She lived with the people

My Aunt Evelyn was a spare woman, and neat in personal appearance.  She wore her hair twisted up in a soft bun, and belted dresses, with a fresh pressed hankie tucked into the belt.   At her house jam always went into a small glass bowl with a spoon. It never appeared on the table in its jar.

She was the eldest of eight children,  and it showed. They had an aunt and uncle raising only one son, who had comparatively more, and often hosted at Christmas.  While my father, the fifth, remembered the largess of his Aunt and Uncle’s Christmas spreads, “I think he tried to see if he could make us sick,”  she remembered the mountains of dirty dishes.

She never traveled light, and rarely arrived anywhere on time.  Once in my childhood, my parents arrived in Toronto from Africa just before  Aunt Evelyn made a trip back from Haiti.  It was arranged that she would drive with us to Alberta in our small family car (the black one with running boards).  My mother was apprehensive about the amount of luggage that might accompany her.  However Aunt Evelyn came off the plane with virtually nothing.  “I had so much, she explained, that it was cheaper to send it air freight.”  The air freight went by train.

My Aunt was not used to backing down in an argument, nor was her brother.  Once early in their marriage, my parents and my aunt had occasion to travel together by train.  In the dining car the two siblings ordered buttermilk.  When it arrived dad was delighted.

“Evelyn, this is the REAL thing, not that cultured stuff.”

“This is good, Norman, but you’ve forgotten. This is not the real thing.”

He persisted. She persisted. Finally my mother timidly interposed and suggested that perhaps one glass contained “real” and one  “cultured”. They both rounded on her for that improbable notion.  Then the conductor came by, and he said.

“We usually serve natural buttermilk, but this morning we ran short, and . . . ”

My Aunt spent 40 years in Haiti, serving with a Christian organization and it is to my shame that I cannot account for how she spent her time there or in what way she communicated the love of Christ.

I do know something of the how. Once she told me of the time a man had come to the home of a co-worker  and being tired from walking, asked for a glass of water.  The daughter of the house went and brought one. She  just handed him the glass, and offended terribly.   She should have served it correctly off a tray. When I went to Africa I remembered.  It is often not what you do, but how you do it.

Once, visiting a “black” church in Dallas my husband met a young woman who had, surprisingly, just spent time in Haiti with my aunt.  She said of her, simply, “She lives with the people.”


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