Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Christmas to You: Remembering Why

I found this flyer going through some old pictures. I remember this reunion so clearly! My mom and dad had just recently divorced, so I was 12 or 13. Mom, Kim and I drove down from Orange Park with Nana and Granddaddy. And it did last pretty much all day! I have very little of my Mom’s family left so this was a nice treasure to find. My dad lost touch with most of his family so I don’t know any of them other than his step-mother and half sister, but my mom’s family was all very close, all bonded together by the Burnette sisters, which included my Aunt Margaret (Eula Margaret), my Aunt Livy (Bertha Olivia, the only one still living and my favorite person in the whole world), my Aunt Marie (Ruby Marie), and my Nana (Hazel Maxine). They had a brother as well, my Uncle Oscar (Russell Oscar), who died when I was a child.

I’d been wanting to ask Aunt Livy to write down some family history for me when we went up to see her this year for her birthday (89 this past August). The only reason I didn’t at that point was because the annual visit that usually included just me and the girls grew to include my DH, my sister and her husband, and my dad. When Aunt Livy learned they all were coming, she said, “Ya’ll think I’m gonna die or something!?!” So I decided that probably wasn’t a good time to ask her to write down family history! But about two months later, I received just that: a letter from her including all the history she could remember. Through that letter, I learned that my girls are seventh generation native Floridians. I knew we went pretty far back but I didn’t realize it was that far. Aunt Livy’s Grandfather Burnette (as well as her father, whom I called Banddaddy) were born in Madison, Florida, which is about two hours due east of Jacksonville on I-10. Its claim to fame now is the area in which you need to slow down. Madison County Sherriff’s officers love to write tickets (and yes, I got one there).

Aunt Livy’s mother’s father (my great-great grandfather if I’ve done the math right) was born in south Georgia, orphaned as a baby and grew up in an orphanage. When he was old enough to work, about 10 or 12, he was farmed out to a family who raised him until he married. He took their name, Sauls. Aunt Livy remembers that his birth name was Scotch-Irish but she can’t remember anything past the “Mc.” That explains the redheads in our family. Our Burnette ancestory is Irish, and since “Mc” became Sauls, there’s more there. I hope to trace back to find the real name.

I called my great-grandmother Bunny. Banddaddy was a landscape gardener, and he and Bunny raised their family living in the middle of nurseries. Aunt Livy said she remembers having a wonderful childhood running around the nurseries. After Aunt Margaret and Aunt Livy were born (Madison), they moved a little farther south and settled just north of the Tampa area in a little town called Elfers. Elfers was halfway between New Port Richey and Tarpon Springs. My Aunt Marie was born in New Port Richey, my Nana in Tarpon Springs, and my Uncle Oscar over in Lakeland.

By the time I was old enough to remember Bunny and Banddaddy, they had moved to Tampa proper. I still recognize the neighborhood they lived in every time I go down there because it was near a large white bell tower that is still there today, visible from I-275 South. That tower used to be in the middle of a nursery, before the nursery gave way to homes; the tower itself now sits in a park. What I remember most about Banddaddy was his size. He was a tall, burly man, probably about 6’4” or 6’5”. And Bunny was a tiny little thing. They both died in the summer on 1975, Banddaddy of a heart attack, and Bunny, three weeks later, of a broken heart. Aunt Livy wrote that “broken heart-no will to live” was actually on Bunny’s death certificate. The doctor could find no other cause of death. They had been married 63 years and were both 83 when they died.

So back to that reunion….as long as all the sisters were alive, the Burnette/Sauls clan spent a lot of time together. Thanksgivings were always spent in Lakeland at my Aunt Margaret’s house. Aunt Margaret’s grandkids, Stacy and Billy, were two of the cousins I was closest to growing up. We lost Billy shortly before Nana died, but Stacy and I still keep in touch. She now lives in Park City, Utah. I’m also still close to Aunt Livy’s kids, Ray and Darlene, particularly Ray and his wife Susan. Ray was very close to my mom and lived with us when I was a kid so he loves to tell DH funny stories about me as a child (apparently my clumsiness started early).  Christmas Eve was always at Nana's house, and we always had big bowls of Nana's Oyster Stew.  To this day, no one can make it taste like Nana did.  Mom tried several times before she died, DH has tried a few times, but there must have been some special ingredient that Nana didn't share when she shared the "recipe."  Now, DH makes us Oyster Chowder on Christmas Eve as a close substitute.

Our Olivia is named after Aunt Livy. Sarah is named after DH’s grandmother Sarah. My sister Kim is currently seven months pregnant with a baby girl who will carry our Nana’s name, Maxine. I’ve been wanting to share this story for a while and when I found the reunion flyer last week, it was a reminder of the importance of family, which seems an apt reminder this time of year. Since both my mom and DH’s mom are gone and never knew their grandchildren, teaching our girls about their past has been very important to me. We talk about Mom and DH’s mom often, about what they must be doing up there in Heaven, and sometimes the girls insight and imagination truly amazes me. As I write this, I’m wearing Mom’s robe, one of the few pieces of her clothing I kept; Livvie brought it to me since she and Sarah are wearing their robes this morning too.

So as you go into this last week before Christmas, remember that it’s not about the presents, something sometimes hard to do with children around. It’s about family, your family, God’s family, and the birth of Christ. So I’ll leave you today with a little picture of our family, taken at DH’s family Christmas party Saturday night, along with some words of wisdom from Dr. Suess. Happy Christmas week to you and yours.

“Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, was singing!

Without any presents at all! He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!

IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same”…

"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."

Update 3/10/11!  Aunt Livy found the "Mc" she couldn't remember.  My great-great grandfather's real last name was McAllister.  How's that for some Irish blood?


Karen Faulkner said...

Great family stories Kelly, and a lovely family photo!

Janet said...

Great family storym Kelly. Wish I had taken the time to have my mother write down more of our family history. We, are native Floridians on my mother's side. Always think of your dear mom and miss her still!!! Enjoy your beautiful family and have a Merry Christmas.

Janet Delrose