Cheryl Hughes: I Heard Ever Word
Last Sunday, I went to visit my Aunt Della and Uncle Curtis. They live in Meade County, near Brandenburg. As a child, I visited their home many times during summer break. Their children, Barb, Deb and Steve, were my favorite cousins. It was during one of those visits that I had my infamous run-in with the bottle of exploding rotten tomatoes, and the ensuing scrubbing of my body and hair Aunt Della did, while laughing at my attempt to imitate her canning methods in my pretend house—an area under a large tree, sectioned off with tree limbs.
Thanks to GPS, I readily found their new place on Sunday. I was disappointed at not being able to return to the old farm house I had grown to love during my childhood. It was an old stately two-story white house, situated on a creek near what is referred to as Battletown. When my sisters and I visited each summer, my aunt would open up a couple of bedrooms they kept closed off the rest of the year. I can still smell the mustiness of the old furniture and heavy drapes. We didn’t mind the smell. They seemed like secret rooms opened up just for us.
It was under the tree by the tractor shed that we rode our oil-barrel horses, and in an old cattle chute, leaned up against a dirt bank, where we dared each other to jump the six feet to the ground. In that same area, we played soft ball. Aunt Della was the pitcher. She and Uncle Curtis were so good to us. On the Sunday I visited, I told them both how much I appreciate all they did for us. Aunt Della just smiled. She has Parkinson’s and Dementia. Barb told me beforehand that she probably wouldn’t recognize me, but her face lit up when I came into the room. She touched my hair when I hugged her.
“How old are you now?” I asked Uncle Curtis.
“A hundred and three,” he said with a grin. “Actually, eighty-six,” he corrected, “but it feels more like a hundred and three.”
They farmed all their lives, so I bet he does feel like a hundred and three. They still live on a farm, but their grandson does most of the work now. They had to move closer to town because of their medical issues. Uncle Curtis had triple-by-pass surgery a few years ago.
As I came up the driveway to their new place, I noticed a shed housing various farming equipment. It was almost identical to the one Uncle Curtis had on the old farm. He was always careful to put his tractor and farming equipment into the shed at the end of each day. My aunt and uncle lived a very orderly life. After each use, things were always put back where they belonged. Their yard was always mowed, their house was clean, and the laundry was folded and put away. If something broke, it was fixed. I loved going to that house, simply to feel the peace that order brings. It was a stark contrast to the chaos in which my family lived .
Uncle Curtis told me the old farm house has fallen into disrepair since they moved away. The cellar where we put tomato juice after it was canned has flooded a few times, and the wash house that adjoined the house has caved in on itself. I couldn’t bear to see it in disorder. That house was where I learned to use cream and butter, not milk and margarine, in mashed potatoes. It was where I learned that you could make oatmeal soupy or thick, based on how long you cooked it. It was where I learned to make tomato juice and where I was taught how to do things, not criticized for not knowing how to do things.
When they moved to the new place, Uncle Curtis and my cousins made sure to bring the things that meant the most to Aunt Della. Her metal cabinet with the flour bin and the old pump organ that her mom played when she was a child are both there. Barb said sometimes her mom gets disoriented and believes she is someone else’s house. She will see her belongings in the living room and say, “My husband has given all my things to somebody else.” Uncle Curtis says almost every night Aunt Della will say to him, “It’s time for us to get up and go home.”
My aunt and uncle have been married for sixty-six years. The time for them to get up and go home is approaching. I don’t know how either of them will survive the loss of the other. Before I left, I told each of them that I had never forgotten the things they taught me and I thanked them for all they had done for me, simply by letting me visit and be part of their lives. Aunt Della was my stepmom’s sister. She wasn’t obligated to embrace me as her niece, but she did and so did Uncle Curtis.
There’s a TV ad running right now that says, “You might not remember what you told me, but I heard every word.”
That’s the way I feel about them. I heard every word.