At 3:40 am on March 16, 2010, I held my grandmother's hand as she breathed her last. She was 90.
She came into our lives at the age of 50, after meeting my grandfather. I never really thought about it until recently, how brave & gutsy she was, to move an hour away from the town were she lived all her life and marry a widower who had three teenaged children, one of them with Down's syndrome. My father was 19 then and he gave her a run for her money!
Until her marriage, she was the single auntie to her brother & sister's combined 6 children. Her brother was a minister and missionary; much of her nephews and nieces' growing up years were spent overseas. I always knew she was close to her nephews & nieces by these days they span the globe and I don't know them well at all.
It wasn't until my grandmother's funeral that I learned about her savvy auntie-ness. Her niece, who followed her father's footsteps and became a minister, read tributes from the other nieces, nephews, and great-nieces and great-nephews. I always knew my grandmother as practical, a product of the Depression who saved EVERYTHING almost to the point of hoarding, and going out of her way to be there for you, but I never really saw her as an aunt.
She was a prolific letter writer all her life, and that's what her nieces & nephews remembered. She was also an artist; she drew them silly pictures and caricatures to send to them, no matter where they were in the world. She spent hours playing Scrabble with them when they'd come stateside; she taught them how to mend, fold clothes so well that they looked pressed, how to be productive members of society, shared her love of Jesus, and what it is to be content in life despite having few monetary items. They talked about stories she'd tell. After her death, I found all her photo albums, and she was quite a dutiful auntie, taking tons and tons more photos. She labeled each photo by time, date, location, and what was going on when she snapped the photo. What made me laugh is that I NEVER saw my grandmother holding a camera!
My grandmother could stretch a dollar till Washington screamed. She had always said "my grandchildren will love me for who I am, not what I buy them". She used to make my parents grimace and roll their eyes when she'd send us checks for $7 or $8 and change, because she'd deduct the cost of the card & stamp from the $10 birthday check she'd send in the mail. Everyone got $10, no matter the occasion or the relationship.
As I sat in the front row at her funeral, listening to all the memories that her nieces and nephews cherish, I realized that she didn't love them any less or more than her grandchildren; each of us had special places in her heart. She once drew a picture of a heart for me and divided it into 5 pieces. She then put the names of each grandchild in the piece, reminding me that no one could ever take my piece of her heart away. She apparently did that for her nieces & nephews, too, and that's what they remember.
I don't have to spend money to be a savvy auntie; when my babies one day sit at my funeral, I hope the stories they tell are like the ones I heard yesterday. My grandmother was a superior savvy auntie; I hope I can be half the auntie she was.