Yesterday I got up very early. As always, I first went to open the door for my dog so she can go potty. Then, in the darkness but very close to my patio door, a fox saw us and quickly ran towards the forest.
I live in Minneapolis, in one of the suburbs surrounded by lakes. I have the privilege that my backyard borders on a forest where it’s not rare to see deer, ducks, and wild turkeys. It’s the third time I’ve seen the fox around, but it is the first time I’ve seen him so close to home.
I was about to brew some coffee when I saw a message from one of my sisters. In this fashion, I learned that my Aunt, the only Aunt I knew, “went from one dream to another”, as it said in the message, lovingly softening the news.
My Aunt Emma went to meet my beloved cousin Nestor, who preceded her in their trip to the unknown. This extraordinary woman, who got acquainted with a wide range of emotions, even knew what it meant to lose her only son.
My Aunt Emma, one of my most important references of how to show love without brakes, without prejudice, without fear about what others say or without fear of ridicule, because she has her priorities straight: love and fun, messiness, and to protect whoever was in need.
My Aunt Emma who, like my mother, was an orphan and very early in her life decided there is no therapy better than dance, soups, well-done coffee, and let’s not leave out some chocolates.
My Aunt Emma, who during a visit, even when visiting someone for the first time, used to ask to use the bathroom and would take a shower – though she had showered previously – so she would be extra fresh and fragrant. Over time, I learned that it was a very useful way to classify people who were worthy to visit again (those who celebrated her “confidence”) and those who did not (because they were uncomfortable with her “freshness”).
My Aunt Emma, a.k.a. “Emma, the teacher”, helped thousands of students and parents – and I’m not exaggerating – many benefited from her energy, talent, and generosity.
Before the times of “teaching specialists” (as my sister Aimara and I were to become), my Aunt had the formula for any special educational need: consistency, fun and relentless love. If a child couldn’t learn how to read from my Aunt, nobody could teach them to read. Period.
However, I cannot remember anyone that defeated the almost mythical fame of my Aunt on this matter. Early or late, showing by example that no pessimism, bad diagnosis or sad news can defeat them, the kiddos ended up falling in love with books and the possibilities to dream of living good lives.
She named her little school and her home (they were the same) “We learn while playing”: one of the sacred places in my heart where I learned about love and generosity.
In the region where my Aunt’s little school was, she gained significant respect: any child that came from my Aunt’s school was guaranteed enrollment in further grades. Teachers in the area came to understand that any child taught by my Aunt would have not only skills higher than expected but also an eagerness to contribute, as you inevitably learned to do when around my Aunt.
This bright woman, in the most dazzling sense of the word, also taught many adults how to read. She, like my mom, took illiteracy and lack of access to education as a personal offense.
My Aunt’s labor of love did not stop at school tasks. She also taught values and solidarity in action. No matter how many difficulties life throw her way (they were not few), there was always a plate of food in my Aunt’s home for whoever was in need.
I would also venture to guess that she financed a lot of her students. Probably both with the meager tuition that she charged to sustain her family but also with breakfast and once in a while lunch or dinner, because for “Emma, the teacher” few things were worse than the idea of someone, let alone a child, leaving hungry.
With her enthusiasm, my Aunt also explored and helped in the spiritual world. I don’t want to forget to mention this, although it’s something very private for the family, I know I’m not alone among those who benefited from her spiritual tips, immense faith, incredible energy, and intuition.
Even with her vices, my Aunt was one of the most generous people I know. At one point in her life, she was hooked on raffles and horse races, which got her into some of her worst, delicious, and crazy messes. However, her dreams to win were exclusive to give. She loved Christmas, imagining herself handing out the most necessary things to loved ones but also giving exuberant things because my Aunt knew the power of imagination and she fed it with all her being.
I visited my Aunt this year, in mid-October on my trip to Venezuela: we danced merengue, used costumes, and mocked people who mock the bizarre. She gave me one of her rings and a pair of trousers. It was impossible to leave my Aunt’s house without your arms full of gifts. If she had not something special for you, she was not shy searching her closet and cupboards, and then dressing you in her clothes and stuffing you with her groceries.
One of the considerable difficulties I find when you’ve physically lost someone is to give up plans. That is why it’s so difficult when someone very young dies. That is why it’s so difficult for me the departure of my Aunt: We had so many plans!
In those plans, she would come to visit me and spend some days here with Brad and me, in Minneapolis. She was going to prepare wonderful traditional soups that taste like pure concentrated love. I was going to show her the little forest, to pamper her in many ways, to show her berries and let her eat, even chocolates. With some luck, we would see a deer or two.
Who knows? Perhaps the fox I saw was not a coincidence. Maybe my Aunt with her crazy and fun ways came to tell me herself not to worry so much about the plans. Dreams always take you where you want to go.