Blog No. 151
My Great Aunt passed away last week. She was ninety-one years old and told some of the best stories I’ve ever heard. I’m not writing about this because I want a bunch of sympathy or anything. I debated even mentioning her passing because that’s not the kind of woman she was. I didn’t know her as well as I knew my grandparents, but I knew her well enough to know she had little time for modesty and sympathy. I want to talk about her because, through her living her life, she taught me some important lessons that I carry with me and I want to show my respects in the only way I know how (by writing about her). No one is perfect, everyone has flaws and weak moments, but some people leave the impression of goodness and that comes from the amount of good that they did.
Aunt Nell was my father’s aunt. She was born in Holland and lived through the Nazi occupation. She was there when the Canadians came through and freed the country. I remember her telling us about how they were starving, eating tulip bulbs, when the soldiers came. The young men gave them chocolate and gum out of their pockets, the only rations they carried. She also told me about the dances the cities would throw for the soldiers. Her friends knew English and she didn’t. One time they told her to go over to a group of soldiers and tell them something in the language she didn’t speak. She laughed telling me the story, saying she had no idea what she told them. For all she knew, she told them she was easy.
That was my Great Aunt’s personality. Outrageous, gregarious, kind, and strong willed. She had no problems talking about the bad times, I think because in her mind they were over and didn’t bother her anymore. She even more eagerly talked about the good times. She lived in Chatham and every year our family would go up near Christmas to spend a day with her. My parents went up often to make sure she was well cared for, but for all my good intentions, I didn’t ever find the time to go up on my own. During the times we were all together, we would laugh and share stories. She would enjoy a Dutch beer and talk about the things going on in the residence where she lived. There were groups of women who would pick on people, and my Aunt would always come to the rescue, putting them in their place with a sharp tongue. She was bright, even in her nineties. The pain and drugs didn’t help, but she was cognizant enough to realize their effects.
As much as she shared her life with us, she was more interested in hear about what was happening in our lives. My nephew brought her joy, just by being in the room. Stories about our lives invigorated her, and she always had a question of comment (and lots of encouragement). It was never a chore to go visit Aunt Nell. Even when I was a busy, jaded teenager, I remember having a good time up in Chatham (even if I didn’t want to initially go). My Great Aunt was the kind of person whose personality was infectious. It was hard not to have a good time when she was around.
All my life I saw her enthusiasm. She was eager, engaged, and always up for something new. She always kept as active as she could (I suspect a big help in keeping her sharp) and was never afraid of new things. She was kind, generous, giving because she wanted to, expecting the recipients to take and be thankful, not put up a fuss. She was inquisitive, genuine, and thankful. She wasn’t a big part of my life, but she was a good part of it. I’m going to miss our pre Christmas gathering this year, but I’m never going to forget her. I hope to be half the person she was when I’m an old man.