I recently wrote about going to Normandy last month to visit the site of the D-Day landing in 1944. Then last week’s blog was about the Years of our lives rather than the days of our lives. A lot of people wrote me about their favorite years or a certain year in which they made a decision to head in another direction in life.
This inspired me this week to think about 1944. The one thing I forgot while I was visiting Normandy was to think back to what I was doing when D-Day hit in 1944.
That was the year I went to live with my great-aunt in Jackson, Mississippi. I was 12 and she 85. She was my father’s aunt. Her husband had died in 1939 and she had no children. She lived in a large house that truly was a mansion right across the street from the state capital building. She soon became all alone in that huge place when her trusty servant of many, many years died.
A plan was conceived that either my brother or I would go live with her so she wouldn’t be alone in that gigantic house. My brother threw a fit because he was just coming into dating and had a steady girl friend and you can guess the rest. It fell my lot to go live with her.
I really didn’t know much about this woman except that everyone in the family called her Aunt Dixie. All I knew was she scared me. She was so old and I was just a kid. My mother took me and stayed for the first two weeks. Then one day she left and I was all alone in that humongous house with this very old lady.
I soon found out that Aunt Dixie’s real name was Eron and that Dixie was a nickname she had carried all her life. I also found out she was rather famous. It turned out she was a well known writer of historical books and her husband, Dunbar Rowland, had founded the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. He also was a writer of important historical works.
Aunt Dixie had written the state song and one of her books on Andrew Jackson was used as background material for the 1938 Cecil B. deMille film The Buccaneer. Her mentor to become a writer was Varina Howell, the wife of Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Southern Confederacy during the civil war. She wrote two books about Varina Howell and quite a few other books. Her father (my great grandfather) was Major Benjamin Moore, a teacher of Latin and Greek.
After I got over the initial shock of living with an 85 year-old woman who had a constant parade of well known people visiting her home, I settled into my new life. I was in the 6th grade at a nearby grammar school. She insisted that I call her Aunt Eron rather than Aunt Dixie—especially in front of all her prominent friends.
At this time of her life, she was in the process of gathering all of her and her husband’s papers to start the “Rowland Historical Library” in her home, where scholars were invited to conduct their research.
She was convinced that one day I would be a writer and perhaps even run the “Rowland Historical Library.” She had me help her in her activities and she let me use Uncle Dunbar’s desk and office to carry out my initial writing duties—and homework from school. She and I started up a little, one-page historical newsletter that I sent out to pen pals from all over the US.
Concerning her as a person, I have two quotes that I got off the internet while researching this article. The first states, “Personally, she is a woman of great charm. Of a happy temperament, with a winsome grace of manner and person, she is absorbed in her work, taking pleasure in her home and flowers.”
Of her marriage to Uncle Dunbar, the second quote said, “Their beautiful devotion to each other and steadfastness of purpose in their work have been a subject of comment among their friend and acquaintances.”
Having lived with her for a year, I would say she was not the sweet type but one who was a worker and expected others to be likewise.
Unfortunately she had a stroke the following year. (Sorry, family scuttlebutt coming up.) She was taken to live with a niece in Georgia (who coaxed her into rewriting her will) and died a bit later. Her dream of the “Rowland Historical Library” in her home did not materialize because her home was sold by the niece, torn down and a large state office high rise built in its place.
I do think though she put the seeds of writing in my brain. I know we attended a play soon after I arrived to live with her. The production was a very well produced version of “Little Women.” I was absolutely taken back with all the excitement, glamour and staging. When we went home that night, I told Aunt Eron that I wanted to write plays. She laughed and said, “Then why don’t you start one tomorrow in Dunbar’s study?” I did and it was awful, I’m sure, but it was a beginning.
I think 1944 was not only D-Day in Europe but was the year I knew that I wanted to be a writer like my aunt and uncle. And here I am writing!