More Bitter Sweet:
The Passing of a Generation

by L.L. Martin

My Aunt June died yesterday morning. She was the last of my father's siblings. Aunt June was second to the oldest and dad was the youngest. My memories of Aunt June are different than probably anyone else's, except maybe my two cousins of the same age. They were boys, I doubt seriously if they would remember her the way I did.

I never knew a time Aunt June didn't have every hair in place or a clean house. And some how she always seemed to know when we were about to visit, because even if there wasn't any other food in the house, well there were always two six packs of the largest Coke a Cola's ready and waiting. " I just picked these up yesterday incase we had company" she would always say." I don't know what it was about those drinks and sitting around Aunt June's kitchen table, maybe it was the ice, but I never tasted a better coke and it was the sort of coke that made you feel special and important that she share it with you. There was always more if you wanted it, but Aunt June's were sipping Cokes and you just wanted to make them last as long as possible.

There was always something special and glorious about visiting Aunt June. Sometimes we would sit on the screen porch and rock on swings. Her street was very quiet and the maple trees covered the whole front yard with shade so cool and dark that you almost couldn't believe the grass could grow for lack of sunshine. The way the trees sheltered the front of the house you could almost be completely hidden from the road. On summer nights when we lived in Gloucester Point, Virginia in the early 1960's we would drive over the York River Bridge and through Newport News to Aunt June's in Portsmouth.

After dinner, sometimes an impromptu run to McDonald's (long before the quarter pounder) or to Kentucky Fried Chicken (when there was really a lot of meat on those chicken legs), then the parents would retire to the living room or front porch and share news about family or discuss the hot topics of the day while my sisters and I played in the back yard.

It was like a private garden in that back yard. It seemed no one was watching us as we played tag darting amid the trees. Sometimes we brought our dog.. or played with the one provided. And when the sun went down and it was almost dark we would become surrounded by thousands and thousands of lightening bugs in a ritual that seemed to go on for most of my childhood until I discovered boys existed… we would catch lightening bugs and laugh.. and sometimes eat watermelon in the back yard so we didn't make a mess in the house.

Years gone by and fond memories of visits at Christmases when aunt June made sure all of us had girly presents of bath salts or bubble bath that made us feel feminine and grown up. Sometimes, because she was so much older than Daddy, Aunt June seemed more like our grandmother than our aunt.

I often wondered why we didn't seem as close to Dad's family as to mom's. I thought maybe it was because of the size. By the time Grandma Grace died.. she had 6 children 14 grand children and 8 great grand children. That's a lot of Christmas presents to buy. But that wasn't it either.

Dad hinted at it before he died as to the reason, but mom fully explained it. There was this striving for perfection and competitiveness between the members of his family that sometimes got very brutal.

So dad decided when we were quite young that instead of taking the chance that our memories of his family would be less than fond. Dad limited our time with most of the family except for his nephew Bill and the brother closest to him in age, John Hope. Bill of course was Aunt June's oldest child. And was just a year or so younger than Daddy. So the two of them basically grew up together. And John Hope was closest to Dad in age so they had a little more time together and more in common than with the older brothers and sisters.

Every one of June's brothers was an impressive man in his own right. They were men who were stubborn and resourceful and accomplished things even if they didn't always seem to be successful in the end. They pretty much did succeed at what they attempted. And all of them married strong women who backed them up, and stood up to them, and occasionally took them down a notch or two.

I think sometimes family is the hardest to forgive. Perhaps because they know how to push our buttons, because they know our history and all the little embarrassing things we did through out it. My Dad, in many ways, was wise in this respect, because all my memories of my aunts and uncles and cousins are fond and happy and sometimes awkward, because at times children are awkward.

I remember the last time I saw Aunt June, in Virginia Beach, at the home of her then care giver. Her back was ramrod straight. She was the picture of elegance and dignity and independent defiance. She needed no one and spoke only sparingly of loneliness and in subtal ways of any worries she had. That Martin Stubbornness, to always be right, was there. In ways I cant explain, through her soft spoken Virginia accent, her laughter, Aunt June was the ipotomie of the Southern Woman of her Class and Era. Yet she welcomed us with open arms and hugged my dad with the familiuarity that comes with being the big sister.

I don't know much about what happened at the end of Aunt June's life. She seemed happy and well taken care of and had a hint of weakness from her failing health, when I last saw her. The legacy she left was of educated grandchildren and a very successful son and a daughter that was brave up to the moment her life ended from her lingering health troubles.

I hope that whatever conflicts between family members were resolved by the time Aunt June's health began to give way. I hope that there was abiding peace and forgiveness and a closeness to the God of her faith. That those she sacrificed for, nurtured, loved and sometimes offended, had put aside the offending spirit and remember her fondly for what she gave to the lives that enriched them and affected them positively.

Monday October 25, 2004 Grace June Martin Collier will be laid to rest beside her husband Bill Collier Sr. In Oak Grove Cemetery in Portsmouth, Virginia. She was the last of her generation in our Branch of the Martin Family. She will be remembered with mixed emotions by all her remaining family and inlaws and remembered fondly by me. Thank-you for all the good memeories, Aunt June. And Thank-you, Daddy, for making sure they stayed that way.

My mother, two of my sisters and my niece will be making the trip down to Portsmouth.

Copyright©2004 L.L. Martin All North and South American and World and Electronic Rights Reserved. Use of this document is reserved for family members, inlaws, and relatives of Grace June Collier. All others can contact L.L.Martin at for written permission.

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