Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mama Made the Difference | Substitute Teacher

As I read about Secretary of State Colin Powell's mother, it made me think of another substitute teacher I have been blessed with in my own life. My aunt Elsa (I have referred to her as Titi Elsie or Lala many times here on the blog).

I have such wonderful memories of times with Titi Elsie when I was a little girl.  I have always credited her with getting me started in the art of cross-stitching.  For my birthday or Christmas, she gave me a little beginners/children's cross-stitch kit and, from then on, it became a passion (until I became a mother).  I can also remember times when she watched Faye and me when my parents had to be out of town or had an obligation or commitment.  We would bake cookies (she is infamous for making the absolute best cookies in the entire world! Am I right, Victoria?) or do some other type of activity.  She was always one for making sure there was an activity for us to share in.  I remember one time in particular, she wasn't able to make it to my birthday party so she took me to McDonald's for lunch (I never forgot that).

When my family moved from New Jersey to Florida back in 1998, Titi Elsie and Uncle Johnny opened up their home to us and allowed us to stay (free of charge) until we could buy a home. We lived with them for 8 months, and we were never made to feel that we were an intrusion.  

Not only did my aunt take us in, but she we also the primary caregiver for my grandmother when she could no longer live alone. Grandma Adelaida lived with Titi Elsie until Grandma passed away in 2006.  

Family gatherings are always held at Titi Elsie's house.  There is just something about her home that makes you want to go there as early as possible and not want to leave until the last possible moment.  Hospitality is definitely her primary gift.

Service is also another gift that she has.  In 2006 after Grandma's funeral, my father (Titi Elsie's "little" brother) had to have eye surgery (torn retina and.... well, I won't go into any more of the gory details).  My aunt went to visit with my parents (always bearing a plate of chocolate chip cookies) and to just be there if she could do anything.

When Mom went into the hospital in 2008, Titi Elsie came just about everyday and stayed with us most of the day while Mom was in surgery (triple bypass for those of you who are new).  The night that Mom passed away, she drove the 30 minutes in the dark to get to the hospital to be with us.  She took Faye home with her that night.

Every day for the next 5 days she was at my parent's home, cooking, taking over kitchen duty, and just being there for us to cry on. 

When I went into Labor with Addie (2 weeks later), Titi Elsie came to the hospital about 8:30 in the morning to sit and be with us.  And she held a newborn Addie with the pride that a true grandmother would have.  She has even requested that Addie call her Lala the way her own grandchildren do.  

Titi Elsie comes for some girl time with me about every other week.  I really look forward to those times where I can share, laugh, pray, and even cry with her.  We always have coffee and a dessert. Once Addie wakes up from her nap, she gets Lala time.  

She is also a wonderful babysitter for Addie when we need her watched for a longer period of time.  We have enjoyed going out of our county on dates (hockey and baseball games) knowing that Addie is in good hands.  No matter how late we end up coming home, Titi always tells us that she is glad that we were able to go out together.

Despite having lost her own son suddenly last Christmas, Titi Elsie has continued to reach out to others who are hurting. 

I have learned through her, that family is important to keep close.  Gatherings are vital to the health of the greater family unit, and that by having relationships that span the generations eliminates the notion of the "generation gap".  She has taught me by example that a plate of chocolate chip cookies (and the person carrying them) can help to mend a sad and lonely heart.  And she has shown that selfless acts of love are not to be reserved only for immediate family members, but are to be shared simply because you love a person.

Thank you for the lessons that you have taught me, Titi Elsie.  You may not have even realized you were teaching me so many things.  I love you!


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