13 December 2011

Christmas Ornaments, Part 2

My great-aunt Courtney Berkley Wheeler lived to the ripe old age of 102. She passed away in 1999 after outliving her husband, all eight of her siblings, three of her six children, and numerous other close and distant relatives. She was my favorite Berkley relative and to say she was a pistol was an understatement.

One Christmas in the early 1980s, I received this Christmas ornament in the mail:

It was, and still is, the most obnoxious, old-school satin Christmas ball. And it's pink. Pepto pink. And it was made by my great-aunt Courtney. She made all of these for her great-nieces (pink) and great-nephews (blue). Did I mention there were 67 of us greats? And she made these when she was in her 80s?

Did I mention she also raised not only six children, but also raised her grandchildren of the three children who died young due to polycystic kidney disease? The same disease that claimed her husband? Did I mention that around the time she made these 60-odd Christmas ball ornaments that she burned herself while trying to light her wood stove with gasoline? And that the only reason she passed away was she lost her sight, then her hearing, and just didn't want to exist in a world with nothing to see or hear?

Chuck Norris couldn't touch this woman.

My great-uncle Earl, Courtney's younger brother, described her in the following way in his book The Tenacious Berkeley, Berkleys:

Courtney, the beauty of the Berkley mountain, had more young men vying for her attention than birds in a cherry tree. The timber business, when the virgin timber was cut from the Berkley place, brought young men from far and near; and they all met at the Berkley place on the least provocation. One banjo player, Roy Wheeler, was handsome and determined. He and T.J. (Courtney's father) did not see eye to eye but that did not deter him. Finally, he talked Courtney into eloping. It was a rainy night and he had two horses tethered in a thicket near the house, and he waited at a designated spot until Courtney got a break and could leave the house. They rode to the railroad station in the rain and traveled to Catlettsburg, Kentucky, where they were married on September 17, 1912. It was fortunate indeed that T.J. did not apprehend them before they got away. He was lower than a snake's belly in a swamp for some time, but as usual, he accepted it and made the best of his fury without permanent damage.

When she celebrated her 100th birthday, it was a whirlwind day and I was lucky to get a quick picture with her.

The next year, on her 101st birthday, I was actually able to sit down and talk to her. It had been years since we had seen one another* and, at this point, she was blind. I asked her Aunt Courtney, do you know who I am? and she immediately responded, eyes bright, Oh my! You're Heather! Simeon's granddaughter! We spoke at length and caught up on family gossip and our lives. I think she may have even flirted with the Ty-man.

I absolutely loved her and I love my Pepto Pink Aunt Courtney Christmas ball. It hangs on the Christmas tree in a place of honor, near the top, each and every year.

*The year before, when our picture was taken, was such a crazy, busy day that I don't think she knew whether to wind her butt or scratch her watch. She spent most of the day bewildered at the crowds. I was bewildered, too, and I was only 25.


Kim said...

HOLY COW THAT'S AWESOME !!! My grandmother made those same type of Christmas balls for my family, and many of them are hanging on the tree RIGHT NOW! Small world! : )

May I also say that I usually hate the word verification, but the word I got is made of win : memerf.

Annie said...

These are my favorite ornaments - the ugly ones that are only lovable because of the story they tell. That's why they are on our trees year after year.

Thanks for sharing your ornament stories!

Michael from dadcation.com said...

Great story! Thanks for sharing.

hello haha narf said...

beautiful story! i have a few of those handmade ornaments that an aunt made. i've always found them gorgeous, but i can't even tell you what they really look like because i just see them with love.

sybil law said...

I'm really itching to get to my mom's ornaments, so I can take some of them and hang them on our tree.
What an awesome story, Heather - and now we all know where you get your awesome stock!!