Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Aunt Wilma

Gad where to start. If Mary is the mother of my soul Aunt Wilma is my formative mother. She raised me. I have many of her qualities, good and bad. Aunt Wilma adopted me when I was fourteen. My mother and I, and then just me, had lived with her since I was in fourth grade. She was no relation whatsoever.

Aunt Wilma was a big woman. In every sense. Tall, big boned and muscled, she probably weighed close to 300 for most of her life. She had a big heart and a big tempter. She was the kindest and maddest person I'd ever met. I loved her and was scared to death of her. She could be violent when she was mad. She hated that. She would cry and ask God's forgiveness when her temper overwhelmed her. I once saw her lock herself in a closet to keep from hitting one of the other kids. She controlled everyone and everything around her with anger. Thank God she was a devout Christian or she would have killed all of us. She was a nurse and a nursing home administrator in the days before regulations ruled health care. I grew up working and living in the nursing home with the "old people." She got her GED when she was 52. She was one of the most moral people I ever knew. She died when I was in my late twenties. I miss her more than I can say.

Aunt Wilma first met my mother at the bus station. Mom had just been dismissed from the state mental hospital and was supposed to go to live at the nursing home. She was 46. Aunt Wilma took one look at her and said "Come and live with me. I need a housekeeper and I think you would fit the bill." So that's what happened. Mom got a respectable job in a protected environment and Aunt Wilma got some much needed help. Both gained a life long friend. No two women were ever more different or more compatible. Mom helped Aunt Wilma take care of her invalid husband as well as keep house. She also had to put up with the various foster kids Aunt Wilma took in. I think the other kids prompted Mom to ask if Aunt Wilma would also take me in. As the story goes Aunt Wilma was shocked to learn Mom had a child. In short order I was taken out of the foster home and given my own room in the "big house." The big house was the old Victorian mansion in which we all lived. I think the county owned it along with the nursing home. It was huge and full to the brim with stuff, mostly antique. Aunt Wilma was a collector. Mom and I lived with Aunt Wilma for about a year until the state thought she (Mom) was in good enough shape to live on her own with me. We then moved into a little rental house right next to the big house. Mom continued her job as housekeeper/friend and I went to work at the nursing home. I washed dishes. I worked there in various jobs from the time I was nine or ten until I graduated from high school. I made a bunch of money, and learned to be work driven.

After Mom and Uncle Hank had died Aunt Wilma gave up the rest of the foster kids and adopted me. Just she and I in that huge house. We loved it. I became a typical teenager. Howbeit a very religious teenager. Aunt Wilma had a horrible early life. She says God rescued her and every blessing she possessed in life came from Him. I felt/feel the same way. Her oldest granddaughter and I were the same age. I forgot to mention her children. All grown and gone by the time I came along. They thought she was nuts adopting me, but knowing her, did not put up any fuss. Anyway oldest granddaughter and I became fast friends. When we did dumb teenager stuff Aunt Wilma would shake her head and say, "Oh you silly girls." My life was darn near idyllic from age twelve to nineteen. I had love, a family and excelled at school. I had a car, stereo and a huge collection of stuffed animals. Aunt Wilma bought me one everyplace she went. She gave me the life she never had, and had been unable to give her older daughters. I was and am grateful.

In an era of no therapy it was a miracle of God she functioned as well as she did. And there were problems. The anger and violence I have mentioned. She once threw a whole case of eggs at me, and she yelled continuously. But, she never hit me. As I was used to being hit this was a Godsend for me. She also ate almost non-stop. We all ate non-stop. We also worked like dogs. I would have been huge if it were not for the continual work. I watched her stand on the scale and cry. I watched her struggle into the girdles she wore every day. I watched her try to push her breasts into too small bras. Her pain seeped into me. It is intermingled with my own. I look at my own fat middle-aged arms and sigh. It is not my sigh. My eating issues I think began in the foster home but surely fulminated under her care and example. She is my real mother. Who I am is wound in and around her just as tightly as if she had given birth to me. And I am okay with that.

Happy Mother's Day Aunt Wilma. I became the nurse and woman you wanted me to be. I am now finding out how to become the person I want to be. What you taught me has enabled me to do and be both. I wish you could have met Mark. You would have loved him. God continues to bless me through you. I miss you. I love you.

Sniff, take care of yourselves. Love Bea

10 comments:

Debra said...

Another great support in your life eloquently remembered.

I also sought out alternative parents for myself -- found them in my friend's mothers, a wonderful Italian man I met on the beach, a blues piano player who became my substitute father to this very day, a life-long friend who, although only 7 years older than I am, has always played Mom to me and my sister, a fantastic object relations therapist who is also a priest -- I know I've forgotten some people who helped me along the way. I certainly understand the impulse to eulogize them -- without them I would not be in the kind of (halfway decent) shape I'm in emotionally and mentally. Thank God for his Angels.

BigAssBelle said...

Sniff indeed. This is a glorious tribute to this woman who had such an impact on your life. An angel, in ways, but with her failings too. Who hasn't got failings?

My life was darn near idyllic from age twelve to nineteen. I had love, a family and excelled at school. I am so very glad, Bea.

Andrea K said...

You are a wonderful writer. I fall into your posts like slipping into a dream; they're so vivid and full of life. I hope you're writing your memoirs, because what a book that would be!

daisyk said...

& on this note, you have turned my day around, Beula. Thank you.

Cindy said...

I love these stories, thanks!

Lori said...

I agree with Andrea; you are a fantastic writer and Aunt Wilma is so vivid to me. I can even picture your house.

Another wonderful tribute...

Andrea K said...

On a totally different note, on my blog you mentioned reading Lynette's blog. I'd be interested in reading it. Can you let me know the URL? Thanks.

Andrea K said...

OK, I think I may be an idiot. Lynette's blog is bigassbelle, isn't it? Gosh I'm slow sometimes. That's what happens when I try to think too much before 7 a.m.

Edna Turnblad said...

i just found your blog and i'm reading it with the fervor that i read my favorite author - Augusten Burroughs. you are a storyteller and what a gift it is to read your blog.

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