A bright spot of joy left our family recently when my Aunt Erma slipped into eternity last week.
She married Bert, my dad’s twin brother, and settled onto his family farm. My mom and aunt often visited. Toward the end one visit, Aunt Erma exclaimed, “Whew! I don’t know when I have talked this much!” With several preschoolers between them, she needed those chats. They practice “it takes a village to raise a child.” Aunt Erma gently scolded a toddler carrying a doll, “Don’t hold your baby upside down.”
Being the children of identical twins who lived close to each other, we visited her often. One visit included a traveling photographer with a portable screen and bench. He arranged each set of siblings on the bench in front of the white screen and captured a moment in time forever.
With her children in school full time, Aunt Erma enrolled in the beauty school an hour away. One day, she took me to school with her. She wrapped a cape around me, tucked in the paper at my neck and cut my hair. Maybe it took her an hour. The rest of the day, I waited and watched students roll the color-coded curlers, snip hair, and wrap towels around wet heads.
Aunt Erma set up her beauty shop in the largest room of the old farmhouse. It takes a certain artistic touch to be a good hairdresser, and ling before beauty school, Aunt Erma demonstrated that artistic flare with the cakes she decorated for birthdays. She was the only one of our relatives who went to that much bother.
She enjoyed company and customers. When I visited, she greeted me with her elfin smile, “Hi Joanie.” As the only one who ever called me that, I cherish that endearment. During our visits, my cousin Sue and I chatted and took turns twirling in the salon chair in the bright, cheerful pink room.
Later, my parents moved far away from farm country. My aunt and uncle stayed even after a fire heavily damaged the old farmhouse. They settled across the street in the old store – expanded into a house – that my great-grandfather had built. At some point the financial realities of farming forced my uncle to find a job outside the farm. The abandoned outbuildings slowly sagged from lack of repairs.
The day I arrived to introduce my future husband, Uncle Bert sat at the kitchen table right under the cabinet eating before leaving for work. When he asked for salt, my aunt hopped up, reached over and around him to get the salt. She waited on him as cheerfully then and as she did through the many years Parkinson’s Disease took over his life.
She drove him to the appointments, checked his medications, and finally set up a bed for him beside the big picture window. He lived long enough to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. My cousin Sue helped on weekends and after work. She said that sometimes when she and her mom talked at the kitchen table, Uncle Bert would call from his bed, “Be quiet.” She chuckled at the memory.
When he passed, the doctor said, “he lived five years longer than he would have in a nursing home.” Through those years, Aunt Erma kept an open door and a cheerful welcome for everyone. Perhaps that explains why the Bible Club teachers asked if she would prepare a meal for them each week after they taught children in the area.
In recent years, I learned that Aunt Erma prayed for each of us and our families. That blessed me. She may be gone, but her prayers and impact on my life will last forever.