“Daddy [Howard]’s mother had died when he was five or six years old. His Daddy later married twice more and outlived both of them too. Daddy had two sisters, Bonnie and Willie, and a brother, Dewitt. Willie died and left two young children, Eugenia and John Sidney Eason. Aunt Bonnie had five daughters.
Dewitt was ‘never any good’ according to Mama. He had been married and had two children but had left them, and I always wondered what happened to those two first cousins we never knew. He was always showing up wanting to borrow money and embarrassing Daddy. Mama said he even followed Daddy to Jackson, but we never saw much of him. His nickname was ‘Dibby,’ and if Mama got mad at me she would sometimes say I was ‘just like Dibby.’ That was the worst thing she could think of, I guess.
Mama had lots of cousins, and some of them were always showing up. Most of them I couldn’t keep straight, but the one we saw the most of was Cousin Mable Hughes. We always called the cousins ‘cudn,’ so she was known as Cudn Mable. They lived in a little house in North Greenwood which at that time was almost like going in the country. She had three boys, Joe West, Tom and Bob. Bob was in my class and Tom was in Mary’s. I didn’t want anyone to know that Bob was my cousin. There was nothing wrong with them, but Cudn Mable just never looked clean, neither did her boys. One afternoon my friend Spot Pettey came over to play, and Mary immediately proceeded to tell him he was my cousin. I could have killed her. Their daddy was a postman, and Mama, for some reason, looked down her nose at postmen, barbers, carpenters, etc. Cudn Mable would come over and sit on the porch with Mama and Bama and she complained all the time about the government not paying her husband Tom enough money. In later years, still complaining, she would say ‘that old Farley,’ who was the Postmaster General, was to blame for Tom not getting a raise. We would giggle about her telling Mama one that day that Tom always wanted her to have pretty underwear when all the time we thought he should have been more concerned about her outside appearance.
“She was a good person, and when Bob was killed while flying over the English Channel in World War II her whole world crumbled, and we were sorry that we had made fun of him. When they were little Bob and Tom would always pull on their mother’s dress (her coattail, as Mama and Bama would say) and whine and whenever we did the same thing to Mama she would say we were acting like Bob and Tom.”
At this point we will leave the Evans ancestors behind. They barely dented Sara’s awareness as a child, and by her own motherhood they existed only as derisive asides, as in “You’re just like Dibby,” i.e. worthless, or “Just like Bob and Tom,” i.e. clingy and whining. I heard those descriptions as a child, but didn’t know that they referred to real people, much less kinfolk. It seems so sad to me that entire family tree limbs gradually sag and turn brown and then drop to the ground, swept away with the years and indifference. All my life, I’ve felt like Margaret Sproles Chavis (Bigma) and Theodorene Chavis West (Bama) and Anderson West were just out of reach, flesh-and-blood friends who might live next door and whose stories were seared into our collective history. And what makes the difference? Telling those stories, over and over again, to each new generation, adding the more recently lost to the string of souls, boring your children to death with lore and legend until they’re old enough to wake up, look around and realize that we are all the legacy of those who came before. So here’s to all the little ones out there, in no particular order: Maggie, William [Roberson], Mary Farrell, Steele V, Charlie, Asher, Mary Blake, William [Liles] (pending), Baby Ellis (pending), Ashlyn, Skylar, Charlotte Natalie Sarah Graves (my granddaughter, so she gets full billing), Caroline and Charlotte [Evans]. Listen and look back in wonder.