About five years ago, Miss Emma Flora Jamieson, a fastidious, meticulous, never-married perfectionist, passed away at her retirement home in Toronto at the great age of 93. Her family members were at a loss about how to mark her death. What would be appropriate? Should they have a memorial service? A funeral? Nothing?
During the family discussion, some comments and perfectly valid questions arose:
Auntie Emma had been in the retirement
home for almost fifteen years.
Most of her friends had already died.
Who on earth would attend her funeral?
What would be the point?
Would Auntie Emma want us to spend this much money?
Emma’s elderly brother and a niece who looked after her affairs made the final decision. They would go ahead with a service to celebrate her life and to acknowledge their loss. The number of people who might attend was insignificant. Those she loved most would be there.
On the day of the funeral, the minister welcomed everyone and then turned the service over to the family. The oldest niece, Esther, shared Auntie Emma’s life story.
“Our Aunt Emma Flora Jamieson was born on August 4, 1919 to a farming family in southern Ontario. She was the second child in a family of four. As a young girl, she learned her way around the barn, but had no plans to spend the rest of her life milking cows, slopping pigs and chasing hens. She had her own ideas — pretty revolutionary for the day.
Auntie Emma loved school and excelled academically. She was far more interested in pursuing a career than getting married and having children. A few of her classmates attended nursing school or teachers’ college, but those careers held no appeal for her. The rest of them got married and raised a family.
Choosing a different path — she moved to Toronto to attend Secretarial School. She mastered shorthand, typewriting, filing and bookkeeping. This led to a rewarding forty-year career at one of Canada’s national newspapers.
Auntie Emma was unusually prim and proper. She was very particular about her appearance — especially her hair and clothing. Anything less than perfect was simply unacceptable. Over the years, she had accumulated an enviable collection of classic clothing, shoes, purses and accessories. Auntie Emma refused to be seen in public without her double strand of pearls and matching clip on earrings.
She was a child of the Great Depression and left a deep mark. A “cash-only” gal, she would never purchase anything “on time.” She watched her money carefully and only bought quality items that were on sale. She lived by a simple rule of thumb: “Take care of your pennies and your dollars will take care of themselves.” Over the years, she had saved and invested wisely and had accumulated enough money to enjoy a lengthy, comfortable retirement.
Auntie Emma insisted on being self-reliant. She would not accept help from a man for anything. She learned to wield a hammer, screw driver, paint brush, drill and other tools skillfully all by herself. Her well-stocked toolbox would intimidate any man. She was a feminist before the word existed.
Some of our friends Iwere scared of her, but we knew that behind her bespectacled, stern face, she was nothing more than a teddy bear with a soft, soft heart.
Rest in peace, Auntie Emma.”
And with that, Esther returned to her seat.
More nieces and nephews went to the front to tell stories about their experiences with Auntie Emma. It was time for some celebrating to lighten the heavy atmosphere.
One of them shared that Auntie Emma loved everything tight, very tight, humming tight — shoelaces, braids, hair curlers, jar lids, belts and anything else that could be tightened.
Everyone giggled when a niece shared that Auntie Emma felt it was her responsibility to teach the girls how to shave their legs with her fancy electric shaver. She also showed them how to have beautiful nails without spending a penny.
A great-nephew revealed that at every family gathering, Auntie Emma reminded him that she had always wanted to go for a canoe ride, until he finally agreed. It would not be an ordinary canoe ride. He helped her get settled in the canoe. Once they were well away from the shore, the great-nephew began to rock the canoe wildly from side to side. (Tsk!Tsk!) Great-auntie Emma’s blood-curdling screams were his reward. That was her first and last canoe ride, but she did not hold it against him.
Humour changed to nostalgia. Each family had received one of her trademark afghans. As well, she had knit a sweater for each person. At Christmas time, they looked forward to her mincemeat tarts and shortbread cookies.
Auntie Emma loved each one of them dearly. She always wanted to know how they were doing at school or work. She kept an up-to-date photo album for each family. Naturally, every photo contained a name and date.
One niece spoke about Aunt Emma’s deep faith in God, certain that she prayed for each one of them by name every day. With a quivering chin she managed to say, “Auntie Emma, you left footprints on our hearts and life will never be the same without you.”
The final speaker, a retirement home friend, stepped up to the microphone to talk about their Auntie Emma’s life at the home. She belonged to a group of ladies who gathered from 1-4 p.m. every afternoon for tea and a lively discussion of current affairs. Auntie Emma read the newspaper from front to back every day and was always itching to debate the state of the economy, politics, religion, money, world affairs and the politicians of the day — all the taboo subjects. Auntie Emma had a well thought, persuasive opinion about EVERYTHING and held nothing back.
The pastor shared a few parting thoughts and the ceremony drew to a close. It had been more memorable than any of them could have imagined in advance. Nobody seemed eager to leave. Family members wanted to continue to talk about Auntie Emma and to catch up with some cousins they had not seen for a while. Memory-rich conversations, laughter and tears continued during the reception.
Yes, it is true that Miss Emma Flora Jamieson never married nor had children of her own, but that did not limit who she would become. She had lived a rewarding, fulfilling life. She had influenced the lives of her nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews and friends in numerous ways.
It would have been a shame if her relatives and friends had done nothing to celebrate her long life, to acknowledge all she had done for them and to express how much they would miss her.
If only everyone had an Auntie Emma — a country girl who made the world a kinder, safer, funnier, more organized and more compassionate place — one niece or nephew at a time.