Monday, February 15, 2010

Aunt Helen

We buried Aunt Helen yesterday. My hope is that everyone could be as blessed as I have been to have an Aunt Helen in my life. My dad was one of 11 children. When he was four years old his mother, Ida Brinkley, died and his father remarried. Dad was the youngest of the first set of children. His siblings that I remember were Aunt Maudie,Uncle Don, Uncle Irvin, Uncle Carsee, and Uncle Lester.

The second set of dads siblings that were younger than him were Aunt Helen, Earlene and Jeanette. Their mother was Ila Mae Brinkley. Jeanette is the youngest and the surviving sister in Dads family. Dad spent a lot of time at Aunt Maudie's growing up and I know he looked to her as a mother figure. Because of that she was the closest thing to our grandmother on my Dad's side. Aunt Helen was the next closest sister that I remember.

When I was young we spent many, many weekends going to Phenix City, Alabama to visit my Aunt Maudie and of course we always went to Opelika, Alabama to visit with Aunt Helen, Uncle Bill, Suelane, Faye, Billy, Gerald and Tony at the farm. Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen lived in a big white farmhouse on the many acres of land that they farmed. It was a magical place and time for me. I can remember myself, my two brothers Curtis and Bill, and our cousins running around barefoot on the warm sandy soil playing until our hearts were content and we were exhausted.

Then we'd come in and sit around the long table with benches on both sides and be served a feast cooked by Aunt Helen. Homemade biscuits, fresh butter-beans, corn on the cob, black-eyed peas, etc. and then we would have fried pies for dessert. Nobody could beat Aunt Helen's fried pies.

While we were there I would visit the outhouse if I needed to go to the bathroom. Now, this didn't bother me because I thought it was fun and unique and I knew I would be going home to inside plumbing. I remember a well on the front porch and we would drop the bucket in the well, draw up water and quench our thirst with cool water straight from the tin dipper. When the weekend was over we returned home to our every day lives looking forward to the next visit. The visits were magical. As the progression of life continued we became teenagers and no longer wanted to go and visit anyone with our parents - heaven forbid! Then all of our cousins as well as ourselves started our own families and ties were forgotten.

Yesterday, February 14, 2010 at Aunt Helen's funeral all of these memories and feelings came rushing over me like a tsunami of water. I am so very thankful that I was able to go and once again see my cousins - though it was a sad time. I walked around the old Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery looking at the graves of my grandfather (Will Brinkley) and grandmother(Ida Brinkley) that I never knew. I saw the grave of my precious Aunt Maudie (another story in and of itself) and other relatives who have gone on to be with the Lord.

We then went out to the old farm place on Herring Road. My cousin Faye had told me the old farmhouse had long ago burned down and a new brick home had taken its place - but that the barn was still standing. We finally turned into what I thought was the long sandy driveway to the farm and as we drove up I could see all of us kids out playing around the barn.
Memories came flooding back as well as many emotions that I didn't quite know what to do with.
It was bittersweet. I was so thankful for the wonderful memories, but I was sad that those times were gone and would never be back.

With all of Dad's siblings gone, except for Jeanette, it brought on the realization that we were the next generation to become the elders. It hit me like a brick wall - I felt so old (I know 55 is not really old, but it felt that way). I couldn't help longing for simpler times and the carefree days of childhood. I took pictures of the barn and I am going to post one on here as well as post a poem I had written many years ago about memories of visiting Aunt Maudie and Aunt Helen's. Two of the most precious women you would ever want to meet.

I'm curious to know if you had an Aunt Helen and if you've had some of the same feelings I've had over the last couple of days. If so, write and let me know about them. I could use some support right now. Thank you for letting me share my memories with you!


Mimosa trees-
Green leaves-
Pink Blossoms-

Memories triggered-
Childhood gone-
Never forgotten-

Hot summers-
Long days-
Night songs-

Garden growing-
Fresh food-
Home cooking-

Aunts & uncles-
Cousins & brothers-
Friends & family-

Time gone-
Childhood memories-
Never forgotten-



  1. wow yes I went back to the house in silvercreek where I grew up,the house had burned down after we moved.but so many memories came flooding back to me.I invisioned me and my brothers playing around the big trees out front My momma would take us outside on the hot summer nights and play drop the hankerchief with all us kids,the moon lit up the ground like it was day time.The smells of the honeysuckle vines and the pine trees came flooding back and if only for a moment I was that little girl again ,innocent and sweet ,untouched by the pain and reality of life!The creek across the road seemed like a ocean to me then,looking at the little trickle of water running thru the ground now in no more than a small ditch amazed me .I would put my hands on the bottom and crawl around ,thinking I was tricking my brothers into thinking I could swim,ofcourse they never let on that they knew any better,ah sweet untouched memories!If only we could escape there more often!

