Today I made my annual donation to one of the nonprofits I support, WalkBoston. As a card carrying pedestrian (and dreamer), believe me, I need help crossing the road. I made the donation in memory of my Aunt Thelma who used to describe her walks to me. Following is a blog post I wrote about her two years ago, about how she influenced who I am today, including how I can choose to give myself to others. This bright, beautiful day is her birthday so it seems like a good time to give back, and give thanks for her having been in the world. At the end of the post is a youtube video of Dives and Lazarus by composer Ralph Vaughn Williams. It was music Steve had shared with me, and music I remember replaying until I could collect the words to write about a lovely woman who in her own unique way helped me learn to walk in this world. Please enjoy the words and the music, and have a good day.
My mother taught me to cook, to plant flowers, and to tell stories. From her I learned to love books and to love writing. She passed away before I ever wrote and had published my first story. During her life, I never traveled abroad. She never knew me with a camera in my hand. She never met Steve or any other fellow in my life. But her sister, my Aunt Thelma did.
In Aunt Thelma’s bedroom dresser are the postcards I sent to her from my travels all over the world. On her bookshelves are the magazines and other clippings of my work. And, last year, after I returned from my travels with Steve in Japan, she made me create a photo book for her. “I need tangibles I can hold in my hand,” she said when I pointed out the pictures were viewable online. “And include a picture of that fellow you’re seeing. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him any other way.” They never did meet, but she read about him, and they spoke on the phone once. I sat next to her on her couch as she laughed with him on my cell phone. I remember him asking her what he should call her. She laughed and said, “Well, why you don’t call me what everyone calls me. Aunt Thelma.” After she hung up, she asked me if he was a good man. I said yes. And then we went on to talk about my brothers and their families.
Growing up in Virginia, my mother made it clear early in my life if I was ever in trouble I could call my Aunt Thelma who was living in New York. When my mother died, Aunt Thelma traveled to Virginia and was there with me and my brothers, along with the rest of the family. When my father died unexpectedly a year and half later, she couldn’t make it, but I will always remember standing in a hospital waiting room on the phone with her crying and her saying over and over, “You go ahead and cry. It’s alright to cry.”
In bad times but mostly good, I called her, especially after I got a cell phone. I could call her randomly as I returned home from work. She’d laugh at my stories and in the end, wind up telling me to be careful as I crossed the street. She always ended her calls with, “I love you, Cynthia.”
My Aunt Thelma passed away this weekend. I will miss her. I am thankful that she was in my life. I learned a lot. In NY this weekend, as the family gathered, I held one of my young cousins in my arms. She was crying. “I’m sorry,” she said as she tried to wipe her face. I said, “Why are you apologizing? For crying? Don’t ever apologize for crying. It’s alright to cry. Do you know who taught me that?” When she shook her head, I said, “Aunt Thelma.”