Judy asked me a couple of questions about the post I wrote about Ruie or my Aunt Susan (as I grew up thinking of her). The questions were good ones, and I decided to write the update, or the rest of the story as I know it.
I knew my Aunt Susan to the extent any child knows an adult in her life, especially one who does not live close by. We lived in the Midwest and she and Uncle Bill lived in North Carolina and Florida. So I knew her mostly from being told about her, and from gifts and cards. This was long enough ago that there were many obstacles to communication for family living far apart. Long distance telephone calls were only made in emergencies and maybe occasionally for holidays. There was no Internet or email or Skype or texting. So we wrote letters and sent cards through the mail – what we now call snail mail. Occasionally they would travel to visit us or, more rarely, we would visit them. My family’s first real traveling vacation was to North Carolina to visit them.
Aunt Susan (which is what my father always called her; she was my great aunt) had been part of my father’s life from his birth. She was 25 years old when he was born, and was serving in the Army in South Carolina. So, presumably, she didn’t actually meet him until he was a year old. However, from that time forward she was an active presence in his life. From my grandmother’s scrapbook and photo album and from Aunt Susan’s photo album come a number of pictures showing the two of them. This one was from my grandmother’s scrapbook.
Aunt Susan not only visited them, but she took my father traveling with her on occasion. I don’t know for certain, but I think the first trip they made may have been when my father was 10. From my grandmother’s scrapbook we know in the summer of 1929 Aunt Susan took him to New England, probably for historic and family reasons (the Coffin side had come from New England to Ohio). He would have been about 10 and a half. My father saw the ocean, and swam in it, for the first time on that trip.
Aunt Susan also had growing concerns about my grandmother’s mental state as my father was growing up. She kept in touch with the physician who my grandmother did practical nursing for, and she helped make the decision that my father should go away to school when he was ready for high school. He was sent to the Ohio Military Institute, in Cincinnati, which was not very far away but was a residential school. I’m certain that this was difficult for my grandmother and probably my father (although he didn’t talk about it).
It was to Aunt Susan that my father went when, at the end of his first year at college, it became clear that my grandmother could not live on her own at home any longer. Aunt Susan was very supportive and helpful in this difficult time. Her nursing experience and knowledge must have come in very handy in helping know what needed to be done, and who to contact, etc. From this point on, it is clear that Aunt Susan took responsibility for my father, standing in as a parent.
A year or two before this, Uncle Henry Coffin had died and it was his death that changed life for Aunt Susan financially. Uncle Henry never married and he had taken financial responsibility for his sisters (Kate Coffin Salt being one) and their children. With this he also took responsibility for dictating much about how they lived their lives.
It very likely was the death of Uncle Henry that allowed Aunt Susan to buy her house in Florida. And it was certainly his death and the deaths of both his sisters that finally allowed Susan to decide to marry. Her remaining cousins did not have the same authority the older generation had.
So did she live happily ever after? I think so. In general, she and Uncle Bill seemed to be pretty happy together, although of course we didn’t see much of them. I’m sure that there were adjustments required, as for any marriage and especially if you have been used to being independent as both of them had. They were married for 35 years. Susan gave up her nursing job, I think probably about the time she and Bill decided to marry. However, I think it is telling that she kept her original nursing license from Kentucky active into the 1970s, when she was into her 80s.