In Memoriam – on my mother

My cousin Mary blogs in memory of my Mom, Ellen, who passed yesterday. I haven’t in me to write just now but this is something special.

[UPDATE: Mary’s original blog post is offline, so I’ve reproduced it below from my saved copy.]

Aunt Ellen is my mom’s older sister….but I remember her in her 30’s! From the day I can remember, I heard stories of them, along with their two brothers, growing up. The first story I can remember about my Aunt and me was when she convinced my mom to give me baby cereal. I was never satisfied with formula, so Aunt Ellen told my mom to give me a little cereal. My mom was nervous, but tried it, and I spit it out all over the place. Well, I guess a few weeks later, my determined Aunt sat across from me and shoveled the cereal in…..there’s a picture of her sitting across from my high-chair with her feet propped up on the chair, feeding me baby cereal….with half of a smile on her jaw set face. I ate cereal everyday after that. That’s how I would sum her up…..Aunt Ellen had grit, but with a smile….

Aunt Ellen was a nurse, but when she decided to go to nursing school, some advisor told her she’d never make it in her chemistry class, she’d flunk out and never make it as a nurse. You know what? She got a 97 in that class….and spent the rest of her life caring for others….with grit, determination and a smile.

Aunt Ellen came to every one of my brothers and my special events, even though she was 4 hours away…usually a snowy 4 hours away. Every single one. Upon arrival, she’d take out her suitcase, and call out a “Hellllooooo!” as she was coming up the stairs. Grit, determination and a smile.

When I was little, my aunt and uncle had a dairy farm. I loved going there to visit! I remember exactly the way the house looked. I remember my mom and my aunt staying up into the wee hours talking. I remember the barn cats, and how my aunt would try not to become attached to them. She had a house cat named Buttons, and a black dog named Daisy, but according to her, she was not taking in any more animals. She had done that once, feeding a stray barn cat she eventually named Whitey, and eventually Whitey was hit by a car. She said absolutely never again. A few months later when we were up to visit again, I saw a black cat hanging out on her front porch, sunning itself in an old chair. Another barn cat…and Aunt Ellen was so determined to not get attached to anymore strays, she named the cat “Trash” (perhaps thinking the name would give her the distance she needed?), but the cat did get a name…..and got a few square meals, and some cuddling on the sly….everyday. I remember stealing the last sips from her coffee cup….I think she secretly left the cup on the kitchen table for me. I remember that Aunt Ellen was never the “hurried” kind of woman, although if she put her head down and started walking, you better walk fast…..she got around quick! I remember climbing around the hay barn, and going to see the cows. I remember the smell inside the milk house (which still remains a favorite, comforting smell to me). I remember my mom and my aunt trading romance novels….and when I got old enough, I “borrowed” hers too. I also remember my aunt breaking up many barn fights between her two teenage sons….Aunt Ellen was probably around 5’4″, and her boys are a bit over 6 feet. You know what she did? With grit, determination, and occasionally a sly smile, she’d separate them with the pressure hose…turn it on full force too….but it worked!

Eventually, my aunt bought a piece of property, and then had a house built on it a few years later. Not being well-off by any stretch, she had someone build the house, but then finished a lot of the detail work herself, and I mean a lot of the work. Grit and determination. She loved to garden, and always had a million different kinds of flowers growing out front. She had two cats named Sophie and Tasha, and would ring a huge old cow bell at night when she wanted them to come in…and they always did.

We spent many Christmases together, usually her trucking down to our house while hoping to avoid the snow of upstate NY. As we all got older, we got together less often, but she always sent down a special Welsh bread called Barb-wreath (?) for Christmas. So yummy!

Aunt Ellen always had herself “put together” too. She always wore lipstick, and I remember her always doing her hair, using gel or hairspray that I sometimes played with in her bathroom when I visited. For some reason, I remember she was a fan of white heeled sandals as well…..She always had her jewelry on and her outfits put together….but it’s so funny because she wasn’t caught up in herself or how she looked at all. Just honest self-respect. She was always looking out for others first….

I think of her as the family peacekeeper. Aunt Ellen was the glue for her family and extended family after Grandma and Grandpa died. She always made an effort to patch things up, make a phone call, try to arrange small get-togethers. Not once did I ever hear her say a bad thing about anyone….unless it was true. She didn’t gossip, at least, not around us. She always tried to give the benefit of the doubt to people, but…..she was nowhere near naive. If she had something to say, or you asked for an opinion….she’d give it to you…straight up. But then, that was the end of it. She said her peace, which was usually true, and then that was that and she’d put it behind her.

A funny story:

Somewhere in my late teens or early 20’s, we went to stay with Aunt Ellen. I shared the pull out couch with Aunt Ellen, while my parents took her bedroom, and my brother shared a room with my cousin. Aunt Ellen snored so loud that night! And I mean LOUD. She could whip my dad’s butt in a snoring contest any day….and that’s saying something. And I had no idea one could snore so loud, that it would literally make the bed shake….I now know it is most definitely possible. I stuck my head under pillows, then doubled the amount of pillows. I stuck tissues in my ears, and then put my head back under the covers….no help. I was now hot, suffocating, and going deaf from the decibel level in the room. I ended up moving to the bathroom around 2am, and sleeping on the bathroom floor that night with a blanket. It was still like a train was coming through the house, even from the bathroom, with the door shut…..just maybe the next track over. I never told her this though. I think the next morning I said I had a stomach bug overnight and just wanted to be close to the bathroom…..

4 years ago, Aunt Ellen got very sick with a very unusual bug that put her in a coma for weeks, and a nursing home/rehabilitative center for months. At the time, we didn’t think she would live…but with some grit and determination….she sure did. For as sick as she was then, she came back from the brink, completed a major amount of therapy, and made a mostly full recovery, with just a few residual effects. The following year she was back buzzing around, taking care of her family, doing her gardening, and planning some house renovations. Amazing.

Her family, especially her grand kids meant more to her than anything. It was obvious in the way she cared for them, helped put them on the bus, got them together in the mornings when their parents were working, cooked meals for them, helped with school, and she did it all happily and with a smile…even though she was just as busy. She loved it! I particularly remember the tea parties she used to put on for her granddaughter. Whenever she talked to my mom in those days, she would speak about having “tea with Sea”.

There are so many memories I have of Aunt Ellen, I wish I had the space and time to write them all down, but I know I won’t forget any of them either. She was a special woman, a gritty, kind, sunny and honest lady, and an awesome Aunt…..

……..In Memory of Ellen Williams…….
10/13/42- 5/26/10