Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Kindred Spirit I Never Really Knew

When I was a very small child -- not quite six years old -- my aunt Eleanor died. She was second-oldest of my mother's sisters, and she died at the age of 1957 from asthma.

It was a large family -- for awhile there were five children, though Junior died when he was about seven. Even after they were adults, there was a bond between the sisters, and I often think of them as "The Four Sisters," even though in most of my lifetime, there were only three living. (In the photo below, the sisters are Eleanor at left, Grace -- the baby, held my Iris, my mom, Jean, who looks like she's chasing away a bug, and Junior, the brother who died at about seven.

Because I was so young when she died, and because they lived rather far from us, I really didn't know her, apart from stories my mother told me, and my memories were sketchy.

I knew she was the beautiful one with the gorgeous hair -- long, thick, curly.

She looked like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm! (Pictured on the above on the right and below on the left with my baby mom, Iris and my grandparents.)

Mom said when I was a little girl, I looked like her. I sure had the hair!

And a little bit of the facial structure, around the mouth.

Iris -- the oldest sister -- once said, "I was jealous, because I think Papa liked her best." (Below, Eleanor is next to my grandfather.)

Mom told me what a wonderful artist she was, and I have two of her paintings that prove it! Here's one she gave mom when I was born.

Eleanor moved to Cadillac, Michigan, when she was married, and had three children -- my cousins Sue, Anne and Jack. But after she died, we didn't see them very often and I never knew them as well as the other cousins.

(Later, when I worked at Ele's Place, I remember telling someone that I wished that option had been available for the Cadillac cousins in the mid-1950s. At ages ranging from about six to early teens, the loss of a mother must have been a huge adjustment. It's big enough when you're older.)

About a year ago, Iris died at 95 (or close to it), outliving all her sisters, the last of whom had died in 1977. Last month her son brought her ashes back to the family plot. We gathered for a brief graveside service and lunch at a restaurant in the building where Iris used to work for my grandfather.

We had cousins from Michigan, Ohio, and Arizona, and the four who were missing were from Ohio, Arizona and Madison. (Pictured are Eleanor's children Jack and Anne, Iris' older son John, and in front of me, two of Grace's children, Mutty (aka Mary, but we don't call her that, and David.)
Anne and Jack, both of whom live in Michigan, were able to come, and oh, what a reunion it was!I'd seen Jack a little more recently, but Anne and I haven't had a good ol' long talk, maybe ever. At least, not since we were old enough to care! But seated together at lunch, I had a chance to ask her questions.

"Did you used to have a little green plastic box in the fridge with water?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed. "It had a little push button for the water!"

A memory confirmed.

"And did your house in Cadillac have a big staircase?"


(Another memory, confirmed!)

"Did you call her Ohnee?"

"No." (That must have been my name for her, since I couldn't pronounce Eleanor very well.)

Anne told me that her mother would talk to her (she was only nine when Eleanor died) about all things metaphysical. She was deeply spiritual. This is an interest we would have shared.

And that she remembered our playing with the pots and pans in the kitchen, with the moms saying "When they meet in the middle, we'll go clean it up." Mom said that when Cleveland cousin David (below) and I would play, too!

Asthma. Art. Things of spirit. Curly hair. Oh, Ohnee and I would have had much to talk about!

We talked about family, trying to piece together other relatives, and I know we'll have these talks again.

Later, I told Rick, "If Anne lived closer, she's someone I'd want to be my friend here! We just have much in common! When I told her that, she said "I told my husband the same thing!"
Discovering a kindred spirit you never really knew is a wonderful (and somewhat sad) thing. Discovering a cousin with whom you share much is equally wonderful!


beth said...

what a beautiful story....
and kindred spirits, are well, just that !

they usually are few and far between, so when you find one, hang on !

and that she's a relative, makes it even sweeter !

BONNIE K said...

I never knew about junior! And I never knew much about Eleanor, so this was very interesting to read.

Annie said...

