Our Cousin Gladyses and Aunt Bettys

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There are always certain people who leave marks on our lives, some more profoundly than others. These special people shape our lives in ways that we never imagined.

Many times, at this time of year when we reflect on everything and everyone that we are thankful for, naturally the first people that come to mind are our immediate family and close friends whom we interact with most every day. But, this year two very special ladies come to mind who influence every day of my life. Ironically, one is from Jim’s family and one is from Ron’s. Then there is my Aunt Sharlene whom I’ll talk about later because she truly is in a category all her own.

Jim’s “cousin” Gladys came into my life quite unexpectedly one year. When we went back to Pennsylvania one time, he said he wanted to stop and see his cousin Gladys who really wasn’t his cousin. Huh? As it turns out, she was really his second, or third cousin, sort of. We never really did sort it all out. What I do know is that she was a delightful lady in her 80’s at that time who, over the next few years, changed my world.

She still lived alone in the same farmhouse where she had lived with her husband and raised a family. She loved pizza and pop and told it like it was. She always greeted us with a big smile and a hug and never complained about her woes although she dealt with several health issues. She loved showing us pictures of her family and always proudly pointed out that, even though some of her kids went through divorces and changed husbands or wives, she didn’t change her walls. They proudly displayed pictures of the “kids, in-laws and outlaws” as she referred to the ex’s.

 Fiercely independent, she taught me that you can do anything if you have a strong enough will. Through the years I knew her, she demonstrated this over and over. When she broke her shoulder, she had trouble dressing but refused any help. One day I got the courage up and asked how she ever put her bra on. “I fasten it, lay it on the floor and then step into it and pull it up!”

But her greatest strength was her faith. It never waivered. Although she had gone through rough spots in her life, you never would have known because she always saw the good in people and the bright spots. She always said that is what God wanted her to do.

Nowhere did she demonstrate this more eloquently than when she had to relent and go into an assisted living facility. Though she had to rely on a wheelchair to get around and had eye issues, we were always hard-pressed to find her in her room when we went to visit. She was always in the halls or in other patients’ rooms helping them. Whether it was physically helping them to do something, or lifting their spirits, she was there. Some had a hard time coping with leaving their homes so she was always helping them to understand that “things could be worse, you always look on the bright side.”

This is what she instilled in me; no matter how bad your situation is, there is always someone who is worse off and if you trust in God, He will get you through. Much of my strong faith today, the faith that has gotten me through so many tough times, I owe to Gladys. Thank you.

Cousin Gladys

Since I have known Ron, I have gotten to know his “Aunt Betty.” Here again, she is not really his aunt, but rather, a cousin down the line somewhere. We still haven’t figured this one out yet either.

Ron and her have always had a special relationship, so much so that when I came into the picture, she was downright jealous telling him, “I thought I was your girlfriend!”

But, as is her nature, she has since welcomed me with open arms and also taught me how to truly love life. As it turns out, we are carved out of the same mold. She has been an accomplished photographer, painter, loves rocks and has done some very creative crafts. She finds joy in everything she does.

She, like Gladys, has succumbed to leaving her home and is in an assisted living facility. Every time we visit, she always tells us how she wants to go home but she also tells us how many nice people she has met there. That is her special gift. It doesn’t matter what is going on, how bad her hip hurts her or how ugly the day is, she always sees the sunshine and the good. With the cold weather and the hard frosts, all the flowers are gone, but she points out how she saved one from Jack Frost’s sting by bringing it inside. It sits in a glass of water on her table. This is her. As a dear friend Susie put it when talking about Betty, “What’s not to love!”

Every day that I find it hard to start the day, I think of Aunt Betty and how she treasures life and all those in it, in spite of her situation. It keeps me going.

Aunt Betty

I had an Aunt Maxine (yes, she was my real aunt) that loved life. She drove too fast, smoked too much and drank a beer at precisely 4:00 every afternoon. There was never a day that she didn’t cram as much into every minute that she could. From the short time that I knew her, she also taught me to step out of my safe place and to truly experience life.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have my Aunt Sharlene, my “second Mom” who has taught me how to walk through life with kindness and love instead of hostility and negativity. She is a true woman of God who has literally shown me how treating people with love and kindness can conquer all. In everything she finds true joy. She is always there for me…period. There is no other blessing that that is so treasured. 

Aunt Sharlene

The greatest compliment that I could ever receive and the greatest accomplishment I could ever have is for someone to say that I am like my Aunt Sharlene.

I like to think that who I am is a unique combination of these four ladies. So, during this season of thankfulness and time of reflection, of all the things that I have for which to be thankful, I think the lessons that these women have given me are the most special. I do love life and all it has to offer. I am thankful for all those family and friends who bless me each day.

Sometimes we forget the quiet people in our lives who influence us in such profound ways. This Thanksgiving when asked what I am thankful for, I will definitely give thanks for Aunt Sharlene and my “Cousin Gladyses and Aunt Bettys!”

Photos Property of Lois Hoffman