On Friday the 13th of November, Aunt Bertha died.
She was 99 years old, and had been living in a nursing home for the past couple of years. Before that, she lived in a seniors apartment complex in South Paris for several years. But before that, for about five decades, she lived in the oldest house in the village of Locke Mills, which was on the corner of Route 26 and the East Bethel Road, and directly across the street from our house, until the state tore it down to reroute the road and make the corner safer. And before that, she lived about a mile and a half away, on Bird Hill, where she was born and raised.
When Tony first bought our house, a few years before we were married, he told Katie that the old lady across the street was a witch (a good witch, of course). I'm not sure Aunt Bertha really knew how to take that, but she was a good sport--she dressed up as a witch every year for Halloween to give out candy.
Aunt Bertha didn't have any kids of her own, but she enjoyed watching all of ours grow up, just as she had watched the three Swan boys grow up in this house for the previous 30 years. She had an unobstructed view of our driveway and the front of our house from the kitchen window over her sink (she kept one corner of her cafe curtains pinned up, just to be sure) and she didn't miss much that happened over here. The photo above was taken on the day we got married (the ceremony, which was performed by a justice of the peace who also sold fish from a truck in the mill parking lot on Saturday mornings, took place right here in our yard, beside Tony's vegetable garden). She was 79 years old then, and had recently had surgery (hip? knee? I can't remember, but whatever it was, she bounced back from it very quickly), but she came across the street with her cane, and when Tony and I walked down to meet her, she scrunched up her face in one of her almost-perpetual smiles and asked, "Did you two just get married?" with a characteristic twinkle in her blue eyes.
Aunt Bertha loved to talk, and it didn't matter if you had places to go or things to do--a "quick stop" at her house never lasted less than half an hour. Tony used to take her vegetables from his garden and say, "If I'm not back in half an hour, come rescue me!" She loved to tell about her most recent visits from the many members of her extended family, about her trips to Eastern Star events, about the man on the phone who tried to sell her aluminum siding. When the kids were old enough, we sent them across the street to deliver the vegetables, and although they sometimes complained, they also quickly learned that, in addition to her stories, Aunt Bertha usually had a stash of cookies to share with them.
We loved having Aunt Bertha living across the street, and missed her badly when she--and her house--were gone. When the road was moved (it now goes right through what used to be her house and driveway) we gained a lot of front yard...but we would rather have had Aunt Bertha.
There's a hill in our front yard now that used to be her side yard, on the other side of the street, where she used to hang her laundry. A couple of Aunt Bertha's old rosebushes still grow there. Tony says that from now on we're calling the hill "Mount Bertha."
4 years ago