Agnes Lee is a memoir composed a series of short vignettes written by Lee Ann Brown's maternal grandmother Agnes Lee Wiley (about her life and her family), published for her 90th birthday.
On the publication of Agnes Lee by Agnes Lee Dunlop Wiley
Tender Buttons #4, 1992
by her daughter, Dora Lee
Thanks to Tender Buttons’ publication of Agnes Lee in 1992, perhaps hundreds have read the 70 pages of my mother’s book. She wrote it to celebrate her 90th birthday but she was composing many parts years earlier. For example her list of “A Hundred Things I’d Like to do Again” was inspired by her childhood vacations with her family, her college experiences and her European tour in 1929.
Our family arrived home from the Moravian Christmas Eve Service at Little Church on the Lane in Charlotte, NC as the UPAS truck delivered the shipment of three hundred copies of her book. Members of the family grabbed a copy for the first glimpse. All had made contributions: Agnes Lee's own handwritten compositions, Dora Lee's typing, Lee Ann as computer operator, Bob's proofreading, Beth's ink illustrations.
Saturday, December 1992 was a bright, sunny day for the McLean families to come for dinner at noon to our home at 2030 Beverly Drive in Charlotte. Ikebana flower arrangements of three foot pussy willows and purple/blue irises decorated the dining room table and drop-leaf in the living room. Agnes Lee signed her books for each family member, reminding them of our five generations of friendship.
Agnes Lee woke on Sunday December 31st to find a thick coat of ice on all the tree limbs. Growing up in Oklahoma she has experienced similar weather on earlier birthdays. How were her guests going to drive through the ice storm? North Carolinians usually hibernated during such weather.
The Great room at her Southminster Retirement Community was decorates for the 2:00 p.m. party with treasure: Kiowa beaded moccasins, peace pipe and famous Indian pottery made by Maria displayed on a red and blue serape from Chief Gotebo. Punch and coffee complimented lemon tarts and chocolate pound cake from the County Market. Agne Lee autographed her book with notes of gratitude for her guests' friendships through the years.
After mailing many copies her supply dwindled to a precious few. Many had promised to share their copies with friends, church and retirement community libraries after they had read and reread her book. Agnes Lee received many thank-you letters for her gift to them. Her are excerpts from notes:
“Dear Mrs. Wiley, James and I did so appreciate being included in your birthday party on Sunday. We are impressed that at ninety years you are capable of all the skills that most people cannot exercise at seventy. We treasure your book. When our family members have read it, with your permission, I will place it in the Library of Charlotte’s Museum of History. You have covered, delightfully, how people lived in Mecklenburg and Union Counties through the eyes of a minister’s young wife. Thank you for all you have meant to the Nisbets. We all love you and have the fondest memories of Mr. Wiley.
“Dear Agnes, I’ve just finished reading (in two sittings) your delightful autobiography, and I thank you for the great pleasure it gave me. You have a real gift of clarity, conciseness, non-wordiness, a mix of humor, geography, heartwarming details and a happy spiritual quality.
Jane Morrison Moore Leak”
I really enjoyed being able to share in the celebration of your 90th birthday! I’m honored to be in a family of such outstanding matriarchs as thee and my maternal ancestors who are mine also. I look forward to a life as full and varied as yours— in a new era —carrying on your flame of living and vital strength and beauty. I've enjoyed meditating on all of the photographs in the book as well as your elegantly structured prose. I greatly treasure being able to wear the heirloom dresses. I hope you're having a good beginning of your 91st year!I think of you often and will send more copies of the books when I'm back in Providence.
I LOVE YOU,
Agnes Lee will be republished in the forthcoming