Monday, April 11, 2011

Ode to Auntie Anne

I have written about my Great Auntie Anne before here.  She was a personal hero of mine.  My Grandma was my favorite person ever in the world...  Auntie Anne was the second.   If I had to sum Auntie Anne up in one word, it would be Classy. Always dressed to the nines, only she could pull off pearls and tennis shoes and look casually elegant. From her mannerisms, to her dress, to the way she always smelled, she was every inch a classy lady. White Shoulders perfume never smelled the same on anyone like it did on her. I remember when I was little I would stand close to her just so I could smell her. She was always so pretty, and kind, and really listened to what you had to say, even if you were a kid.

Photo L-R Anna, Anne, Marie, Hank, Hans, Tony, Antone

She didn’t get her grace and elegance as the daughter of immigrant farmers., being raised on a ranch was not the charm school most would attend. And yet she grew with more and dignity and poise that any charm school debutante ever possessed.  She was the family Fashionista.  Loved the color blue, and never hesitated to tell you if anything you did was unladylike.  She also never hesitated to tell you if the outfit you wore didn't look right, or ask if you had lost or put on a few pounds.  I always made sure to "dress up" when I went to visit her.  I got the most compliments when I wore blue (go figure)... I think she was born that way. A combination of solid grounded practicality, with an inner elegance and refinement no circumstance would alter.

She was a legend, and a great role model to so many.  Kind, opinionated, stubborn, loving, funny elegant, a devout catholic, a talented artist and doll maker, a great gardener, a real FAMILY woman.  She was a a person who triumphed over her losses, and grew to be a stronger and better person in spite of them. When she lost her first husband in the 1950's, she had teenagers and a six year old.  She went through her finances and figured out she could provide for her family with the rental properties he had built, so she could be a stay at home mother.  She went back to school to get a degree, just in case she might need it in the future.  She did most of the repairs on her rentals herself, closed out his construction business and finished up his unfinished jobs, and was always a very independent woman. She showed her children that women could do anything men could do, and all while remaining every inch a lady. She took in another child and cared for her. She helped her family. She played the mother and father role for her youngest daughter. When a boy brought Susie home late from a date, Auntie Anne was there as the Irate Mother/Father to greet him at the door and chew him out. When Susie said “He’ll never ask me out again” Auntie Anne told her “Good, I hope he doesn’t!” She told me she didn't feel he was worthy of her daughter if he wouldn't respect her rules.
Photo L-R Irma, George, Hank, Hans, Anne, Tony, Marie

I asked her recently what it was like to live during the depression. She said "We really didn’t notice it too much because everyone we knew was in the same boat. You just made do with what you had, or you went without. Everyone helped one another. You gathered together as a family and shared the burdens. Big family get togethers, barbeques and picnics with everyone sharing what they had. We were never hungry. We had a roof over our heads. We were so much more fortunate than others."

I love the story of her and her Sister Marie (my grandma) and a fur coat. It was 1931.  Marie wanted this muskrat coat, but couldn’t afford it, so she convinced Anne to pay half and they would share it. Kind hearted as she was, Auntie Anne didn’t have the heart to tell my grandma that she really didn’t want the coat, (she thought the muskrat was kind of yucky) or even like it… “but Marie really wanted it, and so I agreed.” After a few months of swapping the coat back and fourth after church on Sunday, Uncle Francis asked her “You really don’t like that coat do you?” She admitted she had done it to make her sister happy. So he took her out and bought her a new coat, and Anne gave the coat to Marie and said "You keep it Marie, it looks so much better on you anyway."

Auntie Anne became my surrogate grandma when Gramma Marie died. At 26, I assumed my grandma would be there forever, and that I would have PLENTY of time to visit her later. Then she was gone, and I had so many regrets over not visiting her more, and spending more time with her, and really sitting down and listening to her stories. Auntie Anne helped me ease the loss of my grandma. She was my connection to her. Sometimes she would say something like my grandma would have said, and I would feel like she was there with us. I would visit with her, and she would tell me all the stories of when they were young. We would look at all the photos and she would tell me who they were, what they were doing, and little snippets of memories of the day. My most precious ones are the ones of her and an old boyfriend and a cousin and my grandparents at Russleman park swimming in their 1930’s era bathing suits… clowning around and making funny faces for the camera. On the back of a photo of my grandma in a bathing suit hugging my grandpa, it says “Marie and Ben had a fight” we laughed at that one, because it was very typical of them… and she says, "well, obviously they made up… they got married after that.”

