Aunt Ellen is really my Great Aunt Ellen. She is my mothers mothers sister.
Word on the street is when Mae had my Uncle Johnny, her oldest child, my Aunt got on a bus in Georgia to come for a visit and just never went home again. I mean, she would go home to visit, but she moved in and stayed until she died.
Ellen never married, never had any children, never learned to drive. She kept house and helped on the farm and took care of the kids for Mae and played with the grand kids, at least Sharen and I. Ellen is who I really wish was my Grandma, because my mom's mom was just not a kind person.
I have a little girls memory of Aunt Ellen and sometimes I feel like my memory isn't really trustworthy (see proof here). But to me, she was a life raft in the middle of the hurt that was my relationship with my grandmother. I felt protected by her in a way that probably wasn't accurate because she was easily 5' tall or less and weighed barely anything.
Ellen used to babysit Sharen and I a lot. Once we were settled into bed she would sit down in the hall between our rooms and just sit there at least until I fell asleep because I never remembered her getting up. After she died, I would imagine that she was still there.
Mom would go pick up Ellen while Sharen and I were at school for various things and then bring her back to our house. They would have McDonald's for lunch and Ellen would buy 2 small fries and keep them for us as an after school snack.
At the farm there were these huge trees all along the drive and around the house. In the fall Sharen and I would make these monstrous piles of leaves to jump in. Most of the time one of us would bury the other and then go running to tell Aunt Ellen that the other girl had disappeared and we didn't know where she went. Ellen would come out, sing songing our name and saying "pea-pie!" for awhile. Ultimately she would wander over to the pile of leaves and say she was tired, she would then settle herself into the leaves, partially on top of us and then be shocked when the leaves would move and we would tell her that we were just hiding in the leaves.
She was almost completely deaf in her old age and would have whispered conversations with people long dead that she probably thought weren't out loud.
Once, when Ellen was babysitting me at my house I fell down the stairs and scraped the skin off my back all the way up and down (sorry, it's gross I know). I screamed so loud she heard me at the clothes line and came running in. Once she arrived, I knew that it was going to be ok.
When Mae would call Sharen and I into the kitchen for an ice cream sandwich and tell me I didn't deserve one because I was a horrible child Ellen would sneak me one. She always wore an apron and would find me a few moments later and take me out back. We would sit hidden beneath the weeping willow tree and she would pull an ice cream sandwich out for me to eat. Years later, a few years after she had died, Betty and Mae tried to tell me that Ellen hated me, that she thought I was a spoiled and rotten child. They said that she would tie me to the stove with her apron and boil large pots of water close to the edge. Our moments under the weeping willow with ice cream sandwich's was enough for me to know that their story couldn't possibly be true.
When either Sharen or I (or both) would stay the night Ellen would tuck us in so tightly we couldn't hardly breathe. For minutes after (that felt like hours) she left the room we would wiggle, giggle and writhe trying to free our arms from under the prison of blankets that she had put us under.
When just I would stay the night Ellen would come in as Mae and John were going to bed, as if to tuck me in. Instead, we would go back downstairs and watch David Letterman while eating cinnamon toast. I haven't eaten cinnamon toast since she died.
There was one time, that Ellen had chipped a cup of Mae's china. It was a mustache glass that was apparently very old. I was sitting in the living room watching TV. When Mae discovered the chip she called Ellen into the dining room (attached to the living room by pocket doors which were open) and slammed her into the wall. Told her that she was incompetent and how could she be so careless with something as valuable as this cup. That memory, it still scares me. It motivates me to see that the value in that situation shouldn't have been placed on the cup but on the sister. It reminds me that things are just things. They come and go and even if they're valuable so what, people should be more valuable, relationships with people should be more valuable.
One thing that makes me so sad is that I don't really know much more about Ellen then my little girl memories. She died with I was 15 and I was just a 15 year old girl that though everyone would live forever. I didn't stop crying the entire showing, through the funeral. I was afraid what would happen at the farm without Ellen there, a fear that was well founded.
I wish that I had a chance to ask her why she stayed. Why she didn't leave and move back to Georgia or in with my parents (who had asked her several times). I wish I asked her why she put up with Mae's laziness and the way she treated her. I wished I asked why she never married and had kids, especially now I wish I knew those things. I wish I could ask her about her faith and about those people that she had whispered conversations with.
But Ellen still taught me things. She reminded me in the midst of Mae and Betty's ugliness that I was loved. That I was worthy and accepted. She taught me generosity and patience. I learned that even when it seems like you're floating in the middle of an ocean abandoned that there is someone there that sees you and loves you.
She's still teaching me those things.
I'm turning 30 this year. I will have spent as much time alive without Ellen as I have with her this year. I still miss her so much every day. When things are all complicated and turned around in life, I sometimes still pretend that she's sitting in the hallway, whatever hallway I may be by, just sitting there and making sure I'm safe. I'm also standing firm on her faith, that one day when I die I will be reunited with her in Heaven and that we will be together again.