Ever since my two great-aunts spoiled me rotten as a child, I've had a soft spot in my heart for senior citizens. Aunts Rite (for Marguerite) and Bess were my own personal fairy godmothers. They delighted in taking me shopping every year for an unasked-for-but-much-needed new dress. They quietly slipped me a whole half-dollar when my younger sisters received only quarters. Aunt Bess shamelessly doted on me, marveling that at age 4, I loved jigsaw puzzles. My favorite was a 500-piece beauty showing a massive blue whale breaching in a white-capped sea. I spent many happy hours with Aunt Bess patiently fitting those lovely pieces together.
As an oldest and somewhat hyper-responsible girl-child, I must have needed their coddling. Anyway, that's what I tell myself today. (It helps with the guilt.) My great-aunts never married (though both had beaux) and held good jobs working in retail back in the day when locally owned department stores could still prosper. Since their sister, my mom's mother, died when Mom was 11, my sisters and I became surrogate grandchildren. With our parents, we regularly visited on weekends and holidays enjoying sumptuous home-cooked dinners lovingly prepared by Aunt Rite.
It broke my heart when Aunt Bess died in a nursing home three years after contracting Alzheimer's disease. I was 22, a registered nurse, and wondered what was up with this death thing anyway? A year later, I nursed Aunt Rite after surgery for what turned out to be ovarian cancer. I stayed with her for two nights at the hospital before departing for graduate school. When I went in to say goodbye, she looked at me with her steady blue eyes and imparted this succinct bit of advice: "Always stay true to your religion, kid."
Like what you're reading? Sign up for GSR e-newsletters!