The bus ride to Beaumont from Kountze that November day was uneventful. I visited with a young girl from Deweyville. We exchanged addresses and promised to keep in touch. When I arrived at the Greyhound bus station my Aunt Lillian, Grandma Dinan, cousins Janie and Joel were waiting for me. Their expressions did not look at all happy. Once I left the bus I asked what was wrong? My Grandma stated “Aunt Garnett is dying.”
Aunt Garnett had been a name on a Christmas card and nothing more to me until a few months before this date. She, my Uncle Johnny and young cousin Annette visited that summer. They were to me as different as anyone could be – with their clipped Yankee accents.
The family migrated to my Aunt Lillian and Uncle Boot’s camp on the creek. It served a purpose – of partying, taking cool dips in the water and a chance to meet family which had been all but impossible as my aunt and uncle lived in far away Wyoming. A trip to the beach was another outing – as if to show case our scenic Texas landscapes.
I remember Aunt Garnett was tall – wore a blue and white checked swim suit. My cousin Annette blended in well with her cousins and seemed to enjoy splashing about in the creek. The summer sun gave way to fall and the news which seemed to signal the advent of an unwelcomed visitor, death. Aunt Garnett was so young – not even 40.
Hurried travel plans ensued and before the night was over Aunt Lillian, Grandma Dinan and Aunt Nuni from the Houston area were headed to Wyoming. I remember going to the airport and watched the plane taxi on the runway. My Uncle Boots, Janie, Joel and I waved good-by as the plane rose into the sky.
Janie and I spent the night at Aunt Enola’s home. She was the motherly sister of Uncle Boots. I remember Janie and I cuddled up in the bed and said a prayer for our aunt more than a thousand miles away. The next morning over breakfast we learned Aunt Garnett had died. I remember looking into my bowl of cereal and crying. I cried for an aunt I hardly knew. I cried as if I did.
The date of November 16, 1963 – Saturday did not hold any importance to many except to those who knew it was the date Aunt Garnett died. I did not foresee the horrors of Dallas which would occur less than a week later. I could only feel the loss of an aunt I hardly knew.
The events which happened in Wyoming I learned from my Aunt Lillian. She stated they arrived in Sheridan, Wyoming around noon. They did not know Aunt Garnett had died until the family minister who met them at the airport informed them. He also said how glad he was Johnny’s family had arrived as he was not doing well. He was in a very bad way.
As they drove through the city mounds of snow in evidence. It made us feel very homesick my aunt recalled. We had been through a lot together – the break up of our parents, the loss of our dad to cancer, the loss of a son born three month’s too soon. Nothing could prepare for the grief of a brother – who stood more than six feet tall. As soon as our car arrived Johnny emerged from the house and collapsed into our arms. We held each other – just as we had in time’s past.
The funeral was a true contrast between a grief stricken husband and a young girl who never shed a tear. Family and friends came and family and friends went. By week’s end my aunts were headed back to Texas via the train. It was there in Denver they learned from another passenger of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. It may be difficult to believe but there were not any iPads, cell phones, computers, etc. News traveled very slowly back then.
My Grandmother stayed behind to help my uncle and her young granddaughter. She hated the cold weather but put aside her own comfort. Her apartment in Beaumont was vacated. Plans were made to ship Grandma’s clothes, etc. to Wyoming.
My mother’s sage advice was not to send everything. Johnny was young and good looking. He would married again. Within six months he met Beverly, a young widow with two kids. Fourteen months after Aunt Garnett died Uncle Johnny married again. A year later Dian was born. Aunt Beverly and Uncle Johnny stayed married until she died of cancer in 1987. He lived another 13 years til he too died of cancer, the same thing which stole his dad’s life.
Aunt Garnett’s legacy continued in our lives. Annette visited the summer of 1964. She celebrated her 9th birthday while in Texas. Mama made sure Annettes birthday was an event she would not forget. All the neighborhood kids were invited and Mama created a birthday cake just for Annette. We were shocked to learn she had never celebrated her birthday before.
It was a rite of passage she knew nothing of. Thinking back – Annette seemed old before her time – like an adult in a child’s body.
Annette did visit several more times – in 1969 and again in 1973. She married, had two kids and died at the age of 52. She too was the victim of horrific health. My Aunt Garnett had died of an ulcer which had eaten through the wall of her stomach and into her pancreas. She also had kidney failure. It seems the genes which kill young, she and her daughter shared.
Her daughter Christine is a facebook friend. She lives in New Mexico.
I recall the events of 1963 with clarity. I remember meeting the Aunt I hardly knew.