January 26, 2021

Julia Ensminger Bales

WE THOUGHT SHE WAS ROYALTY

My great-aunt Julia held court in her Victorian home just near downtown Athens, where she lived until her death at age 97.  She was three years younger than her sister Evalee, my grandmother.  She and her younger sister Callie Guthrie both played a key role in the lives of their nieces and nephews but Aunt Julia was the matriarch.

Mother adored Aunt Julia—she probably reminded her of her own mother, who died in 1930. And Harriett and Julia were definitely cut from the same cloth!  They both loved to be the center of attention.  Both were anxious worriers– known for their frequent deep sighs, which seemed to confirm that their worry patrol was on duty! 

Like Mother, Aunt Julia had spent many years as a widow after her mail carrier husband Stephen died in 1926. Her daughter Sarah Lee and son Howard (neither of whom had children) doted on her.  They both had outgoing and cheerful dispositions—and they lightened her moods!  Another daughter had died when she was a young mother and her four children were also loving and attentive to their grandmother.

When I was a little girl, Mother and I would go every few weeks to “spend the day” with Aunt Julia!  I loved lying on the rug in the high-ceilinged parlor—crammed full of antique chairs and love seats—upholstered with dark velvets. I’d read books I brought along and listened to the constant chatter of the two women—punctuated by laughter, a few of those deep sighs, and occasionally tears.  Aunt Julia reminisced about the “good old days” when she and her sisters were girls, they shared memories of their personal griefs and struggles, and discussed the current family struggles.  There was always some new family worry to report! Other times, Mother would host Aunt Julia at our house—sometimes also inviting her sister Callie as well. 

One thing those aunties always did was lie down for an afternoon nap—whether at their home or ours.  Maybe that was one of the secrets of their longevity.  Aunt Julia died at 97 in 1965, Aunt Callie at 98 in 1973—and Mother died in 2002 at 94.  I think the deep sighs probably added a few years, too.

“Spending the day” meant laughter, conversation, sharing a meal, taking a nap, and hugs and kisses all around. A gift indeed.

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