From "Senior Living"
Growing up in my neighborhood was a sometimes confusing and overwhelming process as any number of adults might be telling you what to do and how to do it. All of this depended on where you happened to be at the time. Every adult you knew had the right, no obligation, to discipline and direct you as needed. The person I want to tell you about is Kate Ingram. She and her husband Chester and their two children, Billy and Beverly lived next door to us. Their house was on one side of ours and my maternal grandparents and aunts lived on the other side. Billy was one and a half years older than me and his sister Beverly was two years younger. We spent quite a lot of time together, both as families and as individual friends. For some unknown and unlikely reason, we always called them Kate and Chester rather than Mr. And Mrs. Ingram. Kate had a huge influence on my life and the lives of my two brothers. I don't remember when I was first aware of her presence, as she was just always there.
One of my fondest memories of her was of Kool-Aid in aluminum tumblers in a rainbow of different colors. It would be so hot outside and she would give us the icy beverage in these aluminum glasses that would be sweating they were so cold. This was half of the appeal during the hot summers in Alabama. Kool-Aid was a treat she loved to share with us. It was relatively inexpensive and made us so happy. Nobody we knew had cokes. They were just too expensive. I don't remember her giving us cookies or any other kind of sweets. She tried very hard to teach Billy and Beverly to eat right and stay thin and healthy. Mother thought it was a shame that they didn't get treats, but they were, and still are, thin.
According to my mother's account, one day when I was about two, Billy was sitting in our front porch swing and I got too close. Instead of stopping, he put his feet out and kicked me in the stomach sending me sprawling on the hard tile floor. Mother surprised herself by snatching him up and spanking him before she even thought about what she was doing. Then she started crying, picked him up and took him home to his mother explaining what had happened. She was so worried that Kate would be hurt and mad with her. Of course, she wasn't. She told Mother that was exactly what he needed and what she would have done, and maybe worse, had she been there. I don't remember Kate or Chester spanking me, but I knew they could and would if necessary and that was deterrent enough. However, I didn't behave totally out of fear. I wanted to please my parents and other parental figures. It made me happy to be good.
In 1968 when the freeway moved us out of East Lake, we ended up in Chalkville, my grandparents in Jefferson Hills and the Ingrams in Center Point. We had all been together for so long; you would think it would have taken more than this to separate us. However, since the three of us had no classes together at Banks High School, we drifted apart. Well, at least the children did. Kate never gave up being a part of the family and keeping up with us. She was faithful for 37 years, calling at least once a week to see how everyone was. She never kept Mother on the phone very long. She just wanted to know how we were. She would specifically ask about each of us and about my aunts who lived in Georgia and their families. About once a month she and Chester would drive from Center Point to our house to see us. My mother wasn't a very social person and I'm afraid Kate had to make all of the effort. Mother loved her; she just didn't know how to show her, anymore than she knew how to show us.
The Ingrams were older than my mother and daddy, but in better health and they were always there to see about us. After Mother and Daddy went to the nursing home, I became the contact person. She called Daddy sometimes, but it was hard to catch him at the nursing home since he had dialysis three times a week. She always encouraged me and told me what a super job I was doing taking care of everyone. When my mother died, she was the most supportive person in my court, other than my immediate family. I knew I could call her anytime and tell her anything. No matter how down I was, she would listen and bring me back to where I needed to be.
Last February, Chester was diagnosed with cancer and died very quickly. She was the most stoic person I have ever met. With the help of Beverly and her two boys, she cared for him at home until he was gone. I never saw her shed a tear. She held onto her faith and told everyone who would listen that she knew he was in a better place and that she wouldn't have him back here suffering for anything. She knew she would join him one day.
When my daddy died June 16th, she was there for me. The next week, another East Lake neighborhood mother died. She and Kate were close and I know it hurt her to lose Mrs. LeBlanc. It hurt more, however to watch her suffer. She even understood that it was too soon for me to be able to attend the funeral. On July 3rd, my best friend's mother died. I attended the funeral in Winfield on July 5th, came back to work for a few hours and then came home. When I arrived at home, Beverly was waiting for me. She had lost my phone number and had come to tell me her mother died on July 3rd. They think she just lay down on her bed and went to sleep. Here she was grieving for her mother, but after her mother's fashion, she had come to tell me of her mother's death in person. She was concerned about me. Only three weeks earlier, she had come to bring me food when Daddy died. Here she was back to tell me her mother was gone.
Her mother wasn't gone at all. Not really. Her body had given up and her soul had gone to be with God, but a large part of her spirit indwells her daughter's. Mrs. LeBlanc's daughter is not well. Beverly had forbidden her to come to the funeral. Of course she didn't listen. Kate meant as much to her as she did to me. She was there and we took care of each other. Now Beverly and I will share the responsibility of checking on each other and Teresa. We will be a circle of three.
It really does take a village to raise a child - unless the village has a Kate Ingram. She didn't need any help.
July 11, 2005
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