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Great-Aunt … great aunt.

Aunt Ada reading to me and my sister Linda

If you could have one person back, just for awhile, to let them know how much you appreciated them, who would it be?

I’d love to talk to my Great-Aunt Ada, and today I feel an almost physical need to hold her smooth, soft hand in mine while telling her how much I loved her.

In an earlier post I mentioned that we lived in a three-family farmhouse. Two-family homes weren’t uncommon in our area, particularly in my Mennonite community, but a third home joined to the other two was unique. Until I was eighteen, my grandparents lived in a home attached to one side of ours, and Aunt Ada lived in her small house on the other side. Interior doors connected all three dwellings and we children used them often.

Aunt Ada, with my maternal and paternal grandfathers.

When I was ten years old my granny passed away suddenly, and her absence left a gaping hole in my life. Without saying a word, my dear Aunt Ada stepped into that gap.

Never married, she worked at home as a seamstress  and we loved to watch her cut out fabric, or play nearby while she sewed. We looked for treasures in her button box, or constructed with Tinker Toys and red brick building blocks. Somehow she often found time to make us popcorn or bread-and-butter-and-brown sugar sandwiches. I can still recite the A.A. Milne poems she read to us.

Occasionally we were invited to stay for lunch and Aunt Ada let us set the table with her good china. She had child-size silverware just for us, and she let us drink tea, that sat steeping during first course, out of china cups.

Aunt Ada had only a Grade Eight education, but she read the Toronto Star from front to back each day and could discuss politics and current events with anyone.

As I got older, I slipped over to her house less and less often, and this is one of my big regrets. School, friends, and then my own little family stole most of my time and dear Aunt Ada took a backseat.

By the time my own children were born, she had moved from our expropriated farm to a bright apartment in a seniors’ building. One day I took my little ones to visit and it thrilled me when she pulled out the same toys I’d played with as a child. I was twenty-seven then, and she was ninety-one.

A few days later she fell and broke her hip, and a short time after that she was gone. While walking from the church to the graveyard after her funeral, my sisters and I were sobbing. “I can’t believe Aunt Ada’s gone,” one of them whispered through her tears.

And I guess, twenty-eight years later, I still find it hard to believe.


Phyllis writes words: words for stories, and words for books. Phyllis writes words for blogs too.

4 thoughts on “Great-Aunt … great aunt.

  1. Mine was Auntie Alice, “just Auntie” as she would insist, as though we had no other aunties. She had been widowed since WWII, and had raised her son alone, after being the “built in babysitter” for her 7 younger siblings. Auntie was 4foot11, and as confident and perky as anyone I have ever known. Although she was not a church-goer, she was very spiritual, and read her bible and her Daily Word faithfully. She also had an inner sense, call it ESP, about things to come , especially when it came to me. She would always call, out of the blue, when I was having a bad day, to give me encouragement and sympathy. She always seemed to know. She always knew of impending deaths in the family, which spooked us all to no end. She even knew of her husband’s fate overseas during the war before being officially notified; she bravely told her family of a dream of his falling to his death, and was then not surprised when the telegram came from the army stating that he had fallen from his signalman’s post on a telephone pole and had died immediately. She dealt with it with dignity and strength as she would for the rest of her life. I miss her so much. She died sadly alone in her hospital bed after a bout with respiratory disease.

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