In his novel “Anna Karenina” Tolstoy declared, “All happy families resemble each other; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
A recent visit to my hometown to see a 93-year-old sister brought Tolstoy’s sentence to mind. For an entire year, thanks to Fauci & Company., my childless, frail sister neither saw nor was she seen by any of her siblings. Finally seeing Margurette plus four more of my 16 brothers and sisters reminded me of the deep love all 17 of us have had for each other.
I’ve always placed my beloved siblings in chronological “clumps.” My oldest brother R.C., born in 1917, was a farmer, though not a life-long tenant farmer like our father. R.C. eventually had his own farm and land. Our father worked on the farms of three different “men on the hill,” never owning a handful of dirt. Unlike Paul (1919) and Pete (1921), R.C. remained in Mississippi, relishing hard labor. I admire him immensely.
Who could blame Paul and Pete for joining the Army in order to escape the cotton fields? They had picked cotton from early boyhood. Many other Southern farm boys took the same path. Paul and Pete loved the military, despite their duty in some of the worst fighting of World War II. Nobody enjoyed life more than they. How culturally enriched the Hines family became when Paul brought home an Italian bride from Trieste soon after the war ended. Away from her home and its Adriatic breezes, Antonia fought nobly and successfully against Southern heat and grease.
Ida, Jewel and Authula (just call her Thula) were housewives their entire lives. I wouldn’t be scornful of the word “housewife” in their presence if I were you. Well aware of the changing culture in the late 50s and early 60s, all three of them would tell you quickly what they thought about the increasingly negative influence of Hollywood. Born in 1922, 1924, and 1926, respectively, they, like their mother, loved and served their families sacrificially. These stalwart sisters weren’t too concerned about women’s liberation. Instead of “I am woman, hear me roar,” they were more inclined to say “I am woman by the grace of God.”
Ida was what Southern folks would often call “a mess.” Overflowing with stories and jokes, she could occasionally be slightly risqué which led our mother to cup her hand over her mouth to abort laughter and then whisper, “Ida!”
Margurette and Minnie (1928 and 1930) comprise one of the four clumps of two. Margurette was the last sister to be a full time housewife while Minnie, a mother of three, was a Registered Nurse. Minnie married a Yankee. Funny and brilliant, Ramsey took delight in our country ways and loved coffee and laughter as much as we did. Margurette and Minnie’s love for each other always made me think they were twins.
Walter Hines, Jr. (Bub) and Durwood (1931 and 1933) comprise the fourth clump and the second duo. Bub was a businessman and then a pastor; Durwood was a mail carrier. They both told hilarious jokes and always kept up with current events. This latter habit rubbed off on me.
The remaining three clumps are the ones with whom I grew up. The siblings named above had left home and had families by the time I was born. Almedia (1935), Ruby (1937), and Janelle (1938) were as close as three sisters could be. They were smart. Because our mother enjoyed working in the garden and fields with our father, I still picture these precious sisters doing most of the household chores. Almedia became the executive secretary of the state Pardons and Parole Board; Ruby, the secretary for a prominent lawyer who ran for Governor; and Janelle a secretary for Sunbeam Corporation and later Raytheon.
Carolyn and Tressie (1940 and 1942) were only four and two years older than I yet each often seemed like a mother to me. Carolyn married a Marine and traveled the world; Tressie had a family and became a Registered Nurse.
I and Carlton (1944 and 1947) grew up under the gentle reign of Eisenhower (a hero to both Paul and Pete). Carlton graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi and has worked in banking and insurance. We’re close. “Baby brothers” have to stick together.
No day passes without one or more of these siblings parking in my mind. Our poverty was elegant, though real. Rather than turning us into rabid socialists, it steered us to call upon the God our parents loved and served. R.C., Paul, Pete, Ida, Jewell, and Durwood have left us. Their invigorating spirits have not. I’m thankful for all 16 of these incredible people.