Friday, February 17, 2023

Aunt Berniece.

My mentors: Aunt Berniece, Aunt Lois, Mom, and Granny.
Strong, capable, devoted, loving.

Last week we celebrated the life of Aunt Berniece, my dad’s sister. And what a life it was! Throughout the funeral we heard about her service to others, her strength and strong will, her love for her family. Of course, none of that was a surprise. We were blessed to witness those qualities firsthand.  

Uncle Gerald, Aunt Berniece, cousin Annette, my dad, cousin Susan

Aunt Berniece (center) with my grandparents, Aunt Lois, and Daddy.

With Annette and Susan at my grandparents' 50th anniversary party

Widowed at 47, she faced multiple challenges, but her faith never wavered. In those years after my Uncle Gerald died, she took some vacations with my parents and me. I remember lots of singing and laughing on those road trips. 

We got into some trouble in Colonial Williamsburg.

And then there was the time we did a little shopping in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Daddy made some comment about limiting their shopping to what Mom and Berniece could fit in our car. Challenge accepted! They spent the drive home with their purchases on their laps, but they managed! 

When my dad died, Aunt Berniece was a steadfast source of strength and support for my mom, who was just 49 when Daddy passed away. When Brett and I got married the next year, she was quick to jump in and help with the planning and prep work. I don’t know how many birdseed roses she made, but I know it was a lot!

The roses were a family wedding tradition.

Aunt Berniece and our friend Lydia did a great job with rose assembly!

With Granny, Aunt Lois, and Uncle Don at my wedding

Helping my cousin Linda with my cake

Ryan and Katie loved going to Aunt Berniece’s house in Houston, just like I did when I was a little girl. We enjoyed so many meals, so much laughter, so much love there! Then that house—where she had lived for decades—flooded twice in two years. During one of those floods, as her refrigerator floated in the rising waters, she spent the night on her kitchen island until help could arrive. 

During Hurricane Ike, Aunt Berniece came to visit
my mom (and us!) for a few days.

At the funeral service, we heard all about the canasta and Mexican Train games Berniece organized, her much-loved senior camp retreats at Bandera, her volunteer work with her church's prison ministry, the way she would drive friends to church, how she was there every time the doors were open.

Playing Mexican Train at Susan's house

Those stories came as no surprise. We already knew how seriously Aunt Berniece took her games, and we had seen how she served others and shared Jesus. But a few years ago, I learned something new about Aunt Berniece. Her sister, my Aunt Lois, gave me the most precious steno pad. In it, my grandmother had written "A Sketch of Jim (Partial)," an account of my father's childhood with hemophilia. 

Granny wrote about how much Berniece and Lois doted on their little brother, trying to protect him from bleeds and bruises. Granny recounts the time that the sisters sulked because Granny had spanked Daddy! 

Check out Granny's response: "I realized he must be punished
or he would become a child that no one would love." Whoa.

A few pages later, Granny explains that because of Daddy's frequent hospitalizations and crazy medical bills, the family struggled financially. That's where Berniece came in.

In those pages I learned that Aunt Berniece, fresh out of high school, had taken a job as a bookkeeper. She "went beyond her responsibility" to help her parents pay the bills. Even though this was news to me, it shouldn't have been a surprise that she would do this, considering how much she loved her family.

With her daughter/my cousin Susan during one of our more recent visits to Houston 

In the last few years, anytime I talked to Aunt Berniece, she would provide an assessment of her current challenges, from health issues to moving into a senior living apartment. Regardless of the struggle, she could never complain without adding the same statement: "I'm blessed." Even as she outlived her siblings, in-laws, and friends, she never stopped counting her blessings.

As Aunt Berniece would say, "Well..." Well, my dear aunt, YOU were a blessing to all who knew you. We love you and we miss you, and we will never forget your strength, your spirit, and your inspiring life.

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