Life in the Slow Lane

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Visiting the Past


I will be going to visit my aunt this Saturday, weather permitting.

My aunt is Lena Paul Fitzpatrick Nordstrom.  She is 96 years old.

I am very, very lucky she is still with us, and that I have this opportunity to do what I have so many times contemplated but have never managed to do...until now.

Fitzpatrick family:
Lena, John, Marlene, 
Alice & Elaine 
[Circa 1946]
After my Uncle John (my mother's older brother and Lena's first husband) and their three daughters died one tragic summer1, my aunt remained 'in the family', but on the periphery.  Where once she was part of a close-knit extended-family, now she was relegated to an 'aunt' who was - yet wasn't - an aunt anymore.

By the time I was old enough to remember her now-infrequent visits, at least a decade had passed.  In the intervening years, she had remarried and moved away.  Yet, there was enough of a relationship left with my mother's family, that for whatever reason, she sometimes visited us when in the area.

I remember her as a small, somewhat quiet woman with dark hair.  She was kind to me, a young girl growing up in a small village fairly isolated from the world, and always brought gifts.  She had a Siamese cat that she brought with her, which intrigued me with it's strange behavior and blue eyes.  I was too young to realize that these visits probably represented, in a way, a vestige co-dependency on both sides of the family.  For my side, she represented the son and brother they had lost, and to her, my grandparents and parents represented the husband  and daughters she had lost.  Neither could have what they longed for back, but they saw in one another a  shadow of what once was.  The visits likely tore off the scabs on their wounded hearts as much as helped them heal.

Since Lena and her second husband Harold lived in Michigan, visiting them wasn't an option.  The many years of separation became a barrier no one thought about yet existed nonetheless.  I periodically pondered if there was a way to reach across that barrier.  It took some doing - many phone calls, online researching, etc. - but I found Lena a couple of times.  We exchanged some letters, expressed polite interest in each other's general lives, even briefly discussed the pain of 1954.  But we never talked in-depth on 1954, let alone beyond.

I realize with her age and significant hearing loss, I may never get to find out more about the uncle I never knew, or my cousins.  But I am hoping we have that opportunity to recall happier times, and memorialize those people lost to us in the only real way we can - by remembering them...

Family Gathering during happier times - From left to right:  Harriet (my 
mother), Grandma Fitzpatrick (her mother), Aunt Lena, Aunt Clara, 
Margaret, Aunt Pat, Uncle Barney (behind Pat), Uncle John B., cousin 
Harold (small boy), cousin Lloyd, Uncle John F.; sitting in front, 
Grandpa Fitzpatrick holding cousins Jerry Johnson and Delphine, 
plus Bing the dog! [Circa 1939 - Click to enlarge]
1 - Before the summer of '54, there was a LOT of 'history', i.e., bad blood going on between members of the family.  I really don't know why it got to that point.  I could share details, but now is not the time and here is not the place.  Suffice to say, there were many reasons for hard feelings in my mother's family, and they surrounded my Aunt's family.

I have never been to my Uncle's farm, which originally belongs to my grandparents.  It was their original homestead.  Recently, a resident from the St. Vincent area described where the farm is, and even supplied the Google Map coordinates to the location.  I hope to visit the farm site this weekend also, and finally see the pond where my uncle and cousins lost their lives.  Yes, it still exists.  And my Aunt still owns the property, but it is rented out to and farmed by local farmers and has been for several decades now...