I was trying to think about how my Aunt Aileen Anderson influenced my life. She was one of twelve kids in my mother's family who grew-up on a sugar beet farm in Michigan's Thumb and she died Wednesday at age 91 in a senior care community in West Virginia where she lived to be near her daughter Colleen.
Aileen was always part of my life. My mother was close to her younger sister. They talked and visited each other often. When I was a very young boy and my mother was sick in the hospital I stayed at her house where she and her husband Ron raised three children. They were married 71 years.
How did she influence me? The first thing that comes to mind is her gift of hospitality. My most clear memories of her involve food, sitting around a table at her house and eating a delicious meal and always feeling welcomed. She always had a smile and loved talking about how she cooked each course to make it as healthy as possible.
I was always struck by the energy with which she lived life. She was fully engaged with her immediate family and with her siblings and their families. Right beside her always was her husband Ron. They were a team that shared each other's life with meaningful mutual conversation and with support for each other when it was needed. They were there for each other.
When my mom and I were in a serious car accident in the late 1950s, Aileen was right there to make sure my seriously injured mother was watched over and taken care of and that I had a place to stay before my mom got out of the hospital.
I remember when their son Kent had a tragic death, Ron and Aileen were each other's constant support.
One more thing comes to mind. She told everybody about her faith in Jesus Christ and why it was important to her. It was the most important thing in her life, followed by her husband and her kids. Some may have winced when they heard it. She'd smile and remind you that you need to hear and believe and depend on it. That faith was the source of strength and hope that she relied on everyday of her life.
Why do I mention this?
I was born and raised by a single-mom who was a saint. Aileen and Ron who died last year gave me a template for everyday living and loving that has stayed with me. I'm part of their legacy.