Aunt Nonnie: One Alabamian’s life in literature

nonnieWhen I was a little girl, I was fortunate enough to have a parent who considered reading to be a magnificent gift, and due to this, my love of literature began very early.

I was raised by my grandmother’s sister–my Aunt Nonnie. She was born in 1912 and grew up during the Great Depression. She was the oldest of three daughters, and her own mother had been just 13 years old when she was born.

Living in rural Alabama in those days was a blessing in many ways, according to her stories. Their father hunted for meat–rabbit, squirrel and opossum mostly–and their mother kept a garden so they would have fresh vegetables to eat and never go hungry. They were fortunate to have the necessities during those difficult times, but Aunt Nonnie was fortunate in other ways, too.

Her mother, although very young and lacking any sort of formal education of her own, knew the value and importance of literacy and an education, and made sure that my aunt was in school each time the doors were open. She explained to her daughters that the entire world was accessible to them, at first through the pages of books, and at last, in tangible reality–because once they were grown, they could go anywhere at all, if only they had a good education to support their dreams.

Today, I am fully aware of my own blessings, because I grew up in a home where I was read to each and every night before sleep, and where there were shelves of books for me to choose from. When I was quite young, favorite children’s books were The Berenstein Bears and Dr. Seuss. Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls became my friends as I grew up, and Aunt Nonnie’s own library of books flanked each side of the fireplace in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the family room.

Literature, for those of us who love it, is a hobby, an escape, a means of exploration and research, and a comfort. It is my favorite discipline out of those we refer to as the humanities, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

In the beginning, the books were just part of the room, but as I grew older, I realized what I had at my fingertips–Shakespeare and Kipling, and great Alabama authors like Truman Capote and Harper Lee. Almost any classic work you can imagine was there, and almost any worthy poet you can imagine was there, too. There were even more shelves in her bedroom and, of course, cookbooks in the kitchen! It wasn’t until later, when I started spending the night away from home with friends that I understood not every family filled their home with books in this way.

I was taught to never make dog-ears to mark my place, and not to crease the spines. I was taught to love and respect books from a very early age, and just as her lessons have shaped who I am today, my lessons have shaped my children. I pray that this one legacy out of many, given to me by my aunt, will continue to be passed along to my grandchildren and even further, for as long as time allows.

nonnie2

Literature, for those of us who love it, is a hobby, an escape, a means of exploration and research, and a comfort. It is my favorite discipline out of those we refer to as the humanities, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I read old favorites when the mood strikes me, and I’m always happy to begin a new story. I dread turning the last page of a book, because I simply don’t want it to end.

In 1970, the Russian author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. In his lecture he stated, “The only substitute for an experience we ourselves have never lived through is art, literature…” What a beautiful, universal truth.

(Pictured: top: Aunt Nonnie and Stephani; bottom: Aunt Nonnie.)

Written by: Stephani R.