Tuesday, January 05, 2010
My Great Aunt Ada died yesterday. She was in her late nineties (I had a hard time keeping track because she was very reluctant to tell you her real age).
We are losing a treasure.
From childhood until college, my desire was to write her off as just another crotchety old lady with weird taste in food. That would have made it more simple--easier to say goodbye.
At first glance, Ada was not all that loveable. On the surface, she was a prickly disciplinarian--a former school teacher/principal with more than 40 years of experience with unruly children under her belt. Ada believed in order, manners, and cleaning up your plate. She'd endured the great depression and her frugality was exemplary. She never married. She was prim, proper, *ALWAYS* concerned about her hair and attire (she fell a number of times in the past few years--and even at 3:00 in the morning after a night in the emergency room she'd ask us how her hair looked). She liked to give my sister and I "pointers" on such things as posture, talking back, and our eating habits when we were kids. I felt slightly afraid of her growing up because her scrutiny seemed really severe to me.
*But* as I grew up, I began to get to know her better and I found out there were so many little surprising, quirky things about Ada that utterly forced me to love her.
I found out she was a huge fan of the grandiose and beautiful. She took us to see Kimberly Crest (a 100+ year-old Victorian mansion in Redands) a number of times. Uptown Redlands itself is devastatingly pretty--everything you want Southern California to be, and uptown Redlands was where Ada (and two of her sisters) made her home.
She went and saw the movie "Titanic" three times in the theater when it came out. She loved the live broadway version of "The Lion King" and went and saw it at the Pantages when it was there. I guess this surprised me because I knew at least one of her siblings was of the conviction that most forms of entertainment were sinful. I had just assumed she would have been of the same opinion as them. I was pleasantly surprised by her open-mindedness and this was one of the first things that let me feel a bit of a bond with her.
On the even-more-suprising side, she had a 20-some-odd-year-old bottle of Kahlua in the cupboard above her fridge that was still mostly full (she must have only taken it out for certain visitors--who were they? I don't know. She never offered me any).
She once told me she almost got married as a young woman, but when the opportunity to move from Nebraska to California arose, she came out here instead. She got misty-eyed when she told me the story--a thing that *does not* happen that often with many of the elder Bodmers, so I know this boy had meant a lot to her.
She was a world traveler, and had been everywhere from Paris to the Taj Mahal. She taught school in Germany and was fluent in the German language. There is a cute story Ada loves to tell: When some American students and administrators came to visit Ada's school in Germany, the principal Ada worked under got up to speak at a dinner they were having. Using his very best English, the principal said, "I thank you so very much for coming. I thank you from the *heart of my bottom*. This story made Ada laugh super hard every time she told it.
I found out that Ada knew Greg's grandma years-back. Ada, her sister Tillie, and Greg's grandma Evelyn Mehring sat together at First Baptist Church Yucaipa. Tillie and Evelyn would pass notes and Ada would give them scolding looks. (Small world, right?)
At Ada's retirement community, Plymouth Village, Ada had a friend named of Martin Munz who had also been a principal at Redlands Unified. He unabashedly called Ada his "girlfriend" and visited her apartment on a regular basis. We loved to tease Ada about Martin, and she always got all embarrassed and blush-y whenever we mentioned his name.
Probably because she never married, Ada was extremely close to her family. She sent out an extensive yearly christmas letter for as long as she was able. She also made disasterously good Christmas food and sent us a box of Redlands oranges and christmas goodies every year. I still associate those Redlands oranges with Christmas whenever I see them in the store. I also *loved* the candied figs she and her sister made. (Old people food really isn't alllll bad).
Ada was incredibly generous and gave of all that she had to countless people through charities, monetary gifts, and volunteering in various organizations.
For my grandpa's 90th birthday, Ada flew with us to Des Moines to celebrate--not an easy feat for a 94-year-old lady. But she was so happy to be there and spent the entire visit just reveling in the company of her brother and sister-in-law. As harrowing as the experience was at the time for me (being 4 months pregnant and dealing with Ada's forgetfullness during the trip) seeing her joy made it worth it.
Shortly before I met Greg, Ada started showing signs of dementia at the same time as going blind from severe macular degeneration. She moved to Plymouth Village in 2001--a retirement community/nursing home in Redlands. Greg and I moved out to Yucaipa about 3 years later, and because we were close, we started visiting her more regularly than I ever would have otherwise. I started helping her with her monthly bills because there was no other family around.
I can honestly say I never really *had fun* hanging out at Ada's in the past few years. There were always things I would have rather have been doing. I felt as though visits with her were rather like talking to Dory from Finding Nemo. The same questions with the same answers over and over and over. She often didn't remember who we were. It was hard not to be impatient. I often felt as though I was not making her day any happier.
But she did enjoy our son Sam VERY much. When Sam was born, she said, "I think this might just be the cutest little baby I have ever seen". I treasure that one comment about Sam more than almost any other from his babyhood. She thought he was hilarious when he got a little bigger--even when he was getting into her stuff. She had a colorful camel-hair blanket from somewhere in the Middle East and it had these big tufts of fringe at the ends. Sam was obsessed with those colorful tufts and could *not* stay away from those things. Seeing him destroying her blanket every visit drove me nuts, but Ada was just amused that that was all Sam wanted to play with.
And she positively *LOVED* Greg. I don't really know who couldn't love Greg, but one of his best qualities is that he has a very calming presence and Ada latched onto that. After Grandpa Bodmer died a few years ago, Ada had a drastic drop downhill from independent to assisted living and then from assisted living to the nursing home all within a matter of a couple of years. My dear, sweet, caring husband came with me to see her countless times during that period in her life--even though he wasn't directly related. He prayed for her and with her, and he is taking me to her memorial service this weekend, for which I am forever grateful to him.
I know Ada was ready to die. When my mom and dad went to visit her a while ago, she told my mom she was just tired of this life and was ready to go to Heaven to be with her family.
I believe she is there now--partying it up with her 5 siblings in the presence of God. She can see again, and she can not only remember, but she *knows*.
But I still miss her.
I miss her like I miss Lucille Green, and Lorraine Cantrell, and Robert Bob, and Grandpa and Grandma Bodmer and my Grandpa Campbell and the numerous others who have impacted my life in so many different ways and are now-----gone.
I feel as though we are losing a generation of people that have a legacy that we can so easily ignore. With them go art forms, words, ideas, stories--countless aspects of a whole group of people we will never get back here on this earth. And to me, that's unbearably sad.
Ada, you are loved and will be missed. Tell everyone 'hi' for me and I look forward so very much to seeing you again.