|Elizabeth Virginia "Bobbie" Sanford|
I’ve always loved the word “sassy.” My brother used to play with words (a habit we shared) and would alternate between calling me “saby bister” (instead of baby sister) and “sassy sister.” I was much happier with that second label, since there was never any doubt that I was one sassy kid. Now, I’m not talking about someone who would “sass” or talk back to others in the colloquial term. I’m referring to a person who is usually cheerful, who loves life, and who has a pretty good sense of humor. That’s me, I think, and I’m sure those were traits I inherited from several of my female ancestors, but especially from those in my Sanford line.
My Aunt Bobbie was sassy for sure. She was wonderful. She was so funny and full of life, and she was the one adult to whom I always felt connected as I grew up. I’ve never been quite sure why I didn’t connect in that same way to my mother and my maternal grandmother. They had their own strengths, and I loved them both dearly, but I was not like them in the least. I definitely was like Aunt Bobbie. She and I could share jokes and thoughts in ways that I was never able to do with my mother and grandmother. I absolutely adored her.
Elizabeth Virginia “Bobbie” Sanford was born on March 23, 1907, in Meridian, Mississippi, to Alonzo Orlando “Lon” Sanford and his wife, Dorothy Elizabeth “Libbie” Zeigler Sanford – my great grandparents. She was the “saby bister” of the Sanford family. Her oldest sister, Ruby Beulah, had been born in 1890, and her other sister (my grandmother, Lorena Grace) was born in 1896. They were followed by her two brothers, Emile Francis in 1898 and James Alonzo “Lonnie” in 1902. Even though there were a number of years between the three sisters in the family, they were all very close. Sadly, Ruby passed away in 1931, a fact that weighed heavily on the remaining sisters. I know that because I remember them talking about her so very often, and I could always tell how much they missed her. She was, after all, the ‘big sister’ and oldest of them all.
Although the Sanford family traveled from Meridian to Coldwater, Mississippi, and then to Helena, Arkansas, and Memphis (often back and forth between them all), it seems that Bobbie spent much of her youth in Helena, Arkansas. She got her nickname because she was the first one in her neighborhood to get her hair cut short, a fad which most adults were sure would go away, since most women back then let their hair grow long. This new short haircut was typically cut to the jaw level with bangs and was called a “bob.” Everyone in the neighborhood started calling her “Bobbie,” and the name just stuck with her for the rest of her life. I can’t even imagine how much courage it took for her to take that daring step because even her own sisters didn’t cut their hair until a while later when it was more acceptable. But she most definitely did, and that’s what I call some sass!Aunt Bobbie married Wayne William Johnson in 1935 and had one son, Carl Wayne Johnson. I was lovingly named after him by my mother, who also adored her Aunt Bobbie. The Johnson family lived in West Memphis, Arkansas, and some of the best memories of my childhood include the times that my brother and I were allowed to stay overnight with them. She was always so much fun to be with. I remember in particular how she would get us to sleep at night by telling us stories in the dark and ‘drawing’ pictures in the air with her cigarette! Now, I know that’s so politically incorrect in this day and age, but it was so much fun back then! I can still close my eyes and see those lighted cigarette tips swirling about in the air and how much fun we had watching them and listening to her stories.
Unfortunately for my Aunt, her marriage ended in divorce after her son was grown, and she found herself in need of a job in order to support herself. This happened in the 1960s, and she became a nurse’s aide at the old TB Hospital in Memphis. I would often happily take her to work with my newly-acquired driver’s license and would even pick her up sometimes at night. I asked her one time why she wanted to work at the TB Hospital, and she told me that she felt the need to do that because both of her aunts had died of TB. I had never even heard about them and remember wondering who they were. But of course, being young and (looking back) evidently not so very bright, I never asked. I would have to do a great deal of research later in life just to find out about theirs.
Throughout all of her troubles, Aunt Bobbie kept that great sense of humor – at least always with me. She traveled with us when my Mother took me to college my freshman year, and she was there for me at the birth of my first child in 1968. In 1971, I was sitting next to her at a table in a visitors’ lounge at Baptist Hospital in Memphis. We were all there to visit my grandmother, who had been ill. Aunt Bobbie was laughing and joking as usual, when all of a sudden nothing she said seemed to make sense. I remember that she continued on with this gibberish and even began pointing her finger at different places on the table. She had suffered a stroke, of course, and never really recovered. She died on August 21, 1971.
I not only adored her, but I greatly admired the way she handled all of the problems in her life – with a strength that included her great sense of humor and upbeat spirit. That was a strength that I would personally lean on and attempt to emulate later in my own life.
She was fun and vivacious, as well as loving and caring. She was only 65 years old when she died, and I’ve often wondered what she was saying or thought she was saying at that table when she had her stroke. Whatever it was, I know that it was definitely something uplifting or funny.
Sassy to the end…no doubt at all.