When you come from a large family, you have a lot of relatives. Some of them have to be interesting. Like Thelma.
First cousin to my mother, the two had never met until just a few years before my mother died; at which time, we inherited her; Cousin Thelma!
She was Baily White, with a sidearm; five foot of determination. She disguised her orthopedic shoes and iron will beneath the manners of Miss Melanie Hamilton and the wit of Whoopi Goldberg.
When her husband joined the military, in the 1940s, well, so did she! She was only a little scrap of a thing and they turned her down because she didn’t weigh enough. Not being one to let that stop her, she started an eating program.
I have seen the newspaper clipping, with her picture, beside a bunch of bananas, as big as she was. The article tells how she engaged herself in eating, mostly bananas, till she gained enough weight to be accepted into the military.
There were those who joked that the sidearm, which she carried, weighed nearly as much as she did. I have seen that sidearm and hefted it, and by golly they aren’t far from right.
She had become close friends with a couple of her older cousins and upon their passing, she inherited their property, which she called “the farm.”
I visited her there and always came away with a smile. She could take a handful of words and weave them into a tale that was sure to leave you smiling.
She had been visited by a turtle at her kitchen door, the day that she arrived that summer. She fed him. I am sure that she talked to him. He came back the next day and the next. Long story, short: he became a pet and she named him Horace.
He returned consecutive summers during her visits to the farm.
Cousin Thelma is gone, but I recently unearthed a copy of part a conversation that we shared. I had written it down so that I would never forget, but then, every conversation with her was memorable.
She refers to herself as a “Character Magnet!” They approach her on the street and in the supermarket. They write and ask to visit and can they stay over at her house, and by the way, can they bring their whole family? And always there are mishaps and blunders that she relays with the adroitness of a born storyteller!
Whether she is telling about uninvited guests or being caught in a flood or about the huge black snake coiled in front of the commode at the farm.
“I grabbed the broom-it was the only thing handy. I made the first move and he made the second move and we both made the third move! My idea was to sweep him through the bedroom and living room and out the front door. His idea was to get back into the bathroom.
“So I took the broom,” she said, “and pushed with all my might, and, ‘Whoomp!’, he landed in the yard!
“I jumped back inside and slammed the door shut and leaned against it with my hands across my middle and my mind saying, It’s coming up — it’s staying down — it’s coming up — no, it’s staying down!
“When it finally decided to stay down, I got up on the sofa with my feet pulled up and my hands across my middle and played, ‘What if?’”
Cousin Thelma is gone but I still think of her and sometimes I wonder, What is Horace doing now?
Loretta Nazelrod Brown is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears in the Times-News on alternate weekends.