This morning my dear aunt, my father’s little sister, passed from this life. She was 93. She had lived with insulin dependent diabetes for fifty years. It is hard to do justice to describe this incredible woman. While she never bore children of her own, she became a mother to whole village, including my siblings and me.
As I describe in the video below, she suffered through incredible hardships, losing her mother to TB when she was two. She then lost her two older sisters to the same disease before she was in her teens. Then when she was 15 her father died from a heart attack in Sunday school. Then her brother, my father, was drafted to go fight on D Day.
Helen was married and (I think) it was her husband’s choice not to have children. Yet, she raised that husband’s niece and nephew as well as helped to raise my siblings and me. I’ve never seen anyone who was a better mom or loved children better than her. Later, like a bad novel, she discovered her husband had another wife in another city and, if I remember right, he did have a child with her. It was a very painful experience for Helen, as you can imagine.
Helen came to live in our home after she left her husband and the big old (built in early 1800s) log home where she had magical life far back in the hills of Tennessee. Her husband came looking for her with a gun and he and my dad had a stand off in our front yard, each man with a rifle. I was seven and hiding under my bed. But my dad was willing to give his life to protect his little sister.
With all these things said, Helen was the happiest person I’ve ever met. Her laugh was contagious and you could hear that laugh before you entered the room. She ran a beauty shop in a small Appalachian town (Fall Branch, Tennessee) for fifty years. It was the center of the town where news was shared and gossip abounded. If you read the book or saw the movie Steel Magnolias you will start to understand what that little beauty shop meant to our village. It wasn’t just for women as it would be the place for men to hang out too, if they wanted a good laugh or to know what was really happening in town.
When my dad became ill, aunt Helen moved back into our home to help care for him. When he was gone, she stayed and cared for my mom for the next thirty years. She stayed, based on a promise she had made to my dad on his deathbed.
Helen was cared for by our neighbor Billy for years, then in her last couple of years, my sister in Jacksonville. I can say that despite the isolation of COVID-19 (her having to go to the hospital alone) that Helen never had to live in the absence of love.
I must give up as there are not enough words to describe this incredible woman, the most loving, the most emphatic, the funniest woman I’ve ever met. Rest in peace dear Helen. Give my love to my dear mom and dad and your (and my) family that I never got to meet.