Sunday, March 27, 2011

Loss of a Special Lady

Just one week ago, we lost a very special lady—my Aunt Sis. She was a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and neighbor. Fortunately for me, she was also my Godmother and friend.

What made her special was the knack she had for making everyone feel welcome. Friends and family members each got a big hug upon walking into her home, usually followed by an offer to have a cup of coffee, a slice of cake, or at least a piece of chocolate candy that happened to be on a nearby side table.

One of the ways Aunt Sis made me feel special started around the time I turned eight. The wrapping on the birthday present she gave me was unusual: she fashioned a beautiful lacy handkerchief into a flower and tied it with ribbon. I was surprised by her special touch and asked her why she did that.

She replied, “A lady always needs to carry a pretty hanky.”

That hanky was the beginning of a lovely tradition that lasted for many years. I looked forward to discovering her little extra almost as much as the present itself. I saved all those handkerchiefs in my top dresser drawer, to be used only for church on Sunday and special occasions.

My aunt had a knack for growing flowers: Christmas cactus, Amaryllis, violets, and spider plants all thrived under her care. One year, she gave me a spider plant as a housewarming gift; she had raised it on her back porch. I knew the perfect spot for it—atop the laminated beam that ran above the living room of the beautiful log home my husband had just finished building. Each day, when I passed under that beam and saw all the baby spiders hanging gracefully, I thought about her.

When I was a kid, our whole family played a card game called Euchre. Grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all gathered in friendly competition. I loved to hear Aunt Sis hoot with laughter when she ‘set’ the opposing team, as well as when her team won a crucial point. Years later, my young son and I often played with her and my mom, including a few games of cribbage for variety.

In her later years, Aunt Sis reached a point where she needed more care than she could get at home. She eventually moved into a nursing home. Something remarkable happened there when I visited her on her 93rd birthday.

When I walked into the facility, she thought I was my mother, her younger sister. As we talked, she kept looking at the clock, until I finally asked if she needed to be somewhere. Her reply surprised me.

“Oh, yes, I need to get ready for my date with Mose.”

Mose had been her husband for over 50 years, and he had passed away some 25 years before.

“Where are you two going?” I asked, curious about her state of mind, obviously dwelling in the distant past.

“We’re going to the wedding dance in Papineau.”

When I asked how they met, this is the story she told me.

“Well, I was standing there talking to Louella. You know her, the one with the bleached blonde hair.” I just nodded in agreement and let her continue.

“While we were talking, Louella kept making eyes at a handsome young man, Mose. She watched him coming toward us and thought he was going to ask her to dance. But he came right up,” she said, pointing to her chest swelled with pride, “and asked me to dance instead of Luella.” Her hand gestures and body motions were priceless. When she said “instead of Luella,” she wiggled her shoulders with a shrug and a satisfied nod of her head, just like a thirteen-year-old girl might do.

For another ten minutes, we carried on a conversation time-trapped somewhere in the 1930’s, where her mind temporarily dwelled. All of a sudden, her demeanor changed significantly, and she was confused about where she was . . . and when. I knew she was having a senior moment, but I enjoyed experiencing those few minutes sharing the past with her.

When I heard Aunt Sis passed away last week, I had a personal mission to find two identical white handkerchiefs with lace trim. The first one, I kept as a lovely reminder of her. The second one, I tucked into her sleeve at the funeral home. I knew she was a real lady, so she needed a nice handkerchief for her trip to Heaven.

Farewell to a lovely lady. She will be sorely missed.