Remembering Miss Minerva

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2007

When I was growing up, visits to our neighbors, the Leverettes, were frequent. Miss Minerva was my mother's dearest friend, the first person who befriended a young newlywed fresh from the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.

Miss Minerva was 50 by the time I arrived in the world, the &#8220baby” of my family. Fifteen years my mother's senior, our neighbor had married late in life and had three boys, William, Joe and Tommy.

Miss Minerva was one of a kind. Short and well-upholstered with bright little blue eyes shining behind her spectacles; her permed dark hair was shot with silver.  Those round cheeks of hers were perpetually ruddy, their deep dimples frequently on display.

She's been gone for years, but I still remember her laugh, a great, whooping laugh that bubbled up from deep inside and spilled for all to share in. Sometimes she'd literally laugh until the tears began to pour from those blue eyes.

I never saw her in pair of pants - after all, she'd come into the world in a day when women still wore corsets and high-button shoes. Sears cotton &#8220housedresses” were her staple; for church, she wore her floral print Sunday best with stockings rolled to just above the knee, instead of the ubiquitous pantyhose of the late ‘60s and ‘70s.

(I can just imagine the tears of laughter rolling down her face if she had ever tried to wrestle herself into a pair of said pantyhose.)

She hated wearing shoes and stuck to slippers or her bare feet around the house and poultry farm whenever possible. Mama said Miss Minerva had grown up with a lot of brothers and was &#8220a bit of a tomboy still.”

A slash of lipstick for Sunday and special days and a bit of powder was all the makeup she used. Those fabulous cheeks never needed any blush.

Miss Minerva loved NBC's afternoon soap operas, &#8220the stories,” as we called them. She'd watch her black and white portable TV and interact with the scheming characters on the screen.

*&#8220Unh, unh, honey, you better watch out, you can't trust him.”

*&#8220Now, what do you think that girl is up to?”

*&#8220Well, my goodness!”

Sometimes it was hard for her to keep up with the stories and keep track of any vehicles that might send the red dust flying on our road. More than once she would leap up to look out the front window, hoping to identify the driver.

Miss Minerva was nothing if not curious. Once, she went with us to Montgomery as we shopped for my sister Sara before she left for college.

Sara was trying on clothes at the old Teens and Tweens store in Montgomery Mall. The very helpful young sales clerk was soon put to the third degree by Miss Minerva, who queried that poor girl on practically everything from her parents and pets to her blood type.

The telephone might have been invented for her. Pots boiled dry, meat charred. Miss Minerva was not going to miss out on the latest news (how she would have loved cordless phones!).

She loved a big &#8220do.” Unable to drive (my mother gave her lessons, but Miss Minerva never found the nerve to take the test), she often accompanied us to school plays, musicals at Montgomery's little theatre, baby showers, weddings and funerals.

She loved funerals. It was a chance to check out the caskets, the flowers, the emotions of those mourning their newly departed.

A little eccentric? Maybe.  We loved her anyway.

I always thought of this funny, curious and kindly woman as a second grandmother. Daddy's mother had died before I was born and Grandma Wood was gone by my eighth birthday. Miss Minerva, with her laugh, her warmth, her open admiration for Ova's smart and pretty girls (she described me as a particularly &#8220fat and fine” baby) was a welcome part of our family.

 Her porch swing, peanut butter wafers (Peter Pan spread between two Nilla wafers), sweet tea and those gorgeous camellias that bloomed in her front yard; all these things and more live on in my memories.

 While recently browsing through The Heritage Book of Butler County, I ran across some articles about the Barretts, my grandmother Killough's family.

It turns out Miss Minerva's mother was also the sister of my great-grandmother.

They say you can't choose your relatives. With Miss Minerva, we chose an adopted grandma who also turned out to be our kith and kin.

I call that serendipity!

Angie Long is Lifestyles reporter for The Greenville Advocate. She can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 132 or via email at