be all over you like a chicken on a June bug!" Which would, of course, set the rest of us off into peals of laughter. :o)
Much of my young life was centered on my church and my family. So, much of my life was spent with Cheryll. We had a small choir, comprised of two men, one boy, five sopranos and one alto--Cheryll. She would sing descant with the men, harmonize with the sopranos and stomp her foot on the ground in time in an attempt to get Mrs. Kinnear to play that 4/4 time just a touch faster than the funereal pace she had going. ;o)
When I was tiny until around the age of four, I had a head full of soft, golden curls. Then, something happened around the time I turned four and my hair turned coarse. I mean really coarse. Like a Brillo pad. At least, that what Cheryll told me as she would sit and rub my fuzzy head. She loved to do this and I would sit by quietly and let her.
Cheryll had an amazing sense of humor and found much in life to laugh about. She loved a good joke and loved to be with her family and could be found laughing most of the time. Either that, or crying. It's no secret our family feels deeply and can be an emotional lot. Cheryll was one of the first adults I saw cry. She would cry with joy and cry with sorrow. She would cry with friends and family, feeling their pain, sharing in their joy.
One of the really wonderful things about Cheryll was the way she treated each of us kids as individuals. She knew us and loved us, each and every one, quirks and all. Some of us knew which just buttons to push to set her off, but we knew she always found joy in being with us. Our relationships with her evolved and shifted as we grew older.
Time and adulthood had many of us children moving away (which, I have to tell you, is really hard when you are that close) as we went to school and married and had children of our own. But, we were still hers. Always hers. When she and L.T. would come to our area for United Methodist Annual Conference, she would call and we'd head out for a visit and play catch-up. One of my most cherished memories was riding in my van with Cheryll and L.T., and Hannah and Brien (Lil was merely a twinkle at that point), playing my Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, and Hannah, Cheryll and I belting out "I'll Fly Away", "You Are My Sunshine" and "Keep on the Sunny Side". Oh we had a joyous time! :o) Where there was Cheryll, there was laughter and music.
I often forget just how blessed I was to grow up with such a huge extended family. As a child, whatever you experience is what is "normal". It never occurred to me that others might not have such a crazy life as well. :oP I know we have a tendency to romanticize the past and remember it through rosy lenses, but when it comes to Cheryll that's just not the case. She really was just as I remembered her. There is an entire generation of children who will miss out on being threatened with, "I'm gonna sit on you if you don't stop!" My heart hurts at the thought.