It's odd to me how something simple can evoke memories and emotions so quickly. This afternoon when Princess Pigtails woke from her nap, she asked if she could have a Push-Up for her snack. After I retrieved a ice cream treat for her, she snatched it away, pulled the paper off the top and then brought it to me to "get it started".
As I took the Push-Up in my hand to "start" it, I began to tell her how much I liked Push-Ups when I was little. And then the tears began to well up in my eyes and even now as I type, they are streaming down my face. The first time I remember having a Push-Up was at my Auntie Anita's house.
My dad is the youngest of eight and Auntie Anita was the closest to him in age. My dad is also one of the few on his side of the family that actually "got out" or moved outside of an hour radius of where they grew up. When I was elementary age, we lived nearly five hours away and really didn't see my dad's family much. I remember on a couple of occasions going to visit during the winter, but primarily when we went to visit, it was in the summer.
Aunt Anita and Uncle Dwight lived out in the country at the base of some pretty beautiful hills in western Iowa. Now, looking back and even returning to visit as a high school aged kid, I realize that they didn't have much, but as a child I was oblivious to that. Auntie was one of the most kind and generous people I have ever known and despite her economic situation, she was extremely wealthy. She had a family that loved her dearly and many, many friends.
Things were very different at Aunt Anita's than they were at home. They lived in the country and she would hang her wash on the line out behind their house. And although, my grandparents on my mom's side had a line when they lived in the country, I really don't remember hanging as much wash with my grandma as I did with Auntie. Maybe it was the fact that she had two teenage boys and there was just that much more laundry. They had dairy cows when I was really little. She eventually started buying a small jug of "store" milk for me when we would visit, because I just couldn't stomach the fresh milk.
Her birthday was in July. She loved to cook and take care of her family. She loved to talk on the phone. She was ambidextrous and loved to have her hair brushed. As an adoring niece, I was always happy to oblige. It meant some fun one-on-one times for the two of us. She cared so deeply about people and she had an incredible knack for making you feel as though you were the most important to her.
I remember once, sitting with her and two of my dad's other sisters in my Aunt Gardena's kitchen. They were telling me about my grandmother and most likely telling me stories of the many ways they tortured my dad as a child. I clearly remember them launching into a story about Grandma and pausing to instruct me that I must always wear a good bra--because by the end of my grandma's life "they were down to her waist". I was probably 11 or 12 at the time and was absolutely horrified and fifteen shades of beet red! Now as an adult, I'm thinking, no kidding-- EIGHT kids.
As a pre-teen, I used to get frustrated with her for sending me these little girly type birthday cards with cats or some cartoon character on them. I was way too "grown up" for such childish cards. Now, I only wish I had hung on to a few of those. Always a short little note--usually something like "Love You Lots" or "Hugs and Kisses", but always a little note. And I always knew that she loved me.
I don't remember now when she was initially diagnosed with cancer. I just remember that it really didn't seem like a big deal. She underwent surgery and treatment and she was fine. And then it came back. And when it returned, it was not fine. I don't know as much about it and the struggles she went through during treatment because I was busy. Busy finishing school and starting my working career. And meeting my future husband and getting married. And I moved to the Cities. And kept living life. She had always been there and I had no reason to think she wouldn't be. She was young and she had beaten it before--she would come back around. But she didn't.
In the spring of 2002, I made a trek out there with my mom. My dad was at a continuing education event and my parents were concerned that Aunt Anita might not hang on much longer. I hadn't seen her since my wedding two years prior. She was tired and worn. I'm sure that she knew why I was there and yet it was as if I was just stopping in to say hi. She was at my Aunt Gardena's and they were laughing and giving each other a hard time as always. She made me promise that I would call her when I got home. And I did.
She passed away later that summer. I still miss her.
I have a million sweet memories like those that I've already shared and many more like that she always had treats from Schwan's in her freezer. She was the one that taught me how to start a Push-Up by holding it in my hand for just a minute to soften the ice cream a bit and then push the stick.