Who is Reb? you may ask? Reb (pronounced “Reeb”) was what I called my aunt, Reba Robinette, who was a huge influence on my life. Here is the eulogy I wrote for her and delivered at her funeral in March 2006, tweaked a bit for this blog.
Every family should be blessed (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with a matron aunt like Reb. I can’t tell you how much she has shaped who I am, but perhaps a few vignettes wiil give you an idea.
• “Read, Reb!” My early childhood is full of memories of Reb reading to me. She fostered my love for reading by bringing me books, but, more important, by taking time to read to me. She read countless stories to me and kept on reading when I begged, “Read, Reb!” My appetite for stories was almost insatiable. When my mom tired of reading to me, Reb was there to fill the gap. She probably enjoyed practicing on me, for she had a master’s in reading from East Tennessee State University.
• “Make it bark!” Reb had a big, honkin,’ steel-blue Chevrolet, and I often rode with her to church on Sunday mornings (about a 45-minute drive from our house). On a desolated stretch of road, she delighted my 10-year-old self and made me laugh by pressing the accelator, quickly followed by the brake. The car lurched forward and then back. I described it as barking and often asked her to make her car “bark.”
• She loved to travel. (I didn’t learn until I had my first child that she was afraid to travel by plane or bus; the Reb I knew seemed invincible). She was always going to principals’ conferences or reading workshops, often with my mom (nearly every summer they went to a Reading Conference at Miami University of Ohio; I stayed with my Aunt Det, who lived in nearby Hamilton). If she went on a trip by herself, she brought me back a souvenir, usually a horse model, because I was obsessed with horses. She built most of my collection of horse models.
• Reb was my mom’s best friend, and together they took care of my grandparents when they got to the point that they could no longer live by themselves. Reb’s part of the equation was to provide a home. She didn’t care too much for the daily drudgery of cooking and bathing my grandparents (my mom handled that), but she did provide financial support. And we all (my parents, Reb, and I) washed dishes and put them away every night after dinner. It must have been a challenge to have her parents live with her. She and my grandfather often clashed.
•She loved to shop. After she’d been shopping, there was always a fashion show. She dressed in her new purchases and pranced and twirled around as she modeled each outfit. The expected response from me and my mom was “Ooh, la, la!”
My mom and Reb were always in search of shoes for their big, narrow feet. There weren’t many shoe shops in Kingsport that carried their size (Reb wore a 9 1/2 or 10 AAAA; my mom wore a size 10 AA or AAA), so we often made the 2-hour drive to Asheville to go shopping at Topps for Shoes.
• Reb taught us kids to drive. I remember her taking my cousins Sue and Joe up to a ridge and coaching them as they practiced their driving skills. I only came to fully appreciate her patience in recent years as I taught my own children to drive.
When I was in college and my parents bought my first car, a 1980 Chevette during Christmas break of my senior year, Reb was the one who taught me to drive a straight shift. We practiced going from first gear to reverse on the small strip of shoulder in front of my grandparents’ homeplace. By the time she and my cousin Sue helped me practice on the hills around Weber City and Fairview, VA, I was sort of ready to drive back to college for spring semester. (I still can’t believe my parents actually let me drive back to Carson-Newman by myself. For weeks I rolled backward when I had to stop at red lights on hills, much to the chagrin of my passengers.)
I’ve heard it said that every child needs someone in his/her life to be crazy about them. Reb was that person for me.
• She was totally crabby at times. I smile when I remember how stressed out she would get when someone came to visit for a week or when we prepared meals at her house on Thanksgiving or Christmas. She got up early to put the turkey in the oven. She had me help her make stuffing (with oysters and Pepperidge Farm herb stuffing mix, celery, onions, and giblets), but to this day I can’t make it taste as good as Reb’s.
• Reb loved learning (she was what I’d call a continual learner before that term got trendy), and she continued learning on into retirement. In her latter years, she developed dementia. It was hard for me to watch her mental decline because I remember her intellectual vigor and all the interesting books she kept at her house (among them Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask…this is where I got most of my sex education!).
• “Service to humanity” was her mantra. She really wanted me to be a teacher and kept pressing me about it the summer after my college graduation. I had gotten certified to teach English and Spanish in high school, but after some unpleasant experiences in student teaching English (I loved teaching Spanish because the students chose to be there; the attitude in English class, a required subject, was quite different) and much thought, I decided to pursue a career in publishing. Reb kept telling me, “Anne, the most important thing is service to humanity,” intending to persuade me to choose teaching. I retorted, “Well, I don’t see how I can be of much use to humanity if I’m miserable in my job!”
In summary, Reb had these qualities:
devotion to family
a love for learning
disciplinarian (she kept a paddle in the safe at James Madison Elementary, where she was principal; she made each child she paddled sign that paddle; it was full of names!)
examplar of work ethic
zest for life
fun to be around (most of the time)
I am so grateful to have had Reb in my life. She loved my children as if they were her grandchildren. She was the best!