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your Aunt Helen! Obviously she was a very special woman.


  3. A special tribute to the love she invested in you. May the same be said of all of us someday. I had an aunt I adored. She was a hoot and infused her sense of humor in me. I remember at one family reunion, we all met at Lake Tahoe in northern California.

    The line was long, getting into the park campgrounds. Back then, there was no such thing as air conditioning, so the windows were all open and I hung my head out.

    Up a fews cars ahead stood a gypsy woman on the side of the road, selling pencils. She cackled and pestered all the cars. I know you can see what's coming. It was my Auntie Flo. She lived to embarrass her brothers and sisters. :D

    She was my hero.

  4. Debbie, that was an awesome tribute and secial reminder of those simple days of our childhood. I am glad I got to share a part of the day with you and that I am a part of the Brinkley family. It was great to see and hear more of the family history. Sending love your way.

  5. What a poignant remembrance. I had an Aunt Tissie, so beloved we named a dog after her (and she GOT IT!!!) Tissie taught me to carry dog biscuits in my car in case a stray wandered near (seemed to happen much more frequently on the kinder, gentler streets of 1960s Shreveport, Louisiana.) Aunt Tissie showered powdery perfume all over the place. Now I LOVE that smell. Aunt Tissue wore rhinestone jewelry the size of small river boulders, and on her, it just looked right.

    Aunt Tissie taught me how to play bridge, to love the Lord and life; if I have an ounce of style, it's thanks to Aunt Tissie!

    Thanks for letting me walk down memory lane!


  6. I grew up an Army brat and we were almost always overseas. I didn't get to know my relatives. I graduated from high school in Germany. So - I don't have an Aunt Helen story to tell. I did have a Grandmother who is the reason I am a Christian.

    She loved children, royal colors like purple and fuchsia, iris, and the Lord. When she died, we came to see her and she yelled at us for keeping her. We were late and she was angry because she wanted to go. None of us understood, but I left with one of my aunts to get groceries, and came back and my mom was upset. She said Grandma told her Jesus was coming to get her at 9:30 that night and she'd be walking with Him. My mom had been trying to call us but with so many to call, my aunt's phone had gone dead. It was nearly nine.

    She talked to me and my boys. Told me all kinds of things I wish I remembered now. I thought she was kind of crazy. She was saying things about God using me and what I was going to do with God and I wasn't a Christian. I didn't believe. Everyone I had ever seen who called themselves a Christian had been... a hypocrite. My parents - they pastor at my one church who cheated on his wife and didn't stop... the kids at youth group who made out with one another (and worse) just the same as all the others. I didn't see any difference.

    She kind of scared me. She prayed for my boys and me. Then she asked for her purse all the sudden. It was in the middle of a sentence. She fought for it. So finally we gave her one of ours. She seemed to calm down then for a while. Then her breathing got labored for a minute and the nurse came in. Before she could do anything my grandma looked to the side and smiled. She let go of the purse and she almost seemed to glow. She looked so happy and peaceful. She stopped breathing and was declared dead. It was 9:28.

    I ran from the room and down to the lobby. I couldn't stop crying and goosebumps were all over my arms. I knew she wasn't alone when she died. I knew she wasn't afraid. I knew she was telling the truth about God. She had a relationship with Him and trusted Him. I wanted that. It wasn't about rules and being perfect for me ~ I wanted what my Grandma had. So I prayed there in that lobby and then I called my husband and told him.

    I have a picture of Iris plants hanging on my wall and a plaque that says "Believe" over them to remind me of her influence and why I believe. I've also planted them at every house we've ever had.

    May God comfort you in your loss and thank you for reminding me also.

  7. Your post didn't make me think of an Aunt ... but of my Grandpa. Our home is built on the foundation left from his home burning down. I love knowing that my boys are growing up on a foundation filled with memories and family ties. I often think of this foundation and it relates to the foundation I built my spiritual life on.