Aunt Sue, about age 19.
I only knew her as “Aunt Sue.” The story has it that somewhere in her travels as a young woman, a customer in one of the coffee shops she worked started calling her Sue, and it stayed. Perhaps she never felt right with the name Iris.
That’s all I really knew about her before her marriage to my Uncle John; in fact, I am not even sure how they met. I do know she was artistic and adventurous. Born in 1924, she was the eldest of five children and must have witnessed plenty as a youth during the Great Depression. I think about how unsettling it must have been to be so destitute, but if you’ve known nothing else your entire life, perhaps it wouldn’t seem so daunting.
I know she must have sensed more was out there, as she left home at a young age. There are numerous photographs of her younger siblings, with her literally out of the picture. I had heard at one time that she had her sights on becoming an actress, but no one really knew if she made it to L.A. or not. John McAfee came into her life, and around age 23 she became a mother.
I believe it was around this time that my mother, age 15 at the time, came to live with Aunt Sue and Uncle John somewhere in Texas. My maternal grandmother had passed away when Mom was 14, and the following year mom’s father took her on a “visit” to see Aunt Sue, Uncle John and their two young daughters. My grandfather, feeling unfit to be a single dad, told my mother she wouldn’t be coming back with him. I know it had to have devastated her, but she had a loving family to take care of her at the time. Just the same, this would set the tone for my mother’s distrust in men.
Aunt Sue and my mother, Bettye, with their brother Slim, on the left.
I’m not sure how the family all made it back to Antioch, but in the meantime, Aunt Sue had two more children, a girl, Christine, and a boy, David. By that time my mother was ready to give (out of wedlock) birth to my brother Tommy. The father of my mother’s child was in the military and wanted nothing to do with my mother and the baby. Again, support of my mother’s immediate family became a method of survival. Mom and Tommy did find a place of their own, but Aunt Sue was never far away.
To be continued.