Sunday, June 8, 2014

Aunt Hulda

For some time I have wanted to do a series of posts about four wonderful women - two grandmothers and two great-aunts - who were a major part of my (and my siblings' and cousins') growing-up years.  If possible I'd like to accomplish this before going to China.

Aunt Hulda, with a painting I gave her for Christmas one year
Aunt Hulda was my great-aunt.  In some ways I did not know her quite as well as the others, because she was not around as much.  When we were growing up, and spending time at "Grandma and Aunt Louise and Aunt Hulda's house," she was only there on the weekends.  She worked and boarded in the city of Peoria, 45 minutes away, traveling there on Monday mornings and back home on Friday nights.  

She passed away when I was 18 - and knowing someone as a child and teenager is not the same as understanding more about that person when you have more of the maturity of an adult.

She was our "clothing aunt." For Christmas and birthdays, she bought each of us very nice clothing selections, which were perhaps not as appreciated by us children as much as they should have been.  Those gifts are much more appreciated now, when looking back in perspective.

Aunt Hulda, I also now recognize, was sophisticated in many ways.  She wore her hair in a sleek French twist and dressed professionally.  She was a valued bookkeeper at the firm where she worked.  She traveled internationally with her friends.  She knitted--not just simple blanket patterns, but very complex sweaters and other things.  She was quite independent for a woman of her era.

And then came her stroke.

In the summer of 1969, in her late 50s, she was afflicted.  I've thought of her and that stroke a good bit recently, because, hard to believe, when it happened she was only about a year older than I currently am.  She was permanently paralyzed on her right side (something that today might have been avoided with clot-busting drugs), and most of her life was dramatically changed - and limited.  

What would it be like to be an independent businesswoman, able to travel as you like, make your own decisions, live on your own; then overnight go to a state of having to be cared for by your sister and others, in many of the most basic needs of life.  The French twist had to be replaced by a more sensible, much easier to fix, bun.  She had to learn to write with her left hand.  Working and boarding in Peoria were of course out.  After she was somewhat rehabilitated, she was able to go back to her work part-time for several years, thanks to the help of family members who could help transport her back and forth on the days that she worked.  I think now how much of a validation that must have been to her, to be valued enough by that firm that they wanted her back even part-time and on a much more limited basis.  

Aunt Hulda (left) with Aunt Louise, her sister and faithful caregiver
She was not one to give up easily.  I remember seeing her prop a knitting needle in her useless right hand, and attempt to knit, doing all the action with her left.  I remember when she would want to bake, and would corral me to help her - and to my shame I remember resisting having to do that.  She didn't want me to bake, with her doing little things; she wanted me to be her helper.  But she was so limited, and it was so much easier to do things myself, that I was not patient with her at all.  Someday in heaven I need to apologize for that.

One thing that she did for a form of occupational therapy was ceramics.  Here were two older ladies, who'd never done anything in the art world in their lives, buying a kiln, greenware, and all kinds of brushes, glazes, and paints, and creating an entire workshop in their basement.  We loved going to visit and would spend days painting and glazing, and we learned much about the process of ceramics also.  Several times they'd hold an open house and sell what they'd made.  Looking back, it took a certain kind of admirable courage for them to get into ceramics the way they did, and it was as good a therapy for Aunt Hulda's spirit as for her hands.

She and Aunt Louise would come to visit us in Alabama, flying in a day when ADA laws were not in place to aid people like her, when there were very few ramps, only difficult-to-navigate steps in most places, and when getting off a plane meant being helped down a narrow set of outdoors metal stairs instead of just being wheeled through a jetway.  It must have been a huge ordeal, but they still came.  And her spirit was still the upbeat same.

I do remember that in the last years of her life, before passing away rather unexpectedly in November 1976, Aunt Hulda was often contemplative.  I suppose you get that way, when you have to stay put in places - on the chaise lounge on the screened-in porch, on the couch, in bed for the night, and when there is little you can do with your single good hand.  I wonder what she thought about.  Whatever it was, there was never any indication of bitterness or anger at her lot.  Maybe she struggled with it, but she never showed it outwardly.

I think that is Aunt Hulda's legacy.  Lamentations 3:38 says, in KJV, "Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth evil and good?"  In ESV, that is translated, "Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad things come?"  One translation uses the word "calamities" for "bad things."  I think Aunt Hulda accepted her lot as one that God had permitted to befall her.   And that was the mark of the gracious Christian lady that we knew as Aunt Hulda.


Miriam said...

I wish Aunt Hulda could read your excellent description of her. She has been in heaven for thirty-four years, leaving this life at age sixty-four.

Miriam said...

I wish Aunt Hulda could read your excellent description of her. She has been in heaven for thirty-four years, leaving this life at age sixty-four.

Miriam said...

Precious memory: You had embroidered two lovely crewel pillows for her and Aunt Louise for Christmas. They were completed in the summer and you just couldn't wait until Christmas to present them. What a blessing because by Christmas, Aunt Hulda was gone to heaven. So she had several months to enjoy your labors.

rk2 said...

As I told you earlier, you have different memories of Aunt Hulda than I do as I never remember her living in Peoria or before her stroke.
Thanks for sharing such wonderful thoughts about our wonderful aunt.