Tuesday, November 13, 2007

With Thanks

I'm still running behind - way behind, as a matter of fact. I thought I would be caught up with things I wanted to write about before 2:30 this morning, but I'm not.

Why? Well the excuse "du jour" is that I had an appointment today at the hospital to have one of those uncomfortable examinations we women are supposed to have where they compress two specific body parts -trying to reduce cup size in one fell swoop -or so it seems. After that, since I was alone - no temper tantrum, meltdowns to worry about from a certain four-year-old and no 18-month old to try to lug around -so I managed FINALLY to get over to the nursing home to see my aunt and her daughter who have both been residents there since a year ago the end of August. And I picked a good day and a good time to arrive as today, my aunt was actually awake! She was seated in the wheel chair, both legs propped up, extending straight out with the back of the chair tilted back just a tad. Although she appeared to be slightly slumping when I walked in and I feared that meant she was going to be asleep -something which she can't or refuses (not sure exactly which) to be roused from -but as it was, she was awake, appeared to be trying her best to follow a soap opera although I think she was most likely just staring into space.

I'd seen her daughter - my cousin Jane -seated in her wheel chair out in the lobby area of the floor where they are patients, as soon as I got off the elevator. And when I walked up to her and spoke her name, she looked up at me and after kind of studying me, getting me vocused in her line of vision, she broke with a big, big smile, reaching for the sleeve of my sweatshirt in her normal gesture which means "Take your jacket off, stay awhile." I was just happy to see that Jane still recognizes me, remembers me. Jane is 50 years old now, very physically and mentally challenged, for sure and to outsiders, is probably regarded as not being aware of anything, anyone. But those of us in the family, friends too, who have known her all her life, she does know who lots of people are. We've know for years that she knows us by name too although she is unable to speak. If my kids -and my older grandson too -all were to go up to my Aunt's home -and if anyone were to ask Jane where's Jeni, or Carrie, Clate, Mandy or Alex - she would immediately start looking around at each one of us, focus and when she had the person whose name was mentioned in her view, she would then stare right at that individual. Yes, we knew Jane knew us and it's comforting to see she still does.

The photo to the left here is my cousin, Jane Ann and her mother, my Aunt - Anna Mae -better known to all within the family though as "Aunt Mike" -and one of the four boxers she had over the years. Judging by the size of that dog, I think this was the first one she had -named "Squeezix" but usually referred to as "Big Pup" -and he was that!

My aunt tried to lift her head a bit to get a better look at me when I spoke to her. You can see she is having difficulty bringing things into her view now too -and when I asked her if she knew me - the last two times I've been able to get over there, she either has been asleep and I've been unable to wake her or she flat didn't know who I was - slowly she formed the words "I think so." Then she almost whispered to me "Allport?" which is the name of a small village between Morrisdale where she lived and Grassflat, where my home is. "No," I told her, "but you are close - Grassflat." She seemed to nod then in agreement and I went on to tell her exactly who I am - my Dad's name (her brother), mentioning my kids names too, in hopes anything might trigger a little more actual recognition but that was about as much as I got from her in that respect. However, today she looked good - hair combed nicely, her color was very good today -pinkish - not red and definitely not the grey, washed out color she'd had on my past visits. Seeing her eyes open though - and they were almost giving off that little bit of glint or sparkle they had held for almost all the 90 years of her life - its the things my kids always remember the most about her appearance - her ice-blue eyes, always so pretty -and how they always would gleam and shine when her nieces and nephews were around her. I couldn't stay that long as I had to hurry and make a stop at a little store to look for some craft stuff and then get home in time for Mandy to leave for work, but I'm just glad I was finally able to get out of the house anad get over to pay a VERY long overdue visit to both of them today.

I know Aunt Mike has no real desire, no drive, anymore to live - she just exists now but until a year ago in August this tiny woman (she was only 5'1 for most of her life and osteoporosis has shrunk her down from that now) took care of her daughter - who is probably 2 inches taller than her mother and outweighs her by many pounds too - alone, at home - just as she'd done for all of Jane's life. A fall out in her backyard last summer -tangling in the chain that restrained the beast of a big dog she insisted on overfeeding -has brought on the absolute necessity for Aunt Mike and Jane to be moved from the family homestead and to the nursing home. It was a move Aunt Mike fought that day, tooth and nail too but it was also one that was very long overdue. Now, with someone caring for Jane, looking after her needs too, she has lost all zeal to keep her mind alive and if she could close her eyes and have things be over and done with now, I'm quite sure she would be content to leave us.

