No matter who you are, there are some lessons in life you learn from other people. Whether they are spoken or action-oriented, you learn them, you absorb them, and more than likely, you live them. In my case, most of my lessons came from family – primarily three aunts, Dot, Emily and Evelyn.
Without a doubt, I always knew I was loved, however, mine was not a demonstrative bunch. Yes, we hugged when we saw each other, and hugged when we left. Occasionally, those three little words, ‘I love you’ would be uttered. Instead, we learned we were loved by demonstration. And through lessons. Rather than Life Lessons, I often times think of them as Love Lessons, as this was the way we were taught how to live and how to love. Here are a few of the lessons I learned:
1) Always take a picnic – as children, Dot and Emily would take all of us on vacations, either camping or occasionally to Dauphin Island, Alabama. On longer trips, we all knew there was a magic picnic basket and ice chest sitting in the back. It contained just about everything you could imagine for sandwiches – Emily always opted for the Pimiento Cheese, while I would dive for the Peanut Butter and Raisin ( a concoction that Dot made – it might not sound appetizing, but it was an absolute delicacy to us kids). For dessert, there might be a packet of store-bought cookies, but what we were really searching for was the Peanut Rolls. Somehow, the idea of stopping at a fast-food restaurant just didn’t appeal to any of us. Instead, we stayed in a constant state of anticipation for meals. As an adult, I realize now that stopping at McDonald’s and feeding six to ten kids and two adults would have been cost prohibitive. By using the thrifty nature of picnics, they could afford to take us more places. But what they were really doing was teaching us how to be thrifty, how to love the simple things, and how to love life and family. Of course, the Love Lesson my cousin Steve learned was how to love the idea of one day owning one of those pop-up Volkswagen vans.
2) Idle Hands – I am not sure I ever saw a time when Dot, Emily and Evelyn weren’t working on something. Dot and Emily were secretaries, and Evelyn was a hair dresser. At home, they were always either cleaning, cooking or doing laundry, and in the down time, Dot would embroidery or cross-stitch, Emily would quilt or sew, and Evelyn had a crochet hook flying. If we were there to visit, Dot and Emily were helping us work on our own project, or we would climb up on a stool and ‘help’ Dot make divinity roses for a cake she was decorating. At Evelyn’s we were running wild through their back acreage and building playhouses among the trees, or she was teaching me how to cook or crochet. To this day, most of my projects have been completed in five to thirty minute segments, as I will work on them before bedtime, or while laundry is going through its cycles.
3) Volunteer – Never in my wildest imagination would I ever view these three exceptional women as monetarily wealthy. However, they were also the richest women I know. Dot and Emily were the consummate volunteers. They taught swimming lessons, Life Saving and Water Safety Instruction for the Red Cross and the YWCA. Both acted as Life Guards for the Monday night swimming at the Y, and we were all too frequently tagging along. As soon as we arrived at the appropriate age, we were signed up for Life Saving and WSI. Ah, I can still remember the strain of pulling up a (literally) 300 lb. male volunteer from the drain at the 12-foot bottom of that pool. I can also remember helping them teach the Nuns at Holy Angels how to swim and then Life Saving, so they didn’t have to depend on volunteers when it was time for the children who lived there to swim. I can also remember many trips with them to take clothes to Odessa, a woman who worked at the Y. They took food to the needy. They gave money to organizations. And I cannot even begin to count all the covered coat-hangers Emily made to send to the children at Morrilton, Arkansas Children’s Home, along with other much needed items. Evelyn was a bit quieter about it – but she did for others as well. She was a ‘quiet’ volunteer – no one really knows all she did, but I am a sworn-silent witness to several things, which leads me to believe there are many things I will never know. One thing I can tell you – Evelyn gave a lot of time to me. Always there to teach me, always there to listen. And sometimes, that is all we really need – an attentive ear.
4) Be Frugal – money was something none of them had in abundance, so what they did have, they managed very carefully. I remember going home with Evelyn on Friday afternoons for the weekend. We would stop at the grocery store, and I would watch as she carefully selected her groceries according to the sales. She would sometimes whisper to herself a running total of what she was spending. When she reached a certain figure, she would head to the checkout. Dot and Emily would turn the hot water heater off in the house to save electricity. Prior to washing clothes, dishes or bath time, they would turn in on about 30 minutes before they needed the hot water. Once they were finished, they turned it off again. The same with lights, water and heating/cooling. Dot’s theory was, the more you saved, the more you could spend on fun – which in her case, was Chickens. No, not the live kind. The type she could display on her shelves. Mostly, though, I often wonder if they didn’t save that money to spend on trips with their nieces and nephews.
5) Have Faith – these three definitely had it. They attended church three times a week – Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday nights. Dot and Emily taught Sunday School, and were known for giving out candy at the end of class. Evelyn attended a smaller country church, and it was part of spending the weekend with her that I looked forward to. All three of them had Bible’s that were worn to a frazzle from frequent reading. Emily could quote you chapter and verse. Dot and Evelyn quietly lived what was between the bindings.
6) Just Because Life is Hard, Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Have Fun – as a child, I was oblivious to any hardship the three women experienced. As I grew older, I heard a few stories, and witnessed several myself. Still, I only saw them as content with their lives. I do suspect, however, there were some ‘thorns in the sides’ they would love to change, but they knew that there were some things that only God could alter, and let it go at that. They soldiered through them, keeping their heads up and their spirits in constant prayer.
Three women. Three different outlooks on life. Same God. Same world. Somehow, they made it all work, and took the time to teach me many Love Lessons. I hope that I have learned enough of those lessons to take a little of each of them and adhere them to my daily life. If nothing else, I have garnered a lot of great recipes. And in the spirit of #3, I am ‘volunteering’ the recipe for Peanut Rolls, which you will find if you visit me over in the Kitchen. They may take a little more time than some things to make, but they are well worth the effort. My cousin Rose, reminded me of this, when she came out with a pan full of them.
Ah, Rose. Thank you for the memories….