Aunt Jim’s legacy

Love is a force that connects us to every strand of the universe,an unconditional state that characterizes human nature, a form of knowledge that is always there for us if only we can open ourselves to it.

Aunt Jim

Our lives are shaped by the people who love us. Often people write about family members in their life story books, not thinking about the others who have made a difference in their lives by loving them–perhaps a teacher, a member of the clergy, a neighbor, or someone they know only briefly . A personal history is deepened and becomes more poignant when we write about these people.

One of the people who loved me was my “Aunt”Jim. Her given name was Mary Jane; one day when she was 4 years old she declared to her family that from then on her name would be Jim. And so it was.

My mother met Jim in Denver while their husbands served in World War II, and they became friends. We had no relatives within a thousand miles, so “Aunt Jim and Uncle Ray,” and Jim’s sister “Aunt Dorothea” and her husband “Uncle Chuck,” and their kids were our extended family in Denver.

We Thompsons lived in a new housing development at what was near the outer edge of Denver at that time, and Jim and Ray and their kids lived in a Victorian-era house in the old part of town. I was fascinated by their house—its dark red brick, two stories, tall staircase, and cast-iron clawfoot bathtub and pedestal sink in the bathroom on the second floor. I loved the kitchen in the back with a heavy black stove that had been converted from a woodburner, and the screened porch. It was a different world for me.

My folks played poker (and later bridge) with Jim and Ray and Chuck and Dorothea every Saturday night for many years. They rotated among the three houses, and we kids were put to bed wherever they were playing. Of course we didn’t go to sleep right away, and one of the things that kept us awake was Jim’s laugh—which at the time we referred to as a cackle. Really it was more of a cackle combined with a hoot. It was completely uninhibited and whole-hearted. We would wait for her to laugh, and then we in turn would laugh. We couldn’t help it.

Jim was a visiting nurse most of her life, and she walked to work no matter what the weather. When she retired, she race-walked into her 70’s. She learned massage and became a yoga teacher. In these, she found new ways of sharing her healing gifts.

Love and acceptance were there for the taking with Jim. As an introverted child growing up in a rather reserved family, I always felt amazed when I was with her. I knew she was warm and loving, of course; yet the exuberance of it was always a wonderful new surprise. She was always transparently delighted to see me and would declared a loud and smiling welcome: Well, Peeeeeeg! How are you?

How would I be different today if my mother hadn’t met Jim? Unconditional love might be an abstraction. Welcome might be a conventional exercise in manners. Being truly oneself might feel impossible. Alternative healing might seem just too weird.

What I learned from Jim was only a minute fraction of her legacy. She gave her gifts of love and healing (which of course were intertwined) to everyone she met, and in her case that added up to thousands of people.

Reflections for stimulating memories:
Who outside your family chose to love you in a way that changed your life?

Who are the people you have chosen to love in a way that changed their lives?

Make a list, and write a little about each person.

Use the comment section to share your memories of people whose legacy enriched you…or anything else.


Explore posts in the same categories: legacy, life story writing, love, making a difference, personal historian, unconditional love

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