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An Act of Necessity: Witnessing and Learning Through a Legacy of Objects.

My aim in this paper is to write a portraiture of my Aunt Viola (1930-2008) as an homage to her life in the shadow of her untimely death. Mapping her life through writing and saved objects, I invoke Turkle's premise that "evocative objects ....serve as a marker of relationship and emotional connection" (1) between, in this case, the deceased family member and me as surviving relative. In other words, things conjure meaning. I examine some of Aunt Viola's remaining memorabilia and documents as touchstones for contemplating her life and teaching me about myself. It is through the relationship with these "things" I, as a family member, attempt to piece together the life of my Aunt Viola, keenly aware of my attachment to objects now in my care. Assuming the role of "accidental archivist" (2)--a term Silin uses to describe someone who unexpectedly finds herself in the position of ministering over family possessions--I utilize a selection of newspaper clippings, personal effects, business documents, photographs, school report cards, and memorabilia, to honor Viola. My aunt's vulnerability as a black business woman on Wall Street, as well as a daughter, sister, and care-giver, was etched within the oppressive social and political milieu of post war America. Alongside my memory of my aunt, these sites of "narrative inheritance" (3) also compel me to canvass her life and her distinctive qualities that register with my own identity as a black woman and artist finding my way in no less vulnerable times. What follows is my rendering of Viola's life, preceded by my synopsis of the event that compelled me to investigate her life, and the challenges in making public choices about private artifacts.

Introduction: The end

New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner - The young woman entered with the brown envelope that enfolded the pictures of my Aunt Viola. She spread them out on the table in front of my mother and me in a perfunctory manner. The partially decayed face of my aunt was displayed in a series of clinical photographs; distorted images thick with history.

My mother and I were informed that Viola's body was found in a lazy boy chair in front of her television, 2 weeks after its soul had left. The official report declares the cause of death as hypertensive cardiovascular disease--a heart attack. The record states her apartment door was opened and newspapers had piled up in the doorway. A neighbor, noticing the uncollected papers and a smell emanating from the apartment, called the building security. The police arrived. They sealed the apartment with wads of plastic wrapping and tape. After jumping through hoops of bureaucracy, we were given a key to the premises. We had only a few days after arriving in the United States from Canada to sort through her belongings; to make sense of a life that appeared to have been in disrepair.

Aunt Vi's apartment had been vandalized. The apartment smelled rancid and reeked of depression. The malodor of rotting food permeated the apartment in spite of the wide opened windows. The refrigerator and freezer housed long-dead provisions. It seemed as if any signs of human life departed the premises long before she had. The dining room table was littered with unpaid bills, letters from bill collectors, an eviction alert. Shocked at the condition of the apartment, I surged into overdrive. My mother and I had approximately three days to sort Viola's belongings left behind in her upper west side apartment in New York City.

Deciding which belongings from my Aunt Viola's apartment to ship back to Toronto felt overwhelming. Unlike my mother, I was in no mood for "gleaning" An "Agnes Varda" gleaning means foraging for items that one can take into one's care to love, cherish, fix, recycle, and re-sell. (4) However, a stylish, sliver-blue silk coat dress with a Chinese collar hanging in her bedroom closet caught my eye. My mother recollects that Aunt Vi had always wanted the best and shopped at Saks 5th Avenue and Bloomingdale's. Instantly I had an ephemeral glimpse of Aunt Vi: well groomed, and, well primed for her role as a successful black woman navigating a white world. Yet, in the end, I chose not to adopt the dress or any other item of her clothing. I did not want to encase my body in garments that still carried her scent. However, I salvaged a roomy, faux-leather travel bag that sported a distinct air of sophistication. My mother rescued a stainless steel frying pan, portraits of Aunt Vi and her family, two pairs of unworn, size ten shoes, and insisted we take a pile of letter-size envelopes, writing pads and pencils. They were in good condition, my mother assured me, and they would be 'useful.' (5)

