[December 4, 2023] My great aunt Marie Tabor was a beautiful woman, tall, energetic, smart, articulate, motivated, and dedicated to my Mom. She was the sister of my maternal Bigmama (Grandmother Blankenship). Aunt Rea lived her entire life in Little Rock, Arkansas, in a classic upscale neighborhood and was a hairdresser. She had no children, which may be why she was so close to my Mom. We called her “Aunt Rea,” and since she lived about three hours away, we didn’t visit often, but we had a good time when we did. She adored us, too. But her husband was a bore. We didn’t like him much, and he smoked cigars, sat all day in his armchair, and read the newspaper. Great Uncle Eddie was boring!
The first time I remember going to see Aunt Rea was when we arrived at night. As we came upon a hill overlooking Little Rock, the whole city was lit up like nothing I’d ever seen, spread across the valley floor. The lights below us were beyond my wildest imagination. I stared, probably slack-jawed, at the site of what was before us. There was a world out there that I had no idea existed, and I wanted to see more.
Little Rock was at the center of the nation’s racial segregation, and in 1957, the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne was sent to force the state of Arkansas to desegregate its schools. Aunt Rea’s hairdresser shop was directly across from the Little Rock Central High School, and CBS was in her shop reporting this historic event. Many of the videos that day were taken from her shop windows.
Aunt Rea seemed to be the center of everything. She would take me throughout the city, exceeding the speed limit, chain-smoking cigarettes, keeping her pocketbook close with her loaded Colt 1903 semiautomatic pistol, and talking nonstop and so fast I had a tough time keeping up. She and I were living on the edge. It was fun. I heard her tell stories of her upbringing and of wanting children and not being capable of having them, a regret she carried with her until the day she died. Aunt Rea had the fastest, deepest southern drawl ever. She was an amazing woman, and she made me smile. I loved her. Many years after graduating High School in Texas, I would drive hours to visit her. For me, Little Rock was the center of a wondrous universe.
Aunt Rea was a results-driven woman. She had fun and useful projects that would keep our interest whenever we visited. I enjoyed our construction of a five-story, white, with green trim birdhouse for her yard. It took a couple of weekends to finish it to her satisfaction. I was to draw the template outline on ½ inch plywood and cut the pieces out with a handheld jigsaw. Then, we used thin nails and wood glue to assemble the birdhouse correctly. The corners were wonky. When I pointed this out, Aunt Rea gave me a big smile and hug. Then we drilled holes large enough for a small Wren to fit inside. Her dull, dimwit husband put up a tall pipe in the backyard and set the 5-story birdhouse on it. Standing on Aunt Rae’s back porch, holding her hand, we admired the beautiful birdhouse. This small project helped me decide on my future career.
When we arrived at her home to visit, Aunt Rea was often not home. She was a busy lady between her hairdresser business and being an active volunteer for the local Humane Society. It was common for her to rescue abused and neglected dogs. She had her own dogs, Laddie and Mitzi, both Rough Collies that were exceptional, and she adored them. My sister Terri has an oil painting of those dogs that Aunt Rea had commissioned in their memory.
Since she was out being part of her community, the doors of her home were locked. Dad would send my little sister Terri through the doggie door in the back of the house when we arrived. Being the youngest, she was small and could squeeze in and then unlock the door. Wet doggie licks would meet her. Aunt Rea was the kind of relative we never deserved, but luck was on our side. You made a difference in our lives; thank you, Aunt Rea.
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