I spent a week one summer with my Aunt Sara Newton, one of my father’s sisters; her husband, Uncle Buck, and their five daughters, all older than me. I don’t recall if all five were still living at home. I’m pretty sure that B.T., Helen and Wiley were there, and maybe Peggy.
I suspect Yancy had already left Leeslick, the small rural village where they lived in a two-story brick house.
It was probably in July, in the mid-1950s. I was still in elementary school, maybe second or third grade. My family lived in northern Harrison County, in the village of Berry. The Van Derens lived in southern Harrison County. When Aunt Sara Newton married Edward Van Deren, her parents also lived north of Cynthiana. When she told her father they were going to set up house in Leeslick, his response, according to her, was, “I was hoping you’d at least stay in the county.” Well, she did, but it was a distance in those days.
Let me tell you about Aunt Sara Newton. In the 1930s, she graduated from college with a degree in mathmatics and taught high school math for years, something unheard of in those days, a woman teaching math. She was smart as a whip and could cook up a Sunday dinner or New Year’s Day dinner with the best of them. To the amazement of all of us, she would stand over a cast iron skillet filled with frying chicken, with a cigarette hanging in her mouth, ashes curling downward and never once did I see them fall into the skillet. It was always a miracle.
The summer I was visiting, I attended vacation bible school at the Leesburg Christian Church. That was when I first met Barry Carroll, who would eventually become one of my best nearly lifelong friends. That summer we were just two little kids who hung out together at church. Barry and his folks lived on a farm across the road from Aunt Sara Newton’s and up on a hill. It’s the Conner place now.
I was, quite frankly, thrilled to be in the Van Deren household. As the only girl in my family – the rose between the thorns – I often wished for a sister. These cousins became the closest I would get as family to a sister.
That was the only summer I visited. My older brother, Win, I recall, spent time during a couple of summers so Aunt Sara Newton could help him with his math.
My own experience with mathematics was tortuous at best, but I never got the tutoring Win received.
It’s okay. Years later, after both my parents had died, Aunt Sara Newton insisted I stay with her whenever I visited my hometown.
One night, sitting in the log cabin she had moved into after her husband died and her daughters all left home, she said to me, “You know, I always liked you, but I already had girls.”