A Biographical Sketch of Viola

According to family history, as my mother told it to me, Florence, my mother's aunt and Viola's mother, emigrated from St. Lucia to America via Panama. Florence married an African-American man, settled in Washington, and birthed two children: Viola and John Jr.Viola--Aunt Vi, as my family members called her, was my mothers older cousin whom she considered to be an aunt. Viola was a shadow relative; a relative that you see once every few years, who fades in and out of life as it passes by. I saw pictures of Aunt Vi in my family's photo albums. I heard stories about her from my mother. I met Viola, her mother, and brother on a family visit to New York City during the 1970s. My mother proudly compared Viola to the stylish, politically-astute former United States Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice--"Condy" as my mother liked to call her--superwoman extraordinaire. Her professional commitment was evident while her personal life remained a mystery.

Exposing 'The Other': Ethical Considerations

In truth, I acknowledge my feelings of ambivalence about exposing my aunt's life in order to gain insight into my own. On one hand, keeping her memory alive is an education in strength and resiliency from which I can learn. On the other hand, my desire to celebrate her life requires me to pry into the remnants of her life that survive. This process at times feels intrusive, speculative, given that she is no longer here to consult.

As Bailey points out, a power relationship exists between family members when one is a researcher and the other a research subject. (6) If the research subject is no longer alive, permission or other forms of consent are unavailable. The deceased research subject has no control over details laid bare and cannot defend or refute details about her life. Like other family researchers, Bailey contends "the researcher/descendent" is in a position of power when she has access to the deceased person's personal "objects" (7) for research purposes. With access comes responsibility. Inevitably, researchers' and family members' compassion, respectfulness, truth and authenticity become critical components in our attempts to piece together a meaningful portraiture that captures the essence of a life lived. The absence of presence leaves the door open for family archivists like myself to decide our own intentions regarding our purposes for the materials of loved ones we choose to archive. Therefore I must adopt for myself an ethics-of-care that attunes to boundaries in doing this kind of intimate work. Questions surface as I write, for example: What mechanisms must I employ to avoid the sentimentality that can overshadow the complexity of the life I attempt to understand? How does the agency I now possess as Viola's unofficial biographer influence the materials I choose from her possessions to witness her life? What aspects of Viola's life--as much as I know if it--do I determine too personal to expose?

As my aunt's self-appointed biographer I feel obliged to interrogate my own rationale for documenting her life--here in this paper as well as for the purpose of a future archive. Knowing this, what motivates me to memorialize my deceased family member's life? Do we, the ones who are left behind, look to this kind of dedication to identify parts of ourselves that have been lost or forgotten? Is this an act of benevolence toward the departed, or a means of legitimizing our own need for self-acceptance, validation, forgiveness? If any of these intentions hold true, then I as "researcher/descendent" have a responsibility to be mindful of my motives in analyzing and recreating pieces of Viola's life, within the public sphere of this article.

Re-creating my aunt's life as I do, from the materials she left behind, I assume responsibility and decide whether information revealed within her materials serves the public imagination or deserves to remain private. Accordingly, I am selective about what I share in this article. Nevertheless, my mission as the person authorizing and undertaking this biographical project is to decode questions Viola's materials generate for me about the complexity of her life, and my desire to know who she was, or at least who I imagined her to be.

Methodological Challenges

In addition to ethical considerations, exposing family presents methodological challenges. The deed reveals a family member's private life within the public domain, where fact and fiction are contingent upon the author's interpretation. At times, memory may prove selective. Our imagination may incite fabrication. Maurois, writing on the subject of autobiography contends: "memory is a great artist." (8) He suggests the mind tends to omit unsavoury events in a life in favour of more enticing details. Maurois's observation reminds me that I, too, risk unintentionally romanticizing or pathologizing my aunt's life in my attempt to reconstruct parts of it. At the beginning of this paper, I wrote about the circumstances under which Viola died to situate the context of her death, not to dramatize it. Nevertheless, I understand how tempting it may be to indulge in fantasy in lieu of fact, particularly in rendering a loved one's life.

