I don’t see Milda at first, because the adult care nurse is trying to wake her up.
As K and I file into the room, we see this tiny woman, startled out of her morning nap, slowly sit up, blinking and and trying to get her bearings.
So this is the infamous Aunt Milda, I think, my mind shuffling through all the things – for better or for worse – that I’ve heard about this lady.
Aside from her wee, skinny frame, she’s dressed in a patterned housedress and a beige head-tie. She puts her hand on her forehead and pulls it upward, as if the gesture helps her to see more clearly.
We tell her our names, and who we are, by way of our mothers’ pet names. It takes about several tries back and forth, but we think she eventually gets it. (As she tells us a bit later, she’s hard of hearing — but that tends to happen when you’re her age.)
I give her a scarf that my mom sent for her as a gift. She can’t use it in this heat, but hopefully she’ll make good use of it when the evenings get cooler.
I suddenly kind of lose my nerve and my brain briefly goes blank. What on earth do I ask her? Where do I start?
K kind of prompts me to start — we haven’t got all day — so I sort of stammer out my first question about her siblings …
The conversation’s not completely linear, but when Milda says something I recognize, I start jotting things down.
I ask (awkwardly) about Ellen and where she lived in Canada, and Milda mentions Montreal – she doesn’t mention any other place in our conversation – and that she died years ago. (This isn’t news to me.)
She mentions there were four sisters — which I presume includes Ellen and herself — and gives me the names of the others, who she says died in 1934 and 1936. (Close enough.)
She says Ellen returned to Jamaica in 1938, and that she actually had tried to send for Milda to come to Canada, but things didn’t pan out.* Her big sister suggested instead that she try going to live with her Uncle Jon in the United States. Sadly, that path never materialized either, as he died, and his widow returned to Jamaica.
Milda then mentions the names of her aunt — the sister of my great-grandmother, Jane Ann Clarke, who I’d found in records last November — and another uncle, whose names I’d discovered around the same time, but couldn’t be too sure of … until now. That’s one great-great-aunt and two great-great-uncles**!
She also reveals something else. In a low, almost mischievous tone, she proudly proclaims her age, and that she hasn’t told anyone – she’s not even sure her own children know how old she is! She says her 100th birthday will be next March.
After that, the conversation turns away from talk of family that’s passed, and she chatters about life in the home — how independent she is (and how she hopes to stay that way), perhaps even complaining about things, but she seems so happy as she speaks, it’s hard to tell.
She talks about the food and snacks she gets – I’m assuming they’re not exactly up to snuff – and K asks her what she would like Milda to bring her the next time she visits.
Without so much as batting an eyelash, she says, “I would really like some Kentucky Fried Chicken — it’s nice.” (I think it takes everything for either of us not to completely crack up.)
Before either of us forget, I snap a few photos on my smartphone. I can’t come all this way and not get a picture of the woman I’ve waited months to see!
When we ask, she pauses and — putting her hand to her forehead — says no … not until she can put on her wig. We smooth talk her into taking a photo just as she is, and voila.
I leave with my cousin with a lot of unanswered questions.
I still don’t know why Ellen left, what kinds of things she might have seen living in Canada, or when she died (other than “many years ago”).
But I hope (selfishly) that if Milda’s lived for this long, that she gets to live another year – I’d like to see her reach 100, and I’d like to see her again.
Now that we know where she is (for the time being), I hope that my relatives drop in from time to time to check up on her.
(Photos are mine. Please do not use without permission.)
*THIS is new information.
**I’ve actually found three great-great uncles through records. Even though Milda didn’t mention the third – and oldest – by name, confirming the others lets me safely assume that he’s also from the Clarke branch of the family.