Saturday, October 11, 2008

Conflicting Emotions

This is kind of a weird week for us.

On the one hand, we are on the eve of our first-ever Canadian Thanksgiving (yes, that's right, it's six weeks before the US one, which means we get the pick of the best turkeys!) and Heather's first time ever voting in Canadian elections (and she's been studiously examining the candidates, so look for some posts on that subject soon!). Both of these things are exciting for us.

On the other hand, we can't help but be reminded that this is the week both my and Heather's dad passed away two years ago, and that we still miss them.

To top it off, we learned earlier this week that my beloved 102-year-old (great) Aunt Austell, the oldest surviving Martin we have records on, passed away. She was as you might expect a link to our family's "heyday" in the north Georgia area, and her passing truly represents the end of an era there.

Of the few pictures I have of Austell, this one is my favourite; she is holding her great-great-niece Emma, at the time the youngest of the Martin clan. Austell is 99 in this picture, Emma was about six months old at the time.

Julia Austelle Henderson Martin was born in 1906, married my great-uncle Walter in 1931, and spent almost her entire life in the Alto/Cornelia/Demorest area. According to my father's lovingly-prepared history of the Martin family, as a young woman she worked for the Talullah Falls Railroad, then in a dress shop in Cornelia for the rest of her working years, even after her husband's sudden death in 1953. She was well-noted in town for her gardening skills, and mowed her own lawn (using one of those all-manual push mowers!) until she was into her late 90s. That stamina and a life of hard work was probably the factor that made her the oldest living Martin on record. She was a member of her church for an astonishing 92 years!

Until fairly recently, Austelle was for me one of a quartet of dimly-remembered great-aunts (Ora, Clara, and Hazel were the others) who had all died in the 60s and 70s when I was a child. My main childhood memory of all of them was of their great southern cooking skills. :)

We lost touch with the "North Georgia" Martins after my parents divorced in the mid-70s and it wasn't until 1999 when we went to a family reunion that I re-connected with Aunt Austelle. Though in her 90s, she still had good recollection and we spent quite some time at that first reunion catching up. We returned for her 99th birthday in 2004 and found her to be showing signs of age (at last) but still cognizant and happy, though she had by this time moved from her home into a nursing facility. In 2005 we visited her and found that her health and mental state were deteriorating rapidly. She did not seem very engaged or aware that she was now 100 years old. It was a shocking change from just a year prior.

A year later we were again in Cornelia for my dad's funeral, and we stopped in to visit Austell. She was in better spirits and seemed to remember my father but didn't seem sure who I was. My final visit was on our road trip through the US a year ago in 2007, and I don't think she recognised me at all, but that did not stop her from being happy to see us and willing to chat. I knew at the time it would be my last visit, as we were moving to Canada and wouldn't likely get down to Cornelia again for a long time, if ever. Despite her failing health, I'm glad we visited and I hope she felt the same way.

As we watch summer slide rapidly into autumn here in Victoria, it would seem that October is fated to be a month of transitions for us. Some good, some bad.


Anonymous said...

Happy Turkey Day!