Moreover, objects and materials left behind can reveal things about the deceased person that a family archivist like myself may deem too sensitive to expose within the public domain. Intimate details may be exposed. Potential exists for backlash from family members and other people involved. Norquay (9) writes about anxiety and ambivalence she experienced preparing her mother's war letters for a University archive. As a researcher, Norquay understands the historical value her mother's "war-time correspondence" holds for public knowledge. At the same time, Norquay vets her mother's papers, mindful that family secrets exist and of her responsibility to protect her surviving family members' privacy. Norquay's role as arbiter and administrator underlines tensions that surface when charged with honoring a loved one's request and preserving family unity, while also sharing valuable historical information more broadly.

I question whether my good intentions to reveal aspects of Viola's life somehow taints the memory of her life, given some of my interpretations shared in this paper are generated in part from my mother's remembering and my memory, rather than a definitive account that Viola herself provided. I also contemplate how Viola's former work colleagues might interpret my portraiture of her here. I question whether my rendering of her life aligns with impressions others who knew her might hold: how well did they know her? What other information might they share? As one of her remaining relatives I feel compelled to protect any sensitive details about her family life that surface in my probing--which could compromise the transparency and integrity of my investigation.

It is possible for the biographer's investments in her own personal narrative to supersede the life of the person she is writing about. Re-telling aspects of my aunt's life, I attempt to keep my ego in check to avoid displacing her life with my own narrative. I strive to release any pre-conceived judgment I may have held about her. Viola was a blood relative I wish I had gotten to know better. The empathy I feel and express toward Viola here underscores similarities I discern between her life and my own. Moreover, her things provide a critical reference point for me to further explore the dynamic relationship that can exist among object, self, and 'other' in writing family biography.

Letting Go of Things

Our loved one is lost to us by death and lost to us again when we give up their possessions--the things that hold memories of their presence. This act of preservation also signals the connection that exists between the artefact and archivist, who, whether by choice or chance is tasked with gathering and preserving the remnants of a family member's life. Norquay describes that surrendering her mother's war letters to a public archive felt as if she were giving a part of her mother away to a public who would never know her mother in the same way Norquay (10) knew her to be. Norquay writes: "I must now acknowledge others' interpretive lenses and imaginings of private family matters". (11) So too, Silin, in preparing his deceased partner's personal and professional material for the archive, acknowledges his emotional attachment to his partner's belongings. He describes how the physical act of certifying his partner's photographs as vintage and handing them over to professionals felt like a "betrayal" to his partner's existence. (12) Relinquishing his partner's materials confirmed his life would never be the same and he could not rewind the clock. For Silin, his act of surrender signalled finality.

Memory and connectedness we feel toward a loved one's possessions are intertwined. So much so that when we part with a loved one's belongings it can feel as if a part of our self dies. The loss, grief and protectiveness Norquay and Silin experience remind me of vulnerability that comes with allowing other people to view our private world. It takes courage to let go and trust decisions that we, the ones left behind, make, in administering a loved one's possessions. In my recollection, my mother wanted to keep practically all of Aunt Vi's things from her apartment. I tried to dissuade her from this rescue mission of Viola's possessions. Near tears my mother stated solemnly: "You have your sister, and your brother. You have each other. I have no one." A wave of empathy for my mother swept over me. She was right. In losing her kin, all my mother had left of her last remaining relative were these things--things that were now a testament to my mother's heritage through her connection with Viola.

Sorting Through Viola's Things

Clearing out things from Viola's apartment, my mother and I carefully made our way through innumerable items stuffed into boxes, bins, old suitcases, closets, dresser drawers. Amongst Vi's possessions, I found:

- Her father's U.S. army Enlistment Record (World War II)

- A photograph of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.