It's a very painful thing to see her there - so frail. This woman who had taught school for probably between 35-40 years - I don't remember now how many years she had taught in all - and who also was a very talented pianist/organist as well as choral director at the church she belonged to as well as being in charge of the chorus at the school in Morrisdale for many years too.

If it hadn't been for Aunt Mike, I don't know what my older daughter Carrie and I would have done - how we would have managed for Carrie to get through school. She was having a lot of problems in second grade -mostly with reading -and although I fought with the administration at the school that year, they didn't seem able to find a way to help the girl. My aunt took her under her wing for six weeks that summer, tutoring her in reading three times a week for an hour or two and by the time Carrie went back to school that fall, not only could she read but she was beginning to take an interest in it as well. It still took a long time after that before Carrie finally got hooked on reading, and though she is still not the fastest, not the best reader, she does enjoy it greatly now. There's something for which my daughter and I are both very, very grateful, very thankful that we had our wonderful aunt who was willing -and able - to take charge and work with Carrie to help her overcome many of the problems she'd been having with that subject in school.
This photo - taken four years ago this past October, is Aunt Mike, cuddling my granddaughter, (the Princess) Maya. This was Miss Maya's very first visit after coming home from the hospital - she was five days old here -and I think it shows how great her love is -always was -for everyone of her many nieces and nephews.

Aunt Mike has always - ALWAYS - been there for me! My earliest memory of her -I really have no idea how old I was at the time - but I remember going into the homestead and it was back when they still had the old coal cook stove in the kitchen -as well as a pot-belly stove in the living room (man, was the rest of that house ever cold though in the winter) and in the kitchen, there was always a rocking chair. Aunt Mike would be seated in the rocking chair with her feet propped up in the oven of that old coal cook stove to keep them warm!

She was there to help me when I needed someone in an emergency one day to watch Clate and Mandy - my two younger children - because my husband (now my ex) was being totally obnoxious and threatening to come and remove the kids from the home of the lady who normally watched them for me while I worked. I needed a place to take them where he wouldn't think to look for them and called Aunt Mike to ask if she would watch them for the day. She agreed immediately. And the kids both had a great time there as to them, although Jane was about 22 years old at the time, she loved that these two kids - Clate was 6 and Mandy 4 -would get down on the floor and play with her and her toys! And my kids saw nothing whatsoever wrong or strange about doing that either nor did they ever shy away from Jane because they'd been around her all their lives so to them, she was as normal as could be.

One time, when my car broke down, needed some repairs that I wouldn't be able to afford to pay for until pay day (or a three day period) and I couldn't get the car out of the garage unless the bill was paid in full, but if I couldn't get to work, I wouldn't be able to have enough money, Aunt Mike loaned me her car for those three days. I don't know who was more scared then - her, that I might wreck her car or me - that I might wreck her car! But I didn't -and it all worked out ok!
This photo -above -is both my Dad's sisters - Aunt Mike is on the left and Aunt Lizzie on the right. Both were school teachers for at least 30 years each. Aunt Lizzie was all of 4 ft 9 inches, had a slight limp from having had polio as a child, and in her later years, was known to be a bit feisty at times -enough so that with her short stature and ability to come off with some pretty sharp comments at times (usually in jest though there may have been a good touch of reprimand too), my kids frequently referred to her as "Sophia" because she always reminded them very much of that character from the old tv show - "The Golden Girls."

When my Mom died -it was Aunt Mike and my Dad's other surviving sister, Aunt Lizzie, who were at the hospital every single day- kind of almost having a family reunion of sorts because you see, my uncle was a patient - his room was on the floor above where Mom was and his room - directly over the room Mom was in -and my cousin Margaret Anne was also in the hospital at the same time -in the room at the end of the hall just down from Mom's room. The night before Mom died, when she went into a coma and the hospital called to tell me this -and that the end could come at any time or it could linger a bit - I called Aunt Mike to tell her and the first words out of her mouth were "I will meet you at the hospital." I have no idea who she pulled in to stay with Jane on such short notice, but she did. And I debated about whether or not I should take my daughter Carrie, who was 12 at the time, with me to the hospital -I decided I should -and about 5-10 minutes after Carrie and I arrived at my Mom's room, Aunt Mike walked in, stayed there with us for quite a while till the doctor arrived and talked to us a bit. His advice -because he knew I was working at the University and had been there all day that day -was that we should go home, as he didn't think it would serve anything for us to just stay there then plus, he also knew I had two small children at home waiting for me too. He felt it was more important, since we'd been there then, to go home and try to get some rest as he felt I was going to need all the rest and strength I could manage to pull together for my kids and myself over the next few days. And, he was right too - as Mom died the next afternoon. And when she did - I was not there with her - I was on my way to the hospital - but Aunt Mike and Aunt Lizzie were there with her at the end - just as Aunt Lizzie had left her home one night in October 35 years earlier to go stay at my Dad's bedside, where he was dying of stomach cancer - because Mom couldn't be there that night -she was busy at home, giving birth to me.

