Note: This post was written for the Carnival of Genealogy, 100th Edition, sponsored by Jasia at Creative Gene.
Every woman I knew in my family growing up was married or widowed. But only one had remained single past 21 years old. In our family, she was known as an "old maid." At the time, this now very much outdated term really meant nothing to me - I simply accepted that it meant "older and still unmarried." The woman in this story is Vertie Porter, my paternal great-aunt and one of my grandmother's two sisters. Vertie was a teacher, a career woman before her time. When she was a young woman, she taught in rural schools in Arkansas, Missouri, and Mississippi. A petite woman, her size defied her strength and determination in dealing with being a woman in a man's world Pre-1960. But possibly it was also that strength and determination that allowed her to overcome the intense grief that she experienced early in life. According to my family's account of the story, Aunt Vertie was engaged to a fine young man who had stolen her heart and presented her with a beautiful platinum diamond engagement ring. But the wedding never occurred - her betrothed died in an automobile accident before they could be married. It was after this tragic incident that Vertie made a choice to never marry -- anyone. She continued to wear the gorgeous engagement ring given to her by her suitor, and she immersed herself in her life's work, teaching. In her later years, she moved to Memphis, Tennessee to work and lived with her widowed sister until her sister's death, when she returned to her native Mississippi.
Throughout her life, my Aunt Vertie was the perfect aunt. Since she had no children of her own, Aunt Vertie always remembered my brothers and me with cards and gifts on our birthdays and at Christmas. I still remember the tiny china tea set that she gave me for my 6th birthday. I thought it was the most precious gift in the world, something beautiful and fragile that she must have purchased in some exotic far-away place. As a young girl, I was fascinated by Aunt Vertie's perfect make-up, jewelry, and the beautiful dresses and hats that she wore when she visited us. And I will never ever forget that beautiful diamond ring! Although she would allow me to look at it and turn it on her tiny finger, she would never ever allow me to try it on - no matter how many times I asked. Oh, how I wanted to see what it would look like on my hand! Since neither my mother nor my grandmothers owned diamond rings at the time, Aunt Vertie's ring was the first diamond that I ever saw.
My Aunt Vertie died of complications of Alzheimer's disease when she was in her late 70's. Without a doubt, her last years were difficult, but she had lived a productive and happy life. No, it did not involve a husband or children, but she always remained close to her family. She may have been known in our family as "an old maid" and my father's "maiden aunt," but I will always remember her as a beautiful, kind woman of strength and character who was unafraid to make her own way in the world.