Alice Lee Lambeth Hill October 18, 1916- February 10, 2009
My mother’s youngest sister was naturally blond and beautiful. She loved to have fun. It seemed to me that there was a light all around her…..a cheerful shimmer. As a little girl I was drawn to it. Her mother and my mother called her Alice Lee because she was named for her aunt, my grandmother’s sister, Alice Green. Adding the Lee distinguished the two Alice’s.
She was a fabulous aunt. Though she invited my brother, who was the same age as her son, to go on family vacations, she included me too. She liked to mother us all. My brother and I were spending long summers with her and her husband and son when we were too young to be anything but bathed, dressed and cared for like children of her own. Her pancakes were just the yummiest breakfast that would get us ready to go out on some adventure. At my current age, I am impressed that she took two small children into her family life just for fun.
We often stayed in Carthage at her house and drove to Aberdeen Lake to swim or to the municipal pool in Sanford. If she and her husband planned to go to Carolina Beach or White Lake for a week or two, my little brother and I were included. It was only because of being a guest of hers that I was able to learn to swim. I never went anywhere to swim while at my own home.
The lake and the beach still had the big old cabins with screened porches that I miss now. We set up housekeeping for the time we were there. I remember going crabbing with Alice Lee and the two little boys and catching and netting crabs….blue points she called them. We took them home in a bucket of marsh water and she cooked them (live). It was a shocker but this new eastern dish was new and unusual for me and it was exciting to try something different. I learned about how people on the coast would eat. I remember big oyster roasts on the beach in hte evenings with all the people who were in the surrounding cabins gathered around the fire having a party while cracking open the oysters with knives. They didn’t all know each other when the roast started but by the end of the evening they were friends.
Sometimes Alice Lee would go out in the evening with her husband and leave us with a sitter. I would watch her get dressed and put on her makeup and fix her hair. It was a lesson in femininity for me. I felt assured that I would grow up to be beautiful just like she was. One night she took us all with her to a square dance in a large pavilion at the beach. I remember what an event it was for me. I watched the adults whirling around the big room and we three kids danced in the corner.
When I would go to her home for a visit, she would always say, “We are going to have such fun”!
I used to muse about why she was so fun loving. It seems that all my family generations were just so spread out. My grandfather, her father was born in 1862 (during the Civil War) and died when I was four. My grandmother, born in 1875, lived to be over 90, however, and died a year after I was married. I was born when my mother was 36. I felt that I did not have a clear picture of who my grandparents were in their youth. I knew them when they were old. My grandmother told me that my grandfather fell in love with her when she was very young….under aged… and decided to wait for her to grow up. He not only waited for her to come of age, he waited until she had finished college and taught school for a few years before he married her. My mother and her brother were born when my grandmother was in her early thirties (my grandfather was in his forties). When Alice Lee was born, in 1916, my Granny (her mother) would have been 41 but my Papa (her father) would have been 54.
He was a farmer and a hard working man. He did not have a large farm and Granny sold eggs and butter to pay for piano lessons for my mother (who eventually earned a music degree from Greensboro College) and to pay tuition for Alice Lee when she later went to Woman’s College in Greensboro.
When Alice Lee was still a kid, her older sister, my mother, would be starting college. Alice Lee would have been left at home with parents who were quite old for a youngster. So, I have to think that my Granny and Papa were fun loving and gave her a bright outlook on life that she carried with her. It has always been an interesting insight to me, because I had a picture of people who worked hard all day and had very little to show for it as being glum and cheerless. But how could a pretty little girl come out of such down trodden family and be sunny and happy? Her aging mother and father must have had a positive outlook on life. Good for them!
When she was alone at home with her parents her father suffered a serious stroke. After that, he could no longer farm and they moved from the country to Sanford. Later, in the middle of WWII, I would be born in Sanford and brought to their home from the hospital.
I was to spend many a wonderful summer with my Granny learning to paint and crochet and cook and take care of my clothes. I learned how to treat all the various fabrics and Granny, who had a treadle sewing machine, taught me to sew. During these summers with my grandmother, Alice Lee always stopped by to check in and would take me to a movie or swimming or shopping for something new to wear to school in the fall. She was truly a second mother.
When I was a teenager, she finally had a beautiful little girl of her own and this little girl was less the tomboy that I tended to be. Alice Lee had made a great mother for a son and now, her daughter would bring her many years of joy as she grew up and would be a steadfast help to her in her old age. When my little cousin was a baby I sat for her a few times but not often as I did not live nearby.
Alice Lee became an artist after her retirement from teaching school and she was very skilled for one who had not studied art before. I had majored in art so we had something new in common. She was a watercolorist and I thought that required a great deal of discipline.
I continued to visit her and to be close to her as the years went by but, in my own advancing years, my stamina has failed me and driving at night is stressful. I was fearful of making trips to see her and then having to come home in the same day. I was afraid darkness would catch me. My visits to her dropped off and I let her down in her last years. Dementia set in and I selfishly did not want to see her in that condition because I was afraid she would remind me of my own mother at that age and state of mind.
I usually maintain my composure for a funeral. I gave a eulogy for my father without my voice breaking once. But at Alice Lee’s funeral, in Carthage, where I remembered so many wonderful times, and at the graveyard beside my grandparents in Sanford, I lost it. She was the last of that generation to go and my last link with my own parents with whom I shared a very strong bond. “Age is a lonely time,” my father once said. “Your family starts to die off and your friends are showing up on the obituary page.” I guess it has started. Old age. We feel like we didn’t quite finish what we started. It is the timeless cycle we cannot escape.
Had she been cognitive, I think Alice Lee would have been smiling when she died. She had a good life. She made sure she had fun.