Aunt Ida, the matriarch of our family, the eldest of my mom's brothers and sisters, was born on St. Patrick's Day in 1909. Her father was in the navy at the time, serving on the battleship Idaho. Perhaps it was being named after a battleship that gave her a love of travel and of a good storm, especially if they came together!
Her first husband, a lineman for the electric company, was killed in an accident on the job. Her second husband, a doctor, died of complications from an appendectomy in 1946, leaving her with their three children to raise alone.
Somehow she managed. The Aunt Ida I knew was the grand lady who drove the Cadillac and always seemed to own a house with at least one apartment to let. When we moved to Haddonfield, she still lived on Chestnut Street, but later bought a big house on West End Avenue.
Her summer homes were best, especially the one on Union Lake in Millville. How we looked forward to visiting! We got to stay in a house on stilts over the water, float on the lake in a bloated airplane inner tube, fish for sunnies (always with mushed Bond Bread for bait), and, best of all, use a real outhouse.
She bought a house in Ocean City, about a block from the beach, then one in Cape May. It was always a treat to visit her, though my mom didn't particularly enjoy the trips to the boardwalk during thunderstorms. In the 1960's she packed up and moved to Florida, where she bought a motel. I always figured she was moving closer to the hurricanes.
Aunt Ida and houses always seem to go together. Strange, I suppose, but then her home was always a place where we were welcome and always felt comfortable. And I still get a warm feeling on those rare occasions when I see a picture of an outhouse.
Aunt Ida wasn't expected to come to our 1994 family reunion. But she was determined, and surprised us all when her son sprung her from the nursing home and drove her up from Florida with the rest of his family. She reigned over the reunion from her wheeled throne, her fragile elegance belying her adventurous soul. I looked at her and remembered the stories of her trip to Florida with the flu (with a little help from some Rock & Rye) and her ocean cruise in a storm.
Ida died on February 1, 1996. It
was right that her ashes, lying in a marble coffinette, took a final ride
from Florida to Haddonfield through ice and snow on treacherous roads.
As the family arrived, shaken but safe, for her memorial service, her daughter
announced, "Mother was having a ball!"