I feel like I am moving too fast. Who was Hilda? My great-aunt.
The truth is I know so little about her personal life. I know she was living with her friends. It is those friends who helped her take care of us.
I know she was religious. The first person I knew who ever listened to James Dobson on the radio. He wasn’t a star like he is now. She used to read Reader’s Digest. Her faith was deep. But it wasn’t the church faith. She and her friends had their own concepts and beliefs. It was Christian.
When we were young she would paddle us when we got in trouble. For a while she used a wooden spoon. But we stole it and hid it in the firewood.
They had an idea of prayer pillows. Which at its root is not a bad idea. Prayer sessions consisted of beating a pillow with a bat. As a child we each had our own pillows. Sometimes we would sit on the pillows as well. When I got constipation though, they said it was the demon of lust. They tried to pray the problem away. Cast the demon out.
Hilda must have cared about us a great deal. She took us in. She even tried to be our teacher. She fed us, and nurtured us to the best of her ability. She was closer to my sister. I never felt like she didn’t love me. But, I never felt close to her.
I remember her making us pizzas on English muffins. Hot dogs, ketchup and cheese. They were tasty. She cooked them in a toaster oven. When they tried to make us pop-tarts, their regular toaster caught fire.
Hilda and her friend in a good way lived like a cult. They were a family of their own making. Held together by their own beliefs. And LaVonne was the cult head of the group.
She owned the land. And she wrote a newsletter for other people who shared their beliefs. I’ll never know how many people accepted the letter. But I believe she got donations from some of her readers. It was a Christian faith. With a twist. No, no FlavorAid.
My great-aunt seemed old when I was young. How old? I don’t know.
She came from a family with a lot of brothers. One of them was her twin, my grandfather. An example of what I don’t know. I don’t know when was her birthday.
She told a story of being a child. Her brothers were not always kind to her. Someone got some chocolate laxative. The boys didn’t want to share. They ate the whole thing. And suffered. Sometimes she would say she had a hatred for me. She said because of her brothers.
Maybe this is why my sister always seemed to have a closer bond to Hilda. But my sister was also younger. The person I felt closest to as a younger child was LaVonne.
After my brother was born we moved to Fresno. A long way away. And I didn’t see much of Hilda. It was a short move. Whatever relationship was there before the move, was gone. She faded into a friend. And over time even faded as a friend.
As she aged and I aged. She had health complications and I had growing up to do. There are no memories of her saying she missed me. I think she sent me a few letters. Saying she loved me, and filled with messages of faith and blessings. She was always a positive person, rarely speaking a bad word about anyone. Even my mother.
My own changes growing up come later in the story. But I withdrew from a lot of people. She was just one of them. It wasn’t hard. Not for me, but I don’t know how she felt about my sliding away. Once my sister said she had a dream I was falling into a deep hole. It was my teenage years.
She didn’t like my music. Didn’t like my posters. And those were just the things she knew about. Maybe not being the person she wanted me to become made me feel guilty. But I didn’t want to be that person either. The older I got the weak bond seemed weaker and weaker. In high school visiting her became a chore. Not a disagreeable one. But still something I felt like I did out of obligation.
My last memories of her are of her weak health. In the end she walked little. Said her feet would swell so she would raise them. She cut her shoes. The room is dark. We speak but not for long. I don’t recall what we spoke about. She was living in the same house as LaVonne. Who was taking care of her. Hilda was eating little.
As teen I felt like she should be fighting. I both felt like she had given up on life and was waiting for an end. And felt like this feeling wasn’t fair. How many times she would say, “Lord willing.” Meaning nothing happened without the Lord willing it to happen or not happen.
But I suppose the upset feeling was a feeling of loss. And I wouldn’t be feeling loss if I didn’t care about her. While her death didn’t make me sad. I did care for her deeply.
Albert Camus has a character in one of his books say a great quote.
“Everyone at some point wishes for the death of someone they love.”
I thought of my great-aunt. Sometimes you can see how tired someone is and know they are ready for the rest.
After high school comes college naturally. The distance meant I lost track of everyone. Her even more so than the rest. There are many things during these years I still don’t understand.
But, I never saw her again. At the funeral I felt like I was watching a movie, again. A couple months before I called her. There was a part of myself which knew I needed to call her. To tell her I loved her. The words I feared I hadn’t told her before. Words I speak to few people. Even now. I imagine she knew. But I had to tell her anyway.
Hundreds of miles away. And maybe our bond was like gravity. Weak but carrying over long distances. Because something must of pushed me towards knowing the end was near.
In the years since she passed I’ve hardly thought about her. I have a Bible. And when I look at it I think of her. She always insisted the Bible be on a stack of books. I guess the ways she made me who I am are so deep I don’t even see them. But they must be there.
I do think about her from time to time. Wonder what she would think of me now. Even as a child who would tell her, “I don’t care what you say this is my life.” I cared. As a teen with my music and my posters. I cared. If she was still alive today. I would care.
Maybe more so because I understand life more. And am growing into my own faith. My own spiritual path. Which like her’s isn’t a traditional path.