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My Aunt Botchy and the Appalachian Family

Linda Lou "Farmer" Harman 1952-2013

I really miss my Aunt Botchy. I was just like her! She was my mother’s older sister and her real name was Linda Harman but all her friends, family, and clients called her Botch. She was my Aunt Botchy. She ran a beauty shop for years in Anawalt, West Virginia in the heart of coal mining country. My grandfather was a coal miner and my Mom and Botchy grew up poor, living in coal camps in the hollers of West Virginia. Botchy was born in 1952 and didn’t have indoor plumbing until she was an older teenager. She quit school during desegregation due to violence on her school bus and unrest at school and she knew she wanted to do hair so she went to beauty school. I always referred to her as the best hairdresser in the world and she was my hero. Opening my own medical practice these last few months has proven once again how much like her I am. I’ve thought about her so many times throughout the process and I know she would love everything about it. She was like a second mother to me and practically raised me alongside my mom and dad. I spent probably half my childhood weekends at my “little house” (what I called her house) where she lived.

In the mountains of Appalachia family is everything. It defines who we are and our loyalty and love for each other runs deep in our veins. All those moments throughout my childhood Botchy taught me how to love others authentically—by loving me authentically and with her whole heart. I knew without a doubt that no matter what I did or how much I screwed up she would be there for me and love me through it. Part of loving me also meant she never once hesitated to put me in my place and let me know what I was doing wrong or "forgetting my raising" (picture above left is me as a little girl, my mom on the right, and Botchy on the left. The bottom is my cousin, Debbie). That’s real love, I think: being able to speak truth even when it hurts a little. I remember being 5 years old and wanting to bring my umbrella into the house. She wouldn’t let me and I threw a fit and she rarely told me no as a little kid (I was spoiled, yes) but she was a stickler on no open umbrellas in the house. I remember getting my first pat on the butt from her that day but of course I was fine 2 hours later. Correction is love. Being able to receive that correction from our closest family is what makes us better human beings.

When she unexpectedly died from routine surgical complications 10 years ago, Jon and I adopted her 2 grand babies that she was raising. She was only 61, and Zach and Marissa were 14 and 10. Her death devastated our family. She had always told Jon and I that she wanted us to raise her grandkids if she couldn’t. As soon as she passed away we made preparations to move from South Carolina (where I was finishing up residency) to West Virginia to adopt them. Their grandfather still loved them deeply but raising two teens in 2013 is a hard job for a 73 year old man so we stepped in. I was 28 and my husband was 27.

When I took over trying to be a mom to Botchy’s grandchildren after she died I didn’t know it would be one of biggest blessings of my life. While I would rather have Botchy alive, I also realize her death gifted me with the most rewarding thing of my life: raising Zach and Marissa. My husband Jon decided to quit work and be a stay at home dad to give them both more security as they switched schools and spent the summer moving in and adjusting. Jon and I both were in heaven. We fell in love all over again! While Marissa and Zach were our flower girl and ring bearer in our wedding and we were already close with them before adopting them—having them live with us was just incredible. Jon and I went to bed every night and talked about how we couldn’t believe how much our hearts could be so full of love for kids that weren’t biologically our own kids. It was like they were ours all along. It was love so intense it almost hurt. I think most adoptive parents can understand this level of love—it’s so much to take in and it was fast. What an amazing thing to be able to honor my aunt's memory by realizing that what was her entire world had become my whole world.

Both kids really adjusted well and did great in their new schools. Zach was the wise beyond his years “40 year old teenager” that loved southern gospel music. Marissa was our social butterfly who dove in to dance classes, basketball, choir, and cheer. Our lives revolved around these 2 kids for years. It was wonderful. It also was hard for them and hard for us. Parenting through the teen years was harder than medical school. I read books, listened to podcasts, talked to other parents, and most of all I prayed hard. I also just did what my Botchy taught me to do: I loved fiercely.

Like our ancestors before us we have had our share of trials and tribulations. Our loyalty and love is and has been tested. However, despite the heartache and the craziness of it all I would never in a million years choose a different path. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. To this day I radically love both of my adopted kids and now Botchy’s great grandchild Braydan, as my own. I know she would be proud of how amazing they both are doing. I did the best that I could to love them the way I know she loved me and how she loved her entire family.

I wrote this post today because I miss my Aunt and its the 10th anniversary of the worst day of my life: the day she died. I also miss our old family with her in it and how simple it seemed- with my Maw Maw and Paw Paw and Sunday afternoon dinners over Elkhorn Mountain. However, I also want the world to know that our family is still good and it’s not broken. It’s just different. It has new babies and new traditions and new geography but it’s still Botchy’s. It’s still ours. It’s still loving and supportive and real, and I'm so thankful for my big crazy Appalachian family.

I’ve been to the ends of the earth from Africa to Peru and nothing can replace my family. Nothing makes me more at home than a dinner at the table with them in the present day. I pray that no matter what, my children never forget this family or where they came from. That they never forget our mountain family love that is worth more than all the riches in the world. That I am here with open arms no matter what, just like my Aunt Botchy was for me.

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Beautiful story about your beautiful family. Botch was a wonderful person.

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