A Pennsylvania Love Story
While we were in Western Pennsylvania this weekend, my sister Cindy and I had lunch with our Aunt Melvina, Aunt Mel for short. She is my Dad’s brother’s widow. She’s a forthright woman who loves us dearly. And we love her. We picked Aunt Mel up at her immaculately kept home. She maintains it herself: shovels the snow, rakes the leaves, mows the grass, hangs the Christmas lights, cleans it thoroughly inside and out every day. I really mean it when I say you can eat off the hood of her car or the floor of her wood-paneled garage that has pretty curtains starched and hanging in each window.
She’s a force, Aunt Mel. She’s funny and welcoming and boy can she tell a story. I love to hear her talk about our family’s history. During our visit Cindy and I hit the jackpot of storytelling; I’d like to share some of the highlights with you.
We talked for hours. We learned more of Aunt Mel’s life story. We heard about how she met our Uncle Francis at a bar when he was “drunk as a hoot owl.” We found out she weighed a mere 98 pounds when she married him in her early twenties. She told us she was so thin and shapeless that she begged her mom to purchase the hoops that went under wedding dresses in those days so she’d look curvier.
She told us about how she and Uncle Francis would go deer hunting together, roast kielbasa on an open fire and watch as the does came close to the savory smell of the wood smoke. She told us how Uncle Francis would never shoot a doe because they cried like babies. It sent chills down my spine to hear that.
My Aunt Mel and Uncle Francis never had children; they were a team. The two of them went everywhere together and seemed to really have a good time all the time. Aunt Mel told us Uncle Francis was a good looking guy when he was young, and as she spoke, a photo memory of him flashed through my brain: combed-back hair, pleated-front trousers, socks with subtle designs on them and dark shiny shoes. Aunt Mel was always dressed beautifully too; I remember a matching sweater set, a wide full skirt, pearls around her neck and little black flats on her feet. They made a striking couple. I wish I had a photo to show you what a striking couple they made.
As she talked Aunt Mel reminded us how Uncle Francis survived a bout with bladder cancer. And how twenty-eight years later he developed colon cancer. It spread. He was in agonizing pain toward the end. She told us how their beautiful home became a hospital ward with a bed set up in the living room and all his powerful pain medicines lined up on a table. Their priest came and went almost daily.
And then Aunt Mel told us this:
As he was dying Uncle Francis asked his priest, “Father, why won’t they open the gates and let me in?”
His priest replied, “Francis, our Heavenly Father doesn’t have your bed ready yet. When it’s time He will send his Angel to get you.”
A short time later, the Angel came and Uncle Francis left this earth.