Aunt Sarah's Story

Aunt Sarah’s story came in patches throughout my lifetime. When I was a child, Mom asked Aunt Ada, “Don’t you think Iris looks like sister Sarah did when she was a girl?”
Aunt Ada stalled her cigarette midair between her fingers and glanced to where I sat playing. She stared at me like she was looking way back into a sad memory. “I believe you’re right, Sadie.”
Perhaps that’s when I first overheard Mom say Aunt Sarah died of German measles when she was fourteen. Later, in the midst of family gatherings with Mom’s brothers, they’d speak about their departed sister, drink from the same deep well of grief.
The summer I was nine and visited Granny in Kentucky, she ushered me into the sanctum of her bedroom to gather blue fabric to sew me a skirt and blouse. There, I met Sarah Jane face-to-face in a framed photograph. I didn’t see a resemblance of myself to the pretty, dark headed grown girl.
Regardless, I feared death would snatch me up when I was fourteen. Since vaccines eliminated rubella epidemics by 1956, The Cancer Society of America advertised The Seven Warning Signs of Cancer to haunt me until my fifteenth birthday.
Years later, well into my motherhood, Granny and I at last found precious solitary moments to sit at her kitchen table. I dared tread upon her heartache and asked about Aunt Sarah.
“Brain fever took her,” Granny said. “I looked down from the store up on the hill into the bottom and saw Sarah sleeping outside on the porch glider. She was a burnin’ up.”
Dear Reader, that fall of 1941, Sarah Jane McCoy and twelve other teenaged schoolgirls left Peter Creek for Heaven. A cloudburst of bitter waters snaked from mountaintops down through the hollows and bottoms, eroded joy and hope from those left behind.
                  In her seventies, long after Sarah left, my mother finally spoke of her younger sister’s bright mind and photograph, the pendant she wore on her sweater’s lapel. “Sarah was awarded the pin by her Debate Club just before she died,” Mom said. “I was living in Kansas City then, and remember when Mom called me from the hospital.”
Mom walked away from her independence and up the hill to her sister’s grave. She didn’t leave Peter Creek until Dad drove us into Detroit’s city limits in 1954.
                  When my mother came to live with us, I hung Granny’s frame with Aunt Sarah’s likeness in our guest room where Mom slept. When she left for Heaven, I inherited Aunt Sarah. Almost a decade later, emptiness and time fulfilled my aunt’s residence, so I moved her to my bedroom where she belongs.
                  Now, I wake to the patient, smiling un-parted lips of the aunt I resemble. My companion and blood, she watches over me. Lest we forget, from one generation to another, Sarah Jane still speaks of the fall when the earth opened and swallowed thirteen Appalachian schoolgirls.
                  I listen, wonder what happened to her pendant.