Going Home

One hundred years ago, a little baby girl named Mary Evelyn Gunn, known to her family as Aunt Sissy, was born in a big white house in Enterprise, Mississippi. She was the beloved sister of her five brothers (two older and three younger), one of whom was my grandfather, Frank Carlton Gunn, affectionally called Bubba.

Riverside Plantation

Riverside Plantation

Little did her family know then, how many lives she would touch in her life time.

Many of those family members gathered this past weekend to celebrate her life and her 100th birthday at that same white house, named Riverside Plantation.

All week, I had stressed over how I was going to manage making it from Atlanta to Enterprise to join in the celebration. My husband is in the process of getting his masters and had a huge project due and we realized it would be too risky for him to make the trip in case he couldn’t finish his work on time.

At the last minute, my son and his girlfriend decided to drive up from college in south Georgia to make the trip with me. He had never seen the old home place but had heard about it for years. I welcomed the company and was thrilled that they wanted to be a part of the occasion.

As we pulled into the grassy yard, Riverside stood tall and proud, albeit a bit weathered. Two tall white columns flanked both sides of the front porch, welcoming visitors into the foyer. Built in the early to mid-1800’s, it has seen better days but the sight of it still overwhelmed me. I had been to the place only twice before, but this time, I was older and truly appreciated and understood where I came from. Two chimneys flanked both sides of the house. The green shutters had faded as had the once bright red door, but the beautiful decorative transom windows were still intact. I could hear the squeals and laughter from children who were playing on the balcony above the front steps.

I thought of my grandfather and my great-uncles and Aunt Sissy as they played in the front yard as children. They had climbed the trees, worked in the garden, tended to the livestock, and swam in the Chunky River nearby. I was confident that if I listened hard enough, I could probably hear the ringing of the dinner bell and the voice of my great-great grandmother calling everyone inside the house for dinner.

My grandfather, Aunt Sissy and Uncle Kiddo on the front steps of Riverside.

My grandfather, Aunt Sissy and Uncle Kiddo on the front steps of Riverside.

As we walked in, Aunt Sissy sat in a chair in the very room that she was born in, grinning as those who came to celebrate with her stopped to wish her Happy Birthday.

The hardwood floors creaked as people walked around, soaking in the history that has made up the house, wishing the walls could tell us stories of those who lived here. Before the Civil War, the house was owned by a man who was a Mason. When Union soldiers took over the house, they found a box (supposedly full of valuables) wrapped in Masonic papers. With many Union soldiers also being Masons, they stood by their vow to never cause harm to a fellow Mason, thereby ordering the other soldiers not to burn the house or steal anything. They then turned the home into Union headquarters, where they planned the Battle of Vicksburg from the front parlor. The home is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

There is a book called Riverside Remembered by Wallace Neal Briggs, Aunt Sissy’s cousin, who everyone called “Buster.” His story tells about the times he visited his beloved Riverside, starting when he was only six years-old. For those of us who were not around during that time, it has been a beautiful way to learn about Mammy and Pappy, my great-great-grandparents, along with Allie and Cally, my great-grandparents. I have also learned about my grandfather as a young man, before he met my grandmother. What a rare gift to be able to treasure events in his life long after they occurred!

In addition, the book tells about Mattie Riley and her son Leroy, their black neighbors who helped at the house who were really just part of the family. Sissy and Mattie were especially close, since Mattie had taken care of her since she was a child.

One of the most cherished moments was when Mattie’s grandson, Floyd, arrived at the celebration and handed a photograph of Mattie to Sissy. I wish I could have frozen in time the moment Aunt Sissy saw the photograph – her delighted expression clearly showed the love she had for her and how much she missed her.

Throughout the day, all of the family laughed and told stories of parents and kids and simply loved being there. I hope Aunt Sissy looked around and realized that the people who were there, were there because of HER family – each one of us being a child, grandchild, great-grandchild, niece, nephew, cousin or other relative.

I watched my father laugh with his brother and sisters. I watched my son and nephews look for rusty old railroad spikes by the Chunky River. I laughed with my cousins, some of whom I had not seen in over 25 years.

My Great-Aunt Sissy with her brother Bubba (my grandfather's) kids - Aunt Carol, Daddy, Uncle Pat, & Aunt Polly.

My Great-Aunt Sissy with her brother Bubba (my grandfather’s) kids – Aunt Carol, Daddy, Uncle Pat, & Aunt Polly.

And as the children of my cousins ran through the house and people mingled about sipping coffee and eating birthday cake, I felt the house shake. Some would think that a 150+ year-old home shaking wouldn’t be a good thing, but I felt otherwise.

