April 15, 2021

WHAT BECAME OF HER?

A large gray cardboard box was always tucked away under an end table in our living room.  When I was little, one of my favorite pastimes was looking through its treasures.  Harriett used it to store all the old family photographs rather haphazardly.  Many were family pictures that had belonged to her parents.  The black and white photos we made were usually put in little binders at the Athens Photo Shop when they developed the film.  It was those mysterious older pictures that fascinated me.

The clothes and hairstyles of the women seemed so glamorous.  And the rather frozen expressions of the subjects showed how intimidating it was to face a studio photographer and his exploding “flash lamp.” I never tired of studying the pictures and asking Harriett about these relatives from long ago.  

This portrait was one of my favorites!  I thought the young woman was very beautiful and imagined romantic stories about her life.  Her demure dress, her lovely upswept hairstyle, and her sweet expression were charming.  Harriett said she was her cousin Sallie Cate.  

Sallie’s father was my grandfather George Cate’s brother Sim. He had married Hattie Edgemon from Englewood and they had three children—Buford, Sallie and Meta.  When little Meta was about three, she was playing with her older siblings on an old wagon on a hill. The wagon suddenly began rolling down the hill with Meta in its path.  She was killed instantly and Buford and Sallie were traumatized. 

Some years later, Hattie died and Sim remarried a woman named Julia.  To get a fresh start, the family moved to Texas. Here they posed for a family photo on their front porch in Texas—many miles away from their Tennessee roots. 

At first they made occasional trips back home to visit their family, and the cousins loved spending time with teenaged Sallie and Buford.

After Julia and then Sim died, the communication and visits from the Texas cousins slowed and then stopped.  Decades passed without a word. I wondered what had happened to this “other” Sallie.  Then out of the blue, some forty years after the last visit, the sixty-something Texas cousin sent a letter to Clifford Cate to reconnect with her long-lost family.  Clifford had died several years before and the postmaster delivered the letter to his widow Abbie.  She notified other cousins, and soon a flurry of letters, photos and phone calls began filling in the blanks for these cousins.  And yes, there was eventually a reunion in Tennessee! I finally got to meet the mysterious woman in the photos. She did not disappoint. That visit is another story.

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