 She loved her family, and we spent a lot of time talking about her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and even her great great grandchildren. She would say she never ever would have dreamed she would live so long to see great great grandchildren. She was always amazed by her longevity. And boy did she pack some living into those 96 years. She was so proud of her children and all that they have accomplished.  What great parents and grandparents they turned out to be.  When I pointed out that a lot of who they were was a direct result of the kind of mother and role model she was to them, she modestly sidestepped the issue and said they were just born good people, and that she was lucky. I say she was blessed. In so many ways. She had that no nonsense, practical Boeger mentality, with the stubbornness that goes along with it. She liked things done her way, which was the RIGHT way, and when she wanted it done, it had to be NOW. Like when she was out in her garden and tripped over the hose and fell in the rose bushes, slicing her arm. Does she call 911, heck no… she wraps a dish towel around it and drives herself to emergency. And God forbid she ever miss her Friday hair appointments. I asked her once why she wouldn’t take a cab, after hearing of her falling a couple of times while walking to the beauty shop. She was indignant. “If I can’t even walk a couple of blocks, I might as well be an invalid!”
I helped her with a garage sale a couple of years ago, and she was so funny. First she wanted to get rid of all this junk… I pulled everything out, and she would tell me who got it for her, and then it was a gift from so and so, and would they be hurt if she didn’t keep it, and so on… so half of the stuff went back on the shelves in the garage, saved for her family… I’m sure it’s still there… She just hated to get rid of something that still had use or life left in it… She was shocked when my daughter Megan took all her 1960’s dresses and wore them. “They are fashionable again? Aunt Gert was right, everything always comes back around about every 30-40 years! I guess it’s good I saved them then.”

She LIVED all 96.3 years of her life. Her family, her art, her dolls and her love are the legacy she leaves behind.   Our tradition of playing We are Family at weddings and dancing around the bride just won't be the same without her sweet smiling face joining in the fun with us all...

She struggled with where to be buried... with her first or second husband.  When I asked her if it really mattered where her body ended up, she agreed that no, it really didn't.  But she had decided she wanted to be buried in the historic cemetery with her first husband, since he was the father of her children.  I also think he was the love of her life...  She laughed when she told me that she was going to be buried with Francis, and that her two husbands could fight over her when she got there.   Then she wondered if it would be polygamy, and if it was legal in heaven... 

Surrounded by love, her kids there with her, she layed down on the couch, freshly coiffed from her hair appointment, full makeup and dressed to the hilt, she slipped away peacefully, with the quiet and dignity she had hoped she would see in the end. I like to think that her big heart, so full of love, just finally gave out from all the loving she had done here on earth. God came while she was napping, took her by the hand and said "It’s time to go Anne." And she went, toward a light filled with all the love of her family that had passed before her, the sound of a harmonica playing Roll out the Barrel faintly in the distance and Uncle Bill hollering "Saddle Up Anne…"
I was talking to her in my head while driving up for her funeral.  I was saying I hoped she was happy, and that heaven was everything she had hoped it would be… and to give a big hug and kiss to my grandma for me...  then I turned up the radio and she answered me… the words “We are family, I got all my sisters with me”… was blasting out the radio. I saw a picture of all of them up there, in a circle, dancing and singing.... "Have faith in you and the things you do...  you won't go wrong... this is our family jewel."

The hole that her passing left will never be filled.  I want to honor her memory the best way I can, by remembering her with love, and humor...  She told her family when she moved herself back into her house after leaving the retirement home... "I'm not leaving my house again unless it's feet first..."  And as usual... she got her way.


Healing Woman said...

I read every word of your post and loved the tribute you gave to your wonderful aunt. We should all learn from her. Class. Yes..that is the perfect word.

Joanne Huffman said...

You wrote a beautiful and loving tribute to your Auntie Anne. You certainly conveyed what a special person she was.

Kris said...

Wow, she was a great lady! Really great stories Karan, and a wonderful way to honor her. Very awesome that you had her in your life.