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The end of an era

It’s never entirely unexpected when the news comes of the end of a life lived long and well.

Any time you can honestly say that someone was vibrant and with it and dynamic almost to the age of 97, loved by her family and her friends and generations of children whom she taught, that’s a life that goes into the books for sure as one lived long and well.

But oh… how it hurts when such a life draws to a close.

As one in The Legal Genealogist‘s family has drawn to a close.

Thelma.adultThe news came in the mail this past week. All I had to do was see the return address and I knew.

It was a note from my cousin Sherry in Indiana.

And she was telling me that her mother, my cousin Thelma, was gone.

Thelma Rena (Livingston) Dibble was born on the 27th of June 1919 in Hollister, Oklahoma, to Leva Pyron Livingston and Ova (Winningham) Livingston.

My first cousin twice removed, Thelma was one of the very youngest of her generation; her first cousin, my grandmother Opal, was the oldest. They were both granddaughters of Martha Louise (Shew) Baird Livingston, but my grandmother’s mother Eula was Martha Louise’s oldest daughter (by Jasper Baird); Thelma’s father Leva was the next to the youngest of Martha Louise’s children by Abigah Livingston. So there was enough of a gap between them that my grandmother was married and a mother before Thelma was even born.

Yet their early days were much alike. Times of hardship but times of joy tucked into a large and loving family. Thelma never had a birthday party until she was an adult. Way too many meals were cornbread and milk. Dresses were made from flour sacks, and she owned exactly two at a time: one for school and one for church. Shoes were resoled as often as they could be to make them last.

Electricity didn’t make it out to the farm where she grew up until long after she was married and had moved away, running water was an unheard-of luxury, and her prize possession was a kerosene lamp of cut glass that she could use to read by. She learned to drive at the age of 10, she substituted for a fourth grade teacher for an entire week when she was only a high school freshman herself.

She graduated from Oklahoma Central University and began teaching science in junior college at age 20. She continued to teach school in Oklahoma in a one-room schoolhouse then in high school.

When she met Bill Dibble of Indiana on a USO hayride in 1943, it was love at first sight. They married in Hollister in 1943, and Thelma followed Bill to Pensacola, Florida, where he served in the Air Force. After the war, he brought her to his home on the family farm in Rising Sun, Indiana.

Thelma soon started teaching in Rising Sun — first in the second grade, and by the end of her 37 years with the Rising Sun school system, she’d taught just about everything and everyone there was to teach. The award that meant the most to her was the Teacher of the Year award, presented by the Rising Sun Middle School.

She told me about that award, and about the children she’d taught, and about her life in Oklahoma and Indiana when I had the great good fortune to be able to sit with her after the National Genealogical Society Conference in 2012.

She told me of the storm cellar dug deep into the earth away from the house, with benches on one side and a small opening on the side away from the door so that if the door ended up covered by debris, they could escape through the opening. Sitting out on the porch on spring nights with her mother, watching the sky and listening for the telltale sounds of the wind. The time the tornado took the shed and the barn roof. The time the lightning brought down the chimney, sending bricks crashing down inches from her brothers’ heads as they slept. The ball of lightning rolling across the floor of her bedroom and hitting her with a jolt, leaving her stunned.

The time her second grade class was hurried across the street into her own grandmother’s storm cellar because there wasn’t enough room in the school shelters for all the children. The wet towels they had to use to breathe through as the dust rolled through town. Waking up in the morning with gritty dust on the chenille bedspreads and in everyone’s mouths. Wondering sometimes if they were going to wake up at all.

She told me of boarding with my great grandmother, and how she remembered so well Eula’s homemade bread — how it was thick and the crust was just the right consistency. It was filling and smelled like heaven. With butter and cinnamon and a little sugar, it was breakfast, lunch, a meal in and of itself.

She shared with me her joy in her daughters, my cousins Sherry (Dibble) Timms and Angela (Dibble) Morrison, in her granddaughters and great grandchildren. Her memories of all the children of Rising Sun that she knew and loved so well.

She gave me a peek into that life lived so long and so well.

A life that has now come to a close.

And the sun for my family has set in Rising Sun.

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