My Aunt Gladys has always been a treasure to me. She and Uncle Lester, who is now deceased, often cared for me and my brother when we were children. It was a period of uncertainty in our family’s life, as mother and daddy would travel to doctors in Galveston and El Paso searching for treatments for his failing heart. Gladys, Lester and their son (my cousin) Danny would move into our house, an extended family there to provide comfort and nurturing when we most needed it.
She is our Decker matriarch and, this weekend, I am incredibly excited to attend her 90th birthday celebration. As the only living aunt in the Decker clan she carries on the family traditions and knows our stories better than anyone else. Her kind, loving and happy spirit is always on display when she greets us. I am so grateful that her children, my cousins, share her with the rest of us.
Contemplating this celebration of Aunt Gladys’ milestone birthday has made me reflect on my childhood. When mother and daddy were traveling, I missed them horribly and would cry constantly. The only place that I felt safe was sitting in Aunt Glady’s lap. Aunt Gladys and Uncle Lester treated me and my brother like their children and for that I am eternally grateful.
I remember how my cousin, Danny, and I used to play hide and seek outside. After a while, Aunt Gladys would call us to come inside for a home-made snack. She loved to make my favorite treat, a frosted saltine cracker. She would mix powdered sugar with a small amount of water and use it to top the cracker. It seems simple, but I thought it was the best. As far as I knew, only Aunt Gladys made them. Because you couldn’t buy Aunt Gladys’ treats at the store, they were special.
After daddy died and my baby sister, Ina Beth, was born, mother went to work as the PBX operator at the local school district to support the family. As a nine-year-old, I was fiercely protective of Ina Beth, but I knew that when Aunt Gladys babysat her, she was in good hands.
It’s hard to believe some days, but I’m seventy-one years old. Just recently, I realized that Aunt Gladys is only nineteen years older than me. She, and my Uncle Lester, were like second parents. It surprises me how many memories I have of them. The last memory I have of the whole family together – Aunt Gladys, Uncle Lester, their children Danny and Leslie, mother and daddy, my brother, Rodney and me – was when their new baby Debbie was born. The year was 1956, and we went to Aunt Gladys and Uncle Lester’s house to ooh and ahh over our Debbie and to watch the Ed Sullivan Show.
It was the famous show where Elvis Presley was performing, and I distinctly remember the consternation over his shaking and dancing. Some thought his way of moving was vulgar but, in fact during that performance, the camera only filmed him from the waist up. It’s funny how you recall details like that after so many years.
Later that same year, in June, daddy succumbed to his heart disease. I still miss him dearly but am appreciative of the time we had together. As these memories flood over me, I realize how incredibly important family is, especially during the holiday season. As loved ones gather to celebrate the season, we find ways to pass the torch of family lore from generation to generation; contemplating the lives of those who have passed and sharing memories that those who are still with us can share as part of their own life’s story.
Happy Birthday, Aunt Gladys. I’ll see you on Saturday.
What are you some of your favorite family memories? Please share them with me in the comments.