- My mother and father's wedding picture

- Viola's baby pictures

- Family photographs of outings with her mother and brother

- Her mother's Dress Pressers Union Card

- Numerous awards and certificates of achievement

- A 1974 World's Fair pamphlet

- Theatre Plays bill from 1974

- School report cards

- A childhood scrap book

- Eviction notices for her apartment

Upon closer inspection of Viola's possessions I realize some of the artefacts had most likely been a part of her inheritance from her parents. For example, my mother and father's wedding picture would have initially belonged to Viola's parents. Her father's release from the war and her Mother's union card were her parents' possessions, as were Viola's baby pictures.

Ironically, the more I handled and surveyed her belongings the less eager I became to abandon them. A desire welled within me to know more about Aunt Vi's life from the bits and pieces she left behind. I could not bring myself to throw them out. With time restrictions, financial constraints, compounded by grief, choosing items from my aunt's to keep proved a daunting, yet unavoidable task. In the end, I mailed home two boxes of items designated "we can't throw these things out" along with some books on the craft on writing. Perhaps these books were used for work purposes. Or, maybe Viola had entertained some kind of writing aspirations.

Making Meaning of Viola's Artifacts

Each encounter I have with Viola's belongings compels me to imagine the personal and social environment that constituted Viola's familial and social environments as a black person coming of age in the mid twentieth century. The content of many of the documents evokes the vulnerability of times in which my aunt lived. For example, the photograph of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. prompts me to reflect on the plight of black people's struggle for equality, freedom and justice, then and now. Within a liberal, political imagination these three notable figures have come to symbolize hope for a better world--that is yet to be realized. The ideology each of these three men espoused reminds me how dangerous it can be to challenge the status quo. The photograph triggers my anxiety as I think about the volatile political climate in North America and beyond whereby hegemonic forces actively promote fear-mongering and divisiveness at the expense of human rights.

A government document yellowed with age records her father's service history in the army, dated June 21st, 1918. In part the document reads: "Grade: Cook. Knowledge of any vocation: Chauffeur. Physical condition when discharged: Apparently Good. Character: Excellent." Her father's army record brings to my mind contributions black militia units made to both America's and Canada's war efforts--past and present--that have been largely diminished, if not intentionally erased from the bigoted American and Canadian historical imagination. This artefact reminds me of a poster on the wall of my small home office. The poster headline reads: "The War of 1812: The Fight for Canada. The subtitle reads in part: "The contribution of Black Soldiers in the Fight for Canada." The poster includes an image of a black soldier holding a rifle with the caption: "a member of the coloured corps." Notably, this poster recognizes the black contribution to the war effort. Sadly, it also serves as a reminder of segregation that existed within the Canadian army at that time--an unsavoury piece of Canadiana eclipsed from the history books I read in school. Surveying Viola's father's service record, I consider the power the army wields in its ability to determine the significance of a black soldier's worth with the stroke of a pen.

A letter of recommendation dated 1947 from a former employer to a potential employer describes Mr. McCoy, her father, previously Assistant Foreman to the company's shipping department, as "intelligent, cooperative, quiet and unassuming." These praiseworthy attributes assigned to her father affirm the kinds of disposition that made black people--men in particular--agreeable and non-threatening to white employers who maybe reticent or fearful to hire black people. Characteristics such as "quiet" and "unassuming" signalled to employers that black people could be controlled and would not challenge the employer's authority. These coded identifiers reinforced stereotypes of black men as wild, unpredictable creatures who must be disempowered for white employers to feel safe.

Viola's mother's union card from her employment at a dress factory calls to my mind the kinds of labour-intense jobs that were open to black women in the work force in the earlier part of the twentieth century. The economic limitation women--including Viola's mother--grappled with at that time heralds their capacity for resiliency in the midst of racial discrimination that diminished opportunities for work. It also understandably fuelled Viola's parents' commitment to ensure their children received a good education and were successful in life. Reminiscing about Viola's mother's tenacity my mother asserts: "As a black person in America you had to be persistent and stick to your values". (13) Perhaps my mother's personal reflection struck a chord with her own reckonings as a black woman, wife and mother who worked inside and outside the home, and raised her children in no less precarious times, here, in Canada.

