Earlier this week one of my great aunts died. She was the youngest of my grandmother’s siblings and was the most exotic of the set. Her husband, a Retired Navy Captain, was stationed all over the world… most notably in Hawaii and the Philippines. Most of my great aunts sport a handsome string of pearls that they were able to acquire through Dena’s travels. The ginger-jar lamps that used to be a fixture in my sitting room (before it was turned into a playroom and the lamps moved to a safer place)… acquired through Modena. Martha’s favorite knick-knack, an ivory mystery ball… another present from Modena.
All my life I heard my family talk about JC & Modena, where they were travelling, how they were doing. When JC retired from the navy, more than one of the g-aunts cut out the article from the paper and carried it around for all to read. When they made their home here in our hometown… it was like a celebrity settling close-by.
In truth I was always a little afraid of JC. He was and continues to be a commanding persona… He does not suffer fools lightly and still expects prompt and appropriate actions. Honestly I feel like saluting half the time I’m around him (the other half of the time I’m trying to be as invisible as possible!)
Modena… she was the consummate hostess. The perfect social guest. She made everyone at ease in her home as she was warm and welcome and ever so elegant.
One of my earliest memories of her was when she was visiting family here when I was about 6 or 7. Everyone was at my g-aunt Mae’s house and I remember everyone pulling chairs and stools into Mae’s front parlor, while all the kids sat on the floor. And then the most shocking thing ever… Modena sat on the floor with us. And she PLAYED! Horrors! I remember thinking “No adult sits on the floor and plays with the kids while there are other adults around!!!” I had all sorts of alarm bells going off and I remember casting an eye around the room to read the reaction (seriously, I thought men in white coats might be en-route!). But no one seemed to mind and once I finally got over the fact that this celebrity-relative seemed like she genuinely wanted to play with me and my cousins I remember having a blast! I believe we were playing with a top or gyroscope but I could be wrong.
She was also very committed, or you could say stubborn. When I was in Junior High she decided that she would teach my aunt Martha to drive. Martha had had a learner’s permit for as long as I could remember but had never been brave enough to actually take her drivers test. I remember Sunday after Sunday, Modena would show up at my grandparents and take Martha out for practice. Sometimes Martha would try to beg off and not go, but Modena was determined and by cracky Martha learned to drive! It’s probably the greatest gift anyone ever gave Martha as it gave her the freedom to go at will where previously she had been dependent on someone else to drive her.
When my brother and his wife were pregnant with their first child, I remember Modena dropping off a present for them. It was a pretty dark blue velvet dress, trimmed in white lace. Lovely. She gushed about how a new baby needed a lovely new dress. It was all so… appropriate.
Then when we brought home the boys, again she came to visit, presents in tow. She gifted Xander with his first real (not plastic) dump truck and it’s still his favorite toy. Sophie thought she was “fabulous” and elegant and became bashful in her presence… but warmed up to her normal self quickly!
When M called me to tell me that Modena died, I remember being shocked. We had known that she had been sick, but she had been doing better, or so we thought.
I was given the task of telling Martha and when I did Martha just stood there, her hands behind her back, in complete silence.
That night I dreamed of Modena, a first for me. I was at some place and I turned my head and she sat down beside me. I said “I thought you died” and she said “maybe I did” and then she got up and left.
It was weird.
I was never close to Modena, but I’m sorry to see her pass. She leaves behind a huge void in her family and I grieve for their loss.