Mama died when I was a baby. I don’t remember her. Papa said that when she laughed, even the birds paused to listen. Madeline, my big sister, talked about baking day with Mama and about the gardenia scent that clung to her Sunday-go-to-meeting dress. My brothers, Bob & Jim, both were so busy helping Papa run the household, especially when he went to the Roundhouse every day for his job, they mostly only remember Mama’s lunches she packed in their pails and her reprimands if they didn’t clean under their nails or behind their ears on bath day.
Every year on the anniversary of Mama’s death, our house was very quiet, as memories wrapped themselves like misty clouds around our spirits, slowly swirling through the unlocked doors of the past. They were always just beyond my grasp, so I would make up stories of soft, perfumed kisses upon my brow and sweet lullabies hummed while I sank in the cocoon of Mama’s embrace.
And, then, Auntie came . . .
I was born in 1889 in Anoka, Indiana, where I lived my childhood. My father owned the village store, where I loved to wait on customers. My brother Jim, also helped there occasionally. Mae and Eunice, my sisters, and I helped Ma with baking and housekeeping when we weren’t in school.
One day, two ladies in town decided to start a Sunday School in our little schoolhouse and asked me to teach the children’s class. Later on, the Sunday School was moved into a large hall. I was one of 89 souls saved there at the first revival! A nice church was built in its place and my father paid for one of the beautiful stained glass windows, and our name was etched on it. What fulfillment and joy I experienced over the years as I took active parts in different acitivites of our church!
This church work actually laid the groundwork for God calling me to do missionary work at a Children’s Home in Urbana, Illinois a few years hence. As I sat on the train, rolling over miles and miles of unknown territory, my heart sang, “If Jesus Goes With Me, I’ll Go—Anywhere!”
I wondered as I ministered to the 80 children there, if I would ever marry and have babies of my own, I loved children so. But, that was not to be. Unexpectedly, my life took another detour. I remember as if it was yesterday, the message written on a scrap of paper Director Allison handed me that sunny, brisk Autumn morning. I had just finished playing tag with a class of youngsters, and breathless with laughter at their antics as we returned to the building, I was totally unprepared for the awaiting message:
“Idora died. Will you come for the funeral? Your brother, Delbert.”
In shock, I moved slowly through the motions of my duties as if in a dream, mulling over this tragedy. My brother, a widower with four young children! I knew Idora had never fully recovered from their youngest child’s birth several months ago, but I had no idea.
The more I prayed and pondered about my brother and my two nieces and two nephews, I felt God leading me to move to move to Michigan to help raise these precious children.
“But, Bertha, you can’t leave us! You’re needed much more here--what do you know about running an entire household? You’ll be sorry you left us!
To the contrary, the rewards I have received have been abundant! I became “Auntie” to my brother’s lovely children. I mothered them as best I could. I took them to church with me every Sunday, where I also continued to teach children’s Sunday School. I spent my years sharing their joys and sorrows and love. Madonna was not quite two years old when I arrived on the scene and so I am the only mother she remembers. No daughter and mother ever had more love for each other than we have had all these years! Her future husband and three sons were wonderful to me, including me in their plans and family circles. And when she passed away with cancer at such a young age, the cycle continued as I cared for her motherless 8-yr.-old little boy.
I’m still singing, “If Jesus Goes With Me, I’ll Go—Anywhere!” and if I could live my human life over, I’d like to live it in the very same way.
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