Seeing as I’ve already admitted my weakness for sparkles, you won’t be surprised to learn that I know a thing or two about shopping for rocks. When a prospective buyer is in the market for a good diamond, they are supposed to follow the Four C’s: Color, Cut, Carat and Clarity. Of course—as with most things in life—when the rating gets better, the quality and cost of the stone go up. Let me tell you about a Diamond Magnolia who was top of the line.
My Great-Aunt Louise was Grandma Willie’s little sister. Back in the day, my Great-Grandmother Clarcy and her two daughters were living in Wilmington. Grandma Clarcy was a widow at that point and, as the result of financial hardship, she had to move back in with her parents in Cheraw, South Carolina. Aunt Louise was in high school and wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of moving and not being able to matriculate with her class, so she moved in with Grandma Willie and her husband and family so that she could continue her education in New Hanover County.
Grandma Willie and Aunt Louise didn’t have any other siblings so they were always close, but their time together while Louise was going to school made them even closer. Of course, Aunt Louise graduated, married a man from Columbus County (Uncle James) and had two daughters. Aunt Louise and her husband were hard workers and ran several businesses while raising their family.
Aunt Louise and Uncle James ended up buying the Waikiki Motel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina right across the street from the Ocean. They lived at the motel and ran it and they were tireless. As the years wore on, Aunt Louise was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, which is a terribly painful, crippling and degenerative disease.
In the beginning, the RA was just painful, but it wasn’t long before her hands became contorted and her bones became very brittle. She once broke a rib doing nothing more than reaching over her shoulder to put her seatbelt on. Nonetheless, that Rheumatoid Arthritis was in for one hellacious fight.
In 1989, Hurricane Hugo threw all of us for a bit of a loop. The storm was foretold to run over Wilmington and take a more northeastward turn. During the middle of the night, Hugo turned left a little sooner than planned and plowed through Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Hugo decimated the area and you can still see its wrath of broken trees on a coastal drive through South Carolina. Even though she was only a block away from the raging ocean, Aunt Louise refused to evacuate. The story goes that she was practically carried out protesting while the waves of the Atlantic Ocean were quite literally licking at the windows of the front lobby.
A little while after Hugo, Aunt Louise suffered another blow when Uncle James died, but she kept right on chugging along. She was feisty. Yep, mighty feisty.
Over the years, Aunt Louise suffered countless broken bones and endured numerous surgeries to the point where she joked that she was a bionic woman with all of the plastic and metal in her body. Her mind went much faster than her body could take her and her patience was understandably short as a result. Thankfully her mouth wasn’t affected--she could and would crack you up or cut you down while she sat in the recliner in her den. Oh yes, you always knew what Aunt Louise was thinking. She pulled no punches and I enjoyed and respected that a lot.
After a couple of nasty falls, Aunt Louise was given a walker that she was supposed to use. She really hated it because it slowed her up way too much and it frustrated the mess out of her. It took entirely too long to get where she was going! Once, my husband and I stayed the weekend at the Waikiki and we went to visit her at her apartment. As we usually did, we knocked on the door and went right in.
She was so busted. Aunt Louise was walking to the door and dragging her walker behind her so that she could flip it around at a moment’s notice and give the appearance of behaving herself. Bless her. A woman after my own heart.
Aunt Louise was never a very large woman, but the Rheumatoid made her even smaller as her bones got more brittle. Just like the other smaller Belles that I’ve written about, believe me when I tell you that she was ready to rumble at a moment’s notice.
On another visit to Myrtle Beach, Aunt Louise took us out to dinner. She was long past being able to drive herself, so one of her daughters drove us in Louise’s land yacht Cadillac. Louise sat in the passenger seat and Mom and I sat behind her in the south wing of the yacht. We pulled up at the door so that Aunt Louise could get out. Louise’s daughter came around to help her out of the car and it was a process that took a little bit of time.
As we were getting her out of the car, the driver in the car behind us honked the horn. Aunt Louise stood up as straight as possible, grabbed her cane for attack instead of assistance, got her other hand free to issue the universal sign language and started saying “Oh fu—“
Fortunately, Aunt Louise’s daughter was in a position to see that the driver behind them was honking at something that didn’t have a thing to do with us. Before Louise could charge fearlessly into the void, her daughter said, “Mama, MAMA! They aren’t honking at us.”
Just as quickly as she had appeared, Ninja Louise disappeared and the Southern Belle came back ready for dinner.
We lost Aunt Louise in the fall of 1999. That Godforsaken disease eventually won the battle, but it was one hell of a war. I hope that my Baby Belles have one tenth of the spunk that Aunt Louise had and I hate like the devil that she was gone before they could meet her. I named Baby Belle 1 Isabelle Louise in honor of one seriously kick-ass Southern Belle.