Remembering Aunt Lettie Ann (1942-2019) and Uncle William “Doc” Cook (1941-2015)

Uncle Doc (William Cook) and Aunt Lettie Ann at their home in 2009.

My Aunt Lettie Ann Cook passed away on May 17, 2019. I flew to my hometown to fulfill her request that I speak at her funeral and serve as a pallbearer. Her husband of 54 years, William Cook, who I knew as Uncle Doc, had preceded her in death in 2015.

They were both good people, who I and many others miss. I am reminded of fun-filled childhood pool parties at their house–one being particularly memorable during which I used a snorkel face mask for the first time and I played with my cousin Mark’s bad-ass Boba Fett action figure. That was probably around 1981. Or, learning from Aunt Lettie Ann how she made ceramic sculptures. Or, learning from Uncle Doc how to melt lead for my pinewood derby racer, use a scroll saw and drill press, and work with wood to make storage chests and other things. Or, enjoying cookouts featuring Aunt Lettie Ann’s great home cooking at their house after they moved from Brunswick to Hortense. And above all, reveling in their open door hospitality.

Uncle Doc died suddenly in 2015, and I was regrettably unable to return for his funeral. Before Aunt Lettie Ann died, she asked my dad to help me fly down and speak at her funeral as I had done for my Granny Ellis in 2012. The week before last, I said these words for her:

Remembering Aunt Lettie Ann

My dad tells me that my Aunt Lettie Ann had asked him while she was still lucid that I speak at her funeral. I’m saddened that it’s on this occasion that I am speaking with you today, but I consider it an honor to do this small thing for her.

I wanted to begin by sharing with you a seemingly mundane yet meaningful dream that I had three weeks ago, the night after I learned Aunt Lettie Ann was back in the hospital. To be honest with you, I don’t put much truck in dream visitations or other forms of clairvoyance, but this dream’s timing and content unnerved me.

The dream begins with me standing in the foyer of Aunt Lettie Ann’s fine house on Baker Hill Road. I see her descending the steep stairs slowly and carefully with her hands clutching the railing, but her face is beaming, and she says that she’s so glad to see me. After sharing a big hug, she tells me that I need to eat. Leaving me to sit at the extended dining room table with low sunlight entering the windows, she fusses in the kitchen to quickly prepare something for me. Then, while plying me with her delicious home cooking, she asks, how are you doing, how’s my sweet pea—that’s Yufang, my wife, what are you both up to? Answering her questions, I never got to ask how she was before I was suddenly awake.

That dream lingered in my mind throughout her ordeal. I hoped that it was more like a good memory than a kind of goodbye. I can say that it brought back many happy memories of Aunt Lettie Ann showing her unconditional love and care, such as birthdays and Christmases, visits to see her when I was at home from school or work, and times that she hosted me when Uncle Doc, who you might have known as Bill or Wilbur or grandpa or dad—helped me on Scouting projects. And, it reminded me how she demonstrated her love and care in other ways, such as wanting to know how you are and what you’re up to—listening equally about your triumphs and failures, your good health and bad, and even your daily trifles—before sharing her own, in which she emphasized the positive over the negative and made light of her own troubles; needing to take care of you and make sure that you’re comfortable and well fed; giving deeply personal gifts—in fact, thinking to get Christmas presents for our cats Miao Miao and Mose who she didn’t even have a chance to meet; and above all else striving to make you feel loved and special. However, Yufang told me that it is more than that—the feeling of being loved by Aunt Lettie Ann remains with you even after you say goodbye and you carry her love with you wherever you might go next. I think she’s absolutely right.

I share with you all a tremendous sadness that Aunt Lettie Ann is no longer here to love and care for us. I know we will all miss her great big hugs, her delicious cooking and get-togethers, and her looking out for us. However, I am deeply heartened to know that her love is still all around us, because we each carry it in our hearts and memories. I encourage you to cherish Aunt Lettie Ann’s love as a celebration of her life, an enduring remembrance of who she was, and a reminder of the kind of person who we should all strive to be.

Miao Miao (2005-2018)

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Miao Miao taking a nap in 2012.

