On this day in 1914, my mother's oldest sister Kat was born--Samantha Katherine Simpson, named for her grandmothers Samantha Jane Braselton Simpson and Catherine Ryan Batchelor. Kat never married. She spent her adult life teaching children at a grade school near her house, and then, in her "spare" time after she came home from her teaching duties, she kept house and cooked for her mother and divorced brother and his daughter, who all lived together in my grandmother's house.
When she died in 2001, we nieces and nephews put together a memorial booklet to distribute at her funeral. Here are several excerpts:
My cousin Greg remembers,
To me this life story is one of utter superhuman deeds. Do any of us know anyone else that shouldered so much? As I have said, if ever there was anyone who personified the term "unconditional love," it was Aunt Kat. She loved totally, completely, and unconditionally. She never, not once, asked for anything in return. She gave us as a family a compass that we all probably take for granted. She is the standard we all would be well-served to aspire to.
My brother Philip remembers,
All of her friends and family know how Aunt Kat spent her entire life caring for generation after generation of her family members, and all of us have all been inspired by her selfless example. Aunt Kat also cared for us all in so many small ways, and I will remember and treasure my memories of these for the rest of my life. Aunt Kat always made a fuss over children, and they loved her for it. When we visited her as children, Aunt Kat always had something special for us to eat or drink, and my children enjoyed the same treatment when I started bringing them around. Aunt Kat was always writing the sweetest letters to my children, on little scraps of paper because Aunt Kat was frugal, having lived through the Depression. The letters would go on and on about her "sweetie pie," or her "beauty," or her "most handsome big boy." They are priceless.
My cousin Susan remembers,
Aunt Kat was a sweet, kind, loving aunt who gave up her life for all of us. She took care of her mother, her brother, her niece. When I went to college, she took me in to stay with her while I was away from home. She would listen to my speeches for my classes and help me word them. She would laugh with me. When I was sick, she stayed up to take care of me. She gave love unconditionally, and never thought of herself first. She thought of everyone else instead. When my mother had surgery for cancer, she stayed with Aunt Kat, and Aunt Kat took care of her and cooked for my father when he came to stay.
Kat never married or had children in the biological sense, but I defy anyone to tell me that she didn’t leave behind a large family of children whose lives were touched in some significant way by her attention and love—her nieces and nephews, her pupils, many others. Kat’s was a life that was profoundly generative. Many will rise up and call her blessed for the maternal solicitude she showed them. I reminded her of this as I prayed with her in the final hours of her life. I hope that my beautiful Aunt Kat left this world fully aware of the remarkable things she accomplished in her life.
Each of us wrote these remembrances apart from the other, not knowing what our siblings or cousins were going to say. I was with my aunt on the day of her death. As she began actively dying, she clasped my hand and squeezed it hard. I understood what she was saying to me: her message wasn't about anxiety for herself as she died. Through her hand clasp, she was saying, Don't worry or grieve. I'll be just fine. Even in her death she was as other-centered as she had been throughout her life.
Is it any wonder that I delight in remembering this selfless maternal presence in my life and that of the other members of my family, whose unmarried childless life may have seemed insignificant to many looking on from the outside, but which was richly instructive to many of us who had the good fortune to know her well?
The photo: Kat holding me in Hot Springs, Arkansas, 1950. Her sisters Billie and Margaret are to her left. On the far left is a family friend, Suzanne D.