In memory of my aunt
Posted on June 18, 2013
My aunt Celia passed away two days ago at age 92, the last remaining member of my father’s family. They were born and raised in a tiny hardscrabble farming village in New Brunswick, Canada. Celia had 14 kids and lived a life that sounds more 19th C. than 20th C., baking a dozen loaves of fresh bread every morning in a wood fired stove, hand washing clothes when water was still hand pumped from a well and water was heated on the stove top, and people grew or raised much of what they ate. She was a big woman and strong not only phsyically, but in every way that matters. I wrote the following to my cousins, her kids, and share it because Celia was never widely known, but deserves to be remembered.
Dear Diane and Wayne and Donna and Jimmy and….
Wait, this will be a really long greeting if I include everyone! Not to mention nearly 40 grandchildren and nearly another 40 great grandchildren. What a send-off Aunt Celia will have with such a crowd and I am sorry I can’t be there to see everyone and to join in honoring her and saying goodbye.
I’m the one member of the LeBlancs who had the least amount of time with Celia just by virtue of coming onto the scene so much later, so Gladys and Donald and Frankie and Betty Ann have story after story. In contrast, I have only a handful. But they capture for me the gentleness and intuition and kindness of your mother. The first was when I was a kid and spending some part of the summer at Ronald and Bella’s and terribly homesick. Your mom didn’t ask me how I felt or console me with words. She got one of you to take me out on an old workhorse and to ride around and when we did that and got back to the house there was blueberry pie waiting. And I had forgotten my homesickness. Not because of anything she said, but because she knew a kid had to be distracted and have some fun and to find some comfort in the world’s best blueberry pie (don’t tell my mother I said that….). She just knew what to do. And did it.
A second memory I will hold dear is of her coming to visit when our father was dying and she and I found ourselves just sitting one evening while he restlessly slept. We just talked quietly – about nothing profound really; how our kids were doing and how I liked my then new job – and in the quiet darkness and while no longer a kid, I again found comfort in her strength and presence. We had nothing profound to say to each other in those moments when we are confronted with life’s most profound questions. She knew that sometimes it is better to say less and be there more.
Aunt Celia was a big woman, but not someone of big gestures or big talk. She just always knew to do the right thing and to communicate her care and love and support in being there, providing, working hard, and making sure she was taking care of others in the simple ways she could. In that presence, she had a kind of wisdom and dignity that feels ever more rare in this noisy, posturing world. And behind that look that could frankly be a bit intimidating, there was a wry sense of humor and ability to laugh that reminds me of dad’s. God knows they were close and a lot alike and I think it’s why he and my mother have always had such affection for all of you, because you have the best qualities of your mom.
It’s funny. None of those LeBlancs were famous or rich or maybe even talented in the ways our culture celebrates today, but they were larger than life. They worked harder than anyone I know, endured more than their fair share of suffering, survived really hard times, and not only didn’t complain, but found lots of room in their hearts to take care of others and laugh and delight in kids. It’s like a race of legendary characters has left us now with your mom’s passing and I’m not sure we’ll see their like again. I’m pretty sure we won’t see her like again.