Thursday, May 24, 2012

The older I get the more I come to respect my father's older sister, Celia M.Crosse. Such has not always been the case. We were a world apart in political, religious, and social values. She did not come into my life until my mid thirties, when, at Lee's urging, I contacted her in Los Angeles where she lived a modest but very proper life as a retired First World War veteran and public health nurse. She dedicated her energies to the practice of Religious Science. At that time she she rented a neat but humble apartment near Hollywood and professed her adoration of all things LA'ish. She collected pewter and I thought her just about that exciting.
Her voice probably irritated me more than anything sounding too octaves too high and  squeaky. She was tiny in stature even though a little stout. She suffered from congestive heart disease even then. Her heart condition would eventually take her life, but not until age 96. Her hand tailored suits, always lavender, matched her lavender scented  handkerchiefs and lavendar hand soaps. I found it hard to believe we shared any genetic makeup. What we had in common was a deep love for my long deceased father and that is about all. Armistice Day (now Veteran's Day of course) was her special day for she always wore a crepe paper red poppy in her suit lapel and waved a tiny American flag.
Most off putting to me about her was her opinionated personality. She did not hesitate to criticize my home, wardrobe, work, or behavior. I think she rejected most everything about me except my cats, for strangely she thought cats were wonderful. In her latter years she came to live in Oakland and be dependent on me, something for which I tried to hide my resentment. I'm sure my attitude and lack of attention was painful to her and I regret it now.
This morning cleaning out a drawer I came across a picture of her posing somewhere in France when she was an Army nurse in the First World War. Doesn't she look dapper? Like many others she volunteered to be a Red Cross nurse and was inducted into the army on rocking shipboard when torpedos were sighted on the crossing.. She was still in her teens, just out of the Boston School of Nursing. According to her the nurses served on the battlefield, even helping amputate limbs of wounded men in the trenches where conditions were beyond belief and there was seldom anesthetic.  This weekend I salute her courage. In fact the courage and dedication of all nurses everywhere.
During the First World War more than18,000 Red Cross nurses served with the Army and Navy Nurse Corp. I don't know how many of them were inducted into the army on shipboard as she was.  She used to tell the story of that day. Following the swearing in the nurses were ordered below deck for a physical. The army regulations required she be 5'0" or more. Measuring 4'9" the doctor instructed her to stand on her toes, which she did. She passed.
There was a wondrous parade in Paris following the Armistice. Nurses were given an allotment of money to buy a new uniform, theirs being battle worn. In true Aunt Celia style she bought instead a new Parisian chapeau. I can imagine it now.  Probably pink and covered with roses and rows of netting.