Wednesday, November 9, 2011

5/29/08, *1908* that is: Aunt Sarah’s birthday (May 29, 2008)

Current mood: melancholy

Aunt Sarah, as she was known to nearly everyone, would have been 100 today. She lived with us, or more accurately, we lived with her. She was present in the delivery room at my son's birth, and helped raise both our kids.

She died in 1999, a couple months short of her 91st birthday. She had a reasonably good last few months, even with declining health. In her last year, on a vacation, she rode an elephant.

What can I say about a woman who was, in effect, a third parent for our kids? In those early years, one or the other of my wife and I was gone parts of nearly every day to go to either work or school; for me, both. She was the constant presence. It was on her lap as much as if not more than either of ours that the kids learned to love reading. Patience, patience ... to read (as one example) The Berenstain Bears 'B' Book, over, and over, and over, and over again, and over again, and again. And again. Every day. Both my kids were fully literate by mid-4, and remain avid readers to this day. The fact that both of them made it into our school district's advanced learners class by Grade 1 had much to do with their early upbringing, I am convinced.

Aunt Sarah knitted. Boy did she knit. As I write, I'm wearing the dark blue sweater she made for me when she was 81. It took her six months. It's so heavy, I used it as a winter coat a couple years ago. My head and legs froze that year, but the rest of me was toasty warm. My wife still has hers, a present from Aunt Sarah in 1974 or '75. It's on its third set of buttons, but the sweater is as wearable now as it was 30+ years ago. In addition to that there are afghans, mittens, scarves, baby blankets, and much more, for anyone she cared about. I know of about a dozen major pieces still extant, and hope they'll be around a generation or two to come. She made them to last.

She grew up out in the country, on a farm, so knew about self-sufficiency. She knew about avoiding waste. "When we butchered a hog, we used everything but the squeal," she would say. Transportation was by foot and horse, two miles each way to school, four to the train in Youngwood, the nearest village.

But though she grew up in the boonies, she had some progressive ideas. She took on a chicken-raising project in high school, designing and helping construct coops to hold 12,000 chickens, gathering eggs daily, feeding and cleaning the flock, and also selling those eggs in nearby Greensburg. Her exhibit, the work of a lone girl in a field of almost 20 boys, won the blue ribbon prize at the 1926 Pennsylvania State Fair.

She learned to drive on a Model T Ford, and took her license exam the first year Pennsylvania required such tests.

For a long time, she was very heavy, well past 200 on a sub-five-two frame. By retirement, she finally learned to deal with the weight. Classic quote: "I finally realized I didn't have a weight problem so much as a joint problem. Every time my arm bent, my mouth would open."

She never married. Despite all her talents, she had a poor self image, so never had much desire to socialize, let alone date. Being married to a farm didn't help matters, either. But by 51, she knew she could not support herself in old age, so left the farm and worked for several years in retirement homes, finally retiring at age 66.

In her later years, we took care of one another, she, my wife and I. We moved in with her; my wife and I paid the transportation costs, the utilities and half the taxes, Aunt Sarah paid for food and the other half of the taxes. She had medical coverage, but we made sure she got to and from the care visits and took all her meds.

She could change a diaper, but that was mainly ours to do. She knew she was better at cooking and baking. Cookie batter didn't roll off the table under its own power. People knew about her cookies, too. You couldn't make counterfeit Aunt Sarah cookies. I might have her recipes, but not her touch.

She's been over nine years gone but her presence is always there, her image indelible, her effects impossible to ignore.

Good bye, Aunt Sarah, we loved you so. May your spirit continue to rest in peace.

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