Today I’m sitting in the living room of the farmhouse, looking out at our pond, watching the ducks float along peacefully. Even though all their siblings were all wiped out by predators, they move all over this homestead without an apparent care in the world. It occurs to me that there must be a lesson that we are supposed to learn from these brave little ducks and their seemingly positive view on life. Well, I really don’t think that they have a “view” on life, but they do seem to be unaffected and joyful. Leo and Otis are just the sweetest little guys! They are always running along, excitedly looking for the next bug to eat. On my daily trips out to the potager garden, they happily chatter back to me, as I talk “baby talk” to them and toss out cherry tomatoes for their morning snack. They are just the happiest and most cheerful little animals.
If only it were possible for us to be cheerful like those ducks. In my experience, life just goes more smoothly when we make the decision to walk in joy, rejecting the urge to stress or go sour when life is hard or situations get rough. And contrary to what some folks say, it doesn’t matter who you are or what your temperament type, you can make choices that will give you more joy!
For much of my life, I was blessed to have a wonderful example of that kind of joyful attitude, in my precious Aunt Til! She is no longer with us, but when I think about her today, my mind is flooded with memories of all the fun times that I had growing up around her and all my other sweet kin folk. Aunt ‘Til was always in the middle of the the laughter at our family gatherings, and she was a crucial part of the fabric that made up our large extended family. The joy that we all shared still brings a smile to my heart as I remember. Isn’t it true that the older we get, the more treasured our childhood memories of loved ones become? Time spent with my wonderful grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings made this southern girl who she is today. The times we spent together were wonderful, but all too fleeting. I am so very thankful for the memories of all the family members that have left us, those with Aunt ‘Til being one of my most favorite of all.
(Aunt ‘til enjoying a picnic with my paternal grandmother, my mother and my oldest brother)
If you are new to my blog, you may not know that I wrote about her sister in a previous post. In that post, I shared treasured memories about Aunt Bet. She had a beautiful older sister named Matile. Everyone called her “Til” (pronounced “Teel”) so I called her “Aunt Til”. That is who I would like to tell you about today, because I think that there are some truly valuable lessons that we can learn from the life of my dear, sweet aunt!
(Young Aunt ‘Til and Aunt Bet practicing a song)
There is so much to remember that is admirable about my Aunt ‘Til, but the quality that was most influential in my life was her joy and her laughter. She really loved to have fun and she had just the best sense of humor of anyone that I knew while growing up. It was so much fun to listen to her and all the grown-ups when they would sit around and share stories. That circle usually included, but was not limited to, her husband, my Uncle Wilbur, My Aunt Bet and Uncle Milton, and my mama and daddy, along with lots of other aunts and uncles (There were 9 siblings in all).
(Aunt Bet with Uncle Milton behind her, Daddy with my mama behind him, Aunt ‘Til with Uncle Wilbur behind her)
When I was growing up, folks still “visited”. My relatives would just pop in, without calling. Imagine that. Today, most folks would call that rude and annoying, back then, it was appreciated and made life so much fun! The visits usually always included some sweet tea, coffee and story telling on our front porch. The more stories they told, the louder and more joyful their laughter would get and how fondly I remember those sweet happy tears that would trickle down their sweet faces as they laughed so hard that they could hardly speak.
When the story telling would commence, my favorite person to hear laugh was Aunt ‘Til. She had one of those deep, throaty kind of laughs that came from way down deep inside. No doubt, it was summoned up by honest to goodness enjoyment of being with her family. Her quick replies and her clever way with words made those around her laugh as well! She would laugh and say, “I tell you the truth…”, followed by sighs and more little chuckles as the laughter waned. Then, the next story started it all over again.
(Aunt Bet, my daddy (Billy Lyles) and Aunt ‘Til)
In my mind as a little girl, watching all of this happen, I was thinking that I loved her JOY and that she was just plain FUN to be around! This is still something that inspires me every time I think of her. I hope and pray that when my own children look back at times spent with me, that they remember laughter, smiles, and above all an abiding joy!
She and my mama were the best of friends for most of their lives. All three couples that I mentioned got married around the same time. They were all very young when they tied the knot. The story of how they got engaged is one of my favorite family stories. My mother told it to me, and I love to picture the scene.
(Aunt ‘Til and Uncle Wilbur in the early days)
Here is how it was told to me. You see, My Aunt Bet’s beau, (my uncle) Milton was going to ask my Granddaddy Lyles for Aunt Bet’s hand in marriage, as was customary in the day, but from there, things took a humorous turn that no one expected.
My Uncle Wilbur volunteered to go along with Uncle Milton as he met to speak to his potential father- in-law. When they got to my Granddaddy’s house, my Uncle Milton mustered up the courage to ask for permission to marry my Aunt Bet. Once he had finished the difficult task of making his plea to marry my Granddaddy’s baby girl (with sweaty palms and brow, no doubt), my Uncle Wilbur, who had been silent during Milton’s speech, quickly chimed in and said something to the tune of, “AND ME TOO!” He was no dummy, he let Milton sweat it out and then he just coasted right through the “nuptial” gate without so much as even a lump in his throat! I heard them tell bits and pieces of this story several times and they would all just laugh and cry those sweet laughing tears and have the best ole’ time remembering.
