Once upon a time, a sweet baby girl was born. She arrived on a cold cold day in 1935 in central Minnesota to the great joy of her parents. Her mother being a literary type named her Ferne, and she grew into her name and the literary prophecy.
Happy birthday to my dear Auntie Ferne.
Ferne is my mother’s big sister. My mother could remember every single event and incident of their childhood…Auntie Ferne has little memory of her childhood because like Mother Goose she kept her nose in her books. When Mom would begin a story of growing up in a railroad town during World War II, Auntie would get a puzzled look on her face. “That really happened?” she would ask.
My mother got so tired of hearing of Ferne’s exquisite behavior, her excellent grades in school and her humble charm. She decided at an early age that she would do everything the opposite of her sister. Like a fish swimming victoriously upstream, Mom achieved her goals and stood out in school as class clown — voted by her graduating class as “Most Likely To Have a Fun Time”.
Because she’s so smart, Auntie graduated early from high school and was immediately drafted into the Minnesota educational system as a full-time teacher. She served for years and years, finally retiring with honors and medals of valor.
Auntie never gets angry or upset. When my mother raged at a personal affront, the whole world heard and cowered. When my auntie is frustrated with a situation, she is likely to fiercely press her thumb down hard on the tabletop. Mom would pound the table with a clenched fist or punish the table with a loud open-palmed slap. Auntie is reserved, quiet and gentle — Mom was always loud and exuberant with the great wide-reaching emotions of her life.
Ferne married at a very young age — a handsome and tall man named Charlie. They moved to Virginia where he served his country as a peace-time soldier and then back to Minneapolis where they raised their family. When his company closed their doors in Minneapolis, the family said “goodbye” to Minnesota and left for the great plains of Oklahoma.
When she retired from teaching, Auntie stayed busy with sewing and quilting projects. Mother Goose is not at all certain why they decided to open a funnel cake business when Uncle Charlie retired. Suddenly Ferne could be found every weekend at the local carnivals and fairs.
When that mysterious phase of their lives ended, they both got their real estate licenses.
From the perspective of Mother Goose, Auntie Ferne has always been the picture of a serving and loving wife and mother. But according to my mother, Ferne never fully bloomed because she’s been forever in her husband’s shadow, just a little too submissive to his career whims and whirls.
Mom always wished her sister would show some backbone, not be such a wilting violet, grab life with a little more gusto and talk back to Uncle Charlie once in awhile.
After their own mother and brother passed away within a week of each other eighteen years ago, Ferne came back to northern Minnesota to stay with Mom for awhile. She stayed and stayed. Mom wanted her to stay forever and never go back to Oklahoma and Charlie and the boring real estate business.
Mom saw a beautiful spark of independence in her sister for the first time and knew that if she returned to her old life, the flame would slowly fade to embers and then go out. Uncle Charlie begged Ferne to come home. He sent her gifts of expensive jewelry and promises. He vowed to never bully her again.
She flew home…
My mom loved her sister more than words can say, and missed her dearly. They talked on the phone several times a week for years and years, but I’m not sure they ever saw each other more than twice after that.
When Mom turned seventy, the Lord called her home, and everybody commented how appropriate that she was wearing the beautifully quilted vest that her sister, my Auntie Ferne, had made for her.
Ferne is a great grandmother several times over now. She’s still selling real estate at the age of 78. She sews lovely baptism banners for the babies in her church and prays for all of us.
She laughed this morning when Mother Goose called her up on the phone and sang “Happy Birthday” to her. She told me lots of stories of her recent adventures, including a Thanksgiving trip where Uncle Charlie had fallen asleep behind the wheel of their car in the mountains of Arkansas. They were traveling to visit their daughter in Atlanta, and they crashed into the back of a semi-trailer truck somewhere in Arkansas.
She’s thankful that they didn’t drive off the mountain road and into eternity…
Here’s what Mother Goose thinks:
It has taken a whole lot of gumption and courage and faith and love for Auntie Ferne to stay with Uncle Charlie all of these years. Marriage is a difficult pathway for some of us, and I do truly admire her commitment and resolve. I consider her one of my lifelong heroes and mentors.
Happy Birthday, Auntie Ferne! I love you, and I wish you many, many more years of good health and great love.