The loss of a loved one always sets you thinking about days gone by and memories of him or her. Well when I heard last week that my great Aunt Lois Key Roberts had passed away I couldn’t help but think of the whole Billy Key family. Aunt Lois was the youngest of 12 children and the last to pass; they were my Grandmothers siblings and were always a huge part of my life.
What a blessing to be able to tell you that I knew all of these great aunts and uncles – lots of you may not have known your parents’ siblings so well, much less your grandparents’. This family left a legacy of faith in God and love for family that has impacted every one of us and I hope will be an impact on my own children who will never know them in this world.
Lois’ mother, Ida Todd Key (known to all of us for a few generations now as Grandma Key) raised 12 children on a hardscrabble farm in Martha Washington. Daddy calls the place they grew up ‘holy ground’ on account of how they raised that big family with little to no resources – they were raised on prayer!
Aunt Lois was more likely to talk to us than some of her sisters; and she had asked her mother questions too. Maybe being the baby in the family she had more chance to get answer from Grandma Key since some of the older ones had moved off so Grandma had a minute to catch her breath. Or maybe Aunt Lois was just more inclined to ask “why” – hmm, do you s’pose I got that from her?
She asked her mother how she survived losing her oldest son when he was barely 16 years old. Grandma very practically told her that she had all these other children (there were 6 younger than him at the time) and she just had to keep going for them.
Aunt Lois graduated from high school in 1948 – no small feat at the time and as far as I can tell she was the only one of her siblings to accomplish this. You can see from her graduation photo that there were only a few other folks in the community graduating that year. One of her classmates, Joyce Tayes Allred told me there were actually 8 in the class, one boy wasn’t in the photo. Lois would go on to Carson Newman to study for a time, then she taught at the Martha Washington School.
This was a family of servants – they served country, community, church and family – and I really believe they were given this servant-spirit from their mother. She raised them in church and even if they didn’t see the importance of their faith early on, this family proved out the promise of Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
I’ve talked here before (maybe more than once) about our family reunion each September which has been recurring for nearly 70 years. Well that’s Grandma Key’s family and her children were all faithful to come together really every chance they had but certainly that one Sunday each fall. Aunt Lois has missed several reunions in the past few years and with her passing it’s now up to a new generation to ensure the Todds gather for another 70 years. One of my cousins is fond of saying, “We were raised on it” and she’s right – we were raised on it and we will continue to gather and this year we will no doubt remember Aunt Lois and her sisters and Grandma Key and all the lessons we’ve learned from them.
Tennessee Mountain Stories chronicles the legends and lessons from the Cumberland Plateau. Today it’s a legacy and I can’t help but wonder what my own legacy will be. I pray it will be faith and service just like these ladies.