Aunt Carrie was in her early thirties, married, with a young family, when she was summoned to her dying mother’s bedside. “I am going, Carrie. I have been to the other side. But they let me come back to talk with you. Promise me that you will take care of the girls. The married ones will be all right, but the younger ones won’t have a mother to guide them.”
Aunt Carrie promised, and my grandmother died in peace. Grandmother had borne ten children, seven of whom survived her. One son and three daughters were married, but three other girls would endure the mixed-up years of adolescence without a mother.
Aunt Carrie was there when her sisters needed her. She saw to it that “the girls” had the necessary quilts and household equipment when they married, and she went to the temple with them for the ceremony. But Aunt Carrie didn’t relinquish her responsibility at the altar. All of the young families of her sisters continued to go to her for advice, counsel, and help.
My mother was the youngest sister, twenty years younger than Carrie, and I never felt the lack of a maternal grandmother. I stayed at Aunt Carrie’s house when my brother was quarantined for scarlet fever and when my parents were away. Aunt Carrie was the family matriarch, and as the years passed and the nieces and nephews married and had more children, all of them looked to Aunt Carrie for advice—no matter how widely they scattered.
I became uncomfortably conscious of Aunt Carrie’s advanced age when she telephoned one morning several years ago and said, “Lorraine, I want you to do something for me. Send Jane back to Europe.”
Jane, our daughter, had been born on Aunt Carrie’s sixty-eighth birthday and had always had an especially close relationship with her great-aunt. Jane had enjoyed her semester abroad, under the auspices of Brigham Young University, but why should we send her back?
Then I realized. Everyone expected old people, much younger than Aunt Carrie’s ninety years, to make unreasonable, ridiculous statements. None of us had thought that Aunt Carrie would ever get old in her mind, but apparently she had.
“Why?” I asked Aunt Carrie gently.
Her reply did not sound gentle. “When Jane was in Europe, she sent me postcards. Now that she is back in Salt Lake, I hardly ever hear from her.”
Aunt Carrie is long since gone. But her lessons of service linger. When I make a report on my earthly life, I would like to be able to say that I served as she did. She committed herself to care for the girls in her mother’s family. She did that and much more. She cared for the girls’ girls and, after that, for the girls’ girls’ girls.
Hers was a lesson of commitment exemplified in a lifetime of love.