When I was growing up, it was a “thing” for us to refer to certain special people in our lives as “Aunt” or “Uncle,” regardless of relation. I don’t know if this is a WV thing, a Smith-Family thing, or just our way of giving people titles of endearment, but I love it. I have several biological aunts and uncles, but I also have many, many other important people in my life who bear those titles.
One of these amazing “Aunts” in my life growing up – and still to this day – is my Aunt Carol. No, biologically not an aunt, but being my mom’s best friend and growing up with her kids and actually being taken care of by her own mother, my Grandma E (no, not my biological Grandma), she definitely earned the title.
Pause here for a moment to talk about my Grandma E. Holy moly the importance of that woman in our lives and the love I have for her is still in my heart, though she is no longer with us. Grandma E was tasked with watching me, my little brother, and my Aunt Carol’s two kids while our parents worked as teachers during the day. Back in those days, in rural WV, there wasn’t a day care on every corner, and finding someone to watch kids often fell to family members. Grandma E did it with ease. (Side note, E = Eleanor; I love that name.) I could write a book about the adventures the four of us had with Grandma E, whom she called her “Four Mice.” The word ‘special’ cannot even begin to describe her, so I’ll stop there so I don’t cry.
Any time I get to see my Aunt Carol feels like, well, a big warm hug. She was a teacher like my mom, and an amazing one at that. They met as two young educators at a new elementary school, having both been recruited from out of town. My mom still remembers the day she met my Aunt Carol, and they have been best buds since, with neither time nor distance getting in their way. She is a pioneer in her own way for attending college as a woman and then working while she raised kids…. Not too common then as it is now! She was raised by her parents and lived with her two siblings, who were much older than she is, and always knew she could count on her parents’ love. Aunt Carol said she can sum up their parenting philosophy by a quote from John Wesley,
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can.”
Not a bad philosophy! I’m going to keep that handy…
College life was a memorable experience for my Aunt Carol as it exposed her for the first time in her life to very liberal and forward thinking views and ideas that were quite the opposite from her upbringing. She loved learning and reading, and even participated in a couple peaceful protests! (How cool were the 60’s?!?) She chose teaching as her path, and eventually chose her specialty as Special Education. I actually remember from my elementary school days going into Aunt Carol’s special ed room. It was such a blessing for me to see kids who were different than I was and their learning environment; it was unique and special and filled with love, just like Aunt Carol! She always kept a sign hanging in her room that said, “ALL CHILDREN CAN LEARN.” I remember when we were growing up, Grandma E would occasionally ask us kids what we wanted to be when we grew up. As with most kids, what we “wanted to be” certainly changed over the years, ranging from vet to banker to fortune teller to garbage man to doctor to teacher to lawyer (just to name a few), but regardless of what we said, Grandma E would tell us as long as we were happy, that’s all that mattered. (None of us turned out to be any of those listed, of course, but we eventually all found our way.) This philosophy was reinforced and passed down the generations, as Aunt Carol’s career advice to her kids growing up:
Be happy. Find an occupation that feeds your soul.
“Married… with Children” Like my mom, she’s been married a looooooooong time (but how is that possible, Aunt Carol, when you are SO young?! Inside joke between me and Auntie C.) She has been married to my Uncle Carl for 40 years, and they have two awesome kids, a son and a daughter, close in age to my brother and me. My cousins are, like their parents, amazing adults with wonderful, loving spouses. Growing up, they enjoyed camping adventures (my family would tag along sometimes too!) and traveling. Aunt Carol & Uncle Carl still love to travel, and now, Gumby goes with them! As you can see from the slideshow, Gumby gets around and is a pretty good time…
Life Throws a Curve-ball A few years back, my Uncle Carl was diagnosed with Behavior Variant Frontal Temporal Dementia (bvFTD), which is a type of dementia that causes major changes in social behavior and conduct, and poor impulse control. Basically, it turns a person into a version of his or herself that can anger quickly, act inappropriately in situations, and is apathetic to the feelings of those around them. Quite the test for any marriage, to have the person you have spent your life with change into someone you don’t recognize. Because of this diagnosis, my aunt and uncle packed up their 40+ years in the small town we grew up in and moved to Milwaukee, WI, to be closer to family and medical care. They went from a town of 800 and their large farmhouse in WV to a city of 600,000 and an urban condo! Her heart is still in WV where they will always have strong ties, but as my uncle’s symptoms worsened, the close proximity to my cousins and big-city medical care was a must. Making such a huge change at a point in life where people are usually strengthening roots is scary, but she followed Grandma E’s advice to “bloom where you are planted,” and she most certainly has! They even got rid of their car!! I cannot fathom it, but it piques my interest to think about just jumping on the bus at the corner and being dropped off wherever you need to go… no need for gas, parking, etc. I wish I could do that! #nocarpayment
Like me, Aunt Carol is an avid reader. We often exchange book ideas and talk about what we are reading. She has a friend with a book coming out soon called Is it Time to Freak Out Yet, and I can already tell from the title I will be adding it to my list! She loves to volunteer and work in her new community and has definitely “bloomed” there. She met a friend, Anita, whose husband suffers from the same bvFTD as my uncle, and knows this woman was placed in her life by God. On my aunt and uncle’s refrigerator is a bible verse.
1 Thessalonians 5:13: In all things give thanks.
Gratitude Days are hard, but life goes by fast. Along the way various obstacles and burdens and excitements and celebrations come your way, but the attitude with which you approach these things makes all the difference. “Pick your battles,” Aunt Carol says. “Save your battles for the big things in life.” Or maybe employ the “10-Second Rule” …
“Our family has employed the 10-Second Rule many times. When something dire/horrible happens, 10 seconds from now it will still be bad. 10 minutes from now, still bad. 10 hours, less so. Then 10 days… less. Days turn to 10 weeks, then 10 months, then 10 years…”
It’s all about attitude. When Aunt Carol met her friend Anita, she shared with Aunt Carol that, in her experience in dealing with a loved one with bvFTD, you just have to accept what is, let go of what was, have faith in what will be. Time will continue to march on, but how we choose to face obstacles and all the things that life can throw at us will impact us and the people around us. We have choices in these situations, but we have to keep moving forward. Choose a perspective and attitude that will help you gather the strength in any situation, just like my Aunt Carol. Life is SO good. Have faith.