Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Great Aunt Mabel

My great aunt Mabel was born with Down's Syndrome in 1926 after a long, hard labor that, in the end, left the family mother-less. My grandmother was 2 years old and was sent to live with the child-less neighbors. The doctors suggested that Mabel be put in an institution as she would most likely not even live to the age of 5.

The rest of the siblings, most of whom were already married and had children of their own, decided that Mabel would be passed from sibling to sibling, switching Mabel to her new house every two months. As soon as my grandmother was married (when she was 20), she joined in with the sharing of care for Mabel.

As a child, I was fascinated with Mabel, almost as much as Mabel was fascinated with gaudy costume jewelry. She was a woman of few intelligible words but she had a lot to say.

She loved to say the blessing before eating and while praying in her own language my grandmother would stand beside her yelling 'Amen' in the hopes that she would wrap it up. As children, my sister and I had to bite the insides of our cheeks to keep from laughing out loud. Even then, we knew that Mabel would finish only when Mabel was finished. No need to rush her.

Once my grandmother laid out her breakfast while on her way to take care of business on the farm. When she came back a few hours later to fix lunch, she found Mabel sitting at the table still waiting to eat her breakfast. My grandmother had forgotten to say the blessing with her. She never forgot to pray with her again.

When Mabel would get upset, she would lean over and say, "I'll slap the shit out of you." My sister and I would roll with laughter. I don't think she was humored with us. She never laid a hand on us but would slap her hands together in exasperation, as if she were indeed slapping the shit out of us.

Once Mabel had terrible stomach pains and after a few hours was rushed to the hospital. It turned out to be appendicitis. When Mabel slowly woke up from the anesthesia, she started slapping the bed to get the nurses attention. When the nurses would respond, she'd hold her arms as if she were cradling a baby. She didn't understand appendicitis but she did understand a terrible stomach pain and a trip to the hospital usually correlated with the arrival of a baby. And she wanted her baby.

We bought her a doll to appease her. It didn't really work.

Mabel died in her sleep at the age of 59 while I was a senior in high school. It would take years to realize what a miracle and a blessing she was to our family. She brought us together and taught us to slow down.

We could use a Mabel in our lives right now.

Happy Mother's Day to all - and especially to the ones who are wishing for a baby right now.

34 comments:

Gaston Studio said...

I LOVE your great aunt Mabel! And I love that you young girls were allowed to laugh with her.

Isn't it amazing how the simplest things in life can offer us so much meaning at the time and for many years to come.

Happy mom's day to you Beth.
Jane

otin said...

That story was brilliant! enough said!!!!

Deb said...

beth! this is so touching. i don't have a great aunt mabel in my life, but i do have somebody that would give anything for a baby.

happy mother's day to you, sweet lady!

lakeviewer said...

Isn't it interesting how we remember people? Your story is quite poignant on Mother's Day.

only a movie said...

I wish I had an Aunt Mabel in my life. Thank you for sharing. And have a happy mom's day, Beth. (Good luck tomorrow).

HeatherPride said...

I think it's amazing that the family rejected the idea of institutionalization, and instead all shared the duty of caring for Mabel. She was a lucky lady, and your family was lucky to have her!

Fragrant Liar said...

I always find it amazing how those whom the rest of us don't consider "normal" have the biggest life lessons to teach us. I love Aunt Mabel too, and as you undoubtedly know, your life is much richer for having had Aunt Mabel in your lives.

Happy Mother's Day.

Mrs. K said...

oh gosh what a great story. And thanks for giving me a new way to 'slap the shit' out of someone.

Call Me Cate said...

Beautiful story, Beth. Thank you for sharing your Great Aunt Mabel with us, especially today. It touched me.

Marinka said...

How wonderfully touching and heartbreaking.

lizspin said...

lovey. . . touching. . . post!

Christine Gram said...

Oooh, this story gave me goose bumps up and down both arms, up my neck and to the tops of my ears. Loved it. Every life is precious.

Beth said...

