Sunday, January 11, 2009

Aunt Elma

On Saturday morning I received an email from my brother Jerry letting the family know that my Aunt Elma, who has Alzheimer’s, was very ill and Hospice had been called to help provide care in what is now her final days. From the prognosis, she may not make it through the weekend.

So after the shock, after the tears, and checking on my mom to see how she handling the news of her sister, it was time for prayers.

All I can do now is look back at the childhood memories of visiting my cousins at my aunt’s farm. From the time we moved from Missouri to Oklahoma to California, my parents and I would usually take two weeks in the summer and return to Missouri to visit the family. My dad was from Dadeville/Greenville, Missouri, and my mom is from Ozark, Missouri.

When my dad couldn’t get time off, mom and I would take the Santa Fe Chief train to Kansas City and then ride the milk train down to Springfield where someone in the family would meet us. It was a two day trip by train but it was fun spending time with my mom and exploring the train, sitting up in the dome car watching and wondering about all the small towns we went through, and who would live in some of the remote places we passed through.

I always wanted to stay with my aunt because my cousins Carl Jr., Rita, and Johnny were closer to my age. We played hide and seek in the barn, brought the cows in for milking in the afternoon, caught fireflies at night, played button, button, who has the button, and slept on feather beds.

My grandmother, when she was alive, lived with my aunt for many years. Sometimes when I stayed, I would sleep with my grandmother in her bed. I would lie in bed in the mornings watching her bend her head over and comb her long grey hair, then twist it up into a bun on top of her head. She always wore a simple muted calico day dress with buttons up the front.

Whatever my cousins did, I wanted to do also. It may have been chores for them, but for me it was fun being down on the farm. Trips to the county fair, my first what-a-burger that was a half pound and considered a really big burger back in the early 60’s, and custard ice cream at the local drive-ins. My favorite place was the town square in Ozark and the little drug store with old fashioned booths, a drugstore counter, and a small wooden dance floor with a juke box. Going to town was a big deal for everyone. Occasionally my aunt would stop near the top of the hill on our way home at a little burger place to get Fritos with ground beef and cheese, always one of my favorites.

Mom and I would always go to the little wood shop in Ozark to look for souvenir items to take home with us. I still have a little wooden box for the diary I kept, although the diary is long gone. I also have a wood and glass lazy Susan serving tray that my aunt gave me years ago from the wood shop.

My aunt loved Coke, and she keep the little pantry off the kitchen stocked with it. For me having a Coke was a treat because we didn’t drink soda at home. Mom always had a pitcher of southern sweet tea at home which I love, but when you are small it is the little things that you only have on special occasions that bring back memories.

After the cows were milked in the morning then it was time for breakfast. My grandmother would be mixing the dough for the rolls from a starter she kept on top of the refrigerator. It was always a typical farm breakfast plus cold cereal for anyone who wanted it. My grandmother loved to eat cornflakes but she didn’t like milk, so she would pour a little black coffee over her cereal and she was happy.

One winter when my mom and I were visiting for Christmas, my mom bundled me up in warm clothes and my aunt had one of my cousins saddle up one of the horses so I could get out of the house and ride in the snow covered pastures. I don’t remember being cold that day, just sitting up on that big shaggy haired horse whose body radiated heat and how much fun it was to ride through the thickly covered fields of white powdery snow.

Since I had moved away and lived in what my aunt called the city, she didn’t think that I could cope with going down to the barn one summer to watch a cow give birth. It didn’t matter how much pleading and begging, she made me stay up at the house. My aunt forgot that the front steps to the house faced the barn door and that is where I perched, watching the whole birthing process. I was so excited to tell her I watched when she got back to the house and she just laughed. I guess she hadn’t even thought about the front steps, because like most farms you use the kitchen door or the back door, to come and go and the front door is for guests and salesmen.

It has been ten years since we held a family reunion in Missouri and that was the last time I saw my aunt. It seems like such a long time ago and yet those childhood memories of the times I spent on the farm are so close to my heart, just like my aunt.

My aunt Elma passed away today, January 11th, 2009, at 3:00 AM.

My mom was one of four children. My uncle Ted and is wife Ida, Uncle Leonard and Aunt Faye, Aunt Elma and Carl are gone. My dad H.O., his brother Jack and his wife Dot, my uncle Paul T are all gone. Now only my dad’s sister Juanita remains in my mother’s generation and she also has Alzheimer’s. Please, God, give my mother strength to deal with yet another loss of one of her loved ones.

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