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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Aunt Hilda

I have been blessed in this life to be loved by a multitude of mothers. I have a mother that bore me who is sweet and kind. Her hair is soft and falls in silver ringlets on her head. She walks upon legs tired and worn by years of labor. She smiles with the most amazing slightly crooked smile, and her eyes may be brown, but they sparkle.

I have a mother- in-law named Joan, who cherishes me and my sons all the more, for the son she has lost. She too lumbers painfully upon legs so tired from years of labor. But despite the pain she visits monthly, often watching the boys while I travel to speak.

I would be lucky indeed if these two precious women were my only mothers, but I also have Aunt Minnie. Aunt Minnie is the widowed older sister of my mother. She is jolly and fun and was an ICU nurse for many years. She is the connecting point of my very large family, spending countless hours on the phone with the hundred-plus members of the family. In our youth, my sister Esther and I spent six years of summer days with Aunt Minnie.

But the nights were spent with another Mother: Aunt Hilda. Aunt Hilda and Aunt Minnie lived across the street from each other for as long as I can remember. Aunt Hilda was the spinster Aunt, having never married she dedicated her life to God and her work at Gold Spot Dairy. She was the stern one, the mother who did not let things pass. She corrected behaviors frequently and therefore any praise that came from her lips was doubly sweet. She smiled the most beautiful smile and her laugh would echo around a room filling it with joy.

And today as ride in a train to New York to paint about disease in Central Park, I get the call.

Aunt Hilda died.

It wasn't too unexpected as Aunt Hilda has been suffering from advanced Alzheimer's Disease for the past few years. It has been years since she has spoken more than the occasional word. But that is not how I remember her. I remember her sitting at night reading her Portals of Prayers and Bible readings. I see her in my mind mowing her lawn or making one of the desserts she was famous for. I can see her working at the dairy, testing milk and creating cultures. Working in a job for forty years with only a secondary education, and showing me that education was important, but so was perseverance and dedication.

For these past few years, Aunt Hilda has lived in assisted living and finally a nursing home. Everyday without fail Aunt Minnie would have lunch with Aunt Hilda. Early on in the progression of the disease Aunt Minnie and Hilda would talk. But as the disease ravaged Aunt Hilda's mind, she stopped talking. She still remembered how to chew and swallow, so everyday Minnie would go feed her lunch. Aunt Minnie kept this vigil year after year, she would come back praising Hilda. Aunt Hilda never fell into sadness or anger, instead every day as Minnie fed her she would smile.

She smiled the most beautiful smile.

Today, I miss my other Mother. But the greatest tears I cry for My Aunt Minnie, for tonight I know her her heart aches as she misses her best friend.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful essayist you have become, Regina. I'm starting to think you should have a syndicated newspaper column... consisting of what you write here.