Week 12: March 22, 2014
Lena McKinley Van Dusen
Aunt Lena was my grandfather’s favorite sister – my mother remembers her coming every year to spend time with them on their farm. Mama often rode to the train station with her father to pick her up and was always excited when she came.
She often came yearly and spent two weeks at her brothers, usually in the fall. She got along very well with her sister-in-law and enjoyed helping while she was there. One time she even cut a door in the back room as her brother wouldn’t do it. If she wanted to do something, there was no stopping her. I can see where my mother gets her determination from, must be a McKinley female trait!
Her trips usually came late in the fall as she loved bringing some of her brothers cured ham back home. She often bragged to her Atlanta friends about his hams and sometimes he’d sell to them if they drove down on the weekends.
When my grandfather was a young boy, his mother Rossie L. Sharp McKinley died, leaving Lena, the oldest sister, to take on the job of raising her brother Edgar. It was said she toted him around on her hip while he whined that he wanted a “dam yam tater”(sweet potato).
Lena and her sister Emma went to Atlanta as young girls and found jobs at Southern Bell Telephone. Both Lena and Emma married their husbands in Atlanta and lived their lives there – neither having children. Lena’s husband, Charles, was a cabinet and furniture maker. Her brother, Edgar, came to Atlanta after leaving the Army and worked with his brother-in law in his cabinet shop for awhile, but he really missed the farm; he loved farming as a young boy. He hated building furniture, and longed to be back on the farm. One day he just took the train back home to Siloam, Georgia.
Being such a strong willed determined woman, Lena worked her way up through the ranks in Southern Bell, from a telephone operator to a high management position in the end before retirement.
I remember visiting Aunt Lena in Atlanta after her husband passed away. We often went yearly and spent a week there in the summer. She lived in a large home on a corner lot across from Grant Park. I can remember climbing the steep steps to the back porch and I loved the large porch in the front where you could watch the many cars everyday going by. Grant Park was home to a local zoo and the famous Atlanta Cyclorama and it was directly across from her house. One day I sneaked off and Aunt Lena came and found me in the park on the swings – I’m sure I received a stern lecture from her about how unsafe it was to be along there – before pulling me back to the house!
I was always afraid of her when I was young as she was a very stern woman and very particular about her home – not used to having young children around. I remember sneaking into her pristine living room to look at all the antiques – the different and old furniture intrigued me. I usually was caught and scolded; she was the type to drag you out by your ears!
My mother received a few pieces of furniture from her; my favorite was the sewing caddy that I have kept through the years. I have a platinum pendant and a few pieces of glassware. Even though Aunt Lena had no children she left many nieces and nephews who have never forgotten her and all she did for them.
Even without a high school education Aunt Lena managed to leave quite an inheritance behind when she died. She was a saver from a young age and learned how to invest her money over the years. Upon her death, she left a monthly stipend to her living brothers and sister in her will; after their deaths, the remaining was divided among the nieces, nephews, great nephews and great nieces. That was a smart and strategic move on her part to have included so many of her family in the planning of her will. A local friend, a judge, was left in charge of her will and the distribution over the years. I was one of her great nieces – Thank You Aunt Lena for thinking of me!
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