A newspaper article and photograph in the New York Amsterdam News, dated 1964 reads: "Harlem Couple given $13,000 Business Loan... to help them expand a private limousine service." In the photograph, Viola, the regional director's secretary of Small Business Administration where she worked at the time, stands beside the couple receiving the loan, serving as witness to the transaction. The couple who apply for the loan appear to be hard-working people trying to fulfill a dream. According to the article the woman is a school teacher in the Bronx. Her husband is "a qualified mechanic" and experienced in the taxi industry. This article underscores for me how challenging it must have been in the 1960s for an African-American family to successfully access enough capital to grow a business, amid explosive racial tensions in America. The onus was on black people to prove themselves worthy of trust and skilled enough to compete with their white counterparts. This is no less daunting in today's society. Sadly, white hegemonic forces continue to hold power to deny or permit black people access to resources, including high level education, and meaningful employment that enhances wealth potential, social mobility, and productivity. I envision my aunt's ultimate career success as a testament to self-reliance, family support, and the resiliency she would have needed to achieve her goals.

In my reckoning with these documents, it is clear that Viola's parents, like many black parents--past and present--worked hard to overcome obstacles and provide for their family. They encouraged their children to work hard so they could have a good life, if not a better life than what their own parents had provided for them. I recall many times my parents told me I had to work harder and be better than my white counterparts. I felt the urgency in their words but at that point in my young life I could not understand the magnitude of my parents' sage advice.

Viola's Scrapbook: Content and Analysis

One of the most striking artefacts I rescued from Viola's apartment is her scrapbook--striking for both for its content and the context it provides of Viola's early life. The scrapbook measures 15" in length and 9" in width. The pages are brittle. The fragile pages are held together by four thick staples. The front cover of the aged document is missing. There is no indication of the date the document was assembled. Fragile, multi-coloured pages are imprinted with images of young white girls and women that replicate scenes of domesticity, comportment, and glowing health. Prescriptions for good manners, personal grooming, appropriate social skills, tips for at-home entertaining, and a short autobiographical statement rounds out her scrapbook entries. I certainly do not fault Viola for the images she utilized to illustrate her young life. She was a child of her times in which both femininity and whiteness were virtues. Perhaps she did not have access to any of the lifestyle publications that catered to African-Americans at that time. I wondered if the images she utilized were sourced from magazines or publications accessible to her at school, at home, or elsewhere. Leafing through the tattered pages of her portfolio, I mull over the image of a trim brunette with short hair, wearing fitted black pants, and sporting a red cap, a red and white winter sweater, mittens, and a pair of ski poles swung over one shoulder. I wonder how many black children from working class families had opportunity or resources to go skiing? On another page of her scrapbook an advertisement for lipstick titled, Three Shades For Your Type, is pasted underneath the head shot of a glamorous white woman with blonde hair. Three lips are on display in the advertisement. Each lip corresponds to a specific shade of red lipstick: Clear Red, Blue Red, and Rose Red. A white female model poses beside each "lip." A descriptor of hair "types" follows, matching each lip color to hair pigment--Blonds, Brunettes, Brownettes, Redheads.

Viola's pictorial rendering of ideal femininity conjures for me issues around identity, autonomy, self-love, and self-acceptance black women continue to grapple with to this day. I contemplate the damage to self-esteem that can arise when young black girls are socialized to identify themselves with white bodies, to the point they judge their bodies and their worthiness against white standards of beauty, and success. In my youth I often poured over white fashion magazines my mother subscribed to, such as Women's Day, Canadian Magazine, Chatelaine, amongst others, searching for hairstyles I wanted to copy. I imagined the kinky texture of my natural hair could somehow replicate the bounce and curl of the Caucasian models featured in these magazines. I have long since moved on from my misguided attempt to identify with a likeness I could never become.