My Uncle Wilbur knew then what we all know now…
that my Aunt ‘Til was quite a catch!
Allow me to acquaint you with Mrs. Susie Matile Lyles Kitchens
She was such a talented lady! Music came naturally to her. She could play instruments such as the piano, guitar and auto-harp all by “by ear”, meaning that she didn’t need to read the sheet music to play them perfectly. She had a beautiful touch on these instruments, and she was always happy to use her talent for the Lord. She was a natural “alto”. She and my Aunt Bet traveled all over the southeastern United States singing and playing for church services, “homecomings”, revivals, and funerals. They even had a radio program in their early days. My daddy would sometimes sing and play the guitar for them on their radio show. When I was growing up, I had the honor and pleasure of hearing these two adored aunts sing and play in church very often. I loved it so much, and if I try really hard, I can still hear them singing and playing in my memory.
(Aunt ‘Til and Aunt Bet ready to play and sing somewhere)
My Aunt ‘Til was a wonderful, godly mother to three beautiful daughters. She was a stay at home mom until all the girls were out of the home and then she began to work at a couple of local churches on their “mother’s morning out” days, where she enjoyed keeping the babies. Those sweet little ones were the recipients of her joy, as she rocked them and sang to them each week. How blessed they were, and the parents knew it! They all loved her! Later in life, she helped to raise one of her beloved granddaughters and she babysat for great grand babies for as long as she was able. She never minded helping or displaying sacrificial love to her children and grandchildren. It was such an important part of her life and who she was. Her children never doubted how important they were to her. Her deep love for them and her devotion to family was evident to everyone. She was always loving, caring for, and concerned about those close to her, and she kept a smile on her face and joy in her heart while she did it.
( A sweet picture of Aunt ‘Til and Uncle Wilbur)
I always (and I do mean always ) saw joy in her countenance. She never failed to greet me with “Hey Sugah” or “Hey honey”, “How y’ all doing?”
Another phrase that I remember hearing her say a lot was “I know” or “I know it”. Make no mistake, she was not being a know-it-all. Instead, she was agreeing or validating the feelings of others with those words, in her sweet southern way. She was listening to their story, woe or plight, and she was sympathizing and commiserating with a most sincere heart!
One thing that I can say about my Aunt ‘Til is that I never, ever remember hearing her speak in an “unbecoming” or “unflattering” way about anyone…ever! Never did I hear a slang expression or anything unladylike to come out of her mouth. Now I am not saying that she never did say such things, but I know that she did not do it around me.
(Aunt ‘Til, my daddy, and Aunt Bet at First Church of the Nazarene on Appreciation Day for my Granddaddy and Grandmother Lyles)
In all my time around Aunt ‘Til, it seemed to me that her heart full of joy, her kind spirit and her love for Jesus were the guiding forces in her life. Even as a little girl, I was drawn to the qualities of sweetness and warmth that she always displayed and she made me (and everyone else around her) feel loved!
We have all met wives and mothers who are often upset, always scattered and stressed, or angry much of the time. Not my Aunt ‘Til. Her demeanor always gave me a sense of calm…even when things in my life might not have been so calm. That was such a lesson to me. Don’t we all hope and pray that we provide that sense of calm for those that we come in contact with? I hope and pray that when my own children look back at times spent with me, that they remember laughter, smiles, and above all, an abiding joy even when times were not easy!
Although I did not spend a great deal of time in my Aunt Til’s home, when I was there, I felt relaxed, welcomed, and comfortable. Once, when I was at her house, I remember asking her to play the piano and sing for me, and she did. I was thrilled. Most of my time with her was either when our families would go camping together, when they would visit our home, when we were at church, or when we would have get-togethers at my grandparent’s home. We would have big family parties at Christmas, Thanksgiving and sometimes for family birthdays. Often, our families would happen to be visiting our grand-parents at the same time, so we would get to enjoy being with her, my Uncle and cousins and I would get to hear that contagious laughter.
(The coolest picture ever!!! My Daddy and Aunt ‘Til riding in the goat cart)
My Granddaddy Lyles (my daddy’s daddy) had a series of strokes and was bed-ridden for many years. My Aunt ‘Til, my Aunt Bet and my daddy all helped take care of him and my precious Grandmother for all of those years. My daddy did what he could to help while working full time rotating shift work, but these two aunts bore most of the responsibilities of care-taking. They were absolutely the most kind and dedicated daughters that you could ever imagine. Through many sleepless nights and although time was taken away from their own homes and families, I never once heard them complain about taking care of “Mother and Daddy” (as they so sweetly called my grandparents).
What a great example of serving their family, they displayed for all of us!
(Aunt ‘Til, Grandmother Lyles, and Aunt Bet)
Looking on as a little girl, Aunt ‘Til’s femininity made a huge impact on me. She was always such a beautiful and graceful lady. She was the perfect picture of a true “southern belle”. She was a snappy dresser and I always loved her fashion sense. I remember as a little girl thinking that she was so pretty! And she rocked high heels so gracefully that you would have thought that she was wearing sneakers!
