Saturday, February 22, 2014

52 Ancestors #5: The Last Cup of Tea

It is remarkably sad how life changes all plans. Yes, I know, I'm behind on this prompt (as usual), but I never expected to have to write this post. The week we left for RootsTech was atrocious. Our flight was canceled twice before we finally got a keeper, due to, "officially", the winter from hell. Coming home was no picnic either due to another sudden snow storm between the airport and our house! The week before we left, my Aunt Janet went into the hospital with a still unknown affliction. Things were not looking so great, but while we were in Utah, she came out of the illness for just a few days before slipping back further upon our return. She passed away on Valentine's Day.

For me, this prompt has always had parameters. I only profile ancestors who have passed. Which is why I never anticipated covering someone so fresh in my memory banks. However, this has proven to be enlightening in a different way.

When thinking about Aunt Janet, I came to the realization that I didn't really know her very well. She is the first "Aunt" that I have lost out of the five total I had. I have lost great aunts before, but in some cases, I felt closer to them than to some of my Aunts, with a capital A. I also don't feel too bad about that....we moved away when I was a young adult....and some relationships are just naturally stronger than others. And yet, there is always that pang of regret when you realize you let another memory keeper slip through your fingers.

There is also the guilt of realizing that you let the opinion of others filter your view of someone. I knew her through others. Yes, I grew up around her, visited her house often, and talked with her a little. But our family events were SO crowded and hectic, it was rare if anyone got one on one attention. Therefore, traveling through these life events (birthdays, Holidays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals), always gliding near each other, but not directly into the other's sphere, you lose that sense of personal memory. I remember my father talking to her on the phone, and other people talking about her, but I never really formed my own opinion....until now.

Death has a way of cutting through the crap. People suddenly remember the person more fondly than they might have a week earlier. Relationship struggles seem to fade away as we focus on the essence of the person. So what essence do I remember?

I remember a family hierarchy that I will not go in to....but I will say that my Dad and Aunt Janet were the two oldest siblings, and sometimes in the same dog house according to Dear Grandmama (who is still with us at 93!) And yet...despite those family challenges, I do know that Family was the most important thing to Janet. Even when it took a saint to still call them family, she never gave up on them and continued to swim through the muck of family complexities - with a smile on her face. My branch was not so strong...we moved away...still connected to the family, but not nearly as firmly planted. I admire her for that commitment and dedication.

In fact, our moving away did provide a direct memory I have of her that spoke to her character. We moved away, not only because of family strife, but because of devastating financial problems. As a younger person, I was delighted that the problems allowed us to move to Kentucky, but that is another story :-) Our move here was not smooth. It took years of struggling, trying to make ends meet, and finally giving up, pulling up stakes to join the other side of my family who had a house for us to rent. I do remember that time after time, Janet was the one who always helped my Dad financially throughout the whole struggle, and I know he has been forever grateful for that unpopular act among the rest of the family. I'm not criticizing the other members of the family, but I will say, families sometimes exist through webs that resemble politics. What others may have viewed as a political strategy, we only saw as help that was desperately needed.

Something else I knew about Janet, but also heard through another....she was one of my Grandfather's favorite children. It was not widely known nor ever shoved in the faces of the other kids, but I had heard this before, and I witnessed an affection between them when others weren't looking. Sometimes, I had overheard doubting about this fact, but I think many misunderstood this favoritism. Grandpa only had one sister, but she died when she was a toddler. When Grandpa told me about little Garnet, he described her death and said "I sure did love that little girl." (Imagine that statement coming from a gruff, seasoned soldier.) With the similarity in name, and Janet being his first little girl, I think he was finally able to resolve the missing affections he had had to let go of so many years before Janet's birth. Plus, Janet was born during WWII, and with Grandpa away, fighting during her early years, any family member was doubly precious during those difficult years. They had a double-fold bond that was unique and quite precious.

So....about the cup of tea....
This past Christmas, I had an odd but fun moment with Aunt Janet. As I related earlier, Christmas is usually a chaotic day with pockets of family members roaming around and snatching any empty seat available. As my family had arrived early, we took up residence at the kitchen table - full of sweet goodies. Just as everyone was finishing up their breakfast, Janet came over to take the seat next to mine. We all continued to nibble even though we were stuffed. You know that feeling when everyone has just consumed a large meal, and we all finally slow down, enjoying the digestion stupor? I can remember that feeling, and was sitting there at the head of the table, with my Mom on one side of me, and Aunt Janet on the other side. I suddenly realized a cup of tea would be marvelous at that moment. So I hopped up, announced I was going to hunt down some mugs and make a cup of tea. My Mother expressed interest, and then Aunt Janet seconded, and said "Oh yes, I'll have one too!"

It took a little while to get everything together and heat them all in the microwave, but I finally got everyone's tea ready and to the table in front of them. We were passing around the sugar, and with spoon in hand, I asked Janet if she wanted any sugar. She said, "yes, and heap the spoon!" I heaped the spoon full of sugar....and she said "and another"....and I put in another....and she said "and another"....and my eyes got wide as she made me put in four heaping spoonfuls of sugar into that tiny mug. I asked, "are you sure?" And she laughed, and said "Oh yes, I like a little tea with my sugar!" Of course we all laughed, and then just sat there, drinking our delightful cups of tea, nibbling on some breakfast sweets, and just chatting some girl talk. Even at that moment, I reflected on how intimate that scene was probably the most intimate moment we ever was a wonderful memory, and I'm glad we all had time to make one last memory together on Christmas Day.

As for the particulars about Aunt Janet's life, I will leave much to the obituary link at the end of this post. I would also like to relate that she suffered from MS for many years and was one of the strongest women I knew. She was also a wonderful florist in Cincinnati for over 30 years. I can remember being one of the only girls at HS graduation with a bouquet of roses handed to them after the ceremony, which remains a special memory! Every time I walk into a flower shop, the sights and smells take me back to her flower shop on Cheviot: All About Flowers. Definitely a personal memory unfiltered by others. There are also several kids, grandkids, and former exchange students who could tell you many more great stories about this loving lady.
Janet Louise Daniels Millard: 1942-2014

I know she leaves a gap in the family that cannot be filled: Goodbye Aunt Janet, until we meet again...and give Grandpa a big kiss for me!

Sorry folks, I know this was a long one, but for me, writing is part of the healing process.


dustbunny8 said...

A lovely tribute to your aunt. And a reminder to all of us that we don't always have "someday" to connect with the people in our lives.Thank you for sharing.

Cheri Daniels said...

Thanks! It is always sad when we let another one slip by....she would have shared quite a lot if only I would have asked. Yes, by all means, seize the day and ask those questions!

Barbara Schmidt said...

This is a beautiful way to remember her! Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

Shelley Bishop said...

What a lovely and heartfelt tribute to your aunt, CHeri. So sorry for your loss. Your post made me realize I have never sat down to interview any of my aunts (including my own Aunt Janet). It's something I need to do--soon!


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