Zenobia the First

Following up on Friday’s blog – my great aunt was not the original Zenobia, just the first I ever knew. Originally from Greek, Zenobia means “life of Zeus.” Septimia Zenobia was a third century queen of the Palmyrene Empire. Who knows where Aunt Nobie’s North Mississippi parents got her name!

As I reached my teenage years, Zenobia seemed to fit her more than the mundane family name of “Nobie.” Papaw’s elegant sister came down to visit from Memphis where she had a real job. His other sisters – housewives who raided hen’s nests, milked cows, and canned vegetables – paled in comparison. As you can see, the elegance of her working days in the first picture lingered to her 95th birthday in the second.

My admiration moved to a relationship with her the summer I spent two weeks as companion to my 87-year-old grandmother who lived with her. Aunt Nobie worked all day before talking far into the night as we shared her bedroom with twin beds. Two years later, after Gram’s death, she talked Mama into letting me come up for a weeklong event for sixteen-year-olds at her church. Becoming a BFF as late-night talking continued, she had little idea of the seeds she planted in those conversations.

Revisiting days before she had to go to work when her husband died, she told of having her house full of girls working on projects and memorizing scripture in her church volunteer work while she forgot the supper in the stove. She mentioned the patience of Uncle Charles when he opened the door to smell his supper burning. Her joy instilled a goal to volunteer the same way when I became an adult. (I did, and never burned the dinner as I recall, but Al was also patient with the mess of teenage girls he sometimes found in our house.)

She griped about my mother who lacked a compulsion to answer her letters. Aunt Nobie had taken it upon herself to keep the scattered family informed. If any of them wrote letters, they sent them to her, knowing she would pass news along to the kinfolks. She typed lengthy letters with carbon copies in her typewriter and mailed them out, assuming they would be greeted with pleasure (they were) and answered (not so much). On the few occasions when she wrote one by hand, Daddy would hand it to Mama. “We heard from Aunt Nobie. You can read it and tell me what she said.” Her handwriting looked like it came from that Palmyrene Empire. Again, I thought letter-writing could keep a family informed. While other communication methods work quicker these days, I became the principal letter-writer of my generation with similar luck in getting answers.

Besides her conversations, there was the jewelry. Remember the exotic aunt with a real job? She had a chest of costume jewelry that she allowed me to plunder. If I admired a particular piece, she would say, “You know, I’m kind of tired of that one. Why don’t you take it?” Most of these are long gone, but I still have one necklace in various shades of pink that has been restrung several times. I wear it but resemble the rural sisters more than the elegant one with a real job.

So now you know, in case you were curious, why I had to read a book called Elizabeth and Zenobia.