I heard over the weekend that my great-aunt Olive Mae (pronounced Olla-May) passed away. She was the sister of my paternal grandfather, Donald, who also passed away February 28th of this year. Aunt Olive Mae had seven children, in typical Catholic style of the 1950’s and lived in a tiny little house in Newport, KY with her husband Bob, until he passed away probably 12-15 years ago. According to my mother, she had trouble swallowing and it was determined she had stomach cancer. I think she was in the hospital for several days, and was sent home Thursday. She died the next day, July 16, 2010.
It’s funny how kids’ imaginations operate. Perhaps because my grandfather’s name was Donald, I always had this cartoon image of he and his sister with the likeness of Donald Duck. As if they were the siblings of Donald Duck, and because of this image over the years I really thought they both resembled the cartoons. I’ve never mentioned this to another living soul in my life, and I can just see my sister’s face scowling at me as she imagines this. (Don’t ask me why kids think of the things they do, or why as adults we don’t shed these preposterous ideas.)
I remember seeing Aunt Olive Mae and her giant family mostly throughout the 1990’s decade. That was when her husband was still alive, my great-grandmother (her mother) was still alive and living until 1992 or so which brought us all together more often, her youngest son Richard got married, there was a large family reunion one summer, several funerals, and a few picnics scattered here and there. She was always a boisterous and happy woman, and her grandkids really loved her.
Despite all the “less than positive” things that I can say about my own grandfather, her brother, I don’t know anything undesirable about Aunt Olive Mae, although I’m sure there’s something … there always is. She was just a truly pleasant woman who really loved her family, and especially babied her brother Donald.
The last time I saw Aunt Olive Mae was at the funeral reception of my grandfather in the first week of March this year. Actually, now that I think of it, I spent more time with her and her son Richard than with any other family members. Something just drew me to her, and I remember sitting with the two of them while I held my nephew Brooks on my lap. She really enjoyed watching the baby as he played with her keys or with the small objects I tried to distract him with. It was clear then that she was aging, and I don’t believe she remembered the tedious detail of my actual name, but she knew who I belonged to, which was plenty enough for me. We had a pleasant conversation and I am so thankful that I spent that time with her.
I wish I had more detailed stories to share about Aunt Olive Mae, but the best my memory can conjure up is seeing her laugh at stories being told by someone in the family. Her eyes danced, and although she was a very maternal woman, she wasn’t soft at all. She was a no nonsense mother of seven, raised during the Depression, so she wasn’t a coddler. But, she did know how to have fun, which was evident when watching her interact with the younger generations. I recall her dancing at a wedding reception, or joining in on a balloon toss game during a Fourth of July family picnic, and that laugh. There’s no sound quite so melodic as a person with a sincere happiness and joy as they laugh with those they adore.
And it has dawned on me now that our children will not know their Great-Grandfather Donald, or their Great-Great-Aunt Olive Mae. These are pieces of their history that will be lost. Who else from my own library of wonderful family members will be lost to my kids? Who else will they miss out on? I sincerely hope and pray that everyone else just stops and waits for mine to catch up and meet them. There’s not a person in my family (or Wen’s) that I want my kids to miss out on … especially their great-grandparents. And what happens when my own great-grandchildren and great-great nieces and nephews hear stories or see pictures of me. I’ll be “just another face” or just another old lady their parents may (or may not even) talk about.
I suppose that’s the importance in memories. Even though I can’t remember any specific, detailed story of Aunt Olive Mae, I certainly remember that laugh, on more than one occasion. I think I’d rather incite memories of fondness such as these than any drawn out story to be told over Thanksgiving dinner in 100 years, and hopefully I’ll be able to provide just that.