Our little cat Miao Miao passed away on December 26, 2018 after a battle with cancer. She was 13 years and 8 months old. Y rescued Miao after her mother had abandoned her when she was only a few weeks old in 2005. She was sick and small, but Y nursed her back to health and adopted her as part of her family.  I came to know Miao beginning in 2008, after I met Y at Kent State. Soon, I became a part of the family, too. Miao was strong willed but also very loving. When we had guests over, she was an enthusiastic host. She brightened our days, which now seem diminished without her around. Even though Miao never really took to our younger cat Mose, we can tell that he grieves in his own way for her, too. She will be dearly missed.

Learning from our Grandmothers: Memories of my Granny Ellis (1918-2012)

Papa and Granny Ellis with me after high school graduation in 1995.

Early Monday morning, I received an unexpected phone call from my Dad. Obviously upset, he told me that my Granny Ellis had passed away during the night. It was hard to wrap my head around this fact. She was 94 years old, and she marshaled on despite numerous health problems–especially later in life. She was from “old stock,” a heartier stock that could weather setbacks and troubles without much complaint or fuss.

She was my last grandparent to pass away. I am very fortunate to have had so much time to spend and learn from my grandparents. Wilma, Papa Gerald, Papa Ellis, and Granny Ellis contributed in so many ways to my emergence as the person that I am today. I feel somewhat disconnected now from the past anchored by my grandparents–grandparents who I spent time with every day, every week, every summer when I was younger and who I called once a week no matter where I might be in: in Atlanta, Liverpool, or Ohio.

There are  a couple of things that immediately come to mind in remembering Granny Ellis. The first has to do with food and the second has to do with the surprising power of memory.

When I was younger, I would usually spend Wednesday afternoons and some weekends with my Granny and Papa Ellis. More often than not, I wanted to “play” with my Legos or other toys, but what no one knew–even myself–was that I was learning. I was modeling. I was thinking through narrative. I was thinking about the possibilities in social interaction, engineering, and creativity.

Granny Ellis let me explore through my play without interruption–except when it was necessary, as she would remind me, to eat. She believed in making sure that I was well fed. With energy stores fulfilled, she would release me from an empty bowl of chili or a now barren plate where once sat made-from-scratch biscuits to return to my building, my thinking, my “play.” In her own way, I believe that she recognized that I needed to do those things to make sense of a world far different from the one she was born into so many years before. She recognized that even play is an important part of learning.

Then, many years after those afternoons on the carpeted floor hunting for the right brick, Granny Ellis developed neurological problems. Papa Ellis would need to guide Granny around. It was like she was there, trapped behind her eyes, unable to express herself as she had when I was younger. However, her doctors began experimenting with different medicines to combat what were ultimately long undiagnosed micro-seizures and dementia, she regained to some extent her old self. You could speak with her once again and she could recall the past remarkably well. Unfortunately, her short term memory was impaired–she could not remember from day-to-day or even minute-by-minute on most occasions.

Due to Granny Ellis’ trouble with short term memory, I expected her to not remember my wife Yufang after I introduced her. To my overwhelming joy, Granny Ellis not only remembered that I was married to a beautiful girl named Yufang, but she also remembered to ask how Y and I were doing. Granny’s face would light up when she saw Y on the too few occasions that we could both travel to Brunswick to visit. Despite these few encounters, Granny Ellis overcame her brain’s degenerative hurdles to hold on to that memory. Did her love for Y and me play some role in her brain’s ability to build a lasting long term memory from her short term memory? This question deserves further investigation. In the meantime, I believe that she expressed her love through her memory of Y, and I am glad that I now have that memory to hold onto in my life.

Our friends and family (and especially our grandmothers) have a lot to teach us. We can learn from them and our experiences. We can reflect on what they did–how they demonstrated solid pedagogical practices for learning and enabling learning–in our own thinking about the theory and practice of teaching.

Niagara Falls, 2011

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dynamicsubspace/5819993974/in/set-72157626932951522

Last week, my folks joined me and Y for a two day trip to Niagara Falls in Ontario and New York. Above, you can see us on the Maid of the Mist boat after getting thoroughly drenched.

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The picture above is of the Horseshoe Falls as seen from our hotel room.

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The picture above is of the Canadian and American Falls at night when they are illuminated with pretty colors.

Click through the pictures above to see more pictures from our visit.

Mack and Sue Hassler’s Excellent BBQ

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Mack and Sue Hassler invited me, Y, and my folks over for a cookout this past Friday. Besides the amazing blue cheese infused hamburgers and tasty brats, we all had a great time talking about families, university life, house repairs, and Samuel R. Delany.

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Click through the photos above to see others from the cookout.