Steve and I, psychologically speaking, are a perfect match: he is a younger brother with an older sister and I am an older sister with younger brothers. (If the idea is that he’s used to a woman bossing him around, I can assure you it hasn’t worked that way.)
But the big difference is where we are chronologically in our families. I am the first grandchild among the nine children of my Ralph grandparents. My youngest cousin is forty years younger and I’ve only met her a few times. I am the only granddaughter of my Bradley grandparents’ five grandchildren, spoiled by my older boy cousins as well as the adults.
Steve was the last grandchild of the five children of his Dillman grandparents and his mother was the youngest in the family. His mother’s older sisters spoiled him greatly. He was also the youngest grandchild of the four children of his Boyd grandparents. One of his first cousins, Lois, was the age of my mother! Her son Larry was born four months before Steve, so of course they were close friends. But Steve was a grandson and Larry was a great-grandson. (I’ll save a commentary on cousins and cousins once removed for a later post.)
As you can imagine, we were both doted on due to our family positions!
In the early years of our marriage and children, we always visited Aunt Alma and Aunt Metta, the Dillman aunts. Aunt Alma always talked about her garden with its flowers and produce. She died at age 91 in 1987. Aunt Metta was an educator and widely traveled, and she brought a more expansive world view to our conversations. We were all a bit intimidated by Aunt Metta. She died in 1990 at the age of 92.
Our trips to Indiana always included visiting Aunt Lucille, Larry’s grandmother and Steve’s dad’s only sister. She and her husband, Uncle Pat, ran the little church nearby where Steve held some gospel meetings back when that was the thing to do. She died in 1995.
We still visited Uncle Mark for a while and Uncle Joe longer, but they, too, passed on. Then for several years, our Christmas or summer visits to extended family were minimal. Lois’s husband died last Christmas, and Aunt Alma’s grandson that was closest to Steve died shortly thereafter.
In Tennessee, a part of every family get-together was Aunt Lola Mae, my dad’s only sister. She died in 2009 shortly after my mother.
Sunday we went to Tennessee to have a quick Christmas visit with my brother and his wife. After leaving their house Monday morning, we went to visit “the aunts.” Aunt Deba, 82, was as vivacious as ever, showing me what she’d been doing and giving me a lovely smocked dress for Landry. But she seemed to have shrunk to a preteen size, and the ravages of her chemo for leukemia were obvious. It was reassuring that she was still her bouncy self.
Then we visited Aunt Juanita, who at 95 still lives alone, with occasional help. She is bent almost double when she walks, but her mind is sharp and our conversation was interesting.
Then to visit Aunt Mina, who will be 84 this month. Daily she travels 30 minutes to the nursing home where her husband, Uncle Ollie, lives, and she stays there all day. After dating nine years, they were married on his fortieth birthday in December 1965 after we married in August. So they just celebrated their 50th anniversary and his 90th birthday last week.
I do have uncles nearby, for my mother’s three brothers are still going strong. Their wives are precious to me, also. But when time is short, it’s the aunts I go to–those who nurtured me and supported me in my formative years, just as we went to Steve’s aunts more frequently than his uncles.
It’s a good thing we are in different positions in our families, so the visits to the older relatives (meaning older than us!) are spread out a bit. All the generations before us are gone from Steve’s family and yet they lived long, productive lives. My mother’s six siblings that survive are amazing, ranging in age from 80-95.
(I should say that my father died at age 62 and Steve’s mother at 65, unusual in both families.)
We are blessed to live close enough to Tennessee and Indiana that we could visit such relatives over the years. If we’d moved to California or New York, we wouldn’t have had as many opportunities to visit or to know them in their later years
And they are all people of faith. When we were at the nursing home, they brought Uncle Ollie’s lunch. Nothing could have been more touching to me than seeing Aunt Mina lean over Uncle Ollie to say, “Want to say a prayer before you eat?” He paused, and from his foggy thinking drew up a gentle yet heartfelt prayer for his food. How wonderful that faith can remain even when much of memory has left us!
Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Isaiah 46:4)