Ye Old Great Aunt Helen
Helen was a quirky one. She seemed to be available for every party and event my grandmother ever had.
She was my Nana’s younger sister who would show up with a 30 pound purse full of trinkets and surprises.
Never did she come empty handed as a guest at any of the Polish functions.
With a cigarette in her mouth all while talking to you, she could smoothly go from english to Polish as if it was like slicing warm butter.
As the years went on and she got older she asked if she could stay at my Nana’s.
We were aware she had a house in Chester,PA which was the original house that the 10 siblings grew up in during the Great Depression.
We knew she kept everything and back in those days the word hoarding hadn’t been originated.
And so the stay overs to my Nana’s house became more and more frequent as Helen and Nana kept each other company.
They were sisters so they knew each others story from the very beginning.
Nana had gotten married and had two children and everyone since had grown up and she then became a widow.
Helen had not.
I asked about that to Nana and she said there was a boyfriend but things didn’t work out and so and so forth.
In the end it wasn’t like it changed her happiness any.
She seemed quite content with her life.
She worked for many years at a company named Southco all to retire fully vested.
No one knew too much on how she spent it if at all.
I would ask what they did most days and Nana would say wake up, play cards and have a big breakfast.
Then Helen would leave til 5 pm.
I asked Nana where would she go?
She guessed she would putter. Go to thrift shops and back to her house in Chester.
They seemed content with the normal day to day stuff.
Sometimes Helen would drive Nana around to do chores and go to the bank.
We noticed her car passenger seat looked busted.
Nana said it was and that Helen would drive her around all while Nana sat in the backseat.
Sometime after 5 years of this Helen was slowing down and not feeling well.
There was a cold and then a constant cough that she didn’t get over. Helen seemed to be out of breath a lot.
So she went to the doctors and they took X-rays of her lungs and got a diagnosis.
I’m unsure of the stage number but her decision was not to treat.
A lifelong smoker of unfiltered cigarettes and she was now in her late 70s.
Everyone knew and it was her choice.
So she went about her day to day playing cards and having breakfast with Nana and doing much of the same.
This went on for months until I got a phone call while traveling in New Orleans in mid- January 1999.
She had felt ill and her stomach was bothering her and instead of waking her sister she quietly went into the bathroom,
closed the door and apparently died of a heart attack.
There was shock of course as my Nana found her and a bit of drama to which I don’t think Helen wanted.
Fast forward and a funeral and remembrance and a life full of funny stuff.
There were no kids or husband.
But there was a will and she had worked for decades at a company.
There was a house to clean up in Chester.
With the help of family we sifted through the maze of stuff that would make the Collyer brothers from New York smile.
We to this day don’t know how she managed to live there and realized as to why she stayed at her sisters.
The car that Helen drove we had thought the front passenger seat was busted as Nana had stated she drove in the back.
Well to our surprise again we found that the passenger seat was indeed not busted, this was just Helen’s way of wanting only back seat drivers.
There were trinkets that Helen bought from thrift shops.
To our surprise some were not junk and worth quite a bit more then what she paid for.
And lastly but not least there was a will somewhere.
As with most families it is not surprising that if there is a small pot of gold relatives will literally come out of the woodwork to “find”
what their favorite aunt may have left them.
And so Nana’s house became a crime scene of finding the paper that housed the story of who gets what.
This took the better part of a month.
You would think that a will would be with important documents like a folder or file of some sorts.
But think again as Helen was becoming this quirky magical surprise. She was one that didn’t talk about money unless it was a scratch off lottery card from the liquor store.
Where did they find it?
They found it while cleaning Helen’s room underneath a wicker chair beneath the cushions.
The will was made in the 1970s.
And stated plainly and matter of fact that the money went to her sister, Nana.
I’m pretty sure there was shock to the relatives that believed they were owed .
Nana was retired and didn’t need the money for college or cars or life.
But it wasn’t their choice to decide after all as it was Helen’s.
In the end as it should of been if karma really mattered.
Nana took care of Helen for those five years.
They spoke little of the deep emotional stuff. The kind of things that one might say you need to do in the end.
As it was Helen spoke last as if she had always known that the gift and will of the money she had was given to the right person.
It wasn’t a contest after all.
She had a bag full of surprises in her purse and in life.
Sometimes your meant to be just that.
One big surprise.