Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I should be writing about Uncle Tom today. It would be his 95th birthday if he were still with us. But others have that covered today. Thinking about him reminded me of someone else. 
And thinking of that someone made me think of one of my favorite gifts I ever had the pleasure of presenting to someone. I made it myself with great love and care for my Aunt Mary.

At that time my mother’s older unmarried sister lived with my grandmother in the little mill village, Porterdale. And she had a collection that fascinated the younger nieces and nephews. She had little china animals scampering about coffee tables and mantels in one room. Poodles and dalmations and miscellaneous cats, maybe even a skunk or raccoon -- a crowd of happy inexpensive miniatures to rival Noah’s living assortment. (If any of my siblings or cousins remember more specifically her animals I hope you will comment below. It seems like there may have been a jaguar or lion.)

Aunt Mary Baird Shepherd
Mrs. Matilda Brown introduced our class to papier mache in Griffin during my fourth grade year. Most of the students made foot-long brown bears or lions or giraffes. I tried to make mine very small and detailed because I thought it would be so neat to make something for Aunt Mary’s "animal" collection. My papier mache dog was about four or five inches long and was carefully painted gray with black spots. You’d have thought I’d given her a Faberge egg or a Tiffany lamp! She displayed my misshapen wrinkled “dog” as proudly as all the rest of her menagerie of miniatiure beasties.

Of course, if Aunt Mary knew we were coming that day, she would have baked my favorite -- strawberry cake. So I’m pretty sure I got a present, too. I was spoiled rotten. Christmas was never complete without Aunt Mary’s divinity and fudge.

In middle age Aunt Mary married Pierce Shepherd, a roly-poly jolly man. He and Aunt Mary continued to live in the corner house and Mama Baird moved across the strret into a smaller house that my parents owned.
 Aunt Mary with her brother, my uncle Tom Baird -- today would be his 95th birthday.
Widowed in her seventies, and her mother gone as well, Mary moved to Rockmart, another mill town, to live near her older sisters, Sis and Veek to their loved ones, Louise and Vera to the world at large.

Aunt Mary, in her old age, developed a cancer in her mouth. It required radical surgery.

After her surgery her face was horribly disfigured and it was very hard for her to talk. She went to the Methodist senior living complex Wesley Woods to attempt to recuperate. We wanted to visit her there, and we wanted to take Brannon, who was only two or three, because we felt it would be good for Aunt Mary to have a child visit her. We prepared Brannon for the visit as best we could, telling her that Aunt Mary’s face was hurt badly and that she would not be able to talk well. Brannon could not have responded better to Aunt Mary’s predicament. I believe we did the right thing. Children can be very accepting of things like that when they are prepared for it. And Aunt Mary’s eyes lit up at the sight and touch of a very loving child.

Aunt Mary never made it back to the mill village at Rockmart. She died a few weeks later surrounded by her kin.

On my last visit to Aunt Mary's house before her cancer surgery, I arrived in the Book-Mobile. As a summer job I drove it all over Polk and Floyd counties delivering best-sellers and Hardy Boys and Harlequins and Zane Greys by the box load. I persuaded my cohort to stop for just a few minutes since we were driving right by.  Mary was to have surgery in just a day or two.  While we were there Aunt Mary wanted to show me something in her bedroom.

And here is the precious gift she gave me, unawares.

I don’t remember the thing she took me in there to see. What I remember, with a catch in my throat every time, is that there on her bedroom wall was a framed 8 x 10  picture of a chubby, smiling, six-month old baby playing with a rattle: me.

The picture of yours truly that hung on Aunt Mary's wall.

Mary Baird Shepherd was a kind-hearted, humble, and loving woman. She never had children of her own, but she showered motherly love on all her nieces and nephews. We miss her still.