I used to go visit my Aunt Alma on the weekends while attending Jackson State University in the late 70’s. I drove from Jackson to Cruger in Holmes County and as fate would have it, my co-worker, Mary, often accompanied me as I drove the state highways of Mississippi. I dropped her off at her family home in Lexington on my way and picked her up on my way back to Jackson. She was always pleasant company.
Aunt Alma was the wife of my great Uncle Robert Cooper. He was a preacher and a businessman and they still lived in the house where my mother was born. He was a man of few words but I knew that I was always welcomed there. Aunt Alma, a lively, spirited woman, made up for his few words. She was animated, quick and most kind to me. She probably cherished having some girl company after having four sons, though they had all long left the nest.
One had died and the other three had gone North to work in Fort Wayne, Indiana. An older Uncle Will had gone before them and later sent for them one by one. That was the way part of the Great Migration worked as one went ahead and later sent for others to find new homes and good-paying jobs away from the sharecropping South.
When my Uncle Robert Cooper passed in 1980, Aunt Alma tried to stay in her home of over 60 years, but her sons knew that she was not able to stay there. I went back down there to assist them because the boy children had a difficult time convincing a ruling mother that she had to let her home go.
They were happy for my company as I tried to soothe things over as she made the inevitable move. The scene reminded me of an Ernest Gaines’ short story called, “Just Like a Tree.” The adult children were trying to move the matriarch of the family north with them, but she died the night before they made the trip. She was determined to remain planted by her roots, so to speak.
Anyway, Aunt Alma made the trip to Fort Wayne and took up residence with her youngest son and his family. She survived and eleven years later, my mother and I decided to take a Greyhound bus from Chicago to Fort Wayne to see her. It was 1991, and when we arrived at the house all she said was, “Lynn. What took you so long?” I laughed and was happy that she had survived, thrived and adjusted to her new home.
My mother and I stayed in a nice hotel for a couple of nights. We went to the Cooper family homes, caught up on the latest and had an enjoyable time. Upon return to the hotel, there was a festive wedding celebration going on and this was an added lift for us. The last day we were there, we were awakened by nearby ringing church bells. It was probably the angels along with our Uncle Robert Cooper singing, “Well done, my good and humble servants!”
April 30, 2022