Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, Aunt Irma

Irma Margaret Richardson Holt Wood was born on October 24, 1915, and celebrated her 96th birthday yesterday. It has been over a year since I last visited with her in the Alabama town, Sylacauga, where I was born in the midst of World War II and where my mother and I lived either near and with her while my dad was in the Pacific arena. In fact, I went straight from the hospital to Irma’s home after I was born. That foreshadowed a long history of closeness with this special aunt.

Irma was born 14 months before my mother (Mom’s birthday was Christmas Eve, 1916), and the closeness of their ages engendered a special bond between them. My Mom had four sisters and two brothers, and all of them were especially intelligent and gifted. The first daughter, Mable, was the only college graduate among the siblings. All of the rest had the capability; but because they mostly came of age during the Great Depression, the cost of financing college degrees was prohibitive. Mom always said that Irma gave up the opportunity to go to college so that both of them could attend a business school instead.

Irma’s first child, Margaret, was born about 4-1/2 months after I was. Her second child, Marilyn, was born about two months before my sister. Though these cousins lived 40-50 miles away during my school years, they were my sister and my closest relatives and friends as we grew up. We seemed to spend together every holiday that was worth celebrating; and during the summer months we would spend weeks together. The closeness of our family relationships yielded a rather uncommon familiarity. Titling this post with “Aunt Irma” seems almost awkward, because we children all called our aunts and uncles by their first names, rarely preceded by “Aunt” or “Uncle.”

Irma’s first husband, Thurman Holt, was an independent grocer and was my substitute father for my first couple of years when my Dad served overseas in the Army. Thurman died as the result of botched surgery in the mid-50s, when malpractice lawsuits were almost unheard of. His grocery business already was suffering from the introduction of a chain grocery store in Sylacauga. I recall that his final surgery was for stomach ulcers. Irma, a stay-at-home Mom, was left pretty much penniless with two school-aged daughters. One of my uncles assisted her in getting a job as a bank teller, and she worked at that bank in jobs of increasing responsibility until she retired. With some assistance from that same uncle, she was able put both of her daughters through college; and both became gifted teachers.

Later, after I had started my college and seminary work and was away from the frequent family get-togethers, Irma married Robbie Wood, a kind and gentle man, who provided a level of comfort and security that she had not known before. Robbie’s family welcomed Irma and has continued to give attention and care to her even after Robbie’s death years ago.

Irma’s got a birthday card from me yesterday (if the Postal Service cooperated), but that card is a most inadequate symbol of what she has meant and continues to mean to me. She and an uncle who married my mother’s youngest sister are the last of the generation before me. Both are still in relatively good health. After these two and one older surviving cousin, I am now the fourth oldest member of the Richardson clan. I hope I can live with the faith, grace, strength, endurance, and optimism that my aunt Irma has modeled. Just think of all that she has experienced and seen since 1916. She is a family treasure. My love goes out to her on her birthday, though again I am far away.

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