Viola's representation about her life and family gives me pause to consider social conditioning and family values that could have influenced her young life. A type-written autobiographical sketch titled, An analysis of myself is pasted onto the first page of her scrapbook. In it, Viola proclaims the following:
I am not nice looking, there's no doubt about that. My figure is not to
[sic] bad, although it could be better. I dress fairly well, and
clothes I wear improve my appearance.... I have many friends, girls and
boys, whom I get along with very well. I guess It's because of my
readiness and willingness to gorgive [sic] and overlook the fits of
temper that some of my friends have occasion to go into. I am very kind
and good natured to everyone. I am always willing to listen to both
sides of any story before I judge anyone or anything.... I am a bit
selfish, but only in my family. My brother and myself are the only two
children. My mother and father are very fond of us and have great plans
for us, but because my brother is cripple, and is not able to
accomplish any of the plans, it all rests on me, and my mother and
father try to give us everything I want, to make mesatisfied I know
this and take advantage of it and want more than I need and should
have. Although I don't do it intentionally, it is a very bad
personality trait, and I am trying very hard to improve.

This small slice of Viola's young life reveals a range of social constructs and family considerations that can influence a person's self-image, family expectations, and mindset, that ultimately shapes experience and worldview. Vi's scrapbook is a fitting resource for piecing together her life and presents a useful analogy for biographical research. Reviewing fragments of Viola's life that she documented helps me fathom the values and aspirations she deemed important enough or interesting enough to expose.

Viola's scrapbook provides me insight into her formative years, which further stirs my curiosity about her private life--a life I can only discern from my subjective reading of her belongings, my mother's suppositions, and my speculation on unknown details about her life.

The Unanswerable

Contemplating Viola's autobiographical impressions of herself, her family, and her responsibility she bore to carry out "plans" her family expected of her, I ask myself whether Viola felt pressured to succeed. Did she aspire to raise a family of her own? Did she want to travel the world? Was she happy with the success she achieved? Did her dreams rage, yet remain unfulfilled? Photographs of Viola socializing with friends, and co-workers, always wearing a broad smile, depict a joyful soul. But none of the numerous awards she received recognizing her contribution to her workplace graced any of the walls in her apartment. She never married. Viola's mother, Florence, my mother informs me, was hard on Viola. Yet Vi felt the success she achieved was due to her mother's diligence and influence on her life. Vi, my mother believed, was never able to create a life of her own given her family responsibilities and expectations. With no one left to care for after her mother died in 1981 and her brother in 2004, was Vi lonely? Did she feel uncomfortable or ashamed to reveal to my mother she was experiencing distress in her life? Did Viola suffer depression in her later years? I put forth this particular question given the chaotic condition of her living quarters, and the state in which her body was discovered. My mother claimed that Viola grew more distant as the years progressed, to the point my mother felt Viola was avoiding face-to-face contact, with excuses that she would be going out of town when my mother wanted to visit, or she was not feeling up to having visitors.

Achieving Success

I had always felt a sense of pride knowing that Aunt Vi had overcome the odds and "made it" in a society that deemed us as black people "less than" and "more than likely not to..." succeed and excel. In my mind she had endured. She had lived within a society where African Americans were (and are still) fighting against injustice, affirming a presence in a world where justice and equality was and is still not a reality for all its citizens. As my mother tells it, Aunt Vi's mother was adamant that her daughter received a good education. Viola heeded her mother's advice. She embodied the "success" narrative. (14) She "valued hard work, discipline and family." (15) She excelled in her academic studies. Viola completed her studies and started as a clerk-stenographer at Small Business Administration (SBA), in 1955. She worked her way up to Chief Administrative Officer in 1975. A photograph in the August 2003 issue of SBA New York District Office News depicts Viola, smiling as she receives a Certificate of Commendation. She died five years later. She excelled at her work. Can I say she loved herself? Was she selfless to a fault? I cannot say definitively whether Viola was successful in securing personal autonomy within her family. Viola appreciated her family. What I extract from her life as I know it is her professional triumphs, and her willingness to care for her family members--perhaps to the exclusion of personal fulfillment--made her the person she was.

