By Micki Cottle
Somebody once told me that black bears live out their entire lives within the same 14 miles. When I heard that, right away I got to thinking about Aunt Annie Southerland. Not that she reminded me of a black bear. Actually (in a nice way) she resembled her old tomcat, Pharaoh: compact and lithe, with a wild mane of white and black hair and a feisty way of dealing with the world. She was a beauty too, and loved a sassy joke.
Aunt Annie never caught the traveling bug. A trip from her cozy brick home in the suburbs of Kinston, to Duplin County with her husband, James, (Mama’s brother) whom she lovingly called Mr. Southerland, (all their married life,) was about as far as her Gypsy inclinations carried her. When really got her dander up was recalling the story of her maiden cousin, Ruby Mae, who went sashaying off to Italy hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pope (she said), and wound up having her bottom pinched by a most friendly, Italian gent. Ruby though, never complained about the incident and only blushed, and sighed, deeply when revealing the story of her great escapade.
However, Aunt Annie…There were few exceptions to Aunt Annie’s reluctance to travel. But she did make one trip to Atlanta with four of her six sisters; they all hopped on the southbound overnighter to make a short visit to Atlanta, mainly, (and she owned up to this) to see: “Gone With the Wind.” They were afraid the film might not last long enough to reach Kinston, what with Clark Gable whipping out things like; “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn!”
Years later, Aunt Annie did make plans to go see her youngest daughter graduate from college. But that didn’t work out. A week before graduation, Sugar up and married a man, who looked (almost) as fine as Clark Gable; and they moved right on to New York.Her sisters worried about Sugar being homesick, but Aunt Annie, (although mightily concerned over her baby girl perishing in “Yankee land”) still wouldn’t budge. Having lots of fun, wish you were here. This card almost did it! Almost: Still, Uncle James couldn’t persuade her: despite threats to go without her. No matter, because Sugar, being a chip off her mama’s block was back home before the dishes had been unpacked and “nary a thank you note written.” She later married a pediatrician who called all the family children, from crib to college cutie pie, and gave very decent discounts to boot, Aunt Annie just didn’t cotton to folks who insisted on tottering about the world. (Possibly never to be heard from again). She’d mumble when someone dared remind her what a great time ‘so and so’ was having in Florida. Or her hoity-toity sister, Essie (whom she pretended to ignore): when Essie decided to experience the joys of England. Mr. Southerland who always enjoyed a certain amount of travel would sigh and shake his head. Still, Aunt Annie never changed her mind she was as stubborn as her tomcat!The highlight of Aunt Annie’s day was the procession of folks who traipsed up her front walk to sit for a spell and chat. Uncle James said she had no need for a newspaper or a telephone, because news came straight to her. Daddy referred to her shady domain as: “Annie’s Throne Room.” She did hear most of the news first hand. And although she wasn’t a gossiper herself, she would lend a “worthy suggestion,” now and then. To be perfectly honest Aunt Annie had a positive way of stirring up people. She inspired them: mostly she made people feel good. Aunt Annie loved a happy ending, and she certainly had no intention of going gently “into that good night.”(Which she didn’t, by the way, living to be a healthy 106.)
As I looked back with sweet nostalgia: I can still see that blessed lady, with her wild mane of hair flying in the breeze; bustling in and out of friend’s and family’s homes, a determined look in her eyes: cheerfully bearing the fruits of her labors. If degrees of greatness are measured, Aunt Annie surely tipped the scales.
When Aunt Annie commanded a need for a driver, Uncle James would put on his coat, tie and straw hat, (no matter the season), nothing flashy, but elegant; and he’d leave with a smile on his face. Probably because he’d accepted long ago just how much that stubborn woman really needed him. Actually, my Uncle James was a happy, satisfied man, with a twinkle in his eye: married to a cantankerous woman that he loved better than molasses and biscuits.