The passing of a piece of my life.
by susan dayley in

My Aunt Norene is one of the people in my life that seemed like a constant. More real in my memories than you’d expect from someone who for most of my life lived so far away. I grew up in Pocatello. My Aunt Norene and her six girls were in Seattle. When I was five I went with my dad and Grandma Hatch to visit for a week. Aunt Norene was married to Uncle Vail then. They had a white house on a hill that had a ‘den’ down the hall. Very modern—like the Brady Bunch. That visit has left pieces of memories like slides: my aunt’s organized laundry system, being tucked into a box during hide ‘n seek, learning “Mademoiselle went down to the well, to wash her face and dry it well. To comb back her hair and brush her teeth, to say her prayers, and go to sleep.” The tap water tasted terrible and I didn’t like milk. My aunt told me those were the choices and I would have to decide. She was no nonsense that way. But I always felt that she loved me.
A few years later I returned with both parents and my two sisters, one older, one younger. It was a family vacation that left the younger children at grandparents. This time I noticed things like intersections with five streets merging. And a lighthouse that we visited on a beach somewhere. I also learned about snails and slugs firsthand. It was the year my dad went snake hunting with uncle and there was a fire in the warehouse behind their house that night. Aunty was very take-charge getting the children out of the way while our dads backed station-wagons down the steep narrow drive.
Sometimes in the summer my cousins would arrive to visit us. I have no idea how we found room for everyone. As the years went by the merging families would total sixteen children and four adults. Mostly we slept outside in the backyard. Once or twice we met at grandpa’s house. One time was when my aunt Ruth got married. Joni, Terry, Tanja, me, Natalee, and Jana sang “The men in my little girl’s life” with verses like: “Then came pony-tails and jeans, my little girl was in her teens.” And many years later we all gathered there for Grandpa and Grandma’s fiftieth anniversary. Mostly I remember Aunt Norene organizing in the kitchen or visiting with people. She would throw an arm around their shoulders and I figured she was best friends with everyone.
When Aunt Norene married Dudley it was one of the best decisions of her life. The years have begun to merge: family reunions, building the lodge in Victor, visits to their home in Nampa, and finally their last visit to my home in Spanish Fork. We stayed up late talking. We were all adults now, but Aunty was, as always, confident, and full of energy, encouragement, straight talk, and love.
The last time I saw her was that same summer in Boise. My dad was convinced that with his Diabetes he would be dying within a year. He would say, “This will be my last reunion.” No one imagined that he would not be the first of his siblings to go. Aunt Norene was as busy as ever moving from one group to another. She took time to locate and give me a cold water soaked hankie to tie around my neck to help me stay cool.
Aunt Norene was diagnosed with kidney cancer on January 20, 2010. The cancer started in her left kidney, but spread to her lungs and lymph nodes. Then the doctors discovered that she had a tumor in her brain as well. The tumor was removed on February 22nd and the surgeon reported that this surgery was very successful, but she was not regaining strength. They put her on oxygen, increasing daily. The cancer in her lungs began to spread and by March 1 we all knew her days were short. There were updates on a website, messages posted there, phone calls made, emails, and everyone trying to connect.
I was told she had heard about my book and wanted to read it. I mailed her one, wishing her a happy birthday she would not be around to celebrate.
She passed away March 2nd and the funeral is planned for Saturday.
I hope I can take from knowing her the things I remember: the enthusiasm for every moment, the kind encouraging words for others, the dependable friend. If I can be just a piece of who she was I will be grateful.


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