The memento I brought for the service today is one had to put in a plastic bag to protect it. Its cover is pretty frayed, and held together by tape.
It’s an old high school yearbook, published in 1927. It’s called “The Gallian”; the yearbook of the Gallia Academy of Gallipolis, Ohio. Among the senior class pictures is one of an attractive young woman known as “Lottie.” I never even knew she had that name until I discovered the book after she’d died, and I was helping clean out the house in which she’d lived for much of her life.
For me “Lottie” was my Aunt Leota—Leota Edington, my father’s younger, and only, sister. When I knew her she was keeping house for my grandfather and two of my uncles—my father’s and her brothers—on a small garden farm outside of the town of Gallipolis. Lottie’s mother—the woman who would have been my paternal grandmother—died several years before I was born.
Lottie had some promising times ahead when her yearbook picture was taken. She was heading off to college to be a school teacher. That was one of the few professions, at that time, along with nursing, for which it was “OK” for a young woman to go to college and prepare for. Lottie did attend and graduate from a small Ohio college not far from Gallipolis; and became a teacher. By the early 1930s she was a well-educated young woman with a teaching career.
Then life took its turns, as life tends to do whether we intend it or not. There was a brief marriage and divorce, which was never talked about in the family since divorce was a taboo subject at that time and in that place. I knew her one-time husband was named Elmer and that was about it.
But it was the death of Lottie’s mother, my Grandmother, Rebecca Mae Harmon Edington, in 1939 that set the course of her life from thereon out. When my Grandmother Rebecca Mae (who, as just noted, I never knew) died my grandfather and two of my uncles, his sons, were all living in the same house near Gallipolis.
My Grandfather, Bert Edington, had no apparent interest in re-marrying after becoming a widower. And he just more or less assumed, I guess, that his eldest, and only, daughter, Leota, would step into the role of homemaker now that his wife was gone. After all, that’s what women were expected to do then: Keep house, do the cooking and the washing and the cleaning and all those other women-type chores. The fact that his daughter had a college degree and a teaching career apparently didn’t matter all that much. She was more or less expected to give that up, supposedly for the sake of the family.
Maybe there were some conversations along the line of “Well, Leota, if you can just help keep the house up until we get things a little more straightened out since your mother has died—then perhaps you can get back to your teaching.” But that never happened. She spent the rest of her life as a housekeeper for her father and her two brothers—the people who would become my grandfather and my uncles once I was born. Leota’s youngest brother, my Uncle Don, did become a high school teacher after going to college with the help of the GI Bill, having served in the Army in World War II. He taught high school over near Cincinnati. But, being a bachelor at that time, he but came back to Gallipolis during the summers.
I was born in 1945, and came into my Aunt Leota’s life soon thereafter. By now her yearbook name of Lottie was long gone. She was my Aunt Leota—the keeper of the Gallipolis farmhouse where she, my grandfather, and my Uncles Stanley, and—during the summer—Don, lived. These were the people with whom I spent my summers from the time I was six years old until I reached my teens, there on the outskirts of a little Ohio River town.
When you’re a kid you more or less assume that the world around you is working in the way the world is supposed to work. So, I saw nothing unusual about being a part of a household—for three months out of the year—made up of my Grandfather, my two Uncles Stanley and Don, and my Aunt Leota. I saw nothing unusual in my Aunt doing the cooking, the washing, the ironing, and all other such household chores. They were the same kinds of things my mother did in my West Virginia home the other nine months of the year. My Aunt Leota had the additional chores of doing all the canning of the tomatoes, beans, and peaches we grew and that were stored in a cellar under the house. Helping her with the canning, for me, was fun.
Another part of those summers was that about once a week my Aunt Leota, or my Uncle Don, would take me down to the town library and have me check out a bunch of books. Many of them were about American history—appropriate for whatever age I happened to be—and others were age appropriate fiction. I’d take them back to the farmhouse and read them, and then the three of us—Leota, Don, and I—would have discussions about them.
Here’s how Leota and Don would provide me with a little spending money for our trips into town: They would pay me for memorizing things: The Presidents of the United States, the States and their Capitals, the Gettysburg Address, the Preamble to the Constitution, things like that. I was homeschooled those summers before the term homeschooling was even invented. And it never seemed onerous. I was having a good time.
My Aunt Leota especially doted on me. Since my father was the only one of his siblings who was married at that time, and since I only had sisters for siblings myself, then I was Leota’s only nephew. So, the little running joke we had was that I was her “favorite nephew.” And she certainly treated me that way from one summer to the next.
It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood, and thought back on those days, that I began to figure out a few things about my Aunt. There were no children from her short-lived marriage to Elmer; and she essentially forfeited her college degree and teaching career to keep house for her father and two of her brothers. I became the person—the kid—upon whom she lived out the life she didn’t get. I was the child she never had; I was the student she didn’t get to teach in a classroom.
I also recalled, again from my adult retrospective, how close she was to my Uncle, and her brother, Don. She wanted to hear so much about his teaching experiences and what his students were like. He got to have his teaching career, after all. He didn’t have to give any of it up for—supposedly—the sake of the family. But then, he was a man.
Even knowing what I came to know of her life, I bring Leota “Lottie” Edington’s 1927 high school yearbook to our Memento Altar with a sense of gratitude and appreciation. I doubt I fully made up for the life she could and should have had. But I know I brought some joy into it, and gave her at least some sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. And whatever I did for her, and my Uncle Don, I reaped it back ten-fold in their giving me my love of learning, my desire for knowledge, and my pursuing a life of the mind.
Bless you Aunt Leota; and rest in peace.
October 29, 2017