Monday, July 23, 2007

Tales of Aunt Memphis

Like most people edging ever closer to death, I have gotten interested in genealogy.Genealogy is the hobby of choice of the self absorbed, people who are so narcissistic that they take time away from thinking only about themselves in order to think only about their ancestors. In Asia once, this was somewhat understandale because the people would pray to their ancestors. Here in America we only brag about them, or sweep them under a tug, or most likely, bore our friends to tears with them.

The internet has allowed the curious, but lazy, like myself to piggyback on other people's hard work and sometimes figure out three hundred plus years of family history with just a few clicks. That's what I did last week. Of course if you do geneology in this fashion, you rely on possible errors others have made and may be deluding yourself to a great extent. But that still beats actually doing the work itself. I won't be any happier if I find out that I am not really descended from old Nathanial Porter than I am now believeing that I am.In fact, if I'm not related to him, I'd just as soon no one tell me that and ruin the little chart I'm putting together.I'm not going to be digging through death certificates.

I had an Aunt Memphis. Many people in Texas had an Aunt Memphis. Those who did not were familair with her.Aunt Memphis was the large, loud busy- body math teacher at every Texas Junior High School.You could always hear this teacher yelling at her kids three doors down from your class. She was the kind of teacher that all the other teachers were terrorized of, and the younger ones would conspiratorily grin at you when she did something obnoxious. Which most Aunt Memphis types did every day. I mean every day. They never missed school. You'd wake up and pray that just this one day your Aunt Memphis teacher would have the flu, but it never happened.

Not that I did not love my Aunty Memphis. She gave me my first bible when I was about 8 (a slap at my mother who did not make us attend church). She kept the family of seven brothers and two sisters more or less organized.Whenever she came to Houston from Temple, the whole clan would gather and talk for hours ,telling the same old stories that got as big a laugh as the first time you heard them.

She also had a glass eye. I don't know how she lost her eye. I used to think about it from time to time. She always had to come to Houston for new glass eyes. She was notoriously cheap so she probably put that task off until the old eye had faded pretty well and she was walking around the school yards of Temple, Texas with a glassy white spot staring out at you.

I am thinking about Aunt Memphis because she once got the idea in her head that she wanted to be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. That meant that she had to do a geneolgy study to show that some ancestor or other had fought in the Revolution. Somehow she got in. It was not through the Porter line I traced last week. That would have put her in the Daughters of the War of 1812 or the Daughters of the Confederacy, but it looked to me like my line of Porters (good old Henry)let his brother do the Revolutionary fighting for the family .Well good for him, my daughter is never going to be in the Daughters of the Vietnam War either, but I'm not losing any sleep over it.

I have one video of my Aunt Memphi, taken by my cousin Don. It is at a family gathering and she is aware that she is speaking for posterity so, as I recall, she begins her speech, " History tells us..." and then goes on to place the family among those rugged pioneers of the 1840s who came to Texas from the other southern states. "History" also tells us that many of those pioneers had left town just ahead of the sheriff and/or their creditors, but "History" has a big mouth, and so Aunt Memphis chose to leave that part of the tale out.At any rate, before she could get well into the story, she began to be heckled and corrected by my Uncle Mike.Every family should have an Uncle Mike . don't see how a family could get by without one.Uncle Mike understood that the least important element of truth is accuracy. Accuracy often got in the way of a salient point, an important lesson or (most frequently) a good laugh. Consequently,Mike's version of any story was at least five times as entertaining as any other version of the story.Thus, my brother and I tended to listen to him pretty much exclusively at these family gatherings and ,where versions of a story parted, always went with his version.Aunt Memphis was always an unwitting foil in these exercises.She was much like Margaret Dumont in a Groucho Marks movie. When Memphis was not around, Mike's wife, Aunt Ella, was a witting foil for Mike's stories, and through years of practiced looks, head shakes and shudders, played a marvelous George Burns to his Gracie Allen, sometimes getting a better laugh herself.When Mike got too far out of line she would catch our eye and silently mouth "that's false". What she meant of coures was that it was not accurate. That did not make it any less true.

I'd give every penny I have to be at one more gathering of the clan with Mike and Memphis and Regal and Earl, my Dad and Fanny Fay. I'd be armed with all my new geneology facts and get to hear Uncle Mike cut them to ribbons, or better, embelsih them with the true facts that "History" seldom tells us.


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