Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Remembering Great Aunt Sally

My Great Aunt Sally, baby Sally's namesake, died on Friday, January 24, at the age of 84. Her pastor very graciously allowed me to share some memories and even co-officiate on some of the prayers at her funeral. In the regular print below is the text of the stories I shared. I know baby Sally won't remember her namesake directly, but she will surely know her through the stories we'll keep telling. 

My name is Annie Edison-Albright, I’m a Lutheran pastor and one of Sally’s great nieces. At John's funeral last year Sally asked me to speak at her funeral.  I wish I'd thought to ask her what she wanted me to say. Mostly, I just wish I could ask her, now, and listen to her stories one more time. But, if we all go to lunch after this and share our stories about Sally, I believe we will all have done right by her. She would like that.

As Pastor Lee mentioned, Sally had two siblings: a sister 10 years older than her, Norma, and a brother 7 years younger, Charlie. Norma was my grandma, my Umma. She died in 1992 at the age of 72, and Sally arranged for a basket of 72 daffodils to brighten up the funeral home on that snowy March day, a day just like this one.  You can see that there are 84 daffodils next to Sally's casket; those are given by Sally's nieces and nephews, but really, they come from her sister. The story behind the daffodils is a beautiful one, and it’s a very Sally kind of story.

When Norma turned 25, Sally wanted to do something really special for her big sister’s birthday. The process of “wiring” flowers to someone was new, then, and Sally used her own money to wire a dozen daffodils to Norma at her office. Norma was delighted. Spring flowers in February. What could be more wonderful? Their frugal mother, however, was not delighted. Sally caught the dickens from her mom, who was shocked by the waste and extravagance of the flowers. She said it showed a terrible lack of common sense to spend so much money on cut flowers that were just going to die in a couple of days.  

The next time Norma came home, she met Sally at the door and said “that was the best birthday gift, ever.” Sally said, “I’m glad you liked them, but I’m not sending you flowers again until you’re 50!”

On Norma’s fiftieth birthday she received daffodils from Sally with a note: “that was a fast 25 years.”

Arrangement of 72 daffodils at Umma's funeral

At Norma’s visitation, Sister Rosemary Rombalski saw the basket of 72 daffodils and knew there was a story. She sat and talked to Sally and then gave a devotion connecting Sally’s extravagant gift with the extravagant love of Jesus Christ, connecting Sally’s best birthday gift ever and the gift of eternal life. I was 11 years old and I'll never forget it: "This is Norma's best birthday, ever," she said. There’s a daffodil etched on Norma’s tombstone as a reminder both of her little sister’s love and the love of God. Now, Sally has joined Norma, and Charlie, and Blitz and John, in receiving the gift of eternal life. The love of God is like daffodils in winter, like the joy we have when we talk about Sally today, even though we miss her.

When I think of Sally, I think of the bright beauty of daffodils, and I think of joy. My first impressions of her were very much formed by my grandma, who was completely smitten with her little sister. “Sally was the most beautiful child any of us had ever seen,” she’d say. “She looked like Shirley Temple.”

One of the stories Norma liked to tell was about Sally’s first day at the one room schoolhouse. Norma worked with Sally to get her ready for the big day and taught her how to spell her name. S-A-L-L-Y. When Sally got to school, the teacher had everyone’s name written on the blackboard. “Can anyone come up and show me their name?” asked the teacher. One by one each student went up to the board and pointed. Sally stayed in her seat. “Don’t you see your name?” asked the teacher. Sally said, confidently, “No. My name is not up there.” “Yes it is!” said the teacher, pointing.

Sally came home for lunch and was very upset. “What’s wrong?” asked her sister. “I don’t think I’m going to learn anything from that teacher,” said Sally. “She thinks my name is Eleanor.”

That moment was the source of Sally’s often-quoted advice: Name your children what you intend to call them!

Me, Mom, Sally and Baby Sally
Sally has two great great nieces named after her: my cousin Craig’s daughter, Eleanor, and my five month old daughter, Sally. Her response and advice to us was the same that she gave everyone else. “That’s nice, but you promise me you’re going to call that baby by the name you gave her!”

The name Sally means “princess,” but to me it’s always meant “beloved little sister.” When my husband and I found out our second child would be a girl there was no question what her name would be. We named her Sally, hoping that our little girl would take after my smart, funny, loving Aunt Sally, and also that our baby Sally would be as loved by her big brother as Aunt Sally was by her big sister.

To us, “Sally” means beloved sister, beloved aunt. It means beloved wife, mom, grandma, great grandma. It means beloved colleague, classmate and friend. But Sally’s real name was this: Beloved Child of God. She received that name at her baptism. She lived out that name every day of her life, in all the ways she cared for others and embodied God’s love. And when she died, that’s the name God used to welcome her into eternal life. It’s a name she shares with all of us, a name that connects us as God’s big family, both on earth and in heaven. 

The prophet Isaiah writes: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.

Sally was named and claimed a beloved child of God. Thanks be to God for a life lived in love. Amen.

Some memories of the day: just like when my Umma died in 1992, there was a snowstorm. The snow came down sideways outside the church windows and people were nervous about getting home. Even though the worst of the weather came right at the time for us to gather for the service, the church was full of family and friends, including many members of Sally's high school class who she'd kept in touch with over the years. Baby Sally was still struggling with her first real illness, a bug we think was RSV, and had trouble nursing but was very good and sweet through the long day. Umma Sue sang "In The Garden." Baba Paul took care of baby Sally and walked and played with her during the service.  Sally's children and grandchildren were glad to meet baby Sally, and took turns holding her and telling her to be entirely and unapologetically herself, just like her namesake. To be just as feisty and funny and independent as she could be. It was hard to be there without Sally's son, John, who died last April. The Edisons were there, including baby Sally's godfather, Craig. It was good to be together. 
Sally holding me.

1 comment:

3d8th said...

Beautiful tribute to a beautiful lady.