I’ve thought a lot about my St. Louis Cardinals-loving Great-Aunt Ella during these past couple of weeks of baseball. So in honor of her and the World Series Champion Cardinals, I’m reposting something I wrote in May of 2009: Persevere to the end, like Ella.
Memorial Day brought up thoughts for me of other people who have since passed from this life to the next. I am blessed to have many in my extended family who are easy to respect and love. One of the best who went to be with Jesus a few years ago is my Great-Aunt Ella.
Ella was a pistol. She was a product of the South, living her entire life in Missouri. She loved her church and she loved her baseball Cardinals. Her southern accent tickled my northern ears – I remember many happy gatherings at my grandparent’s cabin in southern Minnesota that included Ella. After her brother, my grandfather, died in 1991, she told my mother that she had never liked the name Ella and wanted to be called Francis. And that’s what they called her until she died. In her 70’s she traveled to Haiti on a short-term mission with her church. Well into her 80’s – maybe even longer – she was active at her church.
I write about her on this blog because Ella was also the mother of a severely disabled daughter. Dorothy, my mother’s cousin, suffered a severe injury at the hands of the doctor delivering her. There were no lawsuits against rural doctors in those days; it just happened. But there were institutions for such severely disabled children, to relieve the burden, and probably the shame, that was foisted upon these families.
That wasn’t how it was going to be for Ella. Dorothy was her child, and Dorothy would live at home and be raised by her parents. In the early 1960’s, Ella’s husband suddenly died of a massive heart attack. If I’ve done my math correctly, Ella would have been in her 40’s, and Dorothy nearly 20 when that happened. Now a widow, Ella would take care of Dorothy on her own for the next 20 or so years, until Dorothy also died in the early 1980’s.
This was all before Section 504 of the Voc Rehab Act, mainstreaming, Americans with Disabilities Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or even curb cuts and ramps. It was a time of great prejudice against African Americans and an expectation that people with disabilities be hidden away from public view. And my Aunt raised her daughter and cared for her for more than 40 years.
I never once heard her complain about her daughter.
I only met Dorothy a couple of times – she couldn’t travel with my Aunt – and she had very little language. To my childish eyes, she was scary, with sudden movements and loud noises. I was afraid to ask questions, and didn’t quite know what to think about her. Dorothy was not hidden away; when we visited Ella in her home, there was Dorothy. When Dorothy died I was a teenager, and not sure if I should be happy that Dorothy was gone, or sad for my Aunt. When we traveled to Missouri, I saw that Ella grieved deeply, but as one who has hope.
When my Paul was born, it was my Great Aunt who understood how my wife was feeling because she had been there. When Dianne would talk about people staring at Paul and at us, Ella had her own stories, and that beautiful Missouri accent was a balm to my soul. She loved me, my wife, and my son deeply.
Most of all, Ella loved Jesus. She understand “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” And she persevered, right to the end, not wasting her life, because she believed in the promises of her God, for herself and for her daughter:
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. Psalm 68:5
I look forward to seeing her, and Dorothy, again someday – worshipping together our God who gave us my Paul and her Dorothy to help us see Jesus more clearly.