My Aunt Dell
Rose Adela Forwood was known to most people who loved her, me included, as Aunt Dell. I don’t know why she didn’t use the name Rose, but Aunt Dell suited her. She was a kind, generous, good-hearted woman who touched everyone she knew in a positive way.
Aunt Dell played a big part in the life of my mother, Barbara Yelton nee Forwood. Mom, as a teenager, would often stay weekends with Aunt Dell in her Baltimore apartment. The two of them went shopping, cooked, played Chinese Checkers, and talked about life. Aunt Dell never had children of her own, so she adopted my mother as her surrogate daughter. My grandmother was never really keen to do much aside of going to church and spending time at home, so Barbara was itching to go places and do things, and Aunt Dell fit the bill. They went on church outings, to the department stores in Baltimore like Hoschild Kohn’s, eating lunch in the basement cafeterias they had in those places.
They also went to a couple of Oriole games. One of them was on September 30th, 1958, and it wound up being Hoyt Wilhelm’s no-hitter, the first in Oriole history, against the soon-to-be World Champion New York Yankees. Aunt Dell loved her baseball, a gift I ended up sharing with her.
She was an independent woman. She insisted on living alone in her top floor Falls Road apartment, just up from her downstairs neighbor Miss James. Aunt Dell cooked for herself, kept her place very clean, and rode the buses downtown to do her shopping and get about, as she never drove.
Fortunately, she seldom needed to ride the bus, as people were always coming by the place to help her out. She seemed to have lots of visitors and well-wishers, young and old, who were always willing to drop by and say hi. And she loved it.
Aunt Dell held court wherever she was. She was just so engaging, and she always had a crowd around her, because she loved to share gossip about the family, and talked about who she saw this week, and she loved to laugh. People were just drawn to her, and even my father, who never got along with anybody, liked her a lot. She was the embodiment of the good Christian woman. She always had time for anyone, and never turned anyone away. She enjoyed life, and it showed.
One thing everyone would remark about her is her hair. It stayed black well into her eighties. Many people thought she dyed it, but she didn’t. It was all natural, and besides, dying hair was not something a self-effacing woman born around the turn of the 20th century would do. She was raised in a good, strict Christian home, and those folks didn’t believe in all that newfangled stuff.
She would often visit our home for a week at a time. We were poor, and lacked simple amenities such as an indoor bathroom, but Aunt Dell didn’t mind. After all, she was raised on a farm, and they didn’t have indoor toilets, either. She never saw people for what they owned, but what they had on the inside.
In the same way she adopted Mom as her surrogate daughter, she adopted my sister Sherry and me as her surrogate grandchildren.. Us kids loved her. We would get in bed with her, reciting lists of animals, states, colors, anything, and eventually fall asleep. And the next day, we’d have more fun. For me, it was usually reading. I was reading at two, and I read aloud to her a lot as a five and six-year-old. I enjoyed doing that, and she enjoyed hearing me.
Aunt Dell had problems with her legs, and those stairs at her apartment must have killed her, but every time we came by to see her, she would have a big smile on her face as she apologized for how long it took to come down the stairs. We would always say hi to Miss James, and go upstairs. Sherry would help Aunt Dell with making cookies or doing dishes and Mom would give her a bath sometimes or just trim her fingernails and toenails as she got older. Mom, a geriatric nurses’ aide, did this willingly, without hesitation. It was our way of repaying Aunt Dell for her helping us.
I was her adopted grandson, and she took me into town on the bus to buy me a suit, or a bed, or sometimes just go out to get a meal. She was very proud of me, and after all the problems I had getting along with the other kids in school, it was gratifying to know that at least one person who didn’t live with me loved me and was in my corner.
She had lots of adopted grandchildren. I think it was a shame she never got married, as she would have been a great mother. (The man she was supposed to marry died two weeks before the wedding, and she never dated again.) But as the well-known Aunt Dell, she got to mother lots of kids, who loved and adored her.
My great aunt was a church-going woman. When asked, she would share her beliefs in God, and how she looked forward to going to heaven, not that she was in a hurry to do so, but she shared her faith with others, not in a beat-you-over-the-head kind of way, but in a nurturing fashion that isn’t seen much anymore. She lived each day with a smile on her face, filled with the spirit of the Lord.
And she loved her baseball. She never missed an Oriole game on tv or on the radio if tv wasn’t available in those pre-cable days. One of my cousins gave her a huge Jim Palmer poster, as he was her favorite player. Every time Jim was due to pitch, she would kiss his picture for good luck. She used to watch the Orioles on an old black-and-white tv with only a VHF dial. In 1983, my cousin Ellen Cronhardt bought her a new color set, so she could actually see the games in color without ghosts.
As she got older, Aunt Dell couldn’t get around as much, but people kept doing things for her. My Mom would ride up there almost every weekend to help her out, I know Aunt Dell appreciated this very much, but it must have made her sad to realize she needed such help to do mundane things like take a bath or do the dishes. She was a very independent woman, and I think she didn’t like have other people do things for her.
She would often talk about what would happen upon her death, how she wanted things taken care of, and pointing out china and coins and heirlooms, and who she wanted to get each thing. This was a woman who wasn’t going to leave the earth until everything was taken care of.
Eventually, with her memory fading, she had to be put in a home. The last straw was when she left a pot cooking on the stove, forgot about it, and it almost burned the place down. Luckily, someone came to visit that day, and turned off the offending smoke-filled pot before it set fire to the walls. From then on, Aunt Dell would have to go in a nursing home.
She went to Chapel Hill Nursing Home in Randallstown, Maryland, a place that both Mom and I used to work. Aunt Dell was loved there by the staff, and had lots of visitors, so she made do just fine for awhile. I think privately she was very happy she didn’t have to cook any more, and as she was always sociable, she liked her fellow residents. She did arts and crafts, and read her Bible, and watched Oriole games.
She died in 1987 after having been in and out of the hospital for awhile. She had asked to be buried with a pin I had made for her in sixth grade art class. It was just a bar of metal painted yellow with a couple of threads of something on there. She wore that pin to Christmas one year after I asked her, and I she wore it a lot. I didn’t go to her viewing, and the funeral was a closed-casket one, so I never got to see her to say goodbye. I regret my selfishness to this day, it’s something I wish I could take back.
Aunt Dell may have died physically in 1987, but she’s always in our hearts. We’d talk about her making cookies, or her love of cats, or how she loved baseball, or how well she treated people, and she lived on. It’s funny,…when my Mom would speak sometimes, I’d hear Aunt Dell. Same cadence, same expressions, same enunciations,…strange that my Mom would sound more like her aunt then her own mom or dad. Aunt Dell lived on in my mother, until my Mom’s passing in 2007 of pancreatic cancer. My Mom was valued just as highly as Aunt Dell by folks over the years. I said my mom didn’t have to wait in line to go to heaven. She got in the express lane. Aunt Dell? She walked right in. And heaven became a better place.