Each time she gives her age it's different, so we don't know exactly how old Aunt Geneva is. I personally believe that she was born in 1917, as I once saw a birthday card & did the math. When I laughingly mentioned this, Geneva snorted in righteous indignation; I quickly dropped the subject. (Age & weight are touchy areas
with Shirley women over 40.)
'Aunt' Geneva is actually my second cousin - my mother's first cousin, who was raised by my grandmother from the age of six, after both Geneva's parents died. Family took care of family in those days.
Aunt Geneva stories are the stuff of legend. She was an extraordinary woman. She always bought and rebuilt her own cars, made her own clothes, even did some of her own plumbing. And she & her husband, with help from the neighbors, built their own home - a real honest-to-god log cabin. Back then, good neighbors and family were a necessity, since they lived miles from the nearest town. They owned about a hundred acres of land & raised cattle, pigs and even kept horses at one time. The cabin was where I learned to ride and to love horses.
I remember scary things that happened out at the cabin too. I once watched, in both horror and wonder, as my aunt shot a water moccasin disturbing her cows at the lake from about 15 yards away. She kept an unloaded rifle behind the porch swing, and as she pulled it out to load, she continued to chat with my mother. She killed the snake with one shot. After that day, I developed an awe of Aunt Geneva that's been with me my entire life. It seemed to me, at age 8, that she could do anything; she became my mentor and my hero. My mother was appalled when I asked for "a gun like Aunt Geneva's" for my birthday that year. My parents were strongly anti-gun well before it was politically correct.
Geneva's contradiction was always her soft femininity. She was a tall, graceful woman & usually dressed in fluidy sun dresses or gauzy trousers with soft pastel blouses when she was gardening or doing chores. And she loved to cook! She could make a Sunday dinner to die for & her pecan pie will always be my favorite dessert.
She managed to purchase her own business in the 1960's - a "Beauty Parlor" - long before it was fashionable for women to do so. I can not imagine the persecution she must've endured from the family's old-school men - not to mention the 'locals'. Fortunately, Geneva never stopped believing in herself ... she had a stubborn streak a mile long. Once she bought her shop, I remember that she always kept her nails & hair done, even while working the farm. I've often wondered where on earth she found the time & energy to do it all.
She was married three times but never had children - another taboo which still exists today, as we childless adults know far too well. Aunt Geneva outlived each of her husbands and still vows, even today with a half-smile, that she would marry again if she could find a man she thought she might not outlive.
Aunt Geneva, the Animal Activist: As far back as I can remember, my mother always had dogs, cats, birds or some other type of animal in the house. My brother even had a baby raccoon for a while - long enough to nurse him back to health. To me, the house is empty without an animal's love. My husband & I adopt our animals from the local APS or ASPCA.
Too few people know that pet shop equals puppy mill, an unspeakable term in my house. Check (or do an online search) for your local APS or ASPCA (a.k.a. the "dog pound") if you're in the market for a new pet. You'll find, amazingly, that approximately 35% of their pets are purebred, many are housebroken (since they were recently someone's pet), and puppies and kittens are plentiful. OK, back to Geneva ...
Her home has always been a safe haven for homeless animals and her passion for their welfare runs deep. She will not hesitate to speak up if she sees or suspects abuse. Because she was getting older & many Shirley relatives now live there, she moved back to Georgia, where she was born, about six years ago. She lives in a beautiful area in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
One afternoon, she and two of my mother's cousins - all 60-plus years old - were coming home from shopping. They were driving up the winding mountain road behind an open, hay-filled pick-up. A small dog, unsecured, was sliding around on top of the hay - struggling to stay in the truck. As they watched, Geneva became rigid with anger.
And of course when the truck down-shifted, it happened. The little dog rolled out and barely missed the wheels of their car. Far from upset, the driver simply stopped, opened the cab door and called the pup, who came running & gratefully jumped in the truck. Amazingly, he was unhurt.
They got the license plate number to report the driver, but Aunt Geneva remained furious. She began to honk the horn, motioning the driver to pull over. He didn't stop. This continued for several minutes with much pointing of fingers & shaking of fists. Finally (as rage overcame rational thought I suppose), Geneva actually pulled up beside the truck on the two-lane road, laying on the horn. This stopped the driver promptly on the road side.
I can't imagine what must have gone through this man's mind when he saw a 'little ol' lady' launch toward him like a missile - her indignant red face twisted in anger, spewing every dirty word she knew. She laid it out for him at the top of her lungs - he wasn't fit to own any animal and once she had reported him, he would, at the very least, pay a hefty fine. And if she had her way, she would see him spend time in jail for animal abuse ...
To sum things up, my aunt now owns another dog. Sam is a sweet little mixed breed whom she saved, I suspect, from an abusive life and one very ignorant owner. And possibly even from death on the mountain road one fine day when her temper got the best of her. Don't you just love happy endings?
SOMBER FOOTNOTE: On the 25th of March 2002, my Aunt Geneva died of complications from Alzheimer's disease and chronic pneumonia. Oddly, it did seem sudden. Though she must have had the disease for some time, it wasn't until 2001 that signs began to emerge. All her life, she stayed active and fought hard to remain healthy.
She would have been 89 years young on April 24th ... (so I did guess wrong about her birth date.)
I will miss her joyous presence always.
"When an old person dies, it is like a library burning to the ground ..."
~ Merrill Markoe
Updated December 2002