I’ve held off publishing this post because I don’t want it to be sad. My aunt wouldn’t want me writing about her in a sad post.
We lost her over Christmas rather suddenly, death from multiple health problems.
She was a strong Southern woman, mother of three, one with autism.
To me she was the Des’ree lyrics:
Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds
Try and keep your head up to the sky
Got to be bold, Got to be bad
Got to be wise, no never sad
Got to be hard, not too too hard
All I know is love will save the day
Her baby had autism at a time when there was little understanding of it and children like hers were carted off to institutions. A time when the refrigerator mother theory was still prevalent; mothers were blamed for their children’s delays and odd behaviors. Her firstborn had autism before there were awareness stickers on cars and fundraisers and research organizations. Before the many therapies and treatments and special schools. Before Google and support groups and bloggy communities.
That boy with autism is now a man in his forties. My father says he’s asking for his mother, wondering where she is. “She was his mainstay,” my father says. “She knew how to reach him and care for him when no one else could.”
My sisters and I loved to visit her home in the summer. We were city girls and the cousins called us Oreos – black on the outside, white on the inside – and said we talked proper. On my auntie’s land I first learned to take a big bite of watermelon and spit the seeds far. Those Florida days were so humid our pigtails would get puffy and stick straight out. Our skin got so dark, it was a shade of purple. We gathered the corn and shucked it, played basketball with the boys, and looked out for swamp gators that might chew up our baby sister. (Once their dog got eaten by a gator).
Then she’d call us, famished, in to lemonade and feed us the best tuna sandwiches I ever tasted. She filled us up for the next adventure, and every summer we thanked the Lord for those tuna sandwiches.
I really wish I had one right now.
I’d sit at her feet and chew on every morsel. I’d hear her hum a hymn. I’d ask her to tell her stories of how she trusted Jesus even when she felt alone in the world with her strange son. How He taught her to mother her boys even though her own mother died so young. How she managed the silence and tantrums and poop-art and picky-eating and dreams deferred. How she found courage in the last days to take her rest; to love them all and leave them to Him.
She comes to mind now. On days and nights when autism just seems to make matters worse and everything is hard. I think of her – mainstay – and I think I can do this.
Thank you, Aunt Gen.
You feed me still.