Your writing from the point of view of wishful thinking is so engaging, Jeanie. All the careful thought suggests that you know more about her than you imagined through the important snippets of what you DO know and then making a connection as a kindred spirit. Yes, you recognized something.

I have so many cousin back east. I don't know any of them anymore. Life has separated us and I dream of going back and reacquinting myself with them.

Rosa said...

What wonderful photos and wonderful memories. I see the resemblance! Isn't family wonderful! The ones we know and the ones we've only heard about.

Beth said...

That is so nice! You were a precious little girl(and still are). Its so nice that you and your cousins could get together like that. I have alot of cousins on my Mom's side but we only get together for funerals and weddings. We use to have family reunions every summer.
I hope all is well with you.

Mary Timme said...

I couldn't agree more. Many of my cousins are dead and I don't even know it, I bet. But, I could look on line for them, and that would be neat. And I wonder what ever happened to Swiatoviack's? HOnest that is their last name! Beth used to baby sit me when I was an infant. Yep, I'm going to look.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

It's interesting. I was at a funeral yesterday for a remarkable 14-year-old who lost her battle with leukemia. She had written an essay in 7th grade about going to her grandfather's funeral and although she was devastated about the loss of her grandfather, she was amazed by meeting new family members and how everyone had drawn together in tragedy. She called it "Something Lost, Something Gained". Very wise.

Joanne Huffman said...

a lovely take on what makes kindred spirits.

Dawn said...

A beautifully written piece about your family Jeanie and made more poignant with the treasured photos you have - I am surprised you don't incorporate some of these into your art.
Thank you for sharing your memories x

Julie H said...

What a beautiful post. I had a similar connection with one of my Great Aunts when I first visited th UK,and would love to spend more time with her.

Your photo's are wonderful.

MyThoughtsMyVoice said...

I enjoyed looking through the old photos. How cute are your Aunts when they were young with huge bows on their hair :-) You do look like your Aunt when you were little - adorable little baby you are :-)

It may have been a shame to only know your cousin recently but you did meet. That is treasure enough.

Dropping by from PS. The Monet garden is amazing, love the pond and the waterlily pads.


ols1 said...

The vintage photographs are beautiful - beautiful post

Sugar Bear said...

I definitely think you look like Eleanor. Thank you for sharing this story and your photos are all fabulous!

Herzblatt said...

I tried to find all the persons on the photos, you is a bit like novels fom Russia, where there are too many Russian names and you always try to find out, who is who...*lol*....
I love watching pictures from former is so interesting!!
The kind of fashion....the hair cuts....the hats like in the second photo...:-)) great!!
And many of those photos are similar to the old ones, I have from my family....
Isn`t it interesting to see the own mother as a baby??
Hopefully you become as old as Iris!! All Iris` in the whole world should become as old as her...(I am an "Iris", too..*lol*...)
But I think, that, no doubt about, the oldest lady in your family was Eleanor with an age of 1957 years....(look in your first written sentence)
best wishes

joyce said...

I love old pictures too, especially when you can compare them with their nowady counterparts. I have to say, I could've picked you as a youngster out of a crowd! It always saddens me though to hear about how easily little children died, it seems no family escaped these tragedies.

Relyn said...

I really loved this family story. And, how you remind us to treasure our own. And those vintage images. My, oh my! I'd pay a small fortune for them at a flea market, and here they are - your own beautiful history.

Jane Rosemont said...

You know how much I love these old photos, Jeanie. And the photo of your mom with the doll...any chance that doll is still around....? LOL

jet1960 said...

How great that you were able to connect with your cousins again. It seems hard in these busy days to make the time to get together, but it's worth it when you do.

I, too, always enjoy seeing old photos. Interesting to look at faces for resemblances and see how times have changed how we dress. Look at how dressed up everyone used to be.

Jeanne said...

Love you

robin-bird said...

it seems i have seen some of these images before... especially the one where you look like you are about to be conked by your cousin david with one of those pans :) they are all wonderful as well as the memories that go with them jeanie.

death does have the ability to remind us of what is important and to give those who still live second and even third chances to do things a little differently.


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