Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Angel Aunt

  It seems that grandma’s kitchen was always yellow.  
   Whenever it was freshly painted it just became a brighter shade of yellow. “Painted by Oscar and the boys,’ as Gram would tell it.
  When the Thibodeau’s  (Oscar and Terese and the kids) moved to Florida the kitchen seemed to fade, never to be quite as cheery again. Yet in a sacred realm tucked away under the oilcloth table cover were grandma’s most cherished correspondences. After a coffee, some cheese and crackers, after she had tended to the visitor troubles grandma would reach underneath her tablecloth to pull out the most recent letter from her far away daughter, Terese. It was all newsy, full of tales of her children, Jeanne, Marie, Peter, Joe, Andrew, Paul, Tom, Phillip and Mary Louise.
 “Mary Lou has traveled to Italy to study piano, Jeanne and I are taking nurses training together.” On went the chipper narrative.
Grandma bound us all and rekindled her heart to her far away girl and the kitchen came happy again.
We are a big old Irish Catholic family and these letters from Aunt Terese sealed us to our aunt and our far away family.  
 Aunt Terese a woman of such heart that when speaking of her it is natural for many to use the possessive pronoun of “My”.  My Aunt Terese.
 Before she died she left one more story that has already brought tears and hope to others. As it was told to me,
she was on many machines that were keeping her alive.
She was a woman who loved her man, a woman who showed how to love unabashedly. Unable to speak due to the tube down her throat she wrote on a piece of paper “I have a date with Oscar and I would like to keep it.”
 Perhaps he waited her under the “Kern’s Clock”, just like he waited for her under it all those years ago on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.
 She died shortly after the tubes were removed.
Now she is gone, on her date and we here on earth must grapple with how to go forward without the glow of her love radar.
 She had this light that just seemed to envelope us when we were in her presence that she kept glowing in prayers for us.
 Terese Cullen Thibobdeau had this quality where she beheld the best in people. I was never really who she believed me to be. But she believed in my goodness. She believed until I began to believe it about myself. To be held in her heart to my mind was like being held in God’s heart where we are seen as his perfect children.

My dear cousins,
  I so wish I could have been there for you mothers funeral. I shadowboxed with myself on what to do. I found peace when I reflected on what would Aunt Terese want for me. I could hear her clear as a bell “ Take care of yourself Lettie”. She was always urging that for me. My last conversation with her was two weeks ago. she rang to check on me after I had a hospital stay. She offered that I come down there to convalesce. Just hearing her voice was a curative.
  All sorts memories of your mom and dad (I liked to just call him Uncle), our shared Detroit cousin chapters and my visits to Florida have been filling my mind for days.
I vividly remember Marion’s funeral, her little white first communion dress. All of us chasing about at Sullivan’s Funeral Home playing hide and go seek. I remember later at the wake all the little girl cousins putting on one of our musical reviews. Peggy Cullen stole the show with her version of Love and Marriage.
 During that very sorrowful time, what I remember is your mom’s twinkly loving demeanor while we rambunctious little ones ran around. That funeral and your mom have stayed in my heart forever. Your mom in her faith and understanding of children made death and loss less scary. She let us know even at the darkest of times we must allow for light and laughter. And still at this time of loss I will hold to what she showed me with her expansive heart.
  I want to write a cheery letter to you mom. I want you to put it under your tablecloth and know the part of her she shared with me through the years.
It would read like this…

Dear Aunt Terese.
Just want to go on record about a couple of things with you.
 I want to thank you for many things,
Thank you for rubbing my head that time I came to visit and had the migraine. (And for sending me off to nap the year I was a young mom who came to you exhausted after the family Disney trip)
Thanks for inviting me for sleepovers back when I was a little kid when nobody would have me because I peed the bed.
Thanks for helping me love my dad, helping me to forgive by telling me stories of his boyhood that allowed for me to understand, know him better.
Thanks for introducing my folks to each other. (Both of my parent’s eyes shone with love whenever they mentioned you or Oscar.)
Thanks for praying my babies in and praying onmy friend’s who seemed to conceive by the power of your prayer.
Thanks for continuing to call me Lettie, reminding me somehow of the little girl I once was.
Thank you for the way cool cousins you gave me. I love all the Thibs and have many memories of great moments with all.
(There was even the year Andy transferred to St Greg’s’ with his ever so handsome self making me a briefly  “popular”) 
Thanks for loving Oscar so, making me dream for such devotion in my own life.
Thanks for praying for me to know such great love. (Now that you are in Heaven and can work on my behalf and I am ever hopeful that that Italian cello player you know I crushed on will come a courting,)
Thanks for my last trip to Eustis. I came right after Uncle had died. I came on Marion’s birthday. We looked at picture of her smiling under the blossoming tree. WE talked about your girl, we went to church. I wanted to get to the ocean. You drove me. Any other time we had gone to the sea uncle drove us and sat in the car while we walked barefoot in the surf. But you bravely and boldly drove. We walked the beach enjoyed the Atlantic and waved to our girls  (my Tess and your Mary Lou who lived across her in Europe)
What I remember most of that day was the return trip. The car had inched on empty. Uncle had always managed the car. You were not sure how to fuel up the car but you were determined to learn. There were more chapters for you to live, you needed to keep going. You figured it out, how to put gas in the car. I watched you. Again I was learning how to live how to carry on after loss. You move foreword, you go to the ocean, and you persevere. You fill that tank and go on with life. At his time with this big heart hole that you leave for me (and so many others) the way you lived will illumine and uplift me as I forge on during this most tender of times.
 Thank you …dear one…thanks.