Leola was a saint. Not only because she was so kind and giving, but because she was married to my uncle Woodrow.
Uncle Woodrow, or UW as we came to call him amongst the family later on, was one interesting character. He was raised very poor during the Great Depression, and like many others of his generation never lost that fear of losing everything. He had a few brothers, one of whom was a very successful businessman who convinced UW to go in on a deal he'd worked out on a little something that might make them a dime or two.
At that time, UW was working as a postman, so he really didn't have much money. But he took all that he had and invested it with his brother and ended up becoming a millionaire. They owned the first handful of Holiday Inn franchises in the state. Talk about dumb luck, huh?
At this point, UW gave up working as a postman and said he had the calling to become a minister. He turned out to be a fairly popular minister, no doubt largely in part to the fact that everyone adored my aunt Leola. If the church doors were open, she was there. If you were sick or had a death in the family, she was there. Everyone loved her.
Now, what y'all have to realize is that no one in my family knew that they were wealthy. As a matter of fact, they lived extremely frugally - so frugally that it made us almost sick to our stomachs later on after my aunt died. But I'll get to that in a bit.
He had some odd quirks that we still laugh about, one particular one being that he refused to let the postman deliver the mail to his house and had a post office box instead. Why, you ask? Because he thought the postman would try and steal his mail and all of his stock dividend checks that came in. Kind of ironic for someone who had been a postman himself, no?
My aunt got breast cancer and went through all the treatments - went into remission and then almost five years to the day after she went into remission she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She decided not to undergo treatments because the chemo from the first diagnosis was so horrible she said she'd rather die with dignity than fight something that was a losing battle. My sweet aunt died three months after I got married.
UW fell apart. Little did we know how much he had relied on my aunt for everything...and I mean everything. Every morning before he got up, she would go out and get his newspaper, cook him a full breakfast, and have it all ready for him. She took care of all of his clothes, the housekeeping, everything but the money and bills. That was purely his domain, and probably because he considered it "man's work" versus washing clothes which would definitely "women's work" in his eyes.
On her deathbed, Leola had asked my father to watch out for her "Woody" and take care of him. Sure, my father said. Poor guy. He had no idea of the mayhem that would occupy the next few years of his life. See, UW was in bad health when my aunt died - and he was so devoted to her that we figured he would be in a downhill race against time to the Pearly Gates.
Um, yeah, not so much.
Next time, part 2 of the story. Y'all are gonna love this one.