Jane - I was sad when she died but I had no idea how much she affected us. She really was a great person.

otin - Thanks! That just made my day!

deb - I wish everyone could have a great aunt Mabel. She was really awesome like that.

lakeviewer - It is interesting how we remember people. And it makes me wonder if I'll be remembered for all the times I've gone bat shit crazy. Probably! :)

Erin - I hope you have a great week next week. And I'm sending you healthy laptop vibes. Happy Mother's Day to you, too!

Heather - As I was older I realized what a huge deal it was that the family rejected the institution idea. I'm glad they did.

Fragrant - I've learned many, many things from the underdogs of the world. They are my heroes!

Mrs. K - As you slap your hands together, you've got to have the right stare, too. :)

Call Me Cate - Thanks! It is neat to think that Mabel's story touches others, too.

Marinka - It was heartbreaking to lose her.

liz - Thanks!

Christine - I agree! Every life is precious.

Hit 40 said...

An absolutely beautiful tribute to Mable!!!

I plan to steal her idea in the classroom.... I like to joke with the students or even my kids that they need a smack. I will have to smack my hands together a few seconds later and laugh. Don't worry the students know that I am a card!!!

Laura said...

What a great story and a wonderful memory of a special family member!

remember moments said...

What a sweet & touching story.

Jaime said...

happy mothers day

Pearl said...

You're right.
There are people in general, people in certain stages of their lives, that are meant, I believe, to slow us down, to encourage us to really look -- and to be thankful for the ability to do so.
Sweet story, well-told.
Pearl

Selaen said...

It's so great that you got to share your younger years with GA Mabel.. Imagine if she'd been institutionalised!

I believe that every person needs that someone in their lives.. Someone who'll show them what it's all really about. I haven't found my 'Mabel' yet, but hopefull will soon!

I love this post, it's so touching!

xx

Michel said...

That was a really really touching post! I LOVE your Aunt Mabel!

marathoner81 said...

What a great memory of you aunt Mabel you shared with us...I just LOVE your story! Very heartwarming.

sherri said...

great post. Mabel sounded awesome. I love people with down's, they are some of the coolest people I've ever met, and you are right, they have teach us a lot.

Comedy Goddess said...

Wow. Mabel is still working her magic!

beth said...

what a beautiful post. happy mother's day!

Vodka Mom said...

That was an amazing story!! I LOVED it...


mabel.......sweet mabel.

Em said...

What a wonderful story.

It's rather sad on my part that it took me having a child with PKU to fully understand that "imperfect" children have even more to offer.

I hope you had a great Mother's Day. Em

Smart Mouth Broad said...

Thanks for sharing this story of Great Aunt Mabel. It was a lovely tribute.

mo.stoneskin said...

Beautiful post. Her threats of slapping were hilarious!

followthatdog said...

What a fantastic post. Thanks for sharing that with us. I love your Great Aunt Mabel.

Musings of the Mrs. said...

I love that story. We sure could all use an Aunt Mabel to teach us to slow down. And thanks for the happy mother's day. I couldn't want it more (today/not yesterday/its an on and off want).

Brenda Susan said...

what a beautiful post! A great remembrance of a treasure in your family.

nikkicrumpet said...

A very well told story about growing up with Mabel. I hope you had a wonderful Mother's day....and I too hope all the would be mom's will get the blessing they so much desire!

Deb said...

Awesome post Beth!! She sounded like a hoot.

fluencyfreak said...

I had an Aunt Mabel, he was my Uncle Jack. He too was M.R. I think kids that grow up around such special people develop a deeper understanding of compassion and tolerance. We have so many Jack stories that we tell amongst our family. What a joy he was! One of my favorite stories was when he was playing my Lights Out game when I was a child. The object of the game was to get all of the lights to go out by pressing buttons in a certain sequence. I tried my best to explain the rules to him, then let him have at it. About 2 sec. after he started he said, "I won!"...he turned the game off, which resulted in all of the lights going out. Pretty brilliant I must say!