That's how my Dad's family operated though - pull each other together, pull each other through whatever came along.

When I decided to go to college, back in 1990, those two aunts and especially Aunt Mike, were there giving me moral support at every turn along the way. The day I graduated, they both had wanted to be there but Aunt Lizzie's ability to walk much was very poor then and they were afraid to take the risk of her trying to maneuver through Eisenhower Auditorium at the Penn State Campus. But luckily, a cousin on my Mom's side had brought his mother down from Corry, PA to attend the commencement exercise and he'd also brought along his video camera so he filmed the entire ceremony and the next day, I was able to take that tape up to set it up and both my aunts were then able to see me walk across the stage to get my little blue packet with my degree inside it!

The two photos to the right were taken Thanksgiving of 2000. In the top picture is Aunt Mike on the far left, then my kids - Carrie, Clayton and Mandy. In the bottom picture, are my grandson, Alex, in front of Aunt Mike, and my kids, Carrie, Clate and Mandy standing behind her. I don't have a clue where my kids -all three -get their height! But they all sure tower over Aunt Mike, don't they? And for some reason when pictures get taken of my kids at some family event, it is almost inevitable that either Clate or Mandy has to make some kind of crazy face then!

My Mom died two days before my birthday in October of 1979 and that year, Aunt Mike called and asked me what my kids and I were planning to do for Thanksgiving. Gee, I hadn't really given it much thought but she invited the kids and me up to the family home for Thanksgiving Dinner and with that, began a family tradition that didn't end until last November. For 27 years, my kids and I had Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day dinners at Aunt Mike's house. The last several years, Aunt Mike still wanted us to be together but she didn't feel up to fixing the big meals she'd always cooked before so my girls and I took over the cooking. I would cook the turkey for Thanksgiving and usually then at Christmas we would get a ham and I'd cook that here at my house. Then we'd take the meat, potatoes, other vegetables etc., up to Aunt Mike's house and finish the cooking process there. She would always want to make something and it took a good bit of convincing to get her to realize the fact she was having all of us there, providing the room, the table, china, silverware - and most of all the opportunity then to share the time with family in an atmosphere filled with love - along with lots and lots of great food too -was all my kids and I wanted.

Last year, Thanksgiving and Christmas both lost a lot of the spark when my kids and I gathered around our table here. There was something absent and we all knew what it was too. As close as my kids and grandkids and I are, not having my aunt, their great-aunt - and our cousin with us left both occasions a bit on the flat side for all of us.

I know at her age now - she just turned 90 this past April - and with her health failing so much now too -she won't be with us much longer and I dread what is coming. So do my kids as they -all three and especially my older grandson, Alex - who Aunt Mike worships -all love her dearly.
But we all know too how strong a woman she was, how ferociously she worked to get every thing she possibly could done for her daughter and it was that spirit, spunk and attitude that she has instilled in all of us over these years that will keep her in our memory and carry us through whatever befalls us too!

It's that love, that endearing, enduring quality she had for every last one of her nieces and nephews - although we all, the nieces that is - always knew she much preferred her nephews to us because she was also very old school and "men know it all" but she didn't mean that in a sarcastic way but really, that their opinions, their knowledge, was always a bit above that of the women in the family -was her steadfast faith and love for each and every one of us.
And this picture - this is Aunt Mike taken probably in the late 60's maybe early 70's -back when she was teaching though. Look closely there at the sparkle of those beautiful blue eyes of hers. Can't you just see the love shining through? She was not just a sweetheart inside but so beautiful -inside and out!

And for that - and so many other things she's done for me for all of my 63 years - Aunt Mike, I will always be forever thankful the Good Lord saw fit to provide me with an aunt so wonderful as He did when he gave you to me and my children.

Couldn't have ever made it without her, ya know!


Sylvia said...

Bless you. It is very obivous you love her. (That dog is huge but cute).

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

what a lovely post!

smiles, bee

Minnesotablue said...

What a great tribute. Isn't it wonderful to have people in your life like that You could have been talking about my Mom. Always there, always supportive and always loving

Theresa said...

It is so wonderful to have such an Aunt that you treasure, and now I think she treasure you for making sure you still visit her when she cannot get out and about.
She sounds like on terrific lady.

Anonymous said...

This is such a beautiful demonstration of your love and respect for your family, Jeni.