I remember the time we all lived together, at least in the same town … brothers, sisters, cousins, aunties and uncles. We climbed, ran, ate, teased, jumped and secretly listened to family stories.
Time changes families. We move away for jobs, for weather, or to be near other families. So here we are just my sister, Jessie, and I. We hold down the “once upon a time” here in Indiana.
It is a clear morning as I drive to Fort Wayne to meet her. She is more fashionable than I am. It is good to see her after my trip, and to tell some wedding stories about our mom. However this day is not a social affair. We have a destination and an event to attend.
Jessie drives while we talk nonstop until we pull up in front of the funeral home. We are quiet gathering our coats and capes about our shoulders. We walk side by side and lower our tones to whispering. On this day we are paying honor to our Great Aunt Ethel.
Ethel Crick was 98 years old and wasn’t sick a day until last week. Ethel’s story is unique to our family. She was born with a twin sister, Edith. When the two girls were 3 years old their parents were killed in an accident, leaving both girls orphaned. The year was 1917 and times were hard. On Sunday after church the preacher asked the congregation to stay. After the altar call and the singing of the last hymn, he brought the little girls up to the front of the church. He told their story. He then paused and asked which families would take the girls home with them. My great-grandfather James was in attendance that day. My great-grandmother Chloe was home. Without hesitating James went up to the altar with another family, and each claimed a little girl for their own. He took Ethel home to Chloe, and she became their youngest child.
My grandmother, Luella, became the big sister by 18 years to little Ethel. When the twins were older they became close with one another again.
Aunt Ethel was always a part of our family. I remember her as short and funny and always laughing.
Jessie and I walk into the room full of Ethel’s family and photographs. The photographs take our breath away. These black and white photos are of our family, photos we had never seen. My mom was 15 and a bridesmaid in Ethel’s wedding. Mom is young and beautiful. My Uncle Dean was 17, about to go off to war. There are photos of my great-grandparent’s gardens with towering gladiolas and sweet peas on vines. We look closely at the houses, the buildings. We are not expecting this jolt into our own past as we visit with Ethel’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Ethel’s great-granddaughter, 6-year-old Chloe, is in attendance. I ask her mom, “Does she know the story of her name?” She replies, “Not yet.” I immediately ask if I may tell her the story. She nods and stands away to give me the space I need. I ask little Chloe to chat with me. We both sit on the white, pleated sofa. I begin. I tell her about my great-grandmother. I tell her about the gardens and her cooking and that she was kind. I tell her that when I was little my great-grandmother Chloe let me brush out her long hair at night. “She never cut her hair,” I say, “it was as silken as a cat.” She watches me tell the story. I am honored to be the one to tell her.
Jessie and I have stayed long, and it is time to part. We leave as quietly as we came in. We decide to have our own journey through memory lane. We drive to our great-grandparent’s house. My great-grandfather James owned a filling station and it was across from his house. Jessie and her husband bought the building a few years ago, just for the memories. We reminisce about where the gardens once were and where we jumped off the ledge of the house when we were kids.
We laugh when we get back to my car thinking of ourselves as The Baldwin Sisters from “The Waltons” or “Thelma and Louise.” Whoever we are, we are the Indiana sisters who together went deep into our past on this day.
Farewell to Ethel. As for little Chloe, take real good care of our story.