My Aunt Addie is turning 90 in April. To celebrate this milestone, her kids arranged for each of the 90 days preceding her birthday to be marked with a unique gesture of love from one of her kin. I am one of the privileged members of my extended family to be invited to do so – and I say privileged because 1) I adore her and 2) there are waaayyy more than 90 people in my family to choose from. We are a proper and prolific Irish clan.
Aunt Addie has always been on short my list of people who I want to be when I grow up. My earliest memories of her involve big family gatherings in Madison, Nebraska, and how she and my Aunt Helen were in the center of it all, coordinating the feeding, caring and oversight and sleeping arrangements of a ton of hungry cousins.
In addition to raising large families, they were both nurses. I remember how competently and efficiently they managed the day when their mother (my Grandma McGill) had a stroke. I was in my early teens and pretty honked about not being able to play the cool organ Aunt Addie had in her house because they were trying to keep things quiet for Grandma. (Sorry, Grandma.) Once, my younger brother Steve was with her in a restaurant and they ordered coffee. When the waitress poured and Aunt Addie took a sip, the war-horse nurse in her came out when she said, “Oh, I could VOID coffee warmer than this.” I think Steve spit his out when she said that, but it was such typical stuff from her. Aunt Addie kicks ass. A few years ago she went to see my Dad in the hospital. He was whining about wanting to go home. Once approved, she put him in her car and took him back to his assisted living facility, got out her walker and made the long trip to his room with him, got him settled and adjusted his catheter, grabbed her walker and made the long trek back to her car. (She later told one of my siblings that she wished his room was closer to the entrance.)
Aunt Addie was widowed early, but she pushed right on and maintained. She was the first one in the car for a trip to the casino, and still is – she loves to gamble. She makes it to family events, keeps track of who was who and does it all with astonishing humor and good grace. One of the best parts of going home to see my family is a trip to Madison to see her. I could sit at her kitchen table and listen to her for hours. She radiates wisdom, humor and good times.
My most precious memory of her is when Mom was in the hospital /hospice with pancreatic cancer. They cousins brought her out to Lexington so she could see her sister one more time and I was sitting in Mom’s room when Addie arrived. Mom was pretty narc’d up at that point, but when Addie came in she raised her arms and thickly murmured, “Oh AAahhhdiiiee.” Addie sat on the bed and held her little sister and talked to her, touched her face and the love was so unabashed and naked I had to look away. I’ve never witnessed such strength in my life. I weep now as I am writing this, remembering her grace, how she didn’t lose it, she didn’t cry, she just poured out such love and kindness and goodness. I’m sure she cried a river of tears later, but those last moments they had together were spectacularly beautiful. We should all be so lucky.
Back to the matter at hand – what am I going to do for my “Ninety for 90″? I thought about doing several different things, but many have already been done. She’s had cakes, pies, flowers, phone calls. Chicago White Sox memorabilia, gift cards, lunches and dinner out – all kinds of great stuff. Since the economy is sour, one person minted her a trillion-dollar bill . She took it to the Senior Citizens lunch and presented it to pay for her meal. (They didn’t have enough change.) Oh, and did I mention she is hand writing proper thank you notes to each of us for her gifts? She is grace personified. Wish her a happy birthday!