January 1, 2021

Juanita Cate Underwood, January 1, 1928-March 12, 2005

This framed photograph was always at the left corner of the living room mantel at 936 White Street SW, Atlanta. Juanita at her loveliest, so full of hope and joy.  This was her graduation photograph from a post-high school business school.  The beautiful long white dress—still in her bedroom closet when she died—was the only long dress she ever wore. The extravagant bouquet of red roses—did she ever have another bouquet just for herself? And her diploma—that was her ticket to a career. 

Shortly after graduation, she went to work in a downtown office for an insurance company.  Every day she rode the bus to and from work.  She remained with that company until she retired early—mostly because her office relocated to the suburbs and computers were coming.  It was just too complicated.   

Her job wasn’t exciting but it gave her independence.  An only child, she lived with her parents in her childhood home—and remained there alone after their deaths.  She never had to pay rent or a mortgage—but provided the main income for the family for many years. Her two greatest extravagances were buying a new car (usually a Chevrolet) every few years and taking her mother (my Aunt Della) on a vacation every summer.  They went to Charleston, Daytona Beach, Williamsburg, Hot Springs, Savannah and enjoyed sightseeing, eating out, staying in motels and the road trip.  

Somewhere along the way she became a hoarder and a hermit. Paranoid  and fearful of her changing neighborhood, she stayed up all night listening to the radio and slept all day.  Her last car sat unused in the driveway for years—as she continued renewing her driver’s license and paying car insurance on it until the city condemned and removed it. Distrusting doctors and hospitals, she died alone—found by police who broke in after her neighbors couldn’t get a response when they knocked. 

The promise of the photograph on the mantel—where did it go and why?

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