Learning from Viola's Legacy

It is true I can hold my memory of my aunt quietly in my heart, even as I engage in a public rendering of her past presence via this paper. However, I feel the life she lived, no matter how elusive and complex it may have been for her, calls out for some kind of airing on my part. Perhaps it is precisely because her life was such a mystery to me I feel compelled to make sense of it. As a black woman I think about ignorance my aunt must have endured growing up and achieving the level of success she did in racially charged times. Viola's inner strength and courage she exhibited now inspires me to be resilient and strive to achieve goals I set out for myself despite racial discrimination and inequality that plagues my community. As much as I despair about circumstances under which my aunt died, loneliness and depression she appears to have suffered, her death incites me to and check in with my friends and loved ones more frequently than I have currently done; take the time for self-care and; attempt to heal wounded relationships if and when possible. Notwithstanding our shared racial background and familial relationship I can never adopt Viola's life as my own. It is not my intention to do so. I will never know exactly what it meant for her to live as a black woman of her time. My aim is to witness her life, as honestly as I can, through the tangible resources available to me. And in the process, take account of my identity as a black woman, living in equally troubling times. The distance from which I view Viola's life brings me closer to my own. My protectiveness toward her things is my attempt to honour her existence, even if her life may not have unfolded as she may have intended for herself. I provide sanctuary for her things to acknowledge she did not die in vain. Someone--her kin, cared about the life she lived. And, my responsibility is to be conscious and respectful of the way in which I expose her life, publicly.

Family biography teaches us about ourselves as much as it reveals the lives deceased family members once lived. This kind of work raises ethical and methodological questions about who we perceive ourselves to be and the ways in which we, the ones left behind, portray the lives of deceased family members. Ethics-care I have taken in my attempt to render my aunt's life visible enabled me to expose aspects of her life to the extent that I have, while respecting her privacy. Unearthing my aunt's life through her belongings, reminiscences and my memory of her life helps me retain her presence in my life--a life I can appreciate from a distance and learn from. Writing Viola's life as I know it to be, serves as a form of closure that allows me to lay her to rest--figuratively speaking--by honoring the life she lived.


(1) Sherry Turkle, "Introduction: The Things That Matter." Evocative Objects: Things We Think With (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007).

(2) Jonathan Silin, "The Teacher as Accidental Archivist," Studies in Gender and Sexuality 15, no. 2 (2014): 133-142, doi:10.1080/15240657.2014.91051.

(3) H.L. Goodall Jr., "Narrative Inheritance: A Nuclear Family with Toxic Secrets," Qualitative Inquiry 11, no. 4 (2005):499, doi: 10.1177/1077800405276769.

(4) Les Glaneurs et La Glaneuse. Directed by Agnes Varda. 2000. Cine Tamaris, France. Documentary film.

(5) Junia Mason, "An Act of Necessity" (Unpublished manuscript, 2009).

(6) Lucy Bailey, "Epistolary haunting: Working "With" and "On" Family Letters," Education's Histories, 3 (2016).

(7) Bailey, "Epistolary," 3.

(8) Andre Maurois, Aspects of Biography (Cambridge: University Press, 1929), 142

(9) Naomi Norquay, "Dear Family: Preparing Personal Letters for the Archive", Vitae Scholasticae: The Journal of Educational Biography 34, No. 2 (2017): 13-27.

(10) Norquay, "Dear Family."

(11) Norquay, "Dear Family," 24.

(12) Silin, "The Teacher," 135.

(13) Personal anecdote from my mother speaking candidly about what she knew of Viola's life.

(14) Algernon Austin, Achieving Blackness (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 168.

(15) Austin, Achieving Blackness, 168.

Junia Mason

York University
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Author:Mason, Junia
Publication:Vitae Scholasticae
Date:Sep 22, 2018
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