Sunday, September 23, 2012

Aunt Rose

Although she was not a blood relation, Aunt Rose was definitely family.  She started boarding with my Granddad and Grandmother Orr when they lived in Moose Jaw, when Aunt Verna was in her early teens and the rest of the family was in their later teens or early 20's.  My Grandmother told me many years later, that it wasn't a convenient time to take a boarder, particularly a boarder who was crippled by arthritis, but she couldn't say no.  She quickly became part of the family, and when the Orrs moved to Saskatoon and Biggar and Wawota - Aunt Rose moved with them.  In fact, by the time they moved to Biggar - they designed the house with her suite set up for her disabilities.  They used essentially the same house plan when they moved to Wawota.

I really don't remember her walking, aside from a step here or there.  I was young enough that in my memories she was in a wheel chair.  However, she did hold a job in Moose Jaw and in Saskatoon, and wasn't restricted to the wheel chair until much later.  When they lived in Biggar, I remember she had a pet turtle, and if we were really good, she'd let us feed it tiny pieces of liver.

One clear memory I have from Biggar was one time when I was left with her (I think I wasn't feeling very well) and everyone else was out.  I wanted to bake a cake - and she said ok, but I had to go next door and borrow some eggs. I was shy, but she made it my responsibility.  After all, if I wanted to cook, I was responsible for borrowing the ingredients.  Cake to Aunt Rose, meant Angel Food - made from scratch.  We mixed the whole thing up, and I recall climbing up on a stool to peer in the oven to see it bake - and jumping off the stool - and the cake fell.  Aunt Rose was more than a little disgusted with me.

Most of my memories are from when they lived in Wawota though.  Aunt Rose was in and out of the hospital in Saskatoon because of recurring problems with ulcers in her legs that wouldn't heal, and in addition my parents served as respite care for my grandparents and she'd stay with us for the month of August most years.  I was Aunt Rose's personal care attendant.  I would help her dress, count out her pills, do her hair, dress her sores, bathe her feet and put ointment on them, etc.  She paid me the princely sum of $5 a week to do this - which was quite a bit of money, as far as I was concerned.  I was in my early teens.  More than that though, we were friends.  I'd push her the three blocks down to the corner store and we'd take turns treating each other to fresh fruit.  I'd tease her and she'd tease me back.  She was kind of ageless to me - although she was a contemporary of my grandparents, I never realized that she had an age - she just was.  I planned that when I grew up, I'd need to have a house with a bedroom on the main floor to provide a home for Aunt Rose because my grandparents couldn't look after her forever.  (I now live in a house with all the bedrooms on the main floor, Aunt Rose).

She was incredibly patient.  She spent hours and hours reading stories to my younger brothers and sister - mostly Dick and Jane books.  We had a set of old readers that had been discarded from a school and Grandma had given to us.  The younger ones loved those stories - especially the ones with food in them - and would get Aunt Rose to read to them for hours and hours at a time.  That's one of my strongest memories - she was restricted to bed rest, in the hopes that the ulcers on her feet and legs would heal up, so she'd have a child or two on each side of her on the bed and she'd be reading to them.

She was tremendously crippled by arthritis, and must have been in constant pain, but I never recall her ever complaining.  She could only stand to move from the bed to her wheel chair or from the wheel chair to the toilet; her hands were so crippled that in order to sign a cheque we had to tape her fingers together and tape the pen to it.  Her feet were tremendously clubbed, and we had to be very careful to put ointment between the toes and keep them scrupulously clean or they'd get infected.  Most of the time she had open ulcers on her feet and legs.  However, she never talked about her disabilities - only about her abilities.  I remember one time she came back from the hospital and showed off her stick, that the occupational therapy department had made for her at her request.  It was about 2 feet long, had a hook at one end, and a really strong magnet at the other.  She used it to open drawers, grab clothing off hangars, etc.  She was quite pleased with it and showed off how if she dropped an article of clothing on the floor, for example, she could retrieve it herself with her stick, instead of asking for help.

She was also incredibly generous.  In addition to giving her time, she also donated regularly to a number of different causes.   She lived on a small fixed income, but she regularly helped to support a children's home in the southern states somewhere, for example. I only knew because I would write out the cheques for her and then tape her fingers together so that she could sign them.  She was quite stern with me that I couldn't tell anyone - that how she chose to give her money was no one else's concern.  She hated having her picture taken and it was quite difficult to find her in any pictures.  The photo above was the only one I could find - and I cropped her out of a group photo.

She hated garlic - and could detect it in very small quantities.  She was of German Mennonite background and could speak high and low German as well as English.  She taught me to count to 10 in German.  She had a difficult childhood and developed arthritis in her early 20's - but she never spoke much about herself.  She was far more interested in you.

She loved us - and we loved her.  Towards the end of her life, when she was in the hospital in Wawota, she shared a room with a senile elderly woman who wailed and cried all day long in a loud voice, "Lord Jesus, come and take me.  I don't want to be here!  Please, take me home!"  It must have been very hard to have such a room mate, but she didn't complain.  I recall one time, Sengpeth and Gina had come up to visit with me (they were preschoolers) and Aunt Rose asked if they would like a candy.  Yes, they would, and she pulled open her drawer to take some out, only to discover the candy box was empty! "Oh, that's ok," she said, "we'll borrow some candies from Granny, she'll never know."  Right at that time, Granny spoke up and said, "Be sure your sins will find you out!" and we all laughed and laughed.

I named my daughter in part after Aunt Rose.  She was an important part of my life and she taught me so much.


Ellen said...

A lovely tribute to a very wonderful lady. We have many fond memories of her in Wawota. Thanks for the memories!

May's Musings said...

I don't know what brought her to mind - but it was good to remember her.

Beloved said...

this made me think of lazarus, and also literally made me cry a little