"I am always busy, which is perhaps the chief reason why I am always well.” - Elizabeth Stanton Cady
No, I'm not talking about Elizabeth II of England, I'm talking about my 93-year-old Aunt Elizabeth of Oxford, Massachusetts, better known as Aunt Bette, matriarch of my mom's Lacoste family (or is that LaCoste … correct spelling of the family name is a bone of contention). One of 14 children, Aunt Bette is one of three surviving aunts and dear to us all. Before leaving New England, David and I took an hour-long trip to visit with her for morning coffee and catch-up chat.
She's an amazing woman. She still lives alone in the house that she and my Uncle Bill built 70+ years ago, part of a family farm that lies along Oxford's main street. She's added a screened-in front porch in the last couple of years, but the house is still pretty much the way I remember it as a kid. It's small and cozy. We have always gathered in her little kitchen … the more the merrier. Her daughters (my cousins) live close by and check on her regularly, but she remains feisty and fiercely independent. My kind of woman!
I don't remember my life without my Aunt Bette. She's always been around and involved in my life. The whole family baled hay at the end of each summer and then we'd all go out for a lobster dinner after the bales were neatly stacked in the barn. I have memories of all the cousins playing in the hay loft in the big red barn. Uncle Bill always had milking cows and I remember him bringing in the raw milk and Aunt Bette running the separator to obtain the cream for making butter which she sold for 50 cents/lb. Her saved-up “butter money” was responsible for many a Christmas present and treats throughout the year. Like her sisters, she was frugal with her money out of necessity, but generous with her time and love.
She's always been a gardener and, until this past year, she maintained a huge garden and supplied much of the family with fresh produce at harvest time.
She still cans and preserves and shares her garden all winter long. She tromped down the steep cellar stairs while we were there to show us her winter veggies and storeroom pantry of canned goods.
David even got a chance to sample her renowned dandelion wine out of a mason jar ... which he readily admitted packed quite a wallop.
We reminisced about family reunions and Saturday nights playing cards at her kitchen table with the whole family gathered around. We chatted about her kids and her grandkids and great-grandkids and even great-greats (my first, second, third and fourth cousins).
I asked her the secret to a long life. She laughed and said “being good!” but decided that “staying busy” was one of the paths to longevity. Lord knows, she's never idle for very long. Whatever it is, I hope she's around for many years to come.