A few years ago, I started to snail-mail a list of questions to my Aunt Anna and she would write down the responses on the pages and mail them back to me. She was my father’s youngest sister and last survivor from a family of ten—five boys and five girls.
I entered some of her answers on my computer and filed away other replies that I haven’t looked at since. Her answers were clipped.
Here’s an example:
Question: You once said the depression was hard on the family. What do you remember about it? How old were you?
Answer: “I was seven years old. I remember wearing cardboard in my shoes (to cover the holes). No hat or gloves in the cold weather. Eating homemade bread and bananas for lunch. Never had money to buy anything until the older ones found work and gave us some (money).
A beautiful doll was given to Aunt Pam (older sister) and me one Christmas. We had to share it. The doll’s face had to be washed with butter, which wasn’t too often. In our socks we got nuts and fruit if we were good. That’s what Santa was giving out in my day. The bad kids got coal in their socks.”
My Aunt Anna taught me you didn’t need to be rich, have advanced degrees or accumulate material possessions to be content. She lived simply, loved her family, especially her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and relished Italian food. She had an irreverent sense of humor, feisty disposition and spoke her mind.
My earliest memory of her outspokenness was something I had overheard as a child. She and her sisters were talking at the kitchen table in Grandma’s house. Aunt Anna had been reprimanded by a Catholic priest during confession when she said she had chosen not to have any more children. She had two sons. When the priest chided her that it was her duty as a Catholic to bear as many children as God sent to her, she told him that he could support them. At that time, I never knew anyone who had talked back to a priest. She continued to question authority throughout her life. I can credit/blame her for my own antiestablishment tendencies.
We spoke on the phone frequently. While she had multiple health problems, she didn’t give in to self-pity but seemed to relish entertaining me with cheeky complaints toward hospital and medical personnel who mistakenly dismissed her as an older, silent, compliant patient.
The last time I visited, four years ago, I taped some of her stories. I can’t remember what she spoke about or where I put the tape. Soon after that I stopped documenting her life. I suppose I thought she would live forever.
She died on Saturday, June 8th three months after her 91st birthday. I will miss her.