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Sunday, September 19, 2010

My Great Aunt Sally

When you are young, around nine or ten, you think anyone grown up is old.  Aunt Sally wasn’t old she was ancient.  To me then she seemed about a hundred sixty. I don’t remember for sure but she must have been actually about half that.  Aunt Sally lived next door, just across the field, from me.  She was actually a great aunt on my father’s side of the family who lived with her son and his family.  They had a son just a couple of years younger than me so I spent quite a bit of time in their home. When you live in the country your choice of playmates is more limited. On those rainy days when young boys couldn’t go outside and even sometimes just because, I would sit and talk to Aunt Sally.  She was a very nice person, very tolerant of young people and actually had an outstanding sense of humor.  Aunt Sally had been a young girl when the Civil War was winding down so she had seen a lot of things that were simply foreign to a young boy.  She had an outstanding memory and could really tell a story in a way that would capture your attention and hold it.  She had seen this country when it was covered with huge trees, when there were few roads, no automobiles, no telephones and no electricity.  I would sit in the floor beside her big easy chair and listen to her tell stories of her early years.  She told stories about the mountain lions that killed their livestock, hard to believe then when they could only be found in the 1950s in the Far West part of the US. She told stories of cutting down huge oak trees and sawing them up, by hand, into lumber to make houses and barns. They used two man crosscut saws, adze and axes to do all the work since there were was no power to run a sawmill. She told stories of wild hogs, cattle and horses living wild in the woods and the problems they caused. These were animals that had escaped from their owners and gone wild. She also told stories about the Civil War.  She didn’t see any actual battles in the part of the country where she lived but she saw lots of other things that related to the war.  She told of relatives who went to war and never came back.  She explained how the relatives of lost Civil War veterans felt never knowing if their loved ones were alive or dead often for years after the war.  She told of bandits and raiders from both the South and the North coming and stealing livestock and anything else they could carry off.  Luckily she was young enough that she was never subjected to rape or beatings but she saw them and heard about them at her young age.  As I sat and listened to her I could feel the pain and fear that she still felt at 80 plus years.  She actually at one time saw the real Quantrill Raiders of historic fame in the US, and told how kind and considerate they were compared to some others who came by. She told of the coming of roads, electricity, tractors, power tools, the automobile and the changes that they brought.

As you grow older you begin to realize your past experiences have taught you lessons that you didn’t realize at the time you were learning. Perhaps that realization could be called acquiring wisdom.  One of the things I came to realize was there is a wealth of information that our older citizens have to share with us.  Later while studying history I remembered many of the things she had told me. My history lessons in school came alive for me because of her stories. Thanks to Aunt Sally I learned to listen to my older friends and relatives.  Over the years I have learned many things that have never been written down in a textbook.  I have, probably in part because of Aunt Sally, often made friends with people much older than myself.  I have enjoyed sitting with these older friends and family and asking questions about what they saw as they went through their life.  Sometimes you sit and talk to one of the elder who doesn’t seem to have it all together anymore but if you really listen you still hear things that you can’t read or learn about anywhere else.  All of our history isn’t written down and never will be. Some of the best stories historically were never written down.

I often think about Aunt Sally when I tell my young nieces and nephews about remembering seeing gravel roads get paved, the first televisions, having party line telephones, Levis and the first McDonalds.
I may not be wise but I understand more because Aunt Sally taught me to listen to my elders but.  Try it; you might be surprised what you learn.

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