My great grandmother was Ella Bess Austin. She died in 1980 when I was 12, but she did a lot of the raising of me, and I miss her very much, still.
She was a school teacher (5th and 6th grade) in Terry, MS for about a million years. She retired in 1974.
I am told as a tiny Gleena, I learned that fire was hot. Grandma was playing with me one morning on her way to school, and then said she had to go or she’d be late and get fired. I am told I burst into tears saying, “Hot, G’mma! Hot! Not go!!” She was late that day, because she held me till I calmed down.
I spent hot, dusty, Mississippi summers in Terry, going to VBS at the now closed Methodist church. We got orange ice cream pushups, which kind of tasted like baby aspirin. We hung out at our cousin’s store - where they sold insurance and took payments for bills and who knows what else - and she always had candy for me, too. I learned to swim in the public pool. I rode horses next door to her house, and went across the street to play with the Begal puppies the nice man raised. I picked up pecans with a special picker-upper thing in the yard. It was heaven for a little kid.
And she took me to the library. I’ve always loved to read, and it was Grandma, and her sister (my great, great aunt Wese) who taught me how and encouraged me. I got Tom Sawyer as a kindergarten gift when I insisted I was too old for books with pictures! Once, when I was about seven, I checked out some Alfred Hitchcock books, scared myself silly, and Grandma had to sit up with me and make warm milk and let me sleep on the couch so whatever was under the bed wouldn’t eat me. Grandma made me show her what I was going to check out after that. But I loved the library in Terry. It was very small, and in an old house down the street, with the kids section downstairs and the adult section upstairs.
Although it’s been 30 years, I miss her so much. I still get something in my eye if I think of her long enough. And the people of Terry, many of whom she taught in more than one grade, loved her a lot as well.
About 10 years ago or more, they namd the local library for her, and put it in a couple of “temporary” classroom type buildings. The Ella Bess Austin Library. I was so, so proud that the city she loved and taught loved her back.
Last weekend, they dedicated the permanent library. I couldn’t be there, but it’s lovely. See here: Ella Bess Austin Library. My Grandaddy (her son) and my Great Aunt (her daughter) were there, and lots of Terry turned out to see it open. (The pictures are of construction, I don’t have one yet of the completed library.)
It’s pointless, but I must share. I miss her. If you look up the road, you can see where she’s buried. She’d have been so pleased, I can imagine her blue eyes sparkling as she smiled. I can still hear her laugh, which was distinctive. I’d give an awfully lot to hear it again, but a beautiful building with her name on it will help her memory carry on for a long, long time.
I’m just as proud as anything, and hopefully a new generation of Terry residents can learn to love to read, too. I’ve donated a few books and my family has given some of her papers to the library so people know who she was.
Love you, Grandma. Miss you lots,