To me, it felt as if the home was happy and giggling because after way too many years, it was once again full of the love, laughter and life of the Gunn family.

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Life Is So Much Better With Your Friends

The 1980’s were such an incredibly colorful and fun time to grow up in. We all had big hair that made us appear three inches taller than we actually were because it was so teased and poofed up like a rooster crown. Our clothes were made up of big, baggy neon shirts with low hanging belts, printed or acid washed jeans, colorful pumps with lace socks, and fingerless lace gloves a la Madonna. Jewelry consisted of earrings that each weighed the equivalent to a TV remote control, Swatch watches, and hundreds of jelly bracelets in every color imaginable that went halfway up our arms. And don’t even get me started on rabbit fur jackets. I wanted one so bad but I got a faux fur jacket instead. Do you know the difference between a real rabbit fur jacket and a fake one? One feels soft and snuggly while the other feels like you took the built up hair out of your hairbrush and made it into a coat. Definitely not the same. (But then I found out how rabbit fur jackets were made and I was glad I had a faux one.)

AND GOOD GRIEF – THE MAKEUP! We would wear purple or blue eye shadow and then line our eyes with darker shades of more purple or blue and we would end up looking like the daughters of Dr. Frank-N-Furter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Mascara would be applied in so many layers that it looked like tarantula legs were stuck to our eyelids. Blush was always applied in a dark stripe across the cheekbones, and foundation was so thick that a chisel was the only way we could take it off. Maybelline must have made a killing in the 80’s.

High school is where I spent my time during the 80’s. It’s normally a place that most people try to purge from their memory. For me, it’s the time in my life where I had a really bad overbite that was trying to be rectified with braces. …and not the cool colored kind they have today. Mine were shiny metal and unfortunately for my popularity status, I also had to wear rubber bands and headgear. Anyone that doesn’t know what headgear is clearly did not grow up in the 1980’s. I am confident that somewhere there was a demented orthodontist that created a metal torture device called headgear that you had to clip around your head that other othodontists could use for their own merriment.

But back to high school. It’s where I tried but completely failed at having a Farrah Faucett hairdo. It’s where I had crushes on boys that didn’t know I even existed, most likely because I had a chest flatter than a 10 year old boy.

But while the 80’s are home to some of my most embarrassing memories, it’s also when some of my best memories were made of growing up. I made some of my best friends while cheerleading for the basketball team, dancing across the football field at half time with the drill team (squeeze the marble, girls!), and of course, I made friends in my classes.

My best friends, however, were a group of girls I bonded with like no others. Somewhere along the line, we started calling ourselves “The Hatundas”… I don’t know where it came from or what it meant, but it sounded funny and we thought it was wicked. We would be heading to the latest football game, acting so cool in our class-after-class-hand-me-down polyester uniforms while sitting in the back of the bus screaming “Hail to Hatunda” and “Back of the bus forever!!!” The other girls would just look at us like they should redirect the bus driver away from the football game, and instead head on over to the local mental institution and schedule us for individual lobotomies. We didn’t care. We were just having fun and acting stupid. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do in high school?

After graduation, the Hatundas all went our separate ways and ended up at different colleges. Some got married and had babies, others traveled all over, and some started jobs in the corporate world. Over the years we tried to get together but it wasn’t until our 25th high school reunion that we really realized how much we missed seeing each other and how much we still really needed each other. Plus we realized we were getting old. And when the day comes that you realize you’re getting old, it’s a bad, bad day.

We have started getting together every other month for dinner and I look forward to each time like a kid looking forward to Christmas morning. Knowing that I am going to reminisce, laugh and talk with the girls who helped shape my life is priceless to me. The endless bags of taco-flavored Doritos, late night pizza and Dr. Pepper menu has changed to Tapas and Mojitos and wine. The conversation has also changed from who were we going to the Prom with, skanky girls that hit on our boyfriends, passing the test to finally get out driver’s license, and curfews… to our husbands midlife lack of hair confidence, the gross time when our son’s figured out what their willie’s do, and simply how hard it is raising kids. Our clothing is much better as well, but the giggles have a tendency to stay the same – especially at the stupid way our kids wear their hair and the way they dress, since the 80’s style is coming back around full circle.

I love these ex-Madonna wanna-be’s with all of my heart and wouldn’t trade my lifelong membership in the
Hatunda’s for anything in this world.

So, Hail to you, Hatunda! WHATEVER that means.

Do you stay in touch with your high school friends? Share your story!

We made the fun photo below using StoryMark – download for free in the iPhone app store and Android Marketplace

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