She was raised to exhibit true southern grace and ladylike manners. Come to think of it, I never saw her in a social setting where she did not appear poised and at ease. I think we could all learn a few things from these women who were born and lived during the depression and came out with their social graces still in-tact.
Most importantly, everyone who knew my Aunt ‘Til, knew that she loved the Lord the first and foremost, even more than she loved her family.
Can I say that?
Can you say that?
Hmmm…. Something to think about, right?
She would stand up to “testify” in church or she would speak before singing a solo or duet with my Aunt Bet and always give a word for the Lord. She would share with all of us about something that God had been showing her in her own heart or she would give an encouragement of God’s faithfulness to the congregation. Usually, she ended up in tears and so did everyone else in the sanctuary. Make no mistake, this was not mere sentimentality or an attempt to gain attention, but a true expression of her tender heart for God.
(Aunt ‘Til singing hymns with her great-grandchildren at a family reunion)
Thinking of this brought to my mind another question to ponder…
“How willing are we to bare our souls and be honest before others, in order to encourage them, in their struggles and help them along their way?” This is another example that she set for me…one that I think we should all hasten to follow!
Another way that my Aunt ‘Til brought joy to folks was through her cooking! She was a wonderful southern cook who was known for her delicious cakes. A vivid memory that I have from childhood is from our Lyles family Thanksgivings and Christmases. There would be some of the most beautiful and delicious cakes lined up on the old antique buffet in my grandparent’s dining room. There was always a mouth-watering cake from Aunt ‘Til! It’s now almost a magical vision in my mind’s eye. Imagine how that scene must have looked to a child who was already excited about Christmas!
(Christmas Eve dessert buffet featuring family legacy cake recipes. Aunt ‘Til’s lemon cake is in the back right corner)
Just this past Christmas, I made her lemon cake. Oh My! It was delish! It is such a simple and tasty recipe. I just loved making it because it was “her’s”. I felt connected to her and I fondly reminisced about her and about old times with family while baking it. Aunt ‘Til also made a fabulous orange cake that her grandchildren especially enjoyed but sadly I don’t have that recipe.
If you love to cook, don’t you hope that your family fondly remembers the love and joy that you put into the treats coming from your kitchen, like Aunt ‘Til’s family does? I never want my children to think that cooking and preparing for family events was a bother. Instead, I hope that they look back at holiday baking times as being some of their sweetest memories! I want to create beautiful and lasting memories of the joyful flurry of holiday activity, as wonderful tastes and smells waft out of this old farmhouse kitchen! Whether from of homemade cakes, cookies, pies, or breads, I want the aromas to be forever tied to heartstrings, creating the warmest of recollections that will stay with them for a lifetime!
After all that I have told you about her, I think my Aunt ‘Til could be best summed up in one word, “Special”.
Now, I know that word gets over-used in today’s world because so many things are called special. And, if everything is special, then nothing is really special, right? But…
In Webster’s Dictionary, the meaning of the word “special” is as follows:
1: distinguished by some unusual quality; especially: being in some way superior
2: held in particular esteem
3a: readily distinguishable from others of the same category: unique
3b: of, relating to, or constituting a species
4: being other than the usual
5: designed for a particular purpose or occasion
Now… maybe you understand why I called Aunt Til “special”.
She was all of the above.
Her beautiful qualities did “stand out above the rest”, as Webster’s Dictionary says!
She WAS and IS held “in particular esteem” by her family and all who knew her.
She was “unique” among other women because of the faithful demonstration of her continual choice to be a source of constant joy to all she came in contact with!
Her “particular purpose” on this earth was undoubtably to love on, encourage and take care of those around her. And while she did all these things beautifully, to me, her gift was the joy that she brought to my heart by simply being herself. I wish that I could read this post to her so that I could make sure that she knew how much I loved and admired her.
So why do I take time, my sweet friend, to tell you about my precious Aunt ‘Til? What is the common thread linking together all of the little tidbits that I have told you?
What is this “secret of being a joyful momma” that my Aunt ‘Til possessed?
Well, to put it very simply…
She had the joy of Jesus in her heart and she CHOSE to walk in that joy each day, no matter the circumstances!
I tell you about her because I think that we don’t have enough “Aunt ‘Tils” in the world today and because I think all of us need to understand the impact that our outlook may be having on our family and friends, as well as future generations.
Today, as we think about Aunt ‘Til, let us remember that she did not possess any special “super powers” that created Joy in her life. Instead, it was “who she knew and belonged to”!
We all can be more determined than ever to let “Joy” be our calling card and to remember that our service to others never goes unnoticed! We should also remember that our actions are never without “ripples”. Many times those ripples will go on for years to come.
Even if you never hear about the impact your efforts are having in this lifetime, my dear, you will certainly know of it in the next! And you will leave a legacy that can reach far into future generations, calling out for those who come after us to show the same genteel spirit of joy and kindness to all their kith and kin.
Do you have a precious Aunt or aged relative that you need to reach out to today and let them know how special they are to you?
I encourage you to not let the sun set today before you do! Tomorrow, you will be glad that you did!
Sharon at Southern Bella Home
She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.