If you know me very well, you know that my Aunt Sue was my very favorite relative and that she had a great influence in my life. Aunt Sue was my mother’s little sister and her lifelong best friend. My middle name is Sue, and I have always been proud to have been named for my daddy (Patrick) and my aunt, two people who loved me well.
The bond between my Aunt Sue and my mother was fierce and strong; I always felt it was at least partly due to the fact that their father died in his 30s of pneumonia (in the days before penicillin and welfare) when my mother was 5 years old, and that their mother was totally deaf, due to an illness. I can just imagine that my mother became “the mother” way too early for the four children who were born of that union. My mother rarely talked of those early days, but she did tell me once that she got mad at any child who prayed, “Our Father who art in Heaven” if their father was still on earth. We forget too often the limited understanding of young children; the incorrect conclusions that they come to often influence the rest of their lives. The story of a young, deaf mother with four small children left on a poor farm in west Tennessee was probably too painful to talk about. My mother came away from this experience much like a mother bear ready to pounce on anyone who might harm her siblings, and my Aunt Sue must have felt very protected and loved, because she was a happy go lucky spirit who brought laughter wherever she went.
Of course, I was drawn to that warmth and fun, and who wouldn’t have been, since I don’t remember a time that I went to see her that she didn’t welcome me with great joy and a gift. We lived about 60 miles from her in a time when travel was limited because of shortages and lack of money, so our visits were not an every month occurrence, by any means. She must have kept a stash somewhere in her house, because even if we surprised her with a visit, she would excuse herself and go wrap a gift and present it to me. When I was in college, any new clothes that I had came from her, often with the statement, “I bought this for myself, but it doesn’t fit right; you take it.”
The fact that Aunt Sue married an older gentleman who was one of the most charming men I have ever known and the fact that he always commented that I was pretty made me love the visits we had in their home even more. Aunt Sue’s husband, John Knox, was the county court clerk in Gibson County, worked in the beautiful court house in Trenton, Tenn., and I and all who knew him esteemed him greatly. Their son, Sonny, was my favorite cousin. He was near my age, and we had great adventures solving “crimes,” roaming the neighborhood and walking downtown to the drug store. He was the first person I knew to own an electric train and a real chemistry set. Sonny was always generous with his fine gifts, so I loved to visit Trenton, Tenn. When I think of their lovely home, my first thoughts are of ticking and chiming wind-up clocks on the walls. I still love to hear ticking and chiming clocks.
Thoughts of my Uncle John have brought to my memory a story he told which I have remembered at several different points in my life. Because of the Great Depression and other factors, Uncle John married late in life, so he had had the opportunity to observe children among his friends and family before having his child. He was always a gentleman, and he had a quick wit and dry sense of humor. It seemed he always had a twinkle in his eye, but the casual observer might not have known why. He was a great observer and a wonderful story teller as he sat with his pipe in his big chair. He had always wanted a son, and he had had plenty of time to think through what his child would and would not do in the future. Of course his child would not ever misbehave or do the mischievous and careless things that other children did. He did not verbalize his feelings, and I can so identify with him, because we were married for seven years before our first child was born, and I was sure that I knew all of the “how-to’s”!!!
Uncle John’s perfect baby was born, and he was so very happy with his behavior while he was in laps and cribs; he was a perfect child. One time, though, soon after John Knox Jr. began to toddle, the Knoxes had important house guests. Their guest room was located between the living room and the den in their home. Uncle John was enjoying his pipe and good conversation when he looked up to see young Johnny toddling precariously toward the den holding the guest’s fine pocket watch high in the air. He said, “I had never been more embarrassed; I felt right then that I needed to go and apologize to every person I knew for what I had thought about their children’s behavior.”
Oh, isn’t that true? And even though we have experienced this over and over in our own lives, we still often think, when our children are little, “My child will never do that, say that, wear that or be that!” There is a very small window of time when you might think that you can “control” your child. God would not have gone to all of the trouble to create us as individuals (no two people on this earth alike) to have us dominated or controlled by another, not even our parents. We have great influence over our children, I think, both negatively and positively, but we don’t have control.
Let’s try to remember that we don’t really know the talents, personalities and purposes of these precious babies that are given to us. We would be far wiser to spend our time humbly seeking wisdom and knowledge rather than control over our children. In the meantime, we may need to consider an apology to all of those people for the thoughts that we had about the behavior of their children before we had the opportunity to live through our own embarrassing experiences. Be careful who you criticize; your own child or grandchild may do this very same thing (or worse) in a few years.
(You can reach Pat Bryson at patriciawbryson@ gmail.com)