Aunty Hilda 1916-2010
Aunty Hilda died in July last year, one month shy of her 97th birthday. In her high school years she ran track and played basketball, and when I asked her one time what she'd wanted to be when she grew up, she said, "A race car driver!"
She was definitely ahead of her time.
During WWII she worked in a can factory, CCC, a regular "Rosie the RIveter", helping the war effort. She and her husband moved to Tampa to live with our family (my mom was her sister) when her husband couldn't find a job in Miami. We built on to the back of the house and all lived together for the duration of the war.
So we go back a long way, and when her son called me last year saying her care was more than he could manage, I said, "Bring her down and let her stay with me and Daisy." Daisy is my bichon-poodle with an attitude problem (she's known as a bitchy-poo around here), but she and Aunty Hilda had a long mutual love affair. Aunty Hilda called her "Precious Girl" and Daisy responded most of the time like any spoiled little girl -- she loved it!
The last week of Aunty Hilda's life began on Thursday before 4th of July, 2010. At 2 in the morning, she called, "Gerry, come down here, you've got to see this! Hurry!" I bounded down the stairs, bashing myself on the wall en route (I'd been asleep and thought she'd fallen again) and when I arrived panting, she said, "Look, there's a little baby bear climbing through that knothole in the fence. Isn't he the cutest thing?"
I was understandably confused. However, I realized it was something she was seeing, and said, "Gee, I've never seen anything like that," and returned to my bed.
The rest of the weekend Aunty Hilda sat at the sliding glass door in the kitchen watching animals in our patio. Daisy sat right beside her, peering out. Aunty Hilda kept up a running commentary to Daisy and to me, "Oh, they're eating the leaves on your tree!" or "Is that a dead dog in the patio?" I assured her it was not. And when she began to worry, "They're coming to try to steal Daisy!" I calmed her and told her it was all right, the patio door was locked.
The following Tuesday the Hospice nurse told me she was in what is called "terminal agitation" and it was a 24 hour watch process. Since I wasn't able to stay up 24 hours a day with her, they transported her to the lovely new Hospice center on Wednesday. I went in to visit her that evening and she was calm and tranquil, eyes closed, resting peacefully. When I stroked her hand and spoke to her, she patted me and said, "Precious Girl." Her last words to me were to the dog. How great is that!
We had a wonderful year, full of memories and nostalgia. The sago palm at the head of this article is a picture of hers from her patio just before the hurricanes of 2004 destroyed it. It was 35 years old, a twin sago palm with twin nurslings. Her large brain cactus can be seen at the Heathcote Gardens in Fort Pierce FL where it rests in a place of honor among other unusual cacti.