July 25, 2021

THE ONE WHO MOVED AWAY

Della Rose Cate Underwood lived most of her life in the West End of Atlanta. In contrast, her three siblings—Clifford, Harriett and Jack—never left the Athens area.  She was a pretty brown-eyed brunette with lovely dimples and seemed content to continue living with her parents and her widowed sister Harriett all through her twenties.  She especially loved taking care of her little nephew Glenn while his mother Harriett worked at Miller’s Department Store.  He adored his Aunt Della all his life.

Sometime in her thirties, a new beau appeared.  Richard Underwood was a few years older and worked on baggage cars for the railway.  His family was from the nearby Union Chapel community and he began visiting more often to see Della.  According to Harriett, their mother opposed the marriage.  Richard had been married before and his wife had tuberculosis.  She had died giving birth to a son, who also had tuberculosis.  Because he traveled so much with his job, Richard agreed that the son should live in Chattanooga with his late wife’s parents.  

Della and Richard married and moved to an apartment in Atlanta. They had a daughter Juanita and when she was small, they bought a little brick bungalow on White Street in West End. Over the years, the Cate cousins and Glenn cherished their visits to Aunt Della.  They loved the city life, riding streetcars to go downtown, going to movies at the Fox Theater, and hanging out with Juanita’s friends in the neighborhood.  Years later, I too loved visiting Aunt Della.  There was a girl my age who lived across the street from them, and a boy my age next door.  Aunt Della would fix us picnic lunches to eat on the front porch.  

She was always relaxed and just enjoyed being with us.  She liked shortcuts and was always eager to try new convenience foods like instant coffee and cake mixes. And she loved to laugh!  She, Juanita and I would sit in the living room evenings and more than once I literally fell out of my chair laughing at her stories.

After Juanita began working, she and Aunt Della would take a road trip to a different destination every summer.  That annual vacation was a big part of their life.

As I grew up, the visits back and forth became less frequent.  This photo of Aunt Della, Mother and me on her front porch was taken after I married and was one of our last visits there. As their neighborhood demographics changed, she and Juanita became fearful and gradually began shutting themselves off from everyone.  Eventually their house was surrounded by abandoned houses, drug dealers and gangs. Yet they stayed put, and asked us not to come.

We all were blessed by our gentle and loving aunt—who delighted in showing us her adopted city of Atlanta. Those were the good years for her—and us.

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