“Aunt Bessie’s Leg,” #3 in the Crooked Branch Mystery series for teens, young adults and those that are young at heart!
Aunt Bessie Lytle is a fictional character, but one that is based upon a real person, my great-great aunt, Bessie Lyle. My great-great Aunt Bessie was born blind in one eye and had a wooden leg like the fictional Aunt Bessie. There is no documented reason that I have been able to find as to why this was so. Some long-gone relatives said that it might have been polio, others say an accident; however, there is no written documentation about it.
I do know some important things about Aunt Bessie, however. My mother and my aunt, as two young girls in the 1940’s, remember Aunt Bessie coming to visit. A small home, Aunt Bessie would take their bed and the girls would sleep on cots set up on the floor. Their joy at having Aunt Bessie visit was over-shadowed by an unreasonable yet ample fear of the wooden leg. Aunt Bessie would retire and place her wooden leg under the bed, in direct sight of the two girls lying on the floor in their cots. I do not know what these two girls, my mother and my aunt, thought that this leg might do; however, I have no doubt about their fear. What child has not experienced an irrational fear of something so innocent?
The days, though, they were wonderful. With Aunt Bessie’s leg attached, she would regale the girls with stories and play the piano with aplomb. Aunt Bessie was a schoolteacher in a small one-room schoolhouse in McEwen, Tennessee and could play the piano with passion. My grandparents had an old upright in their living room, the same piano my mother and aunt used for piano lessons. I remember as a very young girl listening to Aunt Bessie play the piano in my grandparents’ living room. I began piano lessons in the first grade, and Aunt Bessie gave me her old piano music, a wonderful gift I didn’t appreciate at the time.
The bravery and courage this amazing woman demonstrated in overcoming disabilities and pain, to reach out to love and teach others is inspiring. I am proud to be able to share her, even as a ‘mostly’ fictional character, with you.
As was the custom of families years ago, and today, children were named after people that were important to the family. My mother was named after the family doctor that had looked over the extended family for years. Her middle name reflects the admiration my grandparents had for him. My aunt “Sissy” was named after my great-great Aunt Bessie and her exuberance for life and the passion for loving others exemplifies the characteristics dear Aunt Bessie admires, I’m sure, from up above.
Rest in Peace, Aunt Bessie. I look forward to seeing you someday, and we can run together – on strong legs – in that heavenly meadow where the majestic piano stands.
Bessie A. Lyle
July 